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this moment

Lijah in his snowsuit walking in the road holding on to a push car

joining the outdoor play

A moment from the week.

holy week

the wooden cross at the front of the church, draped with purple

Good Friday cross

We haven't had much time to think about writing this week. The warmer weather means that we need to spend all the time outside, and then this time of year there's also a lot of good church to do.

Zion at the table set for our Maundy Thursday supper

passover, christian-style

Yesterday we ran a Maundy Thursday service for families. Not too many people ended up being able to come, but everyone who did had a fun time.

me washing Harvey's feet at church, with other kids looking on

he's part of what we're doing

Then this evening we went to the Good Friday service.

a view of the crowd, from the front of the sanctuary

before we got started

7:00 to 8:00 pm is a tough time for the boys, but they did great.

Lijah peeking over Mama's leg during the service

they all stayed awake, for one hour

And our church being the way it is, there was plenty of interactivity to keep their interest.

paper shapes floating in a tin basin of water

joys floating in sorrow

Passover tomorrow with the Jewish grandparents, then we're all set for Easter!


short Easter report

one egg up close, lots more in the background

egg day

Happy Easter everyone! We survived the day, and there were lots of fun and beautiful moments along the way. Of course, we had to start with the family photo-shoot—before anyone got too dirty or chocolate-stained.

all the Archibalds in our matching Easter finery

looking good, even if we can't all smile together

Leah totally outdid herself with the wonderful outfits, including a tie for me (though I was still jealous of Harvey's morning-coat and ascot.

When photographing our boys, there are always lots of outtakes.

Lijah in his Easter suit, his brothers moving around behind him

Lijah momentarily still

Zion mugging for the camera

keepin it silly

After breakfast it was off to church. A half an hour of egg hiding followed by a very crowded and energetic service left the boys a little sleepy.

Lijah sleeping on Leah's shoulder


Harvey leaning against a column beside the stage

to tired to worship

But the very prospect of chocolate revived the big boys at least, and they headed in to the egg hunt with a will.

Zion under a bush grabbing an egg

successful hunter

Harvey climbing the play structure to get an egg, while Zion watches

searching high and low

We took a brief calming pause in an out-of-the way part of the church to take a breath before heading home to clean up and hide more eggs. Of course the pause also involved some more candy consumption.

Zion in a quiet room at church looking at a book

the calm after the hunt

At church the kids were limited to five eggs apiece, but there weren't any restrictions like that for our afternoon egg hunt at home! Leah stuffed 130 with some great candy and toys.

Harvey on the lawn walking away from the camera

collar up against the chilly wind

There was one golden egg with a real dollar bill in it; it took some finding, but eventually Zion bore the prize away. The bigger kids were a little disappointed, but they had no shortage of loot themselves.

some of the kids (and adults) checking out their hauls

seeing what we got

So much went on, and we got to hang out with so many awesome friends, that this report should be much longer; but after all that excitement Lijah and Harvey aren't the only ones worn out. And I need my rest too: with Easter over, it's time to get geared up for gardening season!


don't pass over Passover!

On Saturday before Easter, we did Passover at Leah's parents'. Since we weren't doing anything for Easter Eve, it was a great way to run our streak of religious evening events to four in a row. And of course, it was also a delightful time!

all of us at the Seder table

different than other nights

Harvey was in a concentrating, studious mood, and he totally took in the whole thing, following along with the stories and singing the choruses of the songs—even in Hebrew!

Harvey at the seder table focusing on the haggadah

really doing this thing

As a reward for his attentiveness, he was the one to find the afikoman, which he was able to ransom for a cool ten dollars—after a little, much-needed, lesson in negotiation from Mama.

Zion and Lijah weren't quite as into the whole thing. Elijah didn't even drink the wine we set out for him! (that's a joke; as Leah said at the time, she's not looking forward to ten years—or more!—of Passover jokes along very similar lines). But they ate a bit of food and played with lots of toys; and in the brief moment they were at the table Leah captured this great picture of them:

Zion and Lijah (momentarily) holding hands at the table

the small brothers

And took the shank bone home for Rascal, so everybody was happy! Thanks Ira and Beth for having us. Never mind Jerusalem, I'm looking forward to doing it again next year in the very same place.


authority in homeschooling

A couple days ago Leah was chatting with a friend of ours who's interested in what we're doing with homeschooling. She has kids the same ages as Harvey and Zion and was wondering if we're using a particular curriculum. "No, not really," Leah told her. "We just do whatever seems interesting at the time." Pressed on the subject, Leah allowed that our goals for Harvey are based loosely on the Massachusetts state standards for kindergarteners.

The friend sounded relieved. "Oh, so you know what to teach."

Well, sort of. While there are occasions when I do think I know what to teach, I'll tell you that the state standards don't have much to do with my sense of confidence. In fact, I don't really look to them for direction at all; they're only part of our homeschool planning to make the operation look a little more legit (and, I suppose, to make sure Harvey will be able to join in with his age peers if he decides he wants to try public school). But really, kindergarten learning shouldn't be that complicated. We need some number sense, some literacy, some scientific observation, and lots of opportunities to explore where natural curiosity leads. We can do that!

In lots of areas, the temptation to look elsewhere for authority is strong. Our world-spanning communication system seems to give us access to the best of the best in everything, at least as a model—bread, for example. While it's sometimes nice to have awesome models to aspire to, though, it can also be paralyzing to beginners to gaze across the gulf separating them from the masters (f haven't written about that problem before I really should sometime). But that's not even really the issue here, because even the hot new Common Core standards necessarily represent anything like best practices for kindergarten teaching. Consider this article from the Washington Post back in 2013:

We reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional. ...

When the standards were first revealed in March 2010, many early childhood educators and researchers were shocked. "The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education," wrote Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

What that means is, if you care about educating young children there's a pretty good chance you can come up with goals at least as good as those you'll find in the Common Core or state standards! And even better, the goals you design for homeschooling will will be based on your own children's interests and learning styles. I understand that folks might want confirmation that they're moving in the right direction, but if you ask me the best place to look for that is your kids themselves. Are you doing things with them? Do they like learning? Then you're probably fine! If you ask me, teaching isn't really all that hard; certainly a whole lot easier than making bread!


this moment

the boys clowning around in front of the fence in their Easter suits

Easter morning photoshoot outtake

A moment from the week.

patriots get going early in Bedford

This morning the boys and I headed up to town to take in Bedford's Patriot's Day observances, which conveniently happen the weekend before Lexington's. The last couple years we weren't ready a week ahead and missed the chance to take in a bonus parade, but this year we were poised and excited and took off up the hill on our bicycles as soon as we heard the drummers start to warm up.

the Concord Minutemen's flag

Minuteman pride

Because we rushed so much we were pretty early, which was great since it let us watch the crowds of reenactors gather on the town green.

lots of reenactors milling around

the pre-parade scene

It was awesome to see so many people dedicated to history and pageantry. The quality of the outfits varied a bit, but the occasional off-the-rack shirt or robber-soled shoes didn't detract a whit from the experience of being surrounded by figures from another age. And some of the folks had everything right.

a bearded reenactor in a red cap


The parade is just the precursor to one of the twin highlights of Bedford's civic culture, the pole-capping (the other, of course, being Bedford Day (2, 3, 4)). Near as I can tell—crowds have kept me from getting a really good view the three years I've been—the Bedford Minutemen put up a Liberty Pole, and some British regulars come and make them take it down. But besides that there are lots of speeches by politicians and local notables, and this year those speeches were long and inaudible enough that we gave up early and headed back to the library for the book sale. So as far as I know the pole stayed up this year.

Never mind, though, the parade alone was well worth the trip out, and inspired us all to ask Mama to make us our own colonial costumes for next year. Although Lijah, come to think of it, was already pretty well-attired for the day: we missed seeing the red cap on top of the pole but we got to look at this one all morning!

Lijah at the parade in his red cap

pretty cute too


practice adventure

Harvey and Zion running in the grass beyond the parked bicycle

running free

A week from today is Patriots Day, and we plan to bike up to the parade. Today we took a practice run to make sure Harvey could do it on his own bike (it's around an 8-mile round-trip), and to check how long it would take. Of course, just like we plan to on Patriots Day we had to bring some food!

the boys eating a picnic lunch by the bikes

practice picnic

After the running and lunching we visited the Lexington library for a while—far more rich and rare than our own local library—and then climbed to the top of the belfry hill to read some of our books. On the way home we stopped, as is so often the case, to see some water.

the boys looking at a pond

the call of the waves...

I wanted to get more work done in the garden this beautiful summery day, but I confess it's awful hard to resist a bike ride, stories, and a pond.

Harvey's pink bike and my gray one leaning against a stone bench in the meadow

at rest

The Patriots Day ride and picnic is on for the morning of Monday the 20th... let us know if you want to join us!


20 hours of sewing and I can't be bothered to blog about it

In the past I've taken the week after easter to write some self-congratulatory blog post about the adorable suits I sewed for the boys. Either I'm becoming more mature in my old age or I'm just too tired now to self-congratulate. I sit down in the evening and think: I should write a blog post something. Then I do the dishes.

This is half blogging procrastination and half because there are now a lot of dishes to do. Our dishwasher is broken, and washing dishes by hand is the way of the past that is now the way of the future.

Also, I've had a negative attitude after Easter, and not just because we threw a BIG party with A LOT of dishes. I let Harvey take my camera the morning after Easter and he shattered every shred of self-congratulation I had left with pictures such as this one:

skipping the easter chocolate was apparently not enough

On Easter itself I wore a white sweater that was equally unflattering..

a friend totally snapped this with her iphone and emailed it to me as if it wouldn't completely break my self-concept

Maybe if I'd been doing Pilates for an hour a day in March instead of wasting all that time sewing, it would look like I have a jelly-roll or some similar glutinous substance hanging over the waistband of my pants. Instead, I have ugly photos of myself and lovely photos of three very well-dressed children.

well dressed gentlemen

For those who want to sew along with me, I used the same pants and vest patterns I used in previous years, modified for size. The new sewing challenges this year were a morning coat for Harvey and ascot ties all around. The morning coat took the most time out of any piece of sewing but it was the most well received. With Dan's help I modified a jacket pattern to make it longer and more fitted, and I lengthened the colar. I added welt pockets, turned up tails in the back, and a boutonniere hole that Harvey didn't want to use in the end.

Harvey in his Easter suit leaning against the wall of the house

what a good looking guy

As for the ascot ties, they were much easier to make than the traditional elastic-necked ties I made in the past, but much less confortable. Indeed, Zion was the only one who stayed in his tie the whole day. Harvey had a minor melt-down before church regarding his neckware, because he wanted to please us and complete the suit, but he didn't like the feel of the tie around his neck. The two competing pressures broke his chocolate-bunny-for-breakfast brain. So he chose not to wear the tie, but whenever someone complemented him on his outfit he said, "There's a tie that goes with it."

Poor boy. He also struggles with perceived judgement around his appearance.

Previous Easter suitings, if you want to look back are: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

Next year, maybe they'll all have morning coats...


don't curse the kids

A while ago the boys and I were up by the playground and we passed a mom picking up her kids from the after-school program. In the maybe thirty seconds we could overhear them, as we went by in the opposite direction, the mom told the kids not to do three things, framing all of them in terms of the dire outcome she feared. "Don't walk on the curb, you'll fall." "Don't run!" "Watch out in the parking lot, you'll get hit by a car!"

Now these were big girls—middle and upper elementary school—and they didn't need correction like that anyway (and I noticed that they didn't much listen either). But even if they were little, I think there might have been a better way for the mom to frame her suggestions.

There's a strand of thought in Christian circles, which may or may not derive from the writing of Derek Prince, that suggests the existence in our lives of blessings and curses. I don't know a tremendous lot about the matter, but as I understand it the theory is that our words have power. If, for example, you announce that you get lost every time you try and drive downtown, it might increase your chances of poor navigational results in the future. Or, more seriously (and maybe more realistically) if you tell your kids in a moment of frustration that "nobody in this family ever amounts to anything" you might really prejudice their chances of future success. A blessing, obviously, would have the reverse effect: "You're going to do great on the test today, honey!" will, in most cases, be useful encouragement to the little test-taker.

Whether or not you buy all that, I think it's worthwhile for parents to consider just why they're including these predictions of doom in their directions to their kids. Do they think kids won't obey without a reason? I suppose it's possible. But even then, it's possible to give justification without wishing bad results on your offspring—or at the very least denying them agency for their own feelings ("You need to wear your jacket. You're going to be cold!"). I have been known to say to my own kids, in that very same parking lot, "be careful as you walk here, the drivers aren't always paying attention." Which is true, and probably explains the mom in the first paragraph's fear. But I try to leave open the possibility of rational consideration, and try not to make ridiculously improbable predictions.

Because that's maybe the worst of it: the girls were wicked not going to fall off the curb, and I don't think anyone's ever been hit by a car in that lot (praise be). So the mom wasn't just negative, she was flat-out wrong. And if one of her kids did fall off the curb, what would her response have been: "I told you so?!" I can't imagine.

So put yourself on the same team as your kids—as anyone you talk to—and don't predict that bad things will happen to them if they don't follow your advice. Tell them your thinking, sure: "that wall is very high and the ground at the bottom of it is hard and sharp; if you fall it will probably hurt." But maybe hold back on the curses.


Elijah's first bike trip as cargo

I took a break from bike transportation for the better part of over a year, in order to raise a third child. There are some stupid rules in our state about babies under one not going on bicycles. This is not a blog post about that, because that would be an angry anarchist rant. Instead, this is a blog post about hope. The first bike trip with me and three kids altogether.

setting off!

From a test drive in our home street yesterday we learned that Elijah likes riding in the blue bike. I thought I'd start with a sort ride up to the bagel store to see if he'd stay buckled in. It's not a 5-point harnas, but he stayed still with the lap belt.

Young biker happily eating a bagel. You can see our bike through the store window, a totally unintentional but beautiful selfie staging.

After fueling up with bagels and milk, the boys decided they could take on a ride further afield, down the bike path towards Billerica.

look at him go!

We went about half a mile to a playground we remembered from two years ago, at the abandoned Coast Guard housing.

grass growing around the play structure is eerie yet kind of nice

The 20 small single family homes have stood empty for years, since the Coast Guard cleared out. It's a colossal waste of infrastructure in a town that desperately needs more affordable housing, but this is not an anarchist rant.

empty neighborhood

On the ride home Elijah had some things to rant about. He was desperate to fall asleep, and couldn't find a comfortable position. Poor thing. The trip was proof of concept that he can stay in the bucket, but not that he can sleep comfortably in it.

Lijah sleeping slumped forward in the blue bike

not the most comfortable sleeping position. The lap belt around his waist is holding him in.

Hopefully this is just the start of a very freeing summer. Here's my happy face selfie. It smiles at the future.

biking selfie. No helmet, i know i know.


this moment

the table outside with food, tablecloth, Luke, Bridget, Mama, and Lijah

first picnic supper of 2015

A moment from the week.

second best is just as good

Sometimes things don't go like you planned them. We were all set to bike to Lexington for a picnic and to see the parade, and had invited lots of friends to join us; we had even convinced some of them to go ahead with the plans despite the cold wet weather. And then they went and cancelled the parade. Dismayed but not defeated, we had a picnic at our house instead.

Archibald and Stevens kids eating a picnic on a blanket in the playroom

acceptable substitute

If I forget for a moment that we might have had a nice long family bike ride, enjoyed a spring picnic, and watched a big parade, it was a wonderful time. And actually it was pretty easy to forget with the house full of friends, kids, and babies. And food: lots of food. We didn't have any march music but early American choral music set a period-appropriate tone, and we pretty much just sat around eating and chatting for a good four hours while the rain beat down outside.

Harvey and I, at least, tend to take changes of plans pretty hard. We're happy to do all sorts of things, but once we get an idea of what's going to happen we have a hard time changing gears. And indeed, he started the party by fighting with a friend and then rolling himself up in his blanket on the living room floor. But four hours gives you a lot of time to get used to an idea, and by the end he was delighted with the day. As we prayed together in his bed, I thanked God that we had such a joyful day even though our plans changed. "What were we going to do, again?" he asked me. So it was a good lesson for both of us.

Of course, I can't help but mention that this was our second consecutive rained-out holiday picnic on a patriotic holiday; maybe we can put something together for Memorial Day to try and break the streak.


just another family bike ride

Mama, Zion, Lijah, and Harvey

ready to ride

Now that we can all get out together on bicycles, the call of the open road is hard to resist. This afternoon we took off on a ride, destination unknown.

Harvey and Mama (carrying Zion and Lijah) riding on a path through the woods

family singletrack

Not that we stayed on the road long; despite all the snow and some recent rain the woodsy trails are in fine shape and even the big blue bike zipped right along. Unfortunately Harvey's been a little under the weather lately and not eating very much, so the dirt was a little too tiring. He was happier when we switched back to pavement, but dismayed again by the only big hill of the trip.

Harvey grimacing coming up a hill; Mama behind him

Harvey opens up his suitcase of courage

He made it up like a champion, though! Zion and Lijah, riding as cargo, had less to worry about, though they did have their own challenges. Zion asked the two of them could ride together in the blue bike, so he could tickle the baby—but Lijah gave as good as he got and Zion's screeches as his brother pulled his hair and dragged his helmet off his head were something to behold. After our first stop we switched Lijah to my bike.

Harvey and Mama (w/ Zion) biking by the middle school

moving right along

To keep the motivation level high we made the playground our ultimate destination: the same playground we visit so often, but not usually at the end of three miles of riding through woods and over hills. It worked, and everyone was happy. Once we got off the bikes the bigger boys were moving too fast to photograph, but Lijah is still too little to escape!

Lijah behind the tubular bell bars at the playground

musical baby jail

We're doing a bigger family ride on Saturday; let us know if you want to join us!


this moment

rhubarb coming up


multi-family cycle adventure number one

One of the families we invited for our Patriots Day picnic was so invested in the bike ride part of the proceedings that they got a new trail-a-bike for the purpose. When the cycling part of the day was canceled we naturally scheduled a make-up ride at the first available opportunity. It turned out that some other families wanted to come too.

kids and grownups riding on the bike path

group riders

We ended up with seven adults and ten kids, five of whom were under five. Four of the kids were on their own bikes, two on trail-a-bikes, two in Leah's blue bike, and two in copilot seats. The ride up to Lexington was marred slightly by a flat and some uncertainty about our ability to make it the whole way, so when we got there everyone was delighted!

Zion playing on the Green in Lexington

happy to be out and about

Besides running around by Buckman Tavern we also stopped into the visitor center to see the Battle of Lexington Diorama, and also the bathrooms. But before too long we were back in the saddle for the trip home. It was much more relaxing that the outward journey, since everyone was flush with confidence and snacks, and it was mostly downhill. Harvey and Ollie enjoyed chatting as they rode.

Harvey on his own bike and Ollie on the Trail-a-Bike behind his dad talking as they ride

happily chatting

Zion and Clara took in the sights.

Zion and Clara smile at the camera from the bucket on the blue bike

I don't know how much they had to say to each other

And Lijah fell asleep, eventually.

Lijah asleep in the copilot seat behind me

worn out from the ride

When we got home we—I mean, Luke—fired up the grill to feed the hungry crowd a well-deserved dinner. Then it was my job to convert the charcoal fire to wood for the marshmallow toasting.

Bruce and Gillian toasting marshmallows over the fire in the grill

blurry from the heat

Since marshmallows are more an experience than a desert, we also had ice cream. Lijah very much enjoyed his first Bedford Farms of the season.

Leah holding Lijah, Lijah holding an ice cream cone


It was good. We'll do it again.


birthdays and other stressors

We're feeling kind of stretched around here these days. It's not so much that the three kids outnumber us, since the older two are good on their own for long stretches of time; but they do like someone to pay attention to them sometimes, and Lijah also requires some attention himself. Does he ever—day and night. After putting him to bed Leah this evening wanted to put in some work on the present she's making for Zion's birthday this weekend, but after the third baby wakeup she gave up in frustration. Just as an example. So there's lots I'd like to write about here that I am not writing, in favor of cleaning and reading to kids and even spending some quality time with Lijah. And, the past few days, getting organized to make birthday cards for Leah.

Because, even as she plans for Zion's party, we couldn't entirely ignore her own birthday today! I managed to pull the boys away from their books Sunday and friends yesterday to make cards, which came out pretty nicely; hopefully their elegance and creativity makes up for our lack of tangible presents for Mama this morning. I still owe her a couple. She's not super excited about her birthday, which I understand; I feel kind of the same way, which is why I was happy to have my own subsumed into Lijah's for the first time last month. The first time of many!

But still I can't let the day pass without marking it here: Happy Birthday Leah! And here's hoping that Lijah will give you the best present a baby can give: a reasonable night's sleep!


training wheels reconsidered

The cognoscenti are down on training wheels these days: balance bikes are all the thing. And I used to be right there with them. I wanted Harvey to get one back when he was three, and was a little disappointed when grandma Beth, instead, delivered a 12-inch bike with training wheels. At least it was a beautiful 12-inch bike, with full fenders and a rack. And in the event it was perfect for what Harvey needed. So I didn't mind at all when Grandpa Ira recently procured Zion his own, even smaller, first bike.

Zion's new bike: red 12-inch with training wheels

little bicycle

This recent Metafilter thread reminded me of the balance bike/training wheels dispute. Amidst discussion of countersteering and neoroplasticity one commenter wrote, "training wheels taught me nothing about riding a bike except where my hands and feet were supposed to go." I said something pretty similar back when we were thinking about Harvey's next step after the tricycle; my thought was that the tricycle had already taught him to pedal, so balancing was all that was left to learn. And of course, I figured it'd be best done on a balance bike.

What didn't occur to me back then was, at least for Harvey, there was a lot of value in letting him ride with his training wheels over distance. Sure, the pedaling action is pretty much the same as with the tricycle, but the tricycle is a direct drive machine with a pretty small drive wheel, so it is not at all the thing for transportation. On his 12-inch bike, on the other hand, he was able to travel as far as three miles in a trip, and he used it many times to get to Whole Foods or the library. It may be that some kids use their balance bikes for trips of similar length, but balance bikes do have some drawbacks: no brakes, for one!

For whatever reason, at the age of 5 3/4 Harvey was then able to learn to ride on just two wheels without any trouble at all. He just pushed off with one foot and lifted up the other one, and trusted the natural balance of the bike to keep him upright. He fell once or twice, but mostly just from crashing into things; it wasn't the pathetic parade of tipping over that we're given to expect from a first timer (how much trouble he may have had with countersteering is a subject for another post). I can't say for sure, but I do believe that the advantage of being very comfortable on a bike with training wheels did transfer when he took them off.

And of course, the advantage of having already experienced longer rides also transferred. Towards the end of our recent trip of over eight miles, he told me he was ready to go lots farther. As much fun as riding with friends in the street might be, cycling for transportation at age 5 is useful!

I don't know how much of Harvey's experience is transferrable to other kids—even to Zion—and I still think balance bikes are super cool, but I can't be disdainful of training wheels like I was. For our determined but cautious firstborn, they were just the thing.


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