November was hard

As November started I was crowing about not missing a day of writing in October. Clearly that effort tired me out, because except for that one post, I didn't manage to produce a single thing on time in November. And as I write these words, there's nothing at all posted since November 7. I've been trying—oh, trying!—but despite writing many words I really struggled to get anything finished. And every day trying to catch up made it harder to stay on top of things, until I just gave up. Sort of the story of my life. So for December I'm declaring bankruptcy and starting over! If I have time I'll go back and finish all my almost-finished thoughts from November, but if I don't manage it, never mind! Time marches on! December life must be recorded! I'll start that tomorrow

soap boats!

Harvey owns a set of wood-carving tools, but it's Elijah who uses them the most often. But making a piece of wood into what he can see in his mind isn't always easy for him. So he was immediately taken by a project in a wood carving book we got from the library that's all about carving soap. Significantly easier than wood! The only holdup was that we don't actually have any bar soap, just artisanal pucks and blobs, but he had only to suggest to Mama that he needed supplies and she instantly procured a three-pack of Ivory soap for him to work with. His first boat took a little bit of time, as he puzzled out the instructions; he was so delighted with it that he immediately started on a second one, which came together much more quickly. Then he thought of saving the last bar of soap for its manufacturer-intended purpose, but I told him that I wouldn't be able to stand the smell so he should go ahead and carve it. The third boat was a three-master! Then he molded a lifeboat out of the left-over chips. You can't do that with wood!

a soap boat Elijah made

model 1

The only problem he ran into was in testing the boats. He filled the sink to see how well they floated; they did, but they also immediately started lathering. Ivory soap is soft! So now they're display models on the windowsill above his desk, which is right next to mine. It's just like having an air freshener. I'm going to try and find him some softish wood to carve into a boat along the same lines, but that's going to have to wait a bit: now he's into clay.


hanukkah this year

This year Hanukkah is about as early as it can ever be, with the first night falling back on Sunday the 28th. With so long to go til Christmas, that means we have plenty of energy to celebrate it! We've lit candles almost every night, I've made lots of latkes, and we've done lots of dreidel. And that's all before our big gathering with Leah's parents tomorrow evening! We've also helped our friends learn about the holiday. On Wednesday we made latkes together, and this morning we painted our own dreidels and played a long competitive game (plus a special bonus game of battle tops). No presents at our house, though; with all that we do for Christmas it would be a little much. But that's alright, presents aren't the main point to the holiday, anyway—the main point is lights burning for a long time! Which the candles on our menorah do, for sure; so long, in fact, that we've been moving the menorah up to the boys' room when they go to bed. It burns in their window like a self-extinguishing nightlight. Though with two more nights to go I think we may have to put an end to that practice; I dripped a lot of wax on the carpet carrying it upstairs this evening. Maybe we can just do one candle upstairs. Hanukkah may be almost over, but the bigger season of Light in the Darkness still has a way to go!

moments from the week

the boys and friends making wreaths on the back deck

the annual project

Just a couple moments from the past week.

Zion and Elijah playing driedel at the kitchen table

Hanukkah spirit

the boys playing dreidel with friends

we also introduced friends to the game



For whatever reason, I consider real-life puzzle projects more valuable that computer-game ones, so I was proud and delighted a couple weeks ago when Harvey learned how to solve a Rubiks Cube. He picked it up super quickly too, motivated by the popularity of cubing among his age-peers in the homeschool set and helped a great deal by his good friend who's a couple years older. He watched videos and things too, but having someone to show him what to do—and point out where he's going wrong—really accelerated the learning process.

I asked the friend's mom if she was interested in learning the ways of the cube, and she told me she absolutely was not. But I confess I'm kind of drawn to trying to figure it out, and this evening, after asking Harvey for some tips, I spent a solid hour working on the first steps. I'm not sure my brain is built for it, any more than it is for the all the other little handheld puzzles that have somehow become an essential part of our Hanukkah observations at Leah's parent's house. But that didn't stop me from throwing myself at them, either—and I even solved a couple! I don't know if I'll ever get the Rubiks Cube, but I've still got energy for working on it. Hey, it's at least as useful as learning how to beat the computer at Reversi, something else I accomplished this past week!

best looking trees

We usually wait to get our Christmas tree until mid December, since we want to leave it up through Twelfth Night and those trees only have so much life in em. But this year the talk of grave shortages was unavoidable, so I started to wonder if we should move ahead of schedule. And when my mom pointed out that having the tree outside at our house was no different that letting it sit at the farm, that convinced me. So we went to get one yesterday.

Harvey posing as Chip-In's best looking tree

tree shopping tradition

It was a delightful outing with our friends at the end of our school day together, and once again I have to say how much I appreciate living right around the corner from Chip-In Farm. So much so that I didn't even mind (too much) paying an inflated Covid shortage price for this year's tree, 30% over last year's. Where else does the owner call you by name and offer to get the tree on your car? I felt bad that it took him longer to tie it on that it was going to take us to drive home, but he said he didn't mind.

Harvey and Elijah being silly holding up a tree for inspection

not the final choice

Besides the tree, we looked in at the animals, admired the new pony (who the littlest member of our group got to ride for a moment!), and enjoyed the general farminess. The kids got treats (the candy-cane fudge is only available in December!). We sat at the picnic table and loved life. And now we have a tree, and the news about shortages need bother us no more! (Although, now that I look back in the archives December 6 is only a couple days later than our average tree purchase date...)


elevated expectations

We took a bike ride in the woods yesterday, and I turned on the Strava because it's actually the best way to navigate on trails where you're not sure where you're going or where you want to go. And because I like recording things! When we finished up after a couple hours of fun exploring I was maybe a little disappointed to see that our ride came in at under four and a half miles. Is that all we could manage?! But then I thought about it a little more and started to wonder if it wasn't actually reasonable. After all, some kids don't even regularly do five miles on roads! And this ride wasn't on roads.

the boys walking their bikes on rocks across a stream

it wasn't all quite that bad

Well, not paved roads at least. We were in the Estabrook Woods in Concord, and one of the cool things there is the old Colonial-era roadways that still run through the woods: Estabrook Road and Two-Rod Road, straight between the stone walls at either side. As we rode along we tried to imagine what the landscaped looked like when instead of trees it was all fields and pastures, but we couldn't really. It's a big woods, and though we've been there before there are still lots of parts we haven't explored. The big find this time was an old limestone quarry: a gorge eight or ten feet deep and not much wider, with a cave at one end and a cool Pride Rock outcropping overhanging in the middle. Just right for a little chorus of "Nants ingonyama".

Elijah posing on a rock like in Lion King

the helmet is baby Simba

the boys in a pretty deep cave

it's hard to take pictures of caves

We also stopped a few times so the boys could climb glacial erratics, and to have snacks and water, and to consider the world from the heights of Hubbard Hill. And of course in Estabrook woods there are lots of streams and ponds to check out. Sure it was too cold to want to fall in but not cold enough for ice, but that doesn't stop us being fascinated by the water.

Zion throwing a rock into a pond

and almost-midwinter afternoons look like evenings

No, they're good riders and hikers, and I'm lucky to have them as company for such delightful jaunts in the woods. Not every kid would go for it! And if I want someone to do a ten-mile ride with me, there's always Harvey. And probably Zion next year. And Lijah not far behind? We'll keep practicing!



Last week at park day one of the parents brought popovers to share. Now, I often bake snacks or desserts for school days, or at least bring leftovers to share, but I hadn't thought to offer treats to our friends at the playground. Knowing that was a thing, though, I just had to get in on the action, so yesterday I brought a tin of chocolate cookies I made the evening before. Only to find that this other dad brought popovers again PLUS chocolate cookies with crushed up candy canes on them! Folks hardly looked at my cookies, paling as they did compared to the wonder that was the other cookies (ok, they actually ate them all up, but clearly everyone thought the other ones were better in every way). Now there are plans for a veritable feast next week—bread, desserts, hot drinks... It may end up being a swan song for the group this year, because I'm not sure how many folks are going to want to come out on December 22. Then again, this group has surprised me before...

Elijah's cozy spot

Our house is pretty cold in the mornings, so it's a good thing that Elijah has got a special space he can run to when he gets out of bed. It's a little cave between the arm of the couch and the wall, roofed over by the end-table sort of thing that's built into the bookshelf there. That's cozy enough to begin with, and it's even better because of the baseboard heater that runs through it and the fact that its other use is blanket storage. It might even be better than his bed! So if happen to come by our house before 7:00 and are wondering where are littlest one might be found, look there first. I think there's still a solid six months til he's too big to fit anymore—easily enough to last out the winter.

moments from the week

Harvey and Elijah sitting on the floor with a cat among quilting scraps

quilting with cat

Moments from the past week.

Elijah with the Christmas tree at Chip-In

Elijah as best-looking tree

Zion walking on a log over some cold mud by a pond

he'll never fall

Elijah smiling at the first snowfall

first beautiful snow

the boys in Harvey's bed

rainy morning bed party

Elijah getting ready to ride his bike through a stream of run-off by the playground

winter rain is exciting


starting to look a little like...

Christmas prep has been a little lacking around here this year. We can barely cope with regular life! But we've been listening to Christmas music, and I guess today it finally kicked in because not only did we finally get the tree up, we also made gingerbread houses. The tree was easy: the boys are practiced professionals at putting on the ornaments, and they're also strong enough to help me move the furniture and manhandle the tree into the stand. Leah didn't have to life a finger! We installed it this morning, then decorated it after supper... leaving plenty of time to bask in its glow before bedtime.

Lijah and Harvey putting ornaments on the tree

one of them can even reach the top!

The gingerbread houses were a little more challenging. I had a work meeting this morning, so I made the dough and started cutting and baking pieces; but then I took off until lunchtime, leaving Leah and the boys to finish up the baking part. Leah lifted many fingers cleaning up and getting ready for our friends to join us for the construction. Then there was also the trouble of eating too much candy during the decorating phase: Harvey, Zion, and I felt distinctly woozy with sugar overload. Self-control is hard, man!

But now we don't need self-control, because for the next month the houses are decoration rather than food, and nobody would even think of nibbling (except the dogs; we have to pick display locations with them in mind). They came out pretty good! Yes, it's starting to look distinctly seasonal around here. Now all we need to do is start thinking about some presents!

Elijah's gingerbread house

it has a certain unique style, does it not?


getting moving

the boys and dogs walking in a meadow

our walk today

This morning we took a walk by the airport, where we haven't been for months because it gets so wet. It's still wet, but somehow it seems a little easier to deal with when it's winter. The mud was challenging at times, but there were lots of dry spots and it was wonderful to see the boys getting to run and play. One of the hardest parts about homeschooling is that they don't get a recess to play tag or whatever with a bunch of other energetic kids; their tired old dad isn't nearly as much fun. So we like to get together with other families with the hope that the kids can encourage each other. Sometimes that works! Today though, they didn't even need it. They were running right out of the car, being pets along with the dogs, and then when we reached the field where the high grass was irresistible they spent half an hour as tigers and hunters. Then the last part of the walk they slowed down and got back to talking about Minecraft, but that's fine too. It's still fresh air!

party at the park

Our Park Day is still going strong. Stronger than ever in one important regard: folks bringing food! The feast I predicted last week came to pass, and it was one for the ages. I made coconut macaroons this morning and Harvey made chocolate chip cookies; there was also thumb-print cookies, stroopwafels, peanut-butter fudge, other chocolate chip cookies, gingersnaps, and peppermint candy. And it wasn't all sweets. There were also spring rolls and saffron buns. The kids all ran around a lot, but I have some doubts as to whether they burned more calories than they took in. For the adults there isn't even a question! I think some folks are planning to be there next week too, but we're taking a break... not only do I anticipate being busy with Christmas prep, but the season is enough filled with treats as it is!


It's eggnog season for the two of us in the house who enjoy eggnog. Not just any variety, though; only the stuff made by Shaw Farm over in Dracut. It's thick and rich, and it's just as well it's as expensive as it is because if you drink more than one small glass in a sitting you're going to be regretting it before too long. (I know. I tried it again this afternoon.) Except for overindulging we did the thing right, with freshly-grated nutmeg and everything. Harvey and I did, at least; for their post-yard work treat Zion and Elijah chose chocolate milk made with with Hershey's syrup. We can't all be exemplars of culture.

moments from the week

the boys decorating the tree

getting ready

Moments from the past week.

kids gathered around a diagram of a chicken

chicken learning

Harvey and Elijah amidst the mess, finishing up gingerbread houses

gingerbread chaos

Elijah standing by a magnetile tower taller than he is

Elijah included for scale

kids examining a dead hawk on the ground

excitement at park day

Harvey and Zion walking by a horse jump, Elijah getting ready to walk across it

walking, variously

Zion, Elijah, and a friend with big orange guns in the snow

hunting party


new experiences in salad dressing

We have a disagreement in our house about what kind of salad dressing is best. Harvey likes a creamy dressing, the kind made with mayonnaise and sour cream. Zion prefers a vinaigrette, heavy on the vinegar—or when we don't have any dressing made he's happy to adorn his salad with balsamic straight from the bottle. (Elijah doesn't eat salads.) I was at Penzies the other day, and, looking at their display of salad dressing mixes, wondered if Italian dressing might split the difference. Some vinegar, but not too much; plenty of sweetness too. Seems perfect! When I went to make the first bottle this evening, though, I was kind of surprised by the recipe. Two parts oil to one part vinegar? And vegetable oil?! (the instructions don't even specify what kind of vinegar). Because it was the first time I did it like they said, and as I expected it came out pretty oily. But I guess that's what salad dressing is like for most people! We're maybe an exception in that, to us, a vinaigrette is twice as much vinegar as oil. Because vinegar is the part that tastes good and doesn't coat your tongue with flavorless oil goop! No, I exaggerate: it actually was fine. Just like store-bought dressing. But nobody loved it. I'll change up the recipe a little bit next time, but for now I wonder how long it'll take us to go through the cup-plus that I made today?

Welcome Yule!

We fully embraced the solstice today. We talked about it, and read about it, and later this evening we're having a big solstice party—the fire is already laid and the backyard decorated with boughs of spruce and holly. But our first big solstice moment was a lantern walk at sunset.

Harvey holding a lantern looking at the darkning west over an icy pond

bye sun, see you in a while

It was organized by the moderator of the Greater Lowell Homeschoolers Facebook group, who also brought supplies to make paper bag lanterns. Some of our good friends were there, and also some folks we hadn't met before. It was a short walk—it was already getting dark when we started and most of the group wasn't hardy outdoorsmen like us—but still delightful.

a biggish group of kids and adults with lanterns in the twilight

setting out under the setting sun

Best of all was that the ice on the pond was about an inch thick, even after barely 24 hours of good freezing weather. Parents were nervous, but the brave kids had a grand time slipping and sliding close to the shore, and nobody got any worse than wet hands and feet. Much fun; and I consider the Yule to have been properly Welcomed. Now let's party!


solstice with friends

We had a party yesterday! It felt like the first in a long time; we've had people over to the back porch lots in this pandemic time, including last winter solstice, but those were all more like relaxed hang-out get-togethers. Last night we know it was a party because I bought beer and chips, made multiple desserts, and had not one but two steaming pots of hot drink available—mulled cider and hot chocolate. And of course a bonfire.

a big fire burning in our firepit

as big a one as the firepit allows

Which was good because we really appreciated the chance to get warm inside and out. It wasn't super cold—and the ground wasn't covered in a foot of snow like last year—but there was a damp chill in the air and it wasn't weather that would typically encourage people to linger outside. But on this night, linger we did!

friends gathered on our back deck under lights

partying the long night away

At least for a little bit. It was still a school night, after all, for those kids who have to go to school; the solstice isn't as important in the public school curriculum as it is among homeschoolers of our vaguely Waldorf-influenced set. But that was ok, because after everyone left and we finished all the cleanup—which took some time!—the fire had died down enough for us to be able to jump over it. Which three of us did! True, it wasn't really a bonfire any longer, but I think it should still count. Now the sun can come back!


bedtime Caroling

This week we set aside our current evening read-aloud chapter book—The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate at the moment—for a read through of that beloved classic tale, A Christmas Carol. Which I actually don't believe I've ever read! Or at least I don't remember it. Not the details, anyway; I'm of course very familiar with the storyline and the characters. But I've been surprised by how much I'm enjoying the writing. Probably some of my pleasant surprise is due to the fact that I last read Dickens in high school when he was being forced upon me, and I don't think I was ready. Or not prepared to be appreciative at least. Now in the 21st century A Christmas Carol is definitely holding our interest (even if I do have to stop and explain some of the scenes, for language and context; it helps that the period was solidly my area of study as an undergrad!). There's even been pressure to get some extra reading time in, but I'm holding firm: we've got to time it right to finish tomorrow night just before bedtime!

practicing for tomorrow

Zion has been telling me the past couple days that he's in training to get up early on Christmas morning. You might expect that it wouldn't be easy for him: most days he's much the latest riser in our house, on account of he stays up til all hours reading in his bed or else just wandering around the house wondering why he can't fall asleep. But I know that the same amazing willpower that keeps him awake evenings will let him pop right out of bed if he's motivated to do so, and indeed his training has been going pretty well so far. His appearances downstairs have been creeping earlier, and he even joined us for breakfast once or twice this week! This morning he and Harvey were up and talking not long after 4:00, which was maybe a little much; thankfully he made the wise choice to put himself back to bed and was able to sleep past six (Harvey and I were less successful at getting back to sleep). What'll happen on the morning itself tomorrow? I predict boys downstairs by five at the latest. Practice pays off, and who can wait to get to Christmas?!

moments from the week

Elijah wearing shark mittens opening a present in front of the tree

Christmas morning!

Moments from the past week.

a Christmas pageant on the church parking lot

can you see Elijah the Wise Man?

Harvey and Elijah bowling

bowling party

Zion and Elijah standing on the ice on the horse trough

water like a stone

Elijah smiling from a blanket fort


Elijah and Mama sheltering candles at the outdoor Christmas Eve service

fetching light on Christmas Eve


700 words about this Christmas

We had a bit of a "less" Christmas this year. Fewer presents, fewer cousins, less food for Christmas brunch, less stress. Less photography. But it wasn't any less delightful! We started the celebration with an outdoor church service at 4:00 on Christmas Eve, which was lovely and cheerful despite the cold; the boys were warmed up by the presence of hot chocolate, giant doughnuts, and friends. And it was so wonderful to sing together! The only challenges were that it was just about impossible to keep candles lit in the breeze, and that driving home in the dark it was pretty confusing the boys that we hadn't had dinner yet. Not that there was much need after 1000 calories of doughnut! We did have a little salad, then after the final chapter of A Christmas Carol the boys headed off to bed.

our tree late on Christmas Eve

when not even mice were stirring

It's good they got an early night, because they woke up just a little past three in the morning raring to go. They didn't exactly get up at that hour, but there was definitely some excited whispering then, and again a little after four; then after five when Elijah woke up too it was a full-blown party in their room. After a bit of a later night wrapping the last few things and cleaning up I was a little grumpy at the morning's disrupted sleep and stayed in bed until close to six, but the crew downstairs was very patient and gracious as they waited out my mood. We did stocking presents before sunrise—lots of Rubiks Cubes and citrus fruits—and then had breakfast, giving the sun time to rise before we turned to the pile of presents under the tree.

Which while less numerous were no less well-received! We've been working on quilting in our school time so there were some quilted ornaments and accessories, and Harvey made an amazing sock-monkey octopus—socktopus!—for Elijah. Everybody who lost their water-bottle in 2021—Harvey, Elijah, and me—got a new one. The boys got new mittens and Zion got a snowsuit. I felt mature enough to buy Leah a piece of Art, but still cheap enough to frame it myself. And of course there were some lego sets, the making of which commenced immediately.

But only the little ones, because there wasn't time for anything big before we headed off to Grandma and Grandpa's. The drive was slightly treacherous in the freezing rain, but no more than our front steps; once we'd made it down them the hardest part of the journey was over. Legos came with us for later building, and they were joined by more once we started to open Grandma's presents. But before that we had to have our favorite meal of the year, Christmas brunch! I was sad for there to be no smoked salmon—not enough salmon eaters without cousins, now that Harvey is a vegetarian—but with eggs, bagels, donuts, ham, potatoes, and fruit, I barely missed it.

The second round of presents—third?—passed by pleasantly and calmly, then the rest of the day relaxed into a haze of enjoying the fire, the food, and new toys. The boys built some lego sets and played the new game Harvey got for the Switch, then I roused myself enough to play a couple rounds of the new board game I got him. At some point we did some singing together and, in a big moment, all three boys took a solo verse on "We Three Kings". I'm glad, because it means I don't need to ever do it again. They always make fun of my falsetto anyways. Somewhere around mid-afternoon we had dinner and there were thoughts of making it all the way to another meal at suppertime, but we didn't really get there. The early wake-up started to tell and by 7:00 we were ready for our beds.

Of course, first we needed to navigate the icy streets and our icy stairs again, and then read a chapter of the book we set aside for Dickens. And brush our teeth well after a day of uncountable desserts! Yes, I think that, even toned down, Christmas can count itself celebrated.

Elijah and Grandpa opening presents, Zion building in the background

this present delight



Yesterday we spent some time with friends and as we adults sat around talking we did some reminiscing about how much we used to enjoy little outings with our little kids. Expectations were so reasonable! Everything was so delightful to experience! Well, the boys may have been listening and feeling the same way, because when Harvey, Elijah and I took a walk in the afternoon we found ourselves bushwhacking along Elm Brook where, I recalled, there used to be a path many years ago. Only a short bushwhack, though, and before long we reached the bridge where the bike path crosses the brook, a spot where Harvey at least had spent many delightful hours exploring and playing when he was well younger than Elijah is now.

Harvey and Elijah walking beside a brook

old haunts

What do you do at a stream? Throw sticks, climb on the retaining walls, test how cold the water is, see if you can wade all the way across (no), find secret homes on the bank... Besides the water, there was also some ice on the bridge that Elijah and I enjoyed sliding on. Then we walked a little further—but not too far! We climbed on some stumps and loading docks, visited the Budd Rail Diesel Car, and pushed the tiny rail cart thing up and down the narrow gauge tracks. Then we headed for home since it was time for Harvey to play Minecraft. We were out for an hour and a quarter, and we didn't get farther than half a mile from home. And it was a highlight of the day! Not bad for entertaining an almost-teenager.


time for friends

Vacation week is kind of awesome. On Sunday afternoon we took a fun short walk with some friends, and as we were all getting into our cars we wondered if we could get together another time during the week. Sure! So yesterday we had one family over to play board games and video games—carefully masked and socially distanced inside our house. While we were happily engaged I got texts from two other families who wanted to play outside, so I invited them over too. We ended up with nine kids running around battling with light sabers and laser tag pistols for an hour and a half, plus a handful of adults coming in and out. It was so fun! If only people didn't have to work and go to school all the time, we could do it all more often!

our reading

With our Christmas reading out of the way we're back to our regularly scheduled bedtime chapter books. Yesterday we finished up The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, is a fantastic book which was enjoyed by all (Harvey enjoyed it first on his own time, freeing him up to do other things before bedtime). It's about a girl from a wealthy family in rural Texas in 1899 whose interest in the natural world is encouraged by her grandfather but resisted by her mother, who wants her to become a proper young lady. It's both sensitive and funny and won a well-deserved Newberry honor for its first-time author. I was facing some pressure from the boys to go straight on to the sequel, which I picked up yesterday at the library, but I refused. As good as it was, I don't like to stay in the same style and voice for too long. But of course that means I had to find another book. Which isn't easy!

We've been reading chapter books to the boys since Harvey was four, or maybe even three. I think we started with the Borrowers series, or maybe Little House. So just for bedtime reading—and let me tell you we've done a lot more than just bedtime reading!—that's about half-an-hour a night for the last eight years. Or say 20 minutes; sometimes we're short on time. That's about 970 hours, or 40 days, of chapter book readalouds! I wonder how many books we've read together? Or which ones?! The other day we were trying to think of what we were reading three books ago, and had some trouble; one of the boys expressed a wish we had written them all down. Yes, if only we had: what a record that would have been! But we didn't. So I suppose we can't start now.

But we can start a new book! Tonight we dipped into The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip and Erin Stead, and we're all liking it so far. And after it will come another...