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sick again?

We had a lovely 1 week respite from illness during which time I made grand sweeping plans for eating healthier and taking time for myself and all sort of non-baby-holding things. Then last night Zion got sick again and now I can only think of surviving another day filled with snot and screaming. On the good news front, Zion took his first crawls forward today. What a proud mama I was, clapping and shouting! Now he can move forward! I feel like I missed all this with Harvey... I remember him pulling up and cruising around and then taking his first steps, but I never remember him crawling. But then, when Harvey was this age I was changing jobs and commuting two hours a day and probably if he started crawling nobody told me.

There. See how I take a perfectly lovely subject and get all complainy up on its ass? It's the reason I'm not blogging much lately. Let's regroup in the spring.

I feel the need to add something positive, so here's what Harvey said yesterday when he was playing with the outdoor grill:

"Do you want some bugs and cheese and moose and hats?"

cultural exposure

We took a field trip with friends today, up north to the Peabody Essex Museum. On the way there Harvey was curious as to whether it was a zoo or an aquarium, and whether there would be fish there; it didn't help matters that he heard "peabody" as "PBS kids", something might mean something to Grandma. And when he asked what we what we cold expect to see there I wasn't particularly informative, having not done any advance research at all besides discovering that the outing would only cost us a total of $5, not including gas. "Um," I told him. "Boats? Paintings? Paintings of boats?"

As it turns out I wasn't too far wrong, but to that short list you can also add 19th century furniture, ancient Japanese masks, figureheads, modern glass art, old shoes, Chinese silver work, and stuffed birds. And some other things. Ah, the joys of a private collection. The museum was charmingly empty on a Thursday afternoon, so the attendants were free to follow us around and make sure that our six kids (and three occasionally over-enthusiastic adults) didn't break anything. They really didn't need to hover so; we only set off alarms twice!

Eventually we made our way to the kids space, where we could finally touch things. After a little bit of fun with the water exhibit, the older kids spent a happy half-hour (or was it even more?) with the wooded build-your-own-birds while the babies played with blocks. Salem residents get in the museum for free; we'd be there a couple times a week if we lived in town, so happy were our children without any intervention required from us (that's rare when we stay at home). All in all, a very rewarding outing.


cycling positives and negatives

One of the good things about this strange mild winter—which on the whole I deplore—is that there are still lots of cyclists out there keeping me company on the path. I do confess, though, that I find many of them humorously over-prepared for the actual conditions. Here's me in the same clothes I'm going to wear at work—inside—with a fleece coat on top, and they're wearing gore-tex parkas and neoprene balaclavas and who knows what else. And a lot of folks rocking studded tires too, which would have been awesome last year but now is kind of overkill. But it's awesome to see other folks riding in February at all, so I'll try not to make fun.

On the other hand, I recently learned that the school where I work officially discourages kids from cycling to school, which I find pretty discouraging myself. Here we have environmental education talking about what kids can do to "save the earth" and physical education telling them they need to get an hour of exercise a day... but it's too dangerous to ride a bike less than mile to school. I guess the crossing guards at both entrances are just to help the traffic flow more smoothly morning and afternoon; speaking as a professional in the field I can tell you that it can get pretty crazy with every single parent trying to get their car in there to pick up or drop off their child. If only there were some other way for kids to... oh yeah, never mind.


the super bowl is so much nicer on the west coast

While I enjoyed last night's game—if not the final outcome—I can't say that, in retrospect, the complete experience was a positive one. Oh, it was great fun watching along with friends and observing Harvey take in his first Super Bowl, but the lateness of the hour really cast a pall over the whole thing. Even had the local 55 (58? whatever) pulled out the victory I would have felt pretty wrung-out on the drive home, and the loss just emphasized the futility of the whole thing. As I said at the time, if I knew the game was going to end like that I would have gone home at 9:00!

Besides being unused to staying up so late in social situations, I also found myself startlingly unaccustomed to television—the ads in particular, but really even the whole giant moving picture thing itself. The ads were especially bad since I felt responsible for exposing Harvey to such a sink of depravity and commercialism; it may have been my newly developing parenting bones speaking, but there sure seemed to be more naked people than I remember from previous Super Bowls. The whirl of imagery, together with the nachos and mac-and-cheese and coconut macaroons I was stuffing for the first three quarters, meant that my sleep was not as calm and refreshing as I might have hoped.

Not that I mean in any way to disparage the party. Harvey and I has a great time, and we much appreciate the invitation. Maybe next year, though, we can start the party around lunch time and then listen to the game on the radio on the way home (and subsequently in bed)? Or maybe just skip the football altogether and have a party without any excuse at all. Less stress that way, and no possibility of crushing disappointment. Unless, I guess, someone else snags the last macaroon.


Parenting right now

Zion is a very busy boy these days. Crawling around the floor (after a fashion), seeing what things he can open or alternatively put in his mouth, and saying "Ba Ba Ba" all the time. It seems he's following Harvey's plan for talking, which is to say he's gonna pretty much vocalize non stop until it starts making sense. Which means in four months I'm going to need a sensory deprivation chamber. Just kidding. I can always go lock myself in the chicken coop. Just kidding. I'm thinking about joining a gym. I can lock the kids in the chicken coop.

Harvey, meanwhile, is kind of amazing me with his level of intellectual processing. The things that come out of his mouth reflect a level of thinking that seems to grow exponentially every day. "We go to the post office then whole foods? Is whole foods close to the post office?" or "The moon is following us! We're goin this way, moon!" or looking at seed catalogues "Do you want some chocolate? I was thinkin about growing chocolate. Can we grow chocolate?" or telling jokes: "a,b,c,d,N??? Hahaha! a,b,c,d,N?! Haha! N is funny!"

harvey face closeup

so many thoughts in there.

Also, when he's eating a muffin at Whole Foods and he drops a piece on the floor he says, "Are there no dogs here?" Which I find endlessly amusing. Imagine a world in which stray dogs run around Whole Foods licking their chops in expectation of dropped samples.

Of course there are some challenges we're dealing with these days too. Harvey is suddenly anxious of kids, stairs, car rides and going anywhere without Mama, to the point of disability. Zion is waking up every two hours in the night, to the point of MY disability. I have no formal plans of attack here except wait and see, because every formal plan I come up with somehow sounds much more traumatic than wait and see.

zion smiling in the high chair

winning smile

On the plus side, Zion finally started eating real food. Harvey is, as always, a champion eater. Which is good because I feel much better bribing with food than with television. We're only watching an hour of TV a week on average, which makes me feel pretty darn good, though terrified of getting sick or pregnant. Harvey doesn't nap anymore and both children are fairly needy, so by 6pm I'm pretty much asleep on my feet. My red and throbbing feet.

As challenging as it is to be a full-time mama to two very young children, there's nothing I'd rather be doing. Yes I'm guilty of getting caught up in the stresses and irritation of day-to-day household management (What do you MEAN your pants are wet? That's the FIFTH PAIR TODAY!). But when the laundry is folded and I sit down to read a story I remember that these are the two most precious angels in the entire universe and I am beyond blessed that they live in my house with me.

harvey and zion getting ready to go out

the duo


Harvey develops accurate retelling of past events

"Me and Zion and the alligator played in Rascal's water!"

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah! I splashed and Zion splashed. Then we had to get changed because we were wet."

The alligator in question is the one you can see at the end of this video. I don't think it was the instigator here. Zion, on the other hand...


a quick knit

I'm really into vests for Zion these days. He hates having the bulk of a sweater around his wrists, but oh it's cold on that floor! The one I knit him for Christmas is a little big still, so he's been sporting two hand-me-downs store-bought versions in heavy rotation. Then on Saturday I remembered I had started a vest back when Harvey was a baby. I had abandoned it because the neck was coming out too small. All of a sudden the DUH hit me like a ton of bricks. "Why don't I finish it with buttons?" I said to myself.

Zion modeling his vest in some extreme lighting conditions

And there you go. Zion had a handmade sweater in under an hour.

I used this adult sweater as inspiration and just worked it smaller I guess. I don't really remember how I made the pattern, actually. I should start keeping a book for these things. When I took the two pieces out of the box on Saturday all I needed to do was finish a strap already in progress. Perfect for adding button holes! Then I sewed up the sides. I really should have noted it in a book, because I think I may have finished in a gauge bigger than when I started. I'm not too concerned thought. A useless waste of scrap turned into an instantly wearable sweater in just an hour, and that's worth a bit of a gauge-jog along one strap.

Zion on his tummy smiling about his new vest

The neck is a little too plunging, but I made it at a point in my life when I had more confidence in my pattern creating abilities than those abilities actually warranted. Two years later I've got a bit more sweater knitting under my belt, so I feel more confident I won't make such stupid necklines in the future.

Zion sitting modeling his new vest next to a ball of yarn

In the meantime, it's nice to have a quick knit for the baby to model.


happy Valentines

I have a new theory about Valentines Day. Maybe the reason that it's so out of control is that they let the kids celebrate it in school, and the excitement of the young has spread to the culture at large. Halloween seems to be something of a similar case. I can't imagine another reason why mature adults would be exchanging gifts costing multiple hundreds of dollars for a made-up holiday, as I have heard that people are doing. Us, we exchange cards and try not to feel guilty that we're not giving each other presents.

In our defense, in all cases the cards are beautifully hand made. Leah got the boys to dip their feet in paint and stamp out butterfly-wing footprints on paper, and I took advantage of my recent experience watching illustrator Giles LaRoche showing off his cut-paper wizardry as an artist-in-residence at my workplace for a week. Sure, they didn't let me go to any of the actual sessions where he taught the kids how to make totally awesome collages (not that I'm bitter) but I picked up enough to be able to put together a pretty good-looking waterlily-themed Valentines card.

And! I also made heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast (well, three of them were heart-shaped—it slows you down having only one heart mold) and Leah baked chocolate-dipped heart-shaped sugar cookies. And our special Valentines Day dinner also featured delicious homemade croutons to adorn our salad; are croutons romantic? No? Oh well, romantic love is a sin anyways, right honey?

I hope everyone had a Valentines Day that was perfectly satisfactory in every way.


starting seed starting

We got our seeds in the mail yesterday, which was very gratifying to both me and Harvey. Even better, they came in a box that must be almost three feet tall (and two by two square), which really shows up the immensity of this whole effort. Not they're really big seeds, of course; there was just some other necessary infrastructure included in the package. But the effect was still nice. Harvey worked on getting into the box for a good five minutes, using a butter knife at first and then when that failed a spoon, before I took pity on him and opened it up with great fanfare. Today we sorted the seed packets.

Now the hardest part is waiting another couple weeks before we start planting. We're totally ready to go now! With Harvey's encouragement I actually started a very few sample seeds a couple days ago, to test the status of both last year's seeds and our seed starting medium (they both smell a little musty). Nearly everything I put in has already sprouted, so as long as damp dirt doesn't have any deleterious effect we look like we're in great shape.

First up, once the season properly gets going, will be peppers and eggplant. Last year's peppers were going slow enough as it was before they were the only casualty of our little hurricane, so we want to get them going early, and I have no confidence about my ability to grow so tropical a crop as eggplant. But we got one plant last year as a gift and were completely enamored of its limited bounty, so we will make an attempt. Tomatoes after that.

In recognition of all this excited planning I've started updating the farming site again. Last year we managed to keep track of our progress up until the end of July; will this be the year where we finally manage to track a whole farming season? Stay tuned.



Harvey is getting the general sense of knock knock jokes and executed his first mildly funny one the other day.

Harvey: Knock Knock.
Mama: Who's there?
Harvey: Bunny Bear.
Mama: Bunny Bear who?
Harvey: Bunny Bear POO!

Yes, I am very proud that my 2-and-a-half-year-old is already joking at a middle-school level.

Harvey is oblivious to the set up of a joke, however, so when my mother said, "Hey, I've got a joke for you. Why did the chicken cross the road?" Harvey answered very earnestly, "The chicken crossed the road because he got out of his chicken coop! But... but... Then we put him BACK into his chicken coop!"

"Well," she said. "You seem to know the whole story then."

Meanwhile, Zion has started uttering strings of "ma" rather purposefully. He'll say "mamamamamam" when he's angling for me to pick him up, and last night when I came back to bed he sighed with relief and said "mamamama" rather cheerfully. So it shouldn't be long before he's getting in on the comedy business. Or at least playing the straight man.

Or maybe Harvey's just the joker in the family. His first word was "da" for "dog."


soapy liberation

Some time ago I stopped using shampoo, and it's been ages since I used a separate face-wash, but not until today did I finally manage to cut the last cord tying me to the soapy clutching hands of big shower. Don't worry, I haven't stopped bathing entirely: I just replaced my bar of hippy soap from Whole Foods with Leah's even-hippier home-made soap. The orange flavor. It feels so liberating.

Unfortunately, I'm still stuck with commercial shaving cream and deodorant. But that may be only because I'm insufficiently creative and inventive. A quick google search tells me that there are a whole lot of recipes out there for homemade deodorant (or maybe just one recipe copied many places; I only read the first link). As for shaving cream, there are similarly many recipes, but interestingly I find that most of them are written by and for women and refer only to leg shaving. The one article I found aimed at men pretty much just suggested using soap. Or shampoo, conditioner, detergent, peanut butter... you know, whatever is handy. Soap sounds promising.

I have long listened to Leah and the other hippy women of our acquaintance discussing these sorts of topics, so I'm sure I could seek out suggestions from them. Women have an advantage in this anti-corporate-cleaning project, because as I understand it they actually think about personal grooming at times other than when they're actually engaged in it. Me, I can't even remember that I need to replace the bar of soap in the shower until I pick it up, at which point it's too late (I had a couple of essentially soap-free showers before I finally managed to bring up the home-made bar from the basement). Any forward planning on the subject feels a little weird to me, honestly. Does writing this blog post make me a metrosexual?


farming mail

I get seed catalogs and I get orchard catalogs and I get bulb catalogs (though not so much anymore with the bulbs; what's up with that, guys?), but today I broke into the agricultural big time in my catalog receipts with the arrival of the Growers Supply Company catalog. Not only does it offer greenhouses, hydroponic supplies, and row cover fabric by the 300ft roll, the front cover offers generous financing terms that'll make it easy for me to go into debt just like a real farmer! Six months same as cash? Great! I always wanted a high tunnel!

No seriously, I'd love a high tunnel. I just don't think my garden is quite big enough yet. A greenhouse of some sort would be pretty awesome too, both for seed starting and to grow lemon trees in. And avocados, do they grow on trees? How about bananas? You can tell the winter, as snowless as it's been, is catching up to me: I'm ready for some fresh garden produce. You know, I bet if I had a cold frame up I could be growing lettuce even now. Seed starting day can't come soon enough.


new camera!

I got a new camera yesterday, a FujiFilm FinePix, at the recommendation of Oona who approves of this brand of cameras and suggested one in my cheapo price range. I loved my little casio exilim but after four years it lost its ability to tell when there's actually enough light to take a picture. Thus every image was overexposed. It seems to be a normal problem with casios, says the internet, but normal does not mean easily fixable said the man at the camera store... to the tune of $160!!! So I opted for a cheaper model, with the resigned understanding that it won't live for years and years because nothing lasts anymore in this throw-away age. Still, I'm happy to be able to take photos again at only $97 poorer.

zion up close with new camera

not excited by new technology

This sort of image would have been completely blurry with my casio. It had trouble focusing at the end of its life, too. The FujiFilm seems to have a narrower depth of field, which isn't bad for the kind of pictures I'm taking, which is to say a hundred million pictures of my children per day.

harvey running on bikepath, new camera

"don't take a picture of me!!!"

I tried it out at dusk yesterday just because I was so excited to get it in the mail. We'll see what the full daylight image quality looks like. I mean, we'll all see because if I post a picture on the blog it'll be from this new camera.

Before asking Oona (which I should have done in the first place, duh) I spent a week looking at camera reviews on the internet. Dan suggested I look at the negative reviews on Amazon when considering cameras, and it turns out that's a recipe for hating capitalism. Seriously. Why would you want to buy something that broke out of the box for 6 people? Let's look at this other camera. Wait, it broke for 29 people??? WTF? Apparently 100% of cameras on the market break in the first month and are furiously hard to return. Why is everything a piece of crap? And yet so expensive?

Oh well. At least this camera works and my kids are adorable and (grudgingly) photogenic.


new camera: update

I read the camera user guide and seem to be taking more in-focus pictures now. It has a nice flash inside.

havery eating pizza, new camera flash

Even in a fast-moving game of peekaboo.

zion playing peekaboo, flash

The outside pics look a little weird to me though. Is this more of a cute baby camera and less of a landscape one? Or am I just seeing things?

dan in the woods, new camera


outside days

Harvey digging in the garden

early garden work

We've pretty much given up on winter around here. It's hard to remember that it's still February when you're outside in shirtsleeves working on garden chores that usually belong to the beginning of April. Can we start planting peas yet?

Not that everybody was working, of course:

Rascal lying down in the garden

he knows what to do with a garden bed

While yesterday really was quite warm, the effect is at least partly psychological: no snow and bright sunny skies make us think of spring, even when the temperature is still coolish. So last weekend we had a picnic!

the archibalds and friends picnicking with coats on

it's not too cold, right?

Of course, as I type these words it's just started snowing. But we know it won't last!


we hit the road

my new 1970s Rampar machine, with kid seat

new to me

I got a new bicycle a week ago, and a good bit of the intervening time has been spent in first making it rideable, and then making it rideable for Harvey. He was an eager helper in the project, and we finished it yesterday (and immediately took a test ride, of course!). So when Leah suggested we all go out today, we enthusiastically agreed. We seem to be doing photos lately, so here's the story of our adventure in pictorial form.

Harvey and me getting ready for a winter ride

geared up and ready to go

We set out in high winds and scattered flurries, just the thing for Mama's first post-Zion bike ride. She was pulling the trailer, too. You'll see that Harvey brought a friend.

Harvey's doll reposing in the kid seat

along for the ride

There were a few obstacles in our path.

Harvey and me climbing over fallen tree-trunks

cyclocross style

And long-unused equipment needed some minor repairs along the way.

Harvey posing with a rear wheel

bike mechanic

But we made it to our destination, lovely Lexington Center, where we warmed up and relaxed in the children's room at the library.

Zion playing at the Lexington library

well-read and well-puzzled

Despite a break from cycling of well over a year and some vicious headwinds on the way home, Leah was still smiling at the end of the voyage.

Leah on the bicycle towing the trailer

journey's end

And Zion was zonked out. There's something about that trailer...

Zion sleeping in the bike trailer

it's like magic

So now our whole family is able to travel by bicycle (well, except for Rascal; sorry boy). Expect to see us out again soon and often... after the weather warms up a little more.


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