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two Monday outings

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

spring adventure in winter

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

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

Lijah in a sunbeam in a ball pit

sunny ball boy

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

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

Lijah running down a big hill towards the playground

room to run

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


realistic simulation

At almost-two, Lijah is starting to have some real significant periods of solo play. It's lovely! It generally takes some intervention to get him going on something but if he's not hungry or tired he can, once launched, entertain himself for a good half-hour at a time. A couple weeks ago the little plastic dinosaurs were his favorite independent play toy; now it's his Duplo farm.

Lijah playing with animals and the Duplo barn, using the trampoline as a table

modeling the social interactions of the animals

Like Harvey (and unlike Zion) Lijah is very vocal when he plays. But while Harvey at that age narrated his stories, Lijah mostly sticks to dialogue. Dialogue that hews pretty close to the familiar for him.

"No no no!"

"Wait up, Cow!"

"Let go! Give it back!"


Charming, except that sometimes—often—it's hard to tell the difference between Lijah calling "Mama" and the calf or the baby duck doing the same. The volume of his in-game cries is certainly about the same as the genuine article. Of course, I err on the side of ignoring him; and no worries if I guess wrong, because I'll hear about it soon enough!


whining about warmth

It's been startlingly warm here the last couple days. In my incredulous descriptions of the weather I've moved through "spring-like" to "summer-like"—what else could I say about a day like yesterday that saw us playing soccer and riding bikes in t-shirts?

Lijah out on the street in bike helmet and t-shirt

and proud of it!

Most people around here have been just delighted by the pleasant weather. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that it'd be fine—perfect!—if we had a snowless winter with the temperatures never dropping much below 50°F. While I did enjoy all the time we spent outside the first half of the week, I can't agree. If you ask me, winter is broken, and it's a big problem.

On one level the trouble is immediate. Lots of things in our ecosystem here depend on the temperature swings we're supposed to have over the year: bulbs, trees with dormancy periods, hibernating amphibians. Snow on the ground protects dormant plants (like my grass) and slowly replenishes ground water. And cold weather in the winter kills pathogens that could otherwise multiply and damage trees. Even when we do have cold snaps mixed in with warm temperatures it can cause trouble: enough warm days and flowering trees will start to bud. When it gets cold again the buds will die, and that means no apples in the fall.

And then there's the big picture. However we feel about our local climate personally, an ever-warmer planet is bad news for everyone in the long run. You've all heard about sea-level rises, local extinctions and crop failures caused by unusual weather patterns, and ever-stronger storms thanks to the energy all the warmth injects into the atmosphere. "Yes, but!" people tell me. "It's so nice right now!"

It may be that I'm a horrid curmudgeon (probably true). It may be that I secretly or not-so-secretly enjoy it when things are difficult (definitely true). But I would suggest that "nice" is what you make of it, and that there are many pleasant aspects of a bitter cold winter buried under feet of snow. And for people who really can't stand the cold, there are many places in the world—in the United States, even!—where really cold weather is rare or nonexistent. Massachusetts isn't supposed to be one of them, and to damn us all to climate disaster for the fleeting pleasure of a summer day in February is bad policy!

(Alright, I know what you're going to say: we don't have a direct personal input on climate change, so why not enjoy warm weather while it's here? Or more to the point, why not enjoy it without complaining up a storm like me? Because not complaining makes us not change anything. If we think that 57°F after 9:00pm on February 3rd is crazy, we might consider redoubling our own conservation efforts to do what we can to slow global warming. That, or write a whiny blog post about how everyone else is wrong. Every little bit helps!)


hippy picture book suggestion

In a world full of kindergarten stories and princess-dress stories and robot-boy stories, I take note when I come across a picture book that I think shows off good counterculture values. Take mental note, that is... unfortunately, when I don't actually write down any of the titles that particularly catch my attention, I can't remember them later when anyone asks. If anyone were ever to ask. That changes now!

In Building Our House, Jonathan Bean describes, from his older sister's perspective, how his parents and their friends built a timber-frame house for themselves. The watercolor illustrations beautifully portray the passage of the seasons as the work goes slowly forward—though significantly faster in the book than in real life, as an author's note at the end explains! The narration is wonderfully matter-of-fact, just as you'd expect from a child of parents who could ever conceive of such a thing. Wiring and insulating mid-winter "while the drifts pile up"? Sure, isn't that just what you do?

Bean and his family aren't all-out back-to-the-landers: the first step they took towards developing their property was to hook up to municipal electricity, and an electric range is pictured (along with a cookstove at the center of the house). So they aren't as hard-core as some people we know. But they sure aren't taking the typical route to home-ownership!

Harvey and Zion love the book, which we got from the library, and we've already read it six or seven times. It might be worth buying, though I may prefer to save my Jonathan Bean dollar for another book of his that I learned about while searching for an image to include with this post. Called This Is My Home, This Is My School, it features the house whose construction we just lived through serving both those roles.

In the Author's Note that ends Building Our House, Bean closes:

Of course, a homestead would not be complete without a large garden, fruit trees, pets, woodland, and a stream flowing through a mysterious marshland. Add to that the wise love of two parents, the companionship of three sisters, and a practically lived faith, and it's hard for me to think of a better place to have grown up.

Sounds good to me!


snowy day

Harvey, Zion, and a friend posing in the snow

snow-day gang

I got my snow!

snow falling in the yard

everything pretty again

What a difference from a couple days ago; even last night, as I worked in the yard to get things ready for the snow, it was warm enough that I was comfortable in my shirt sleeves. Today we were comfortable in snow suits.

the boys playing in the heavily-falling snow

rough and tumble

It wasn't that cold, but it was snowy and wet, and the boys spent several delightful hours outside. They would have stayed longer yet, but all their friends had to go in.

Harvey and Zion just inside the front door, still geared up and covered with snow

that's after I made them shake off outside

The snow stopped just before sunset, and the clouds parted to let a ray of sun through to illuminate the snow-covered trees. A perfect end to a beautiful snowy day!

the tips of the snow-covered trees lit up by a break in the clouds at sunset

everybody else posted this picture on facebook


moments from the week

our snowcovered house and yard in the early morning light

winter wonderland, eventually

Scenes and moments from the past week. We do more things than we have time to write about; photos help us remember it all!

Harvey on his bike with his pant legs rolled up

back in the saddle in late January

Lijah sitting on a bench at the top of Arlington Heights

breezy at the top of the Heights

Zion zipping towards the camera on his scooter

Zion zoom

Harvey and Zion, in short sleeves, playing soccer in the snow-free yard

winter soccer

the three boys standing around under the half-pipe ramp at the skate park

why aren't you kids in school?!

Harvey and Zion climbing on some rocky outcropping in the woods

exploring a new woods

Harvey in his snow gear, including a muffler totally covering his face

he swears he can see

the boys posing with their snowman

do you wanna build a snowman?

Zion in midair, jumping off the trash can into the snow

jumping for joy


sometimes Lijah loves snow

It snowed some more today, and this time the snow came with cold cold air and cruel gusty winds, so after we made it home from an early-morning doctors appointment downtown we didn't venture out again. But the boys are looking forward to experiencing some snow fun tomorrow; and looking through my phone photos this afternoon I realized I neglected to include in our weekly retrospective a vital piece of documentary evidence showing that Lijah, too, is dedicated to enjoying the wonders of the season.

Lijah walking in the snow in a short sleeve shirt and Zion's sneakers

fully experiencing the storm

The picture is from Friday morning at the beginning of the storm. Thursday night it was above freezing all night, and even as the snow started it wasn't that cold out—so when Lijah expressed a desire for "ow-siye?" I thought it wouldn't hurt to humor him. Even when he declined his coat and put Zion's sneakers on his feet. Hey, I figured he'd put his nose out the door, get cold, and come right back in! Not a bit.

at the bottom of the porch steps

there he goes...

I like cold and snow more than most, but my enjoyment is predicated on proper attire, and following him I was cold and wet in my long-sleeve shirt—and before very long I removed his freedom of choice and hauled him back inside (for the record, he didn't protest much).

So take this as evidence of something. Maybe it's that, never mind other evidence to the contrary, being cold and wet doesn't bother our third child. Or maybe just that he's the most determined being you may ever meet.

(As a point of comparison, I repost below the photo of Harvey from a few hours later in the same day. Admittedly, it was colder then too. But still!)

Harvey in his snow gear, including a muffler totally covering his face

he swears he can see


being a toddler bed

I had plans for a blog post this evening, but instead spent 45 minutes holding a sleeping Lijah while Leah did real work. Such is the state of affairs around here lately: our almost-two-year-old can only sleep while touching another human. At least he's cuddly!

our stories and winds

Back when I worked at schools with lots of people who didn't know me very well, every winter brought near-daily comments about winter cycling—most of which were about how I managed with the cold. As I've mentioned lots before, the cold isn't really the problem, and as I rode in to work yesterday morning I concluded that 20°F was about the perfect temperature for cycling: not to hot, not too cold, and I didn't have to stop once to adjust my outfit! On the way home, though, I ran into the real hazard of cycling in winter: the wind.

I've never paid enough attention to notice if winter winds are stronger overall that what you experience other times of year, or if it's just that there's less vegetative matter to provide ground-level shelter—probably a combination. Whatever the reason, I totally noticed when the wind was against me almost the whole way home. There were moments when I felt like I could barely make any progress at all: I had to work so hard to move so slowly I was just about ready to give up and walk.

The funny thing is, it was about as windy in the morning, but of course then the wind was at my back. And that way I didn't notice it particularly; I just figured I'm a really strong cyclist so naturally things were easy and quick! I wonder how much something like that dynamic plays out other places in my life. When things are going well, it's easy to take the credit myself: I'm naturally gifted and well-prepared! If work is tougher, I may be more likely to notice the external causes for my troubles. Of course, it can go the other way too: lots of times we can fail to notice the conditions we can't control that are holding us back, instead attributing our failures to our own faults. In both ways, the stories that we tell ourselves might be totally removed from an objective consideration of the situation, a consideration that would have to show that sometimes the wind is blowing our way, and sometimes it's against us. Maybe knowing that can help us relax a bit.

And anyway, as windy as it might get here this winter I don't think it'll top what the folks in this video experienced—"Watch riders battle 100kph headwind". The only upside of that much wind—besides that it's probably kind of cool to feel your bike blowing away—is that you can't fail to notice it. Sometimes, no matter how strong or skilled you are, you just aren't going to be able to make progress. And when you're faced with that much opposition, maybe the only thing to do is laugh, turn around, and try again another day.

Yesterday wasn't that bad; I made it home, and after an hour or two I had even recovered from the effort!


moments from the week

Dan on a couch reading to four little kids

while the big kids learn

Scenes and moments from the past week. We do more things than we have time to write about; photos help us remember it all!

the boys watching the ball run display at Childrens Hospital

balls at the hospital

Harvey and Taya coloring their playdough at Taya's kitchen table

travelling homeschooling

Harvey and Lijah sitting in the big snow

waiting their turn for the sleds

Leah holding Lijah, who's wearing a monkey costume hat and eating a banana

monkey with banana

Lijah in the kids room at the library, in monkey hat

happy library monkey

Lijah in monkey hat sleeping slumped over in the grocery store cart

sleepy grocery monkey


bridging the seasons

Mid-February, and we're down to just five butternut squashes left out of the summer's crop. I made the sixth-from-last into soup for Friday's supper.

butternut squash, halved and seeded

making squash soup: first steps

I'm pretty happy with how many we grew this year. I neither weighed nor counted, but it was a fair number; we're maybe not eating one every day or even every week, but up to this point we haven't felt any lack. We certainly haven't felt the need to buy squash!

I'm thinking about it because it's almost time to start the first seeds for this year's garden. It's hard to imagine, looking out at our tundra-like yard (not much snow this year but historically cold weather for the last few days) that in a few months the squash and corn and everything else will be green and growing like crazy.

a jungle of squash vines and corn stalks

where the squash came from

2016 is going to be our best gardening year yet! On that note, I'd better think about where we're going to store the squashes this year; Leah wasn't too happy with the box in the upstairs hallway this winter...


cold weather

It was really cold here this weekend.

a screenshot of the weather report, showing -33 wind chill

see? cold.

In response, or just through sympathetic resonance, all the boys in the house came down with colds. Lijah is worst hit being smallest, which means Leah is really worst hit: when he can't sleep due to a stuffy nose and croup-y cough, she's the one that suffers. Zion looks the worst, with red irritated skin under his nose and one eye and all round his mouth.

Zion in his carseat looking like death

not sad, just tired

Today, though, just as the weather turned dramatically warmer—a 60° swing in under 48 hours—the big boys and I are clearly on the road to recovery. If he can manage a little sleep Lijah is sure to follow, and we'll all be ready to enjoy whatever this crazy winter throws at us next!


some sledding

Before the snow all melted, we got in a few sledding outings. The only problem with sledding is that it presents numerous difficulties to the photographer—the light's often bad, the subjects are moving quickly... and the photographer wants to be rolling in the snow, not standing around with the stupid camera! Of course, sometimes the cutest sledders stand still for a bit.

Lijah standing happily with the sleds

enjoying the outing

Other times, we just have to do our best. The boys have managed three major sledding days in the last two weeks of this crazy winter: one on the fabulous hills by Taya's house.

Zion headed away from the camera on the hill by Taya's house

with helpers at the bottom to stop him hitting the trees

Another with my parents at the hill of my youth.

Harvey and Zion sledding in the snow

together in all kinds of weather

And one more with me this Monday, before the temperature shot up 60°F (ok, only 35° from when we were actually outside sledding, but still) and the snow disappeared in short order.

Harvey coming down the hill

short and steep

The other disappointing thing about sledding pictures is how they never manage to show the slope of the hill properly. That last one is pretty steep.

Harvey and Zion appearing over the edge of the hill

coming back up the cliff

Just a few short years ago a bad day of sledding had me promising never to take the boys out again until Zion was seven. Obviously that was an idle threat, but it was also a misguided one, because they're now champions on the slopes (having the right gear helps.. thanks grandmas!). Even Lijah enjoys his few trips down the hill, and is happy to hang out with the big boys as long as they're having fun. Even when he gets sleepy... if you look carefully at the photo of Harvey up above you'll see the little one in the background about to tip over. Here's a close-up:

Lijah sitting on the toboggan, about to fall asleep and fall over

sledding is hard work

He was pretty much asleep with his eyes open at that point; when sat down with him and put him on my lap he cuddled right up and went to sleep. Then I put him in the car seat and enjoyed another 45 minutes of sledding with the big boys. We need to get it while we can!


productivity in one sphere

We had a great day today of visiting and hosting. And never mind my many failures and inadequacies, today I'm proud of one thing at least: beginning at 6:15 or so I baked the following foods:

  • Whole wheat sourdough bread
  • pumpkin chocolate chip muffins
  • banana chocolate chip muffins
  • white sourdough bread
  • sourdough pancakes

Plus I made potatoes and scrambled eggs and peanut noodles. And spaghetti with sauce from a jar. And a salad. That feels like enough for one day.

And even with all that, we'll start tomorrow with a clean kitchen!


moments from the week

Zion and Harvey walking down the sidewalk together

brotherly walk

Scenes and moments from the past week. We do more things than we have time to write about; photos help us remember it all!

Harvey, Zion, and Eliot kneeling in the snow, deep in coversation

playing, in the snow

Lijah kissing a cat

cat fancier

Harvey and Zion reading books in the library in their winter coats

deeply absorbed

Lijah and Zion cuddling on Mama on the couch

she was working...

Zion and Lijah looking over the edge of the top bunk, Zion in bathrobe and Lijah in monkey hat

after the bath

Harvey and Zion on a smallish snow pile

kings of the rapidly diminishing mountain

Zion carefully painting in the playroom

working on a birthday card

the three boys sitting at the birthday table, with pizza

pizza party!

Harvey and Zion, barefoot and short-sleeved, digging in the lawn

not snow shovels


first "spring" outing

With the winter as warm as it's been we've been able to expand out outings a little bit beyond the usual suspects of museums, libraries, and indoor play spaces. But so far this year we've been making wintery choices: playgrounds, sure, but by car and with indoor destinations as well. Today wasn't super warm but it was bright and sunny, with a distinct springlike feel, so I thought we'd try out our warm-weather outing model: pack some bags, hop on the bikes, and see where we end up!

Harvey geared up for a cold-weather cycling expedition

ready to go

After a brief stop at the auto-parts store (trying to get the van ready to be inspected next month) we ended up by the old reservoir, where we dropped the bikes and took to the woods.

the three boys in a tree

another tree pose

It was great to be hiking again. And naturally, every hike needs a snack break! I'm working on distributing responsibility, so Harvey got to pack the snacks. That meant store-bought chewy granola bars for everyone! (plus a muffin for himself).

Lijah eating a store-bought granola bar

less chewy when it's cold

Just as the water is a big draw in warmer weather, the ice was today. Given the insane warmth over the weekend I was surprised to see it looking pretty solid—and of course we had to try walking on it.

Harvey and Zion standing on the ice at the middle of the pond

still bearing

As much as we enjoy snow, it's absence meant we could roam wherever we wanted, including up some startlingly steep slopes.

Harvey and Zion scrambing up a steep, leaf-covered hill

hard-working climbers

That one was steep enough that sliding down in on the leaves made a satisfactory sledding replacement!

After that I was ready to head home for lunch—I didn't get a muffin!—but the big boys wouldn't leave until they at least tried to cross the ice on the lower pond to the pump house, or whatever it is. Ice that was somewhat softer than on the reservoir proper—but don't worry, Harvey had a plan: send Zion first. They were very proud when they made it, and of course Lijah insisted on joining them. Then we went home. By that point we were all ready for a rest.

Lijah and Zion apparently asleep in the blue bike, heads hanging over the edge

outside wears you out

Of course, Zion was just pretending to be sleeping. But he was ready to sit on the couch and listen to three stories before lunch and another four afterwards. Spring is tiring!


monkey days

We don't know why Lijah decided he wanted to wear a monkey costume all the time for two weeks—but then, we're really not sure why he decides anything at all. We just accept that he is a boy of strong opinions. Occasionally they are very cute.

monkey-suited Lijah playing with Hot-Wheels cars

car-themed birthday monkey

(That was at a five-year-old birthday party, where to my knowledge no one questioned his choice of outfit.)

He's pretty cute all the time, and the costume increases the effect—especially the tail. The tail is my favorite.

Lijah's tail poking out from under his winter coat

he couldn't wear overalls

Sadly, at some point yesterday the monkey suit had to go through the wash (due to ice cream) and though it's clean now he hasn't asked to put it back on. Even though we may have suggested it. So the monkey days may be over—though we'll always have the memories, and lots of pictures.

monkey lijah walking down a city street with mama

just a monkey walking down the street like it's no thing

What will the next Lijah fad be?


moments from the week

Harvey, Zion, and Taya planting onion seeds at the kitchen table

farm-school seeding

Scenes and moments from the past week. We do more things than we have time to write about; photos help us remember it all!

Lijah in the chicken coop in his monkey suit

monkey farmer

Zion going headfirst into the blue bike

he can get in it himself

Harvey measuring a two-by-three on the chop saw

measuring help

the boys on the couch: harvey reading, zion under a blanket, lijah with a sword

first thing in the morning

Zion sitting on the edge of the half-pipe ramp

skater boy

clothes hanging on the line

sunny enough

Zion standing on a precarious pile of junk, reaching for a toy in the messy basement

fetching a basement toy

the three boys looking at a TV in the cafe part of the grovcery store

supermarket distraction

the three boys offering a tray of delicacies from their outdoor restaurant

delicacies from the "B. L. D. Restront"


maybe a bad choice

The weather was beautifully springlike this morning (I still think it means the world is ending) and the forecast rain was nowhere to be seen. But. I had mentioned to the boys that we might go to the indoor play space for our day's outing—that we were going—and having planted the seed in their minds there was no turning back. So we spent the morning inside, while the warm breezes wafted gently on the other side of the glass wall looking out at the parking lot.

Zion playing with fireman toys

toys we don't have at home

To bring my bad decision into even starker focus, a friend who I had invited to join us texted me back that they were spending the morning at Drumlin Farm. Drumlin Farm, where we once again are members and so could visit for no additional cost. But since we hadn't been members for so long I forgot about it—and plus, I thought it was going to rain. I should have paid more attention to the forecast.

On the other had, rather than running around like maniacs all three boys spent much of the time holed up in separate corners of the space with different toys, so it may well be that they needed some quiet time, and a farm visit would have been a disaster. And Harvey mastered descending the firepole and put in some good work on the monkey bars (he can almost get to the second bar). And I got to observe the other families that thought it would be a good idea to go to and indoor play space on a sunny, 55°F late-February day.

This particular venue is designed for kids under six, so we've only got another three and a half months to enjoy it all together. We have one more free entry on our pre-paid card; we're saving it for a real rainy day.


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