Happy New Years

I had wanted to ring in the new year with a post about the blog—a recap, and something about how well we were doing on the self-descriptors we talk about on our "about us" page. But after some hard partying last night (with the one other couple who were cool enough to come to our party) and some easy partying and tear-filled sledding today, I'm about ready for bed.

That's the thing about New Years Day; as I've complained before, it's hard to get going on all your grand plans and resolutions when you can barely make it through the day. That's why Leah and I have put off even making any resolutions until next weekend, when we'll be in a proper frame of mind to take them seriously. Plus, most people have already broken theirs by then, so we'll automatically be ahead of the game!

new year

Whenever I sit down to write a blog post I feel a bit like a fugitive penning a telegraph. "Can't talk long. I feel them behind me. I'll try to return when all this blows over."

By "this" I mean parenting. Parenting 24/7. Sure there are breaks here and there, I can fold a few towels and breathe deeply for two minutes, but if I open my computer for even a second it's like cats when you open a can of tuna. Suddenly an army of kittens is next to me screaming that they want to watch the video of Grandpa playing the guitar.

You may think that's cute, but it's never just ONE time through the video of Grandpa playing the guitar. I think I sing that song when I snore now. Ha ha, just kidding, that would imply sleeping.

But I don't want to sound like I'm bitter. My children are lovely angels, and spending time with them is a series of joyful surprises. Like yesterday when Harvey said he was the Nutcracker and I was Clara and then he rushed over to me and threw his arms around my legs in an effort to pick me up. That was awesome. Or how Zion is now cracking all kinds of jokes with his limited vocabulary, so that "Doddie nuh-nuh" (Doggie nursing) is absolutely hilarious to him right now. My days are filled with little slices of heaven such as these. More slices even, since both my children now go without naps. I really do get into enjoying it, as long as I give up all desire for autonomy or self actualization.

Do I have any New Year's resolutions? Only mutually exclusive ones. Serve more veggies. Stop stressing about how much my kids eat veggies. Dance more. Maybe get pregnant again. Put everything else off for another four years.


new year's maundering

Contrary to impressions, my New Year's resolution was not to avoid writing on this blog. Although, while I'm actually still working on figuring out what I want to resolve, it might involve going to bed earlier and it might involve doing more non-blog writing. But then again I've never stuck to a resolution before so I'm not too likely to start now. Over at Root Simple Eric and Kelly each had a post about how well they did on their 2012 list, which is pleasantly bracing—both for the reminder about their admiral goals and the forthright way they acknowledge their shortcomings. Not me: I can't remember if I even thought about the issue last January, and if I did I left no record of it in these pages. So we'll assume I did fine.

Christmas ended on Saturday and we had a very nice low-key party to celebrate; yesterday we took down the tree (and the awesome decorations Leah put up on the fence). I think we're all glad for the transition, not least because being rid of the tree frees up a bit more floor space in what we're now calling the playroom. Whether thanks to New Year's aspirations or just in response to Christmas stress, we're working on cleaning and organizing and even a little downsizing of household possessions. We'll never make good minimalists—we need stuff to make stuff!—but immediately after Christmas our little house sure felt crowded. New Year's is a good time to think about fixing that a bit.

Besides being crowded out by our material possessions we've been dealing with some other stressors as well: sickness, avoiding toxic parenting, things like that. Zion hasn't yet become accustomed to this thing we call winter and thus doesn't want to play outside; Harvey's happy to hang out in the yard or the street as long as he doesn't have to go anywhere else (though, in his defense, once we do manage to drag him out somewhere he also doesn't want to come home). And when they play together inside fights are, if not inevitable, then at least distressingly frequent. I'm working on creating a pro-social curriculum for them, once I come up with some vocabulary on the subject that might be grasped by a 20-month-old.

I have plenty of ideas for improvement, both personal and corporate, but the trouble is finding a moment to implement them—the same problems keep getting in the way! Oh well, I suppose that's how life works.


our (blog) life in review

On our about us page, we describe ourselves as "radical hippy christians homesteading in the suburbs". That's the collection of buzzwords that we brainstormed back two-three years ago when we first decided we needed an about us page, and I think they're reasonably good ones. But at the turn of the year it occurs to me to check in and see how much we're actually representing them in our real life.

radical: I think what we're going for here is a combination of dictionary definitions number two and three. That is to say, extreme in how we live our own life and in the solutions we imagine for the world. So far, I think we're doing... ok. We're poor, thanks to some conscious decisions we made about where we want to focus our energy, but we still manage to be fairly generous to people and causes who need our help—and credit for that goes mostly to Leah, who is totally on top of the tithing. We share our veggies (and our cookies, which proved to be a little more popular); I've got big plans for the farm stand next year. We have only one car, which doesn't sound too amazing—but I guess it is in this day and age. I bike to work almost every day, and weather and children permitting we bike or walk to most destinations in town. We think a lot about how we can give Harvey and Zion a healthy blend of autonomy and security, trying not to fall into the trap of unthinking authoritarianism. We don't buy much.

But we could be doing much better. Stress keeps us from doing too many of the things we want to do—for example, now that it's cold we've been driving a lot more, just because it's so much easier than convincing the boys that they want to get bundled up in the stroller. The hard parts of parenting also keep us from reaching out more to people in our community: we have lots of great friends who we're lucky enough to spend tons of time with, but speaking for myself I feel like I need to do a better job reaching out to people and explaining our values. Lately I think I've either been ignoring the world, or mad at it.

hippy: I think we've got this one nailed. Just the fact that we stopped using any commercial bathing products gives us tons of hippy points—and, of course, that distinctive hippy aroma (what?! I'm talking about the rosemary and tea-tree oil in Leah's home-made deodorant!). No shampoo, no toothpaste, no kitchen or bath cleansers... generally we keep our distance from factory-produced chemicals with long names. We still do use commercial dish soap (albeit from Seventh Generation, a fake hippy company) and laundry detergent (Tide, gasp!), and wash the kids with good old Johnson and Johnson, so there's some progress to be made, but I think we're doing alright. Our food, on the other hand, is only mildly hippyish, and we haven't done very well at getting to thrift stores to clothe ourselves in the appropriate fashion. But I think the soap thing—plus, of course, Leah's dreads—have us in very good shape hippy-wise.

christian: Another good one, at least if we get credit for going to church every Sunday of the year, except when we're camping. Plus we both teach kids' church, and Leah prays for people, and we have two nights a week devoted to Christian fellowship, and... that's probably enough. I would like to pray more at home, especially with the kids, but Zion is a little too young and Harvey currently views prayer for the most part as a tool of the cruel bed-time routine, so there's still progress to be made on that front; but I'm not in any way concerned.

homesteading: I think it was some ladies looking for homesteading blog content that brought the wrath of the "toxic parenting" group down on our heads, and in addition to critiquing our child-rearing they also complained about the lack of information on the subject here. Which is probably fair. In our defense, almost everyone who talks about "homesteading" is not actually doing it in any meaningful sense—including us. But we're not actually looking for self-sufficiency; instead, we mean the term as a shorthand for making as many things as possible ourselves. To that end we've got soap; bread; beer; hats, mittens, and sweaters; clothes for the boys; and, you know, the whole home-made Christmas thing generally. Add in the chickens and the garden and I think we're doing fine. And just wait until we get bees!

And of course, we are totally, undeniably, living in the suburbs. As much as we sometimes wish it weren't so.

So all in all, not to bad. We're generally on target but with ample room for improvement, which strikes me as a pretty good place to be at the start of a new year.


an uphill battle

I really wanted to get to the library Monday because I have three books on hold: one about cleaning, one about cooking, and one about dealing with anxiety in children. So I convinced Harvey it would be a great idea to walk up to the library with the stroller. Heck, I told him he could eat a piece of (vegetable fortified) chocolate cake in the stroller. To my amazement he agreed to go! So I got the kids all suited up and the snacks all ready and pushed off away from home.

Halfway there Harvey started to scream: "I don't want to go up the hill! I'm scared of hills!!!!"

Scared of hills? Now this is a new one. I've heard 'scared of generally leaving the house' but not of hills. Apparently he was traumatized during a recent bicycle ride to ChipIn farm when he realized he couldn't control Dan's speed going down the hill. Now he's terrified of anyone pushing him up or down a hill in bike or stroller, though this is the first I heard about it. That's the thing about Harvey. Something could seem like a lovely walk in the park, and a week later he tells you he was really attacked by wolves and he's never leaving the house again.

It's hard to control my anger in situations such as these, especially because I had REALLY gotten excited about spending a morning out of the house. I told Harvey if we turned for home there would be no more cake, ever, and he said he didn't want cake ever again in his whole entire life. That's when I believed he was really scared.

Now, I remember what it was like to be a child with anxiety. I remember thinking to myself, "If she really loved me she wouldn't make me get on this plane." I know I have the right to push a screaming child up the hill, plenty of parents would do it. But it would be unkind.

Someone said something to me over the holidays, something about me not allowing PlayMobile toys in the house because Zion could choke on the pieces, something like, "Is it really fair to Harvey?" And I said, Is it really fair to Harvey? Is it really FAIR to HARVEY???!!! Zion and Rascal and I are going out of our minds with cabin fever because Harvey won't let us out of the house; I spend 10 house a day as a preschool teacher on steroids, singing songs and running dance classes and acting out the nutcracker and rotating toys in and out of the basement to make them seem fresh, all the while preparing 1-3 hot meals and 2-4 healthy snacks and I can't open my computer during the day because I limit the shows to one half hour after lunch for THEIR benefit and I go outside only to walk the dog only when the sun is rising or setting and you wonder if what I'm doing is FAIR TO HARVEY???!!!

So it's hard to turn he stroller around and walk towards the house, but I did it.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I do force him to leave the house three times a week: for church, for small group, and on Thursday nights to go to the library and community dinner. Mostly these times are easy because Dan is there too, and having Dan around seems to turn off the crazy tap. (Or maybe it's me who turns on the crazy tap. If so, I don't think it's something I can change.) There are other assorted times when Harvey actually wants to go out during the day, like when I got him to go to the feed store to get Christmas-pageant-straw and last Friday when he announced he wanted to go the museum. So it's not like we're shut-ins and I wouldn't say he's agoraphobic. It's just that he's afraid of some very specific things (some of which he doesn't tell us) and not leaving the house has at this point has become a "thing."

I remember when fear of the bath was a "thing.". Anything that made it more of a "thing" (like talking about HIS FEAR OF THE BATH BOOOOOOOOOO) made it much much worse. When I stopped forcing him to take a bath he got over it. Okay, so sometimes I forced him to take a bath because he smelled bad. But I stopped forcing him to take a bath as some sort of "strategy" for overcoming his "pathological fear of baths." And one day it just kind of went away.

Which is to say I'm advocating giving children autonomy, even when it saps all of mine. Even if it wasn't a magical reverse-psychology solution for anxiety, it would still be more kind.

We'll see if that psychology book agrees with me ... if I ever get it from the library!


just like Shel Silverstein

The last three-four days I noticed something very curious at bedtime and again first thing in the morning. From the windows at the back of the house—either of the two bathrooms or the glass door to the back porch specifically—I could see the snow-covered garden faintly illuminated by a nearly square patch of light, bisected by a shadowy cross. The first time I noticed I passed it off as a random artifact of moon or neighbors' floodlights, but as it continued to appear in just the same spot I began to wonder. Could it be from Harvey's nightlight? From lights left on in our basement? No in both cases. Increasingly puzzled, last night I took the time to actually study the shadow in an effort to discover, at least, what direction it was coming from. It was tough because the light was actually quite faint—which is why I only noticed it when all the lights were out in the house—but careful examination showed the light was definitely coming from our house. Knowing that for sure, it only took me a moment more to figure out the source: the attic light.

We only go into our attic to put things away or get them out, and it's only accessible via step-ladder and trap door; clearly, when the last batch of Christmas decorations went up I failed to shut off the light. Oops. At least it was only one bulb.

This is not exciting news to anyone except perhaps any neighbors of ours who wondered what vital project was afoot amongst our rafters (sorry to disappoint, guys!). But since the issue took up a small but significant portion of my first- and last-thing brain, I though I would share it here. We'll have something more interesting next time.



I enjoyed an afternoon snack today of toast with goat cheese and honey. Delicious and wonderfully local, thanks to the newest piece of the Bedford agricultural community: Bedford Blueberry Goat Farm. There's not a lot of farming going in town, but with great source of eggs (for when our hen's aren't laying) and now a dairy I think we're doing alright! Not that I plan on switching to goat milk—we're well-served by the cows over at Shaw Farm, sixteen and a half miles away by road—but as soon as I saw the cheese at Chip-In I knew I had to buy some. Never mind that it was expensive and not on the list: I want to vote with my dollars for Blueberry to keep making it and Chip-In to keep carrying it!

My honey wasn't super-local—it's from all the way out in Athol, wherever that is (we got it at the Lexington Farmers Market). But it could have been! Bedford also has a honey producer, Townsend Family Honey, whose product is also carried at Chip-In (and which has nearly zero web presence). Now all we need is somebody in town to start growing wheat for my bread and we'll be all set for the New Localization, or whatever we're calling the next step after globalization.


winter's failings

It was strange to walk out on the back porch after dark this evening and down the steps and not have to deal with any snow and ice. It was only snowy for a few weeks, but snow in winter seems the normal way of things and I can get used to its presence much more easily than its absence. As Leah says, having no snow does make a lot of things much easier, but we'd prefer our convenience not come at the cost of global environmental catastrophe. We're reading Little House in the Big Woods to Harvey: while I'm not sure I'd enjoy being shut in tho the extent Ma, Laura, and Mary were, I do envy them their consistent, dependable winter. Why, if we should happen to shoot a bear whatever could we do to keep the meat from spoiling, given that the temperature insists on rising above freezing?!

snow and the garden

One thing the melting snow did reveal yesterday was that my arugula is still alive—doing quite well, in fact! I can't say the same for the lettuce, sadly: the plants never grew very big, constrained as they were both by the cold and by the low light that made its way to them through two layers of heavy row cover fabric. Being smushed under snow when the the plastic hoops deformed under the weight of the accumulation was the last straw, and while most of the plants are technically still alive I feel kind of bad for them because they are so clearly not thriving. The kale is somewhere in between those two extremes—not growing, but apparently otherwise unfazed by the temperatures—so at this point I'm starting to wonder if it can manage to overwinter and give us an early crop in the spring!

There's no getting too excited, of course, because who knows what this bizarro winter will bring next. At least the extreme thaw let me finally get the hoses inside, a task I entirely neglected earlier thanks to our lack of real snow experience over the last 20+ months. We're told there's a little snow in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, so we will see.

Even if all my outdoor plants are extinguished, I must say I won't be unhappy to see more snow. It turns out I don't have that much taste for arugula in the winter anyways, and struggling all the way through the winter probably wouldn't give the kale that much of a head start over seeds planted in early spring. And I actually enjoy snow in the garden: besides insulating the soil, preventing run-off, and even delivering a little bit of nitrogen from the atmosphere, it also looks pretty. If you ask me, nothing is nicer on the winter farm than some well-trodden paths.

the snowy garden with paths to chickens and compost

that was two weeks ago

You can see that I was so excited about making paths that I had that one quite well-trodden before we had even filled the next bucket of compost. Here's hoping tomorrow's snow will give me more treading experience.


big brothers for ten minutes

Ashley came over this week with her new baby. She was here just long enough for both my boys to fall in love.

baby love attack!

No, they're not strangling her in this photo, as much as it looks like they are.

When they first walked in I asked Harvey if he wanted to see "the little." He just stared at her and said, "Little, little" over and over again. From that moment he followed her around the house; whenever the baby was out of sight he said, "Little?" and ran to be next to her. We even took a walk with the strollers and Harvey kept craning his neck to make sure he had the little in his sights.

Zion is pretty much the baby of our family, so I expected Zion to fuss when I held the baby, and he did. But then I asked Zion if he wanted to hold her and he just LIT UP. He sat next to me and I held the baby towards him and he hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed her.

kiss kiss kiss

After Ashley left with the baby both of my boys spent some time pointing towards the door and weeping "Liiiiiittle." The next day was all about baby dolls, and after some heated mediation regarding whose baby doll was whose the boys carried their dolls around everywhere. The babies were fed when the boys were fed, got dressed when the boys got dressed, and even came along to Drumlin Farm!

Zion's version of on-demand feeding: put the baby in a milk bucket.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by their baby madness. One of my main reasons for delaying getting pregnant again was the feeling that my kids just aren't ready to share with yet anther love-sucker. I never anticipated they'd have a desire to nurture. I never imagined they'd WANT another baby around. It kind of makes me wish we had stuck to the schedule and that we were already four months pregnant, even though there's no part of me that actually wants to be pregnant right now. I'm not sure there's any part of me that wants to be pregnant again ever, but it's hard to get biological children any other way.

Meanwhile, my own baby is growing up fast. Here he is drinking OJ just like his older brother.


Harvey says he saw Dada do it that way. Dada blames the snake.


even our cookies are healthy now

two healthy-looking chocolate-chip cookies

bite to show texture

We're eating healthier than ever around here lately thanks to a new initiative from Leah that she might write about some day. She's also been cooking more than ever, so on the few occasions when I do manage to get into the kitchen I feel like I have to go all out—like, for example, making up a new cookie recipe. The new program also involves a lot of vegetable purees, so luckily there was plenty of sweet potato for me to experiment with.

And including sweet potato wasn't the only wild experimental step, either! Alternative sugars, whole grains, (relatively) low fat—these cookies are healthier than most of the breakfast food I make! Given my family's tastes, though, I just couldn't leave out the chocolate chips. Here's the recipe.

Sweet Potato-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies

In a large bowl, whisk together:

1 cup oat flour (made from chopping up rolled oats in the food processor)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup no-sugar-added dried coconut
1 teaspoon banking powder
1 teaspoon salt

In the stand mixer, cream together:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar

Add and mix until smooth:

1 egg
1/2 cup sweet potato puree
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix on low speed until combined. Add and mix until evenly distributed:

1 cup chocolate chips

Drop the dough on a greased cookie sheet—whatever size you like. Smush down each ball of dough, to about 1/2 inch tall, or else the middles won't get cooked. These cookies don't expand much during baking so you can get them fairly close together.

Bake at 350°F for 11 minutes or so.

Makes... um, not that many cookies. We didn't count, though, before a significant number of them were eaten, so I can't give you a solid number. Maybe the next batch!



my bicycle leaning against a highway sign

I didn't make it to Providence

I took a little ride this morning. Some of these paths were explored.

the view down the power-line right-of-way

but on the other side, it didn't say nothin

The power-line right-of-ways have "no trespassing" signs at the entrances, but not where they connect with other trail systems.

Since this was all on my poor road bike, I had to ride some roads too. The farm country is quiet this time of year.

a bleak-looking closed farm stand

waiting for summer


he doesn't seem to mind the cold

It was kind of cold today—cold enough that the school kids had to stay inside all day. Most of my first-graders were glad about it too, having complained bitterly when they came in in the morning. And, while I personally think it should have been a fine day to be outside, I admit to feeling a little bit of a chill on my ride home. So I was surprised, coming into the house, to see Harvey playing happily in just his undies. It's not like the house was particularly warm either: not only was the heat off, but the side door—where Rascal is constantly in and out—wasn't closed all the way, so it probably wasn't much more than 55°. I think that reading Little House in the Big Woods and hearing about those bitter Wisconsin winters has given him a good sense of perspective about what real cold is like.

I did make him put on PJs before he went to bed, and he's also piled under two fleece blankets and two comforters. It's going to be a cold cold night, but that doesn't mean we're going to turn the heat up. If you want to raise kids who don't mind the cold, you can't coddle em! Nope, when it gets chilly we put on another blanket, just like Laura and Mary. We do let Harvey go outside in the winter, though—it doesn't do to follow literary examples too closely. After all, he needs to put that great cold-tolerance to good use.


the most disappointing sandwich ever

They say beggars can't be choosers, and nothing brings home the reality of that aphorism like our weekly visits to the food pantry. Don't get me wrong—we love going, especially because the Bedford Community Table dinners are also part of the outing—but much of the food we come home with is not really what we'd pick for ourselves from even a moderately-stocked grocery store. We're eating more canned pasta sauce than we might otherwise, for example, and tuna fish has made a reappearance in our diet after being excised a couple years ago. But bread is often an exception: thanks to the generosity of the fine folks at Panera and a few other bread retailers, most weeks we have a wide array of fine bakery products from which to choose one or two. Last week I was delighted to bring home a loaf of pumpernickel.

There's only one reason I like to have pumpernickel around, and that's for cream cheese and olive sandwiches. Which I don't have very often! So I was super-excited on Saturday to make the first one in well over a year, but ran into my first disappointment when I cut the bread. Despite its fine dark brown color and roughly pumpernickel-like aroma, it was as soft and squishy as Wonderbread—and indeed a glance at the ingredients showed, in addition to high fructose corn syrup and caramel color (no molasses here), the dreaded "dough conditioners". Now, I'm not looking for traditional German pumpernickel here, but what good is bread so soft that it can't be spread with butter, never mind cream cheese?!

And then we didn't have any green olives, and I tried opening a can of black olives (from the food pantry; again, we'd never buy canned olives) only to find that they tasted like nothing more than vaguely salty rust. Alas. I put the sandwich together anyways and even ate it, but I was in no way pleased. And my discontent still lingers—thus this blog post!—although it was assuaged a little bit this evening when we picked up a half-dozen honey whole wheat bagels at this week's pantry.


Things to do with a baby: take him on a quiet stroll

"So," Dan says, walking into the bedroom where Zion and I are playing. "Rascal wants to go for a walk, Harvey wants to ride his tricycle, and you want to go to Whole Foods. Any way we can combine these things?"

I stare at him blankly. It is absolutely freezing outside, I have a million things to buy, and he wants us to walk a mile to Whole Foods.

"Dan," I say, "You've seen my list. I'm shopping for the WHOLE WEEK. I'm shopping for Bible Study on Wednesday, I'm shopping for batch cooking. There's no way we could put all that in the stroller."

"We can take the wagon too" he says, always solving problems.

"Five heads of broccoli," I say reading the first few lines off my list, "Seven apples. Two heads of kale. A gallon of apple juice. TWO WHOLE CHICKENS..."

Dan stares at me blankly. What kind of a hippy am I? Am I just going to drive the car to the stores like all the other moms? Am I really THAT lazy? Do I even CARE about the impact of my actions? Do I want my children to still have an environment when they grow up?

"Okay, fine, let's go before it gets any colder."

Harvey on his tricycle, Dada pulling Zion in the wagon

the great procession

Dan holds Rascal and pulls the wagon, while I monitor Harvey and push the empty double stroller. It's cold, but Harvey is warmed by his pedaling and Zion is warmed by asking every ten seconds if we are REALLY going to Whole Foods.

"Ho Foo???"

After a minute Harvey stops, gets off his bike, and picks up a dandelion. I feel like the best parent in the world! We are walking to get our food! Our child is getting exercise and exploring nature! A minute later he stops again to pick up a broken nip bottle that someone has thrown from the window of their car. I feel like the worst parent in the world. I am exposing my child to exhaust pollution and now biohazards to boot because this is the SIDE of the ROAD more than it is the sidewalk.

We pass over the brook and they throw sticks in the water. Again I am a good parent.

Eventually we make it to Whole Foods.

I pick Zion up and discover he is wet from pee. We go to the bathroom and Harvey whines he doesn't WANT to be in the bathroom he WANTS to get a muffin. We make it through the diaper change and get into the store which is packed bumper-to-bumper with carts. I throw in the five broccoli and Harvey reminds me he wants a muffin. I locate the apples and Zion screams that he wants a cheese sample. I tell them rather harshly that I need to pick out vegetables or nobody gets any treats. "Sorry Mama, sorry" says Harvey because he is a good sweet child or because that is his newest form of manipulation. (If so it works like a charm. He always sounds so contrite, and so they do get their cheese and muffin.)

45 minutes later (yes, it took that long and I was going QUICKLY) we head outside to pack the wagon with our groceries. Zion notices a box of blueberries at the top of one bag and he grabs for it despite wearing his mittens. The box drops and spills a million pricey organic blueberries all over the sidewalk. I say I'm fed up with food shopping and Dan yells at everyone to get.in. the.stroller, and Harvey cries because he can't eat a chocolate chip muffin with mittens on.

Boo. Hoo.

Amazingly, the groceries just barely fit in the red wagon plus stroller, and we manage to make it home. I feel like a good hippy parent, though I wish the adventure itself and not just the concept of it had been more life-giving. Dan reminds me that it would have been just as harrowing had I gone by car.

The thing about living out our values with kids is that some seconds are beautiful snap-shots worthy of a "this moment" photo still, while others prove the depths of our sinful nature, and these seconds just follow one after the other. Trying to process it all makes me tired.

Though that doesn't capture how nice it was when he picked up the dandelion.

Maybe I just shouldn't hit the shops on a Saturday.


animal sounds

Zion is talking up a storm now, especially about animals. Unlike Harvey, he refers to many of them by their sounds—we didn't reinforce that sort of thing with our first child because who needs that sort of cutesy baby-talk, but it turns out that cutesy baby-talk is absolutely delightful to three-year-olds, so Harvey provides all the reinforcement necessary. Thus "cluck-cluck", "moo", and "baa" have all been pressed into use as names by both our children. The latest sound-name to emerge took me some time to figure out: "boo". Only in context of an African animals documentary did "moe boo! wot boo!" finally make sense. Also it helped when he illustrated the word with a very evocative trunk motion with his arm.

So quick does childhood language development proceed, however, that those sorts of names are already starting to be replaced. He says "eh-fant" too, especially when he's talking about a toy one; and "baa" has been abandoned in favor of "doat" and "reet" (how he came up with those consonants for "sheep" I have no idea). Dogs, for their part, were always "doddy", cats "tat", and pigs something I can only render as "pubby", if you imaging that collection of letters being spoken in a low tone by a toddler with a mouth full of marbles. And of course, his favorite animal of all—in a ballet context, at least—is "mysh", with the almost-s sound drawn out as long as possible for emphasis. His language really is delightful; it's too bad that, as the second child, he's very rarely captured on video.


another man's treasure

We've gotten into the trash-pickup business—and I don't mean just the usual opportunistic curb finds we've been so happy about in the past. No, we've branched out into actual prearranged waste removal, though it isn't ordinary trash in this case: it's compost. See, unlike the lucky folks in forward-thinking West Coast cities, we don't have municipal composting around here, which leaves green-intentioned city-dwellers with a quandary. (Sure, they could theoretically go the worm bin route, but not everybody is comfortable with harboring insects... which I totally sympathize with!)

Us, though—we have the opposite problem. I aim for some pretty concentrated agriculture in our little garden, so I'd really like to be able to fill up the big four foot by four foot compost bins I built a couple years ago. While we produce a considerable amount of food scraps (it turns out, for instance, that children occasionally waste vegetables) it's nothing like enough to make a sufficiency of compost to enrich the beds we have, let alone the new ones I want to create. Then there's always the hope of making enough finished compost to be able to use some in planters and for seed starting... you get the idea. The chickens are doing their part, especially since we realized that they add about an inch of dirt to their run over the course of a few months, and that we can—nay, must!—remove it if the coop is to continue to function. That's five cubic feet of high quality composted manure! But we still need more.

So I bought some five gallon buckets with lids and started passing them out to friends. The Stevenses were our first takers; we picked up the first full load last Friday and left them with an empty bucket. Oh, how happy I was dumping that rich mix of squash rinds, coffee grounds, and spent brewing grains onto the frozen pile (I also was a little envious of how pleasant life must be chez Stevens!). I think the VB Family will be joining the program soon as well. Do you live within 10 miles of us and wish you could be diverting some of your food waste from landfills, but don't have the time or space to deal with composting yourself? We may be able to help!


the indignities of modern existence

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy living in the 21st century. I appreciate many things about it, like modern medicine (though that mostly in theory) and Google Maps. But there are a few things about modern that really annoy me, and since this is my blog I'm going to share.

My biggest complaint today is salt on the roads. It's kind of out of control this week; my working theory is that, having not used any last year, the road crews are putting our double batches each time it snows. Certainly, the roads and parking lots here are practically white with it, and depending on temperature and humidity all road users are constantly showered with either grimy gray dust or disgusting dirty water. On dry days the cloud of particulate matter from the highway reaches up above the crossing bridges! The world is uglier for all the dirty salt; plants suffer when they're exposed to it; and it's disgusting that I have to wash my face every morning when I get to school.

Of course, any time you complain you need to provide an alternative solution, and I've got mine all figured out: when the roads are slippery, everyone should stay home. Relax. Read a book, or do some dusting if you need to keep busy. Or, if you must go out, drive slowly and carefully; I'd bet it would take a lot more snow than we've had this winter to actually stop cars—to say nothing of the giant SUVs that half the population drives—from getting where they want to go if their drivers are willing to adjust to conditions.

More complaints! We have a skating rink (and other associated athletic facilities) down the road from us; it got put in a few years ago, replacing a perfectly fine stretch of woods and marsh. Alright, people need to ice skate and since we've ruined the climate the ponds aren't reliable any more. But the facility has recently been expanded, to the tune of two outdoor artificial-turf fields, and since it's winter one of the fields has been covered with a gigantic white plastic bubble tent. For some reason, said bubble is illuminated many evenings with the lights all around the field—I can only imagine that some of the light shines through the plastic to light the games within. Some: a whole lot of it gets reflected right back up to create literally the worst light pollution I've ever seen in my life (not counting those stupid movie-theater waving searchlight thingies). It's bad enough on clear nights to drive over the hill and see it there like an alien landing site or enormous crime scene, with the branches of all the trees in a half-mile radius lit up in stark relief; still worse are evenings like this one where low clouds bring the light right into our bedroom windows. Last night we had to close the shades, otherwise it would have been too bright to sleep.

The solution to this one is easy: make people who want to play sports play seasonally-appropriate ones, outside. And maybe during the day, too. There's a connection between my two complaints, because to my mind they're both caused by people determined to do the things they want to do regardless of the conditions around them. It's slippery? Melt the ice. It's cold and dark? Make a big plastic illuminated cocoon. No harbor in Alaska? Detonate some nuclear bombs (thankfully someone with sense pointed out the potential flaws with that last one, and the plan was never carried out). Yes, living in the future as we do we have the power to alter our environment in enormous and profound ways. But maybe, more times than not, we shouldn't.


puddle jumping

When I have my own school, playing in puddles will be a key part of the curriculum for the spring—or indeed, for any time when we have a completely bizarre sudden thaw, like we had yesterday and today. This morning the first-graders were outside with us teachers rather than the recess aides, and they took advantage of our good natures to get significantly more involved with the water on the ground than they are usually permitted to do. Suffice it to say there were some wet feet and a little chagrin when we made it back inside—winter boots are not as waterproof as you might expect, nor are six-year-olds good at identifying the early signs of leaks while enjoying themselves frolicking. But I think everyone involved would say that it was all for the best, and they'd do the same again. When the world has been frozen solid for a couple of weeks it's nice to experience some liquid while you can!

Harvey and Zion certainly felt that way on our walk yesterday. After he saw Harvey jump in a puddle Zion had to jump in it too, and also every subsequent puddle we came across; just like when Harvey put his hands in one Zion had to do the same, again and again. Never mind that he had wool mittens on. Because of this delight in the watery world it took us a half-hour to walk maybe a quarter mile, and when Rascal and I were forced to desert the rest of the party in the interest of getting him some actual exercise they were moving still slower, distracted by Elm Brook, which is like a puddle but much bigger and moving. Thankfully they didn't jump in that one, and contented themselves with throwing sticks. Zion did get himself all wet anyways, by lying down in a puddle, but since that was part of a tantrum at having to go home rather than warm-weather playfulness it really should be part of a different story.

In short, while it's already cold again now—thank goodness, since it's not even quite February—the brief spring preview was very much appreciated in the proper manner, and we look forward to the real thing at the appropriate time.