hi, new year

It might be that having three kids makes time pass differently, or maybe I'm just getting old. Or possibly it's a sublimated reaction to other stresses in my life. Or maybe it's not me at all, but a natural reaction to the strange weather we've seen over the past months. Whatever the reason, Christmas kind of snuck up on me this year, and so did New Years. We're done with 2014 already! Lijah is almost 10 months! How did this happen?!

While I was surprised to run into the end of the year so soon, I didn't let that stop me from celebrating it in style! We hosted brunch this morning with biscuits, doughnuts, eggs, pancakes, and fruit; and kids running around being crazy, as is the custom for events at our house. This afternoon the boys and I headed out to a friend's house to play board games and eat chips, little hot dogs, and cookies. Good times (though Harvey wasn't happy that no one wanted to play a game at his level: the little kids were too crazy and the grown-ups' game had too much reading).

I have some ill-considered new years resolutions, which include spending more time outside (though Leah tells me I'm already outdoors more than she considers rational), and learning to make and fix things more usefully than I can now. My plan is to start big with a bunk bed for the boys; I also hope to learn how to fix my bicycle before I need it to go anywhere. I'm also interested in growing more food and harvesting, storing, and preparing it following a more rational plan; and moving in some way towards being able to offer educational opportunities to kids who aren't related to me. Oh, and learning how to explain my hippy craziness to folks who wonder why I do the things I do.

I also hope to get more sleep. Maybe that's why so many of my days were a blur this last third of 2014. Welcome 2015: show us what you've got!


this moment

Leah and the boys on a snowless winter walk

end-of-the-year walk

almost 12th

Outside of the song, the twelve days of Christmas don't loom particularly large in the public consciousness. As Americans we seem to prefer looking forward to things and then having them be over promptly; celebratory seasons are maybe not our thing. So it makes sense that purveyors of culture moved the counting to before the holiday itself, with 25 Days of Christmas culminating in the final, most important day of Christmas of them all: Christmas day! Then we can get rid of the trees on the 26th and move on to the next thing.

As an Episcopalian by upbringing I'm held to a sterner schedule. Sure, we count the days of December before Christmas, but that's only Advent, and it's there to hold off Christmas and build up the anticipation. No early Christmas songs—there are plenty of Advent tunes. And of course, Christmas decorations would be totally out of place before the 25th! With all that waiting we can't be done with Christmas in a day, which is where the twelve days come in. There's gotta be lots of time for partying, and for admiring the greenery you put up in a frenzy after dark on Christmas Eve (n.b.: we don't do that; our frenzy is reserved for finishing up gifts).

We actually did a fair amount of long Christmasing this year, what with our big party on the 28th and the extended vacation (thanks to New Years Day being on Thursday). But all good things must come to an end, and Leah asked the other day when we were taking the tree down (even though she says she doesn't really hate Christmas). The thing is, despite my English Church heritage, I'm never quite sure when twelfth night falls. But it's not my fault! It's just that it's hard to keep track of a season that nobody else is observing! Thankfully wikipedia was there to set me straight; but I vowed at dinner this evening that for next year we'd have a calendar—like an Advent calendar—to mark each of the days of Christmas. The boys want to keep track too, if only because they know they can't start eating their gingerbread houses until Christmas is over (I told you we're serious about this stuff!).

Checking the encyclopedia and counting the days three times on the calendar I was able to determine that tomorrow, in fact, is the twelfth day of Christmas, and we'll be taking the tree down accordingly. But as it happens I didn't really need either of those methods to tell me that the season is almost over, since I had a certainer, more ancient sign: I finished the home-made candy my mom gave me for Christmas. Goodbye Christmas for another year; Harvey is already counting down the days until next year's celebrations (that is, when he's not asking how long until we go camping).


christmas sweaters

It's the twelfth day of Christmas today, which we celebrated in our house by taking down our Christmas tree and demolishing our gingerbread houses. It's the gingerbread houses that had the boys asking for several days now, "When is Christmas going to be over???!!!" The potential consumption of store-bought candy glued to a stale cookie with dry sugar paste has been a very compelling topic of conversation. In the event, however, the process turned out to be more staid than I'd imagined. You can't really shove your face at a house made of candy. You have to carefully chose an angle and wedge a butter knife up in there. Maybe after a minute you get something off that's worth putting in your mouth. "Worth putting in your mouth" being subjective to age and gender. I personally feel that no part of a gingerbread house is worth putting in my mouth, but my family feels the same way about my paleo flax seed bread, so....

Before we put this season of excess behind us, there's one more thing I have to record here. The excess knitting I did for this year's presents. I give you the Christmas sweaters.

the three boys--Harvey holding Lijah--posing in their new sweaters on Grandpa's front steps

sweater brothers

When I took their sweater requests back in October Harvey said he wanted a sweater to make him look like TinTin. Zion jumped on the idea and wanted one to turn him into Snowy, Tintin's dog. They chose the colors online (Cascade 220 superwash) and I tried to find sweater styles that might best match the shape of the cartoon characters. Harvey and Zion for their part could not possibly care whether I knit a raglan or a fisherman's pullover, but they were very specific about the finishing details. Whenever I held up a half-knit sweater for sizing they reminded me that Tintin's sweater needs a collar, and Snowy's needs ears.

Harvey and Zion posing in character in their Tintin and Snowy sweaters

good dog Snowy

Which, ahem, I finished attaching to the sweaters on Christmas morning. At 1am. This was not a good year for handmaking for me. I spent most of December holding a sick baby instead of knitting, and when I freaked out that I probobly wouldn't have time to make the poor little guy anything new Dan reasoned with me: "He doesn't care from sweaters, what he wants for Christmas is to be held."

Leah and the three boys sitting on a bridge rail, all in home-made sweaters

generations of sweaters

Which is why I wrapped up two hand-me-down sweaters for Elijah his first Christmas. Though it makes me cringe at the failure, he needed love this year in a way that wasn't sweaters. There will be many years in the future to make him new sweaters. Once he doesn't need held so much, once he figures out where he fits in the Herge universe. Captain Haddock has a lovely pullover, for instance, but the boatman's hat would have to be purchased.

Meanwhile, the older adventurers gratefully take their costumes and walk away with my heart.

Harvey and Zion walking along a path away from the camera

warm for the walk


photographic evidence of the destruction

Harvey and Zion eating roof panels off their gingerbread houses

nibble nibble little mice

Yes, we ate the gingerbread houses yesterday. I though I was going to refrain, but I couldn't resist either. We won't eat any more desert for a couple weeks—not least because Harvey (totally coincidentally!) now has a large painful cavity.

I must say, before I smashed it up my house looked quite elegant, as well as tasty...

Dan's gingerbread house (with the boys' in the background)

last view


that's how I roll

Yesterday the temperature was maybe in the low teens as I took my bike out of the shed for the first time in maybe three weeks to ride to work. Leah suggested I take the car, but I told her I wouldn't miss that ride for the world. I like the cold! I also very much enjoy cycling, but apparently that enjoyment doesn't extend to riding when I don't need to do it to get to work. At least not over Christmas! (in my defense, I didn't have a tremendous amount of free time). And when I'm not riding, I'm not doing bike maintenance, so my poor machine was just as I left it weeks before—with the addition of all that time sitting damp and salty.

Surprisingly, it was in pretty good shape. I even took off without feeling like I had to lube the chain (though the clock also had something to do with that decision). But "good shape" for any bicycle of mine is pretty relative. This particular bike currently has a bent front derailleur and two bent chainrings, a rusty stuck spring on the rear derailleur that keeps it from tensioning the chain most of the time, and rear brakes that offer the faintest hint of stopping power when applied fully (which, now that I think about it, didn't apply on this particular ride as the lever was frozen—or maybe rusted!—solid). Also something is going on with the freewheel: the last few times I rode in December there were moments when I found myself able to freewheel in both directions, the pedals spinning wildly without propelling me forward. That was kind of worrying. But then the pawls caught again and I was off, so never mind!

Even with all that in the back of my mind (the way back) yesterday morning I just hopped on and hit the road. That says something about my personality, I think: that I'm a joyful optimist, trusting in God and my ability to deal with problems as they arise, and not willing to let anything get in the way of an adventure (or at least a fun ride to work). Also that I'm lazy and unable to do proper preventative maintenance, and that even when things aren't working it takes me a long time to work up the will to fix them. Leah would agree strongly with both points, I think... if she read them. I really hope she doesn't, though, since she doesn't like to hear about me riding into the city on broken bicycles. Shh!


this moment

Harvey, Zion, and friends, in full winter gear, walking in the woods

cold-weather walk

A moment from the week.

cargo bikes, nae fatbikes

It's cold here. Normally that means that the bike shop around the corner will have switched over to its back-up cross-country ski business (never mind that there's no snow yet), but this year one segment of the bike-sales business seems to be holding up into the winter: the fatbike. After maneuvering around the floor model positioned right in front of the counter during a recent stop at the shop, I asked how sales were and heard that plenty of folks were interested. Never mind that the last couple days of snow squalls and below-zero windchill the only other bikes—and even tracks—that I saw were narrow-tired commuters and cheap mountain bikes.

I'm not opposed to fatbikes; they certainly have their place, if you're riding the Iditarod Trail Invitational or bikerafting Alaska's lost coast. Only I'm not sure how much we need them around here, when we barely ever get enough snow to snow-shoe on. And even then, they're only for recreational cycling—which I suppose is fine so far as it goes (though I'm clearly not much of a recreational cyclist myself). But when I think of how I'd like cycling to be perceived, my vision isn't mainly of big knobby wheels bashing over extreme terrain—nor yet of carbon-fiber frames and skinny tires doing big loops of the countryside. Those things have their place, but they should be sideshows to the regular business of people getting places by bicycle.

As it is, recreational cycling minimizes cycling generally. When you drive to the parking lot at the end of the bike path, you're casting a vote of no-confidence in the bicycle as a means of transportation for people who know and observe you; and you're not supporting the riders who are out in the street and would appreciate some company. When the average driver sees more bikes being carried on racks than actually being ridden, he comes to see that as normal—and then gives me grief for being on the road.

Cargo bikes, now, are totally serious. Nothing fun about them! When you get a bike you can fit your whole family into you're making a powerful statement that bicycles are for getting to the library, or the playground, or even the supermarket. And when we're out on the big blue bike people totally take notice and ask questions and even, sometimes, get jealous. I'm sure they'd ask questions about a fatbike, too, but I like the answers a lot better for the cargo bike. So maybe this spring we can see some of them in the local shop?


Putting my money where Harvey's mouth is: a story of sewing, dental work, and bribery

Shortly after New Years Harvey started complaining that his tooth hurt. I gave him two days to make sure it wasn't just a canker-sore, but when it still hurt him after the weekend (so badly that he didn't even finish dessert!!!) I scheduled a visit for the dentist. And because our local Mass-Health-accepting dentist is kind of rude with kids (no prize bucket, seriously?) I told Harvey I would buy him a lego for his trouble.

What kind of a lego? he immediately started asking. Would it be a guy AND a vehicle? Or just, like, a guy? How big of a box are we talking?

"Tell you what," I said, acting all homeschool-y. "I'll give you ten dollars and you can pick our your own lego."

This, I thought, would be a good way to teach him the value of a dollar.

"I'll need you to sew me a wallet then," he said. "So I have somewhere to put my money until we get to the store."

This boy. Weaseling his way into a custom-made present in addition to a plastic toy. Be still my sewing heart.

the wrist strap is so he doesn't lose it like he did the last one

Since the receptionist on the phone was encouraging, I thought we would make a quick trip to the dentist, get a filling, and round out the day with a new lego in the $7.50 range. To my horror, however, the dentist took one look in Harvey's mouth and started filling out an appointment referral card.

"I'm giving you the number of an oral surgeon," she said. "When there's so much work to do and so many teeth affected, they usually put kids under general anestesia, and we don't do that here."

Okay, hold the phone.

"When the cavity has broken through the top of the tooth," she said "it's already pretty bad. I don't know whether the nerve is affected, or whether there are cavities between the two teeth. And the molar on the other side also has gray spots..."

I drove home in a bit of a parenting fog. What had I dont wrong? How could I have let my kid's teeth rot away to nothing?

Harvey, however, was unfazed. "Can I have my ten dollars now?" he asked.

Well, of course, yes, you can put it in your wallet.

Two days later we packed ourselves into the car for the pediatric oral surgeon. Harvey had yet to have something painful done to him, so he was practically giddy. "I think you should bring your wallet so I can have my ten dollars when we get there!" he exclaimed.

If you're keeping a running total of the bribes, that's $20 and we're still only in the consultation phase.

The new dentist looked in Harvey's mouth for about 30 seconds before pronouncing his verdict.

"I see at least 8 cavities in the back two teeth. I'll need to take x-rays, fill all the cavities, and put a cap on each tooth. Typically for a child his age we do this under anesthesia. I'm going on a trip in April, an I wonder if we could get him in before I leave..."

Before April? But my child can't eat carrots! Isn't there anything you could do for him sooner?

"Well, we could try doing the work with laughing-gas. It'd be a little at a time. Over multiple visits."

That's okay. At $10 a pop I think Harvey would be JUST FINE with multiple visits.

harvey showing off his cavity money. As well as a new library card

So that's where we are, going for our first round of dental work on Thursday in the hopes that Harvey's newfound love of money will keep him from freaking out when a dental drill enters his mouth. We'll see how it goes, while filling our O.R. forms in the background and crossing our fingers regarding insurance.

Meanwhile, Harvey went to the toy store today for his first foray into financial independence. He chose a small lego set featuring a bank robber running from a police motorcycle. And if that's wasn't symbolic enough, he explained his choice thusly:

"This way I'll even have lego money!"

ready for a lot of ten dollar bills coming his way


buttering me up

This afternoon the boys and I took a long cold walk, and when we got back I wanted to make them (and me!) some hot chocolate. In view of the success of our expedition I even thought to make whipped cream to glob on top—but not very much whipped cream, since it was just the three of us and not so far before dinner time. So instead of using the stand mixer as usual, I tried the whisk attachment on the stick blender. First in a bowl—which resulted in cream all over everything in a three-foot radius—and then in a tall drinking glass. Imagine my surprise when in maybe four seconds of mechanized whisking the cream in the glass turned not to whipped cream, but to butter! (then when I was taking the whisk out of the glass I accidentally hit the button to run the machine again and butter went everywhere; it was that kind of process).

I knew butter was easy to make (had I wanted to do it on purpose I would have used the Cuisinart) but I had no idea it could be done that quickly. We haven't made it before since we figured the cost of good cream would make it prohibitive—and bad cream wouldn't be worthwhile—but I was impressed by how much butter I got out of less than a quarter cup of cream. Further experiments may be in order! I know hippies usually make more yogurt than butter, but what can I say... butter appeals to me a whole lot more!

Oh, and naturally having made butter I had to serve some of it up on bread to go with our chocolate; the rest is in the fridge for tomorrow.


Elsewhere on the internet today... I wrote more words.

If you happen to be searching for the meaning of life on the internet, you are in luck this week; there's new landing site for you! Horatio is a new online magazine hoping to (in the words of its about page) "stir up broad-based conversations about the deepest things in life." Of course, they asked me to write an article for their launch week because conversations about the deepest things in life are basically my wheelhouse. (No, Just kidding. Making fun of clothes is my wheelhouse. I submitted an article for free.)

My introductory article: WHAT'S FUN TODAY? My five-year-old, annoyingly, is onto something. is about how to survive the desperation of parenthood by finding tiny moments of enjoyment and enjoying the shit out of them.

And spoiler alert: in a few weeks I will publish an article with the exact opposite premise. You know, because the meaning of life is relative and I want to cover my bases.

Please take a look at my article over at Horatio, where you'll find many articles more inspiring than mine illustrated with professional photographs. They will get you closer to meaning, I promise you.

sounds louder than "easy wind and downy flake"

The boys and I walked up to the library late this afternoon, and back after dark. Well, Harvey and I walked; after the first twenty or thirty steps Zion rode in the stroller, wrapped up in blankets and a towel against the damp. It was a pleasant wintery evening: warmer that it has been, though damp and raw, and with a fine snowfall sparkling in the air. We sang "Winter Wonderland" on the way up (as well as many choruses of "Willaby Wallaby", with all the names we could think of). Nearly free of whining, it was an almost perfect transportation walk except for one thing: the roar of passing cars that made it just about impossible to hold a conversation.

You don't notice it so much when you're inside them, but cars are pretty loud—and all the more so when the road is wet. Even as slow as they're moving in town—not much more than thirty miles per hour anywhere along our evening's route—the noise of the tires was enough that Harvey and I had to just about shout to talk to each other, and Zion, talking out of his pile of blankets, didn't have a hope of making himself heard.

I don't have any hope of improving the situation, or any idea of what could even be done in a perfect world. At least living where we do we always have the option, when we want to be able to talk while walking, of heading out to the woods or fields. But that way we don't get anywhere useful. I can't even claim any moral high ground, since this winter I've been driving around town at least as much as I've been walking, and our new car has giant wheels that are probably even louder than average.

There's probably a broader point to be made about externalities here, but I'm too sleepy to come up with it. When it comes to driving, maybe it's just that it's hard for people behind the wheel to remember that anything external to their vehicle even exists. I'll try and fight that as I drive, and while I can't do much about the noise I'll be careful not to splash pedestrians with water from puddles, or honk my horn where it could startle someone. That—and trying to drive a little less—might make the world a tiny bit better.


this moment

Zion lying on his back on the pond ice, making an ice angel

ice angel

A moment from the week.

ice exploration

Harvey and Zion far away on a frozen pond among the reeds

slipping and sliding

The one upside of this cold snowless winter is that ice everywhere is in good shape. Harvey and Zion love ice when they can find it, and I've been telling them that there are some nice big ponds hiding in the marsh back through our woods. An expedition a little over a week ago failed to find them, but as the picture above—and the one I posted yesterday—show, we had better luck this week!

the boys walking down an aisle of ice towards a pine tree

ice explorers

The woods just around the corner from our house back onto a considerable area of wetland: wetland that is pretty much impassible most of the year. I can't believe it took me this long to think of exploring it when most of the water was safely solidified!

The areas of open water are actually the remains of old cranberry bogs, and though they're gradually silting up—they seemed much smaller than the last time I visited, oh, seven years ago (yikes!)—you can still see how there was once a series of long parallel ponds with dikes in between them. We found a passageway through one of the dikes.

explorers creeping through narrow path of ice cutting though a dike

sneaking through

Another sign of the artificial nature of the environment is the dead-straight course of Hartwell Brook, which for this portion of its run is really more in the nature of a drainage ditch. It flows straight from the airport, and when we found it almost completely free of ice I really hoped that was due to the speed of the current rather than any questionable chemicals washing downstream.

looking at the (very straight) Hartwell Brook, open water through the reeds

open water

Whatever the reason, the flowing stream kept us from crossing over, so we turned north along the bank. I was hoping to hit a path back into the woods from the other side to complete a loop, but the boys didn't know that; as we left the brook to push through the tall, maze-like reeds Harvey eventually paused to say, "I'm a little scared." What, doesn't he trust me to keep my head and sense of direction? Plus, if anything goes wrong there's always the GPS on the phone. Which I mentioned to him and asked if he wanted to cheat; he declined.

Zion pushing through tall reeds

can we even get through?

Eventually we pushed our way through to higher ground and found a faint trace of a path, but we still didn't have any idea where we were until we found footprints, and a hole in the ice where our friend Bruce broke through on the previous expedition. We were saved! The rest of the trip was easy and uneventful, except that I had to carry Zion and his hands got quite cold once he didn't have the exertion of keeping up with us to warm him. When we got home we had hot chocolate.

There's still more to explore back there; we'd like to make another expedition soon. Want to come with us?


historical reenactment homemaking

You probably know this about me, but I hate and fear many aspects of modern existence. Plastic wrap, for example. Who decided it would be a good idea to cover food with a 12.5 micrometer film of PVC? And yet it now seems indispensable for so many kitchen applications, from wrapping up leftovers to gift-wrapping decorative cookie plates. Me, I used it most in baking: wrapping balls of pie dough or gingerbread, or covering the bread as it rises. And then one day I got to wondering: how did folks handle those needs before the first half of the 20th century, when plastic wrap was invented?

The question led immediately to its answer, which was—I say without any research or actual knowledge, but also without doubt—that they covered things in cloth. Wet cloth, to keep the dough from drying out. So I started doing that instead. It feels so much nicer! I don't know that any chemicals from plastic actually leach out into food, but to me at least plastic wrap is just not pleasant stuff. Plus there's the issue of the energy and raw materials that go into making and transporting it, and then again into disposing of it (how many of you recycle your plastic wrap?). An old cotton napkin from the rag bin doesn't have any of those issues.

I can see why, even hearing my process, some people would totally still be into plastic wrap. Compared to its perceived sterility, a wet rag might seem distressingly permeable to germs, or even somehow dirty in its own right. But keeping our bread dough—or our leftovers—sterility is a pretty modern problem; and with all due respect to modern medicine is not one that should loom particularly large in our consciousness. Under cotton my bread can breathe as it rises, and I'm sure it's better for it. That I'm following the example of countless generations of homemakers before me only improves my appreciation of the method.


not forgotten

Lijah in the exersaucer in the street in front of our house

our wonderful littlest boy

It's tough being a third child. Harvey and I were looking through the boys' photo pages the other day (see here, here, and here) and I couldn't help but notice that Lijah has a lot fewer shots up than Zion did at a similar age—and never mind Harvey. Then there's the terrible disparity in blog post tag numbers too: 268 to 94 to 19. Ouch, that's a drop-off. So we thought we'd ameliorate the situation just a bit with some photos of our baby that I took over the last 10 months but never managed to post.

Elijah's face looking up

at one month, at a parade

the three boys in our bed

summer morning

Lijah in his bouncy seat, Zion standing next to him making a face

silly brother

Leah holding Lijah, kissing him on the cheek

mama kiss

Leah holding Lijah in her lap, in swimming posture, in the pond


I think the evidence shows that, despite our lack of time to properly document his unique charms, Lijah is well-loved by all his family. Cute too!

He does more things now than he did back in the summer when I took all those shots: just today he was standing up to play with the new toys attached to the library wall. Oh how I wish I'd remembered my camera! I will aim to do better in future; expect a more regular supply of current Elijah content in these pages, and complain to the management if you don't see it!


this moment

the boys posing in the living room: Harvey dressed as Peter Pan and Zion as a pirate

and Elijah napped

A moment from the week.

A late-night conversation between me and my brain

Me: I'm kind of worried about the baby's sleep patterns. Can you serve up some wisdom from my past experience in parenting?

Brain: Here are five things that happened to you in high school that were shameful! I will now commence playback in vivid detail.

Me: That hardly seems pertinent. I just wanted to remember what my first two children slept like at ten months.

Brain: How about something from the vault? Here's a shameful situation that you never even knew you remembered!

Me: This also has nothing to do with sleep.

Brain: Oh boy! You sure didn't stand up to that hairdresser in 1999! She totally permed your hair instead of straightened it.

Me: Not only is that memory completely unrelated to the situation at hand, but now I feel vaguely angry and embarrassed as well as sleep deprived.

Brain: You should cut yourself to let the feelings out.

Me: You're batshit crazy, you know that.

In related news Elijah is waking up every hour to nurse, which is something like eight times a night. I don't want to say that it feels like I'm being sexually assaulted, because that would mean I'm engaging instead of dismissing the crazy monster who lives inside of my brain just waiting to make such unsavory allusions. But it sure feels like something. I've started sleeping in a bra so that no one can accidentally touch my other nipple. This is not enough protection, so I ordered some spanx online in the hopes that this will shield the rest of my skin from tiny hands. If I start sleeping in spanx we may have reached peak sensory integration failure. On the other hand... WICKED HOT!


first snowy day

snow falling in our yard

morning snow

We finally got some noticeable snow around here, and the boys were desperately eager to go out in it as soon as they could.

Zion on his back making a snow angel, with snow falling on his face

snow angel

Snow angels have been on Zion's mind lately; he clearly wasn't satisfied by his ice angel and took the first available opportunity to make the real thing happen. It's wonderful to see him finally really enjoying the snow; I guess the problem before was just not being three. This winter he's wholeheartedly in favor: after putting in a couple snow angels he crawled around the ground for the next half-hour being a dog and eating snow.

Rascal running towards the camera in the snow

he gets excited too

The real dog ran considerably faster than puppy Zion—he also missed the snow overt the last month and a half. And Harvey climbed the ladder to the maple tree to eat the snow up there—maybe it tastes more rich and rare 15 feet above ground level. We also tried some flat-ground sledding, with me pulling the boys on the runner sled and flinging them forward. The snow was pretty sticky, but after we waxed the runners things ran well enough.

some food

steamy warm

When we got as wet as we could get we went inside and I made an appropriate snowy-day lunch: grilled cheese, tomato soup, and pickles. And hot chocolate, of course; and this time the whipped cream worked.

Later I took Rascal for a walk, and on my way home I was ashamed to notice that ours was just about the only house on the street without at least one gigantic snowman. Never mind that the boys wanted to finish the board game they were playing with Mama, I had to defend our honor. They came out a little later, in time to help me just the tiniest bit, play with their friend from next door, and get in on the commemorative photo.

Harvey, Zion, and their friend pose with my big snowman

big snowman, little kids

Then inside again for supper; for desert we had maple syrup poured over a bowlful of snow. What more could we ask for?


Burns day

We attended a lovely party this evening to celebrate Burns day, as in Robert Burns the Scottish poet. At this stage in life it's nice to be invited out to a party at all. Even better to attend one which features both a live bagpiper and a communal recitation of poetry! In addition to hearing the works of Burns and other famous poets, we were treated to several poems that party-goers had written themselves. This was lovely and made me think I wish I heard personal poetry more often. Why don't we frequently sit around in groups and hear each other's poems? Mightn't it open us up to a relational world imbued with wonder and vulnerability?

Unfortunately there's not much space in my mind for poetry right now. Nor in my life for that matter; taking more than two minutes to write fewer words than a status update seems ridiculous at this point in time. Especially with night-time quiet so scarce. Indeed, were I to compose a verse these days it would sound something like this:

I have no time for poetry
a baby shares a bed with me
and steals the nectar from my flower
eight times a night. Yes, every hour.

And so short blog posts are the thing, at least for now. Still, if anyone is interested in a poetry night, I'll be happy to host. I'd even be willing to cook a haggis.


the snow day of all snow days

Harvey, Zion, and Rascal out in the yard in deep snow, with lots more falling

braving the blizzard

On Saturday we dived into experiencing the first snow storm of the season like it might be the last. It turns out it wasn't. Heralded by increasingly alarming warnings starting Sunday morning, a genuine blizzard started last night and is still going strong, with, oh, a couple feet of snow on the ground already.

Obviously the world has been pretty much brought to a standstill; no work for anybody today, and I already know I'll be working from home tomorrow as well. That didn't stop us from going outside, though! I needed to give the chickens food and water, but the boys just wanted to experience the wildness. It's very cold. Zion lasted about 15 minutes, and we loved watching Rascal leap and bound in fluffy snow up to his shoulders. After Zion went in Harvey and I did some shoveling; when we made it out to the street we found about 8 inches of snow on it, and 3 or 4 on the main road. Walking into the wind was very unpleasant, but we're tough.

Harvey in snowsuit hood and muffler in heavy snow


Besides braving the elements we're also keeping busy inside: there's bread rising, squash in the oven, and lots of tea in our bellies. The boys, at peace for the moment, are building a zoo for their stuffed animals. We may survive this storm yet!

Update at half-past four:

It keeps snowing. When I walked Rascal late morning the undrifted snow was well above his belly; when I tried to get him to go into the woods he said, "the snow is too deep here: let's go somewhere else!" Alas, he wasn't able to find a anywhere with less than six inches of snow—besides the middle of the main roads, and I was really nervous walking there because the visibility was very poor indeed. Not that there was much—any—traffic, but I didn't want to get knocked out by a snowplow!

After our leftover pizza lunch there was a bit of a lull and Harvey and I went out to play and shovel. Even after our first small effort this morning the piles beside the front walk were tall enough to demand snow-fort making, and they quickly got a lot taller, but even piled up the snow was much too soft to bore out. We did make a tiny tunnel in the edge of the plow debris, and Harvey made it through once before it collapsed.

Harvey emerging from a low snow tunnel

low bridge

Zion came out for about five minutes, and did his part.

Zion shoveling in the driveway with the snow-covered car behind him

looking helpful

Just afterwards they tried to climb the snow collected in the lee of the car, which turned out to be very soft—so soft that instead of supporting Harvey, who was first, it collapsed and sent him plunging face-first into the pile, kind of like an ostrich. We went in after that, and I made us all hot chocolate. Mama did the second round of shoveling while we did some school; now the boys are playing with the big legos while Lijah naps (and are being very considerately quiet!).

Harvey and Zion playing with legos in their room

apres snow lego

Is it bedtime yet?

Further update at nine o'clock:

As Leah wrote elsewhere, "It looks like we made it to supper time! Though in all fairness, that's what I tell myself every day at this time, not just the days when snow is falling." I actually didn't think it was that bad, but I was doing the easy part. But regardless, nobody got hurt, the kitchen ended the day cleaner than it started it, and the rest of the house might be clean again someday! It was a long time to be inside: Lijah never left the house all day, Zion was out for a total of 20 minutes, and Harvey maybe 40. Leah and I each got to take a walk and do some shoveling, which may have been lifesaving (the kids' lives, not our own).

It's hard to see how much snow there really is in the pictures above. Just wait until I take some more tomorrow! While we've certainly had more snow on the ground before, I don't know that I've ever seen as much fall in one day. The piles on each side of the front walk are over Harvey's head, never mind the ones around the driveway. I can't imagine where people who own parking lots are putting all the snow, and maybe they can't either: pretty much everything is cancelled again tomorrow as they figure it out. Hopefully we can spend a little more of the day outside!


after the blizzard

our house the day after the blizzard

the morning after

As per the news yesterday, I worked from home today. That actually meant I got less time outside that I would have otherwise, since I missed 20 miles of cycling... but I didn't spend the whole day slaving in front of the computer. In the morning I shoveled out the chickens' run and put down some new straw so they could emerge from their henhouse for the first time in 40 hours or so. Then in the afternoon Harvey, Zion and I headed out for some non-blizzardy snow fun!

Zion and Harvey atop a giant pile of snow in front of our porch

how far can they see from up there?

There's lots of snow to have fun in. Remember my big snowman?

my big snowman, buried one ball deep in snow

looking smaller

Naturally, we made a snow cave or two. The snow is so light and fluffy the excavating was a snap.

Zion and Harvey smiling in a snow cave

"can we live in here?"

In fact, it's so light and fluffy I had some concern about the whole thing collapsing and trapping the boys; certainly when I tried to climb any of the piles I sank right in up to my waist. Even the plowed up piles can't support my weight at all, which is pretty remarkable: I don't know when I've ever experienced such light, dry snow before. Leah commented on how white it is with hardly any moisture; no blue in it at all.

To the kids that just means that their snow fights involved only fistfulls of powder.

Harvey and Zion having a snow fight with friends atop the tree house platform

not snowBALLS, exactly...

And to Rascal it means that he can't walk anywhere without sinking in up to his stomach. When he gets really excited he can bound around the yard, but mostly he wants to stick to the paths others have made before him. Not that that's too much of a hardship: with the sunny day the kids made lots of paths, and tomorrow will doubtless see lots more!

Rascal standing in a trodden path in the backyard

a traveller of the narrow way


these moods were made for walking

I took a walk with Elijah by the river today. The air was rather mild despite the recent blizzard, and I was breaking a path through knee-deep snow. Altogether it was very good exercise.

The reason I was exercising thusly is because I'd just had a shouting fight with my husband about the gym. He thought I should go to the gym because I Clearly Needed A Break. I said a break wouldn't cut it after the morning I'd had. He said Don't You Trust Me to Watch the Three Children it's like you're some kind of Martyr for no cause in particular, a bitchy Martyr who is Unpleasant to be around. I said, if you really want to hear my opinion, you can't take the baby out in this weather just standing around, he screams when you do this, I know from a lot of personal experience holding a screaming baby, and you can't let the other children play in the street unsupervised, and if it's all the same to you I'd rather mind the baby than have him screaming on the street or having my other children hit by a car, and furthermore I'm tired risking the life and limb and the happiness of everyone in this family just so I can spend thirty minutes in a smelly room burning one fifth of the calories I ate for lunch.

Dan said he thought I liked the gym.

I said I like it fine. But. I haven't slept in weeks and the older kids are capable of fighting over which monochrome lego brick belongs to whom and the baby screams if he's awake and not touching me and there is no amount of pull-ups that will that okay. I cannot spend thirty minutes on the rowing machine and come back to the same house and the same life and pretend it's all totally okay.

So Why not go for an hour? Dan said.

And I said, you don't understand. This body that I might spend an hour training in front of a sticky mirror? this body is food and comfort for ten hours every night. Actively. Like, I have to prop myself up on my side and the arm that I'm propping up on goes numb. And then during the day, carrying that back-pack around all the time, my body is some kind of a diaper/spare-clothing/snack/water-bottle/bandaid mule.

There is no magic amount of time at the gym that will make this okay. I just want you to hear that. If I go to the gym, let's just be clear, I want to leave open the possibility that I might come back and still be kind of frustrated.

Dan said Do Whatever You Want and slammed the front door.

I decided what I really wanted was to get some fresh air.

So I bundled the baby into his snowsuit (he doesn't scream if he's moving) and me and the difficult one took a long walk by the frozen river.

And you know what? It WAS good exercise.

But fuck exercise.

I am tired of wondering whether things are good exercise or not. I am tired of wondering if I am working my quads or if I am working my glutes or if I've burned the calories I just consumed or am planning to consume later. I'm so very tired of wondering anything. Wondering whether a white noise machine will get my baby to sleep, or if sleeplessness is just part of my life not subject to change. I just want to stop wondering. I just... want to do something because it's ENJOYABLE.

Not because it'll make me a better mother or because it'll make me thinner or because an accountant in my head is calculating the per-use cost of my gym membership. I just want to do something FUN for an hour. I walk to walk in the snow and look at the bunny tracks and say in some pleased voice I may not possess: "That's something I won't be able to do when I'm dead."

Elijah enjoyed bouncing around and looking at the snowy trees. He didn't notice the incongruity later of going to bed to a soundtrack of beach noises. Let's hope (though I don't mean to functionalize our time together) that the walk and the noise machine help him put some real hours of sleep together. Perhaps they will get both of us dreaming of fresh air and summer.


this moment

Lijah with chocolate pudding all over his face and clothes, held by Mama


A moment from the week.

A non-formulaic reaction to a formula commercial

I am just going to keep watching this commercial until it stops making me cry. And that hasn't happened yet.

For those who have not seen the Similac Mommyhood commercial, I will offer the briefest of synopses. Different ideological groups of parents set off to spar. They stop to save a baby in peril. Fellowship ensues.

I've watched it at least a dozen times now, and it still leaves me crying like a three year old who's been told he can't have a second rice krispie treat. (ahem Zion.)

I love so many details about the parent "gangs" in this characterization. I love that the attachment parents come off as slightly indecisive and bewildered ("Is it go time? Yeah, I think it's go time..."). I love the fact that the badass breastfeeders look gross for not wearing bras. I belong to both those two tribes, and I think both depictions are accurate of me.

I appreciate that the area where the stay-at-home Dads are picnicking is an unadulterated mess.

But that is not the reason the commercial has me crying. Somehow it struck a chord, when the stroller rolls downhill and the parents all run to catch it. The mama peeks into the basinet and (wait for it, sob) she mouths the words, "It's okay. He's fine."

That's what made me YouTube this stupid thing until it showed ads on top of my ad. The inaudible phrase, "He's fine."

I don't think I'll ever be able to utter these words. In the absence of a formulaic vignette that only lasts three minutes, there will never be a stopping point for me. I will never have a moment, I don't think, when I look at my children and sigh with relief and say, "Phewf."

"We made it. HE'S FINE."

Another video that I watched in repetition this year was a clip of the first woman to complete the American Ninja Warrior qualifiers. After destroying the obstacle course like she works for an obstacle course manufacturer (which she does) Kacy Catanzaro scales the last hurtle, a vertical wall, to ring a bell signaling that she's reached the trial's end. That part got me chocked up. With jealousy, I guess. Not because I want to reinvent myself as a gymnast (unless breastfeeding counts), but because I will never have a moment in my life where I complete anything enough to ring a bell. Raising children is all encompassing from now til perpetuity. There's is never a moment when I get to say, as Kacy does in her tiny little gymnast voice: "I did it!"

Confound you, moving pictures.

I probably suffer less from the monotony of parenting than from the fallacy of narrative cohesion. Commercials and network television need to tell a story. The convention of the three-minute clip, whether it sells something or not, is to quickly string events together with a clear beginning middle and end. Life does not work in this fashion. It goes on for an impossibly long time after three minutes. We may have successes and we may have failures. We may connect with former enemies or triumph over physical obstacles. But life doesn't stop where a video might pull up a facebook share button. Life goes on. We have to go home and deal with the laundry. Find something for everyone to eat for dinner.

My goal for the moment is not to TRIUMPH over adversity or opposition, but find beauty in the strife-filled obstacle-laden world that I live in. It may never be 'fine' and it may never be 'done.' But if I let go of narrative expectations it can probably be beautiful.

(PS: same message different examples in an article I wrote for Horatio, out this week. I am a one-trick, mommy, potty-mouthed pony, apparently. Funnily enough, that's called a 'dam'.)