<< December 2020 :: January 2021

new year, old pancakes

A couple days before Christmas, our neighbors came by with a gift. They moved in a in the summer, so we've only known them in the pandemic times and barely had a chance to get to know them; not that we would anyways, since they're much classier than we are. Very kind, too: they brought us a gift basket with Wilson Farm pancake mix and syrup. Awesome, we love pancakes! Only it turns out we're a little spoiled. We made the day after Christmas, having missed our usual Friday pancake day—though when I saw that the recipe called for nothing more than the mix, water, and an egg OR two tablespoons oil, my hopes were not high. Accurately; they weren't bad, by any means, but thin and kind of tough and pretty much blah. We ate them, of course! With the syrup and leftover Christmas ham they made a fine breakfast. But then today was Friday again and we got to have the real thing. True, stores aren't carrying wheat germ any more so I've had to adjust our recipe, but with white and whole wheat flour, buttermilk, two well-beaten eggs, and plenty of butter we have pancakes that come out light and fluffy and tender to the fork; just about perfect. A good way to start a new year.

moments from the week

Zion and Lijah standing on the puddley ice on the edge of Fawn Lake

wishing the ice were harder

Moments from the past week.

Zion standing in a stream

warm moments in December

Zion crawling on a fallen tree above the ice on a little pond

can't trust the ice... can you trust the tree?

the boys toasting marshmallows over a fire pit

friends' fire

Elijah poking up from a hole in some rocks

hide-and-seek

me and harvey warming ourselves over the fire

New Years Eve

Elijah atop a big rock, kids below him

first adventure of the new year

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our Christmas performance

While I've seen a bunch of Christmas trees out on the curb already (trash pickup was today in Bedford) it really still is Christmas, so it's not too late to show off a Christmas delight we participated in. Way back in late October I volunteered to be part of our Church's prerecorded Christmas choir—I was excited for the opportunity, because I'm usually too busy with Kids Church to participate. But when it has to all be recorded well before Thanksgiving? That I can do! In theory, at least: I did wait until the day it was due, as usual. But I got it done! If it was just me, I wouldn't bother to tell the world, but for one of the two songs the whole family got in there—and they liked us so much we're the last people to disappear at the final fade out. Check us out!

(I have to say, though, the sound of the choir is so good that it makes me think Matt, our music director, used ringers for the audio. Like maybe a prerecorded track by another choir? But never mind, we look good and that's definitely for real.)

distractions

This evening I was trying to work on a different blog post, a post about what is happening in our lives this week, but I've been too distracted by the news of this afternoon's attempted coup-slash-insurrection in the capital. At supper Leah told the boys they were living through times much more interesting than what we experienced as kids. "Is that good or bad?" Harvey wanted to know. Some of each, I guess?

Then a little bit ago I let the dogs out, and after a few minutes Scout asked to be let back in. I can almost open the door from my seat here, so I didn't really pay attention to him. But then when Blue didn't follow right away I turned to Scout to ask him where his brother was—at which point I saw that his face was covered in blood. Yikes! I ran right outside and found that nobody was hurt, it's just that the dogs had killed a rabbit and Blue was eating it. Judging by the considerable amount of blood on Scout—enough that I had to get a wet cloth to clean him off—I'm sure he must have made the kill, and then have mean Blue take it from him. I gave him a rawhide chew to make up for it, but it's not the same. So yes, interesting times.

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back to school

I don't know how the school kids felt about going back this January, whether to their classrooms or their remote terminals. Given what Christmas looked like this year, maybe they were fine with it; even excited. But there's no way they were as happy as we were, because our return to "school" this week has been absolutely delightful. We started off on Monday with a joyful reunion with our bubble group, who came over for the day. Certain of the children were looking forward to doing some math work, but that didn't happen; instead, we talked (and wrote and drew) about what we're looking forward to in 2021, listened to some stories, ate lots of dessert together, then took a long walk in the woods. After school time ended, the kids who got to stick around a little longer did woodworking in the basement and made some swords, which they of course proceeded to battle with.

kids on a rock ledge overlooking the airport

school friends together

On Tuesday Harvey's online classes started back up. He enjoyed playing his banjo with his grandpa and cousin in his music class, and had an even better time hanging out with the boys of the ancient history class. The younger boys did Zoom yoga with Grandma, which activity has replaced their read-aloud now that they've finished Tuck Everlasting (and received yoga mats and blocks for Hanukah!). And Wednesday was the online book group party celebrating the completion of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Elijah was super excited to wear his monkey costume and bring a peach, and the other boys were interested enough to come up with costumes of their own. In the event peaches were not available, it being not at all the season, but Lijah was contented with a jar of canned peaches from the basement. The best part of the party, though—the best part of this whole book group—was the tea: herbal tea has a fairly important part in the story, so one of the things all the kids enjoy is having some as they listen. I'm working during book group time so the boys have to make theirs themselves... which I think makes it even more fun.

I thought today might be a bit of a letdown, with nothing on the schedule, but that was actually perfect for Harvey. He's been after me for a couple weeks to teach him programing, and today we finally had time to get started. Not that I know too much about the subject, but more than him—and certainly enough to pique his interest. Today we wrote some pseudo-code to talk about functions and loops and things, and then did some actual programing in Apple Basic (which, delightfully, is implemented in Javascript here). And we also took a good exploring walk. All in all, I think our first week back is going pretty well.

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moments from the year

Mama, boys, and puppies wading in a pond along Nashoba Brook

not so hot here!

Here are some of the our top moments and images from that remarkable year, 2020. I picked my favorites of the photos posted this past year in the blog—some for aesthetic reasons, others because of how much fun the moment was... and some to try and tell the story of 2020. I limited myself to three photos for each month, which was really hard: even in a pandemic we did lots of amazing, beautiful things. Here's to lots more moments in 2021!

January

the boys and Nisia on the beach wearing winter clothes

new year beach

kids sledding

whee!

Zion out along the icy Sudbury River

ever driven to explore further

February

Zion up on a fallen tree with friends

in the wild

Zion sliding down a slightly-snowy hill on his belly

penguins don't need sleds

Lijah playing Candyland with friends at the Chelmsford library

games at a library

March

Lijah's friends around the kitchen table

a crowd to celebrate Elijah

Zion and Lijah on a Zoom read-aloud

this is our life now

Zion wading in the calm waters at the end of the beach

new horizons

April

the boys exploring in a green marsh

out in the green

Zion about to take a bite out of a perfectly made smore

what a smore should look like

Lijah riding a two-wheeler for the first time

he did it!

May

three chicks out in the dirt

what a cheerful sight!

Blue and Scout biting on one stick

introducing Blue and Scout

Harvey and Zion with their bikes on a hill overlooking the airport

expedition to the airport

June

Harvey cycling along a dirt path between sunbeams

morning trail

Zion splashing more than waist deep in the pond

splash!

Harvey playing minecraft over zoom

what the kids do these days

July

Harvey and Lijah laying out a harvest of berries and veggies on the playhouse counter

the yard's bounty

Lijah lying with the dogs on the kitchen floor

love those dogs

the kids swimming beyond the beached canoe

our happy place

August

Harvey and Zion swimming off the beach with no people in sight

an ocean of their own

Harvey crashing his bike going over a big rock

trying hard things

the boys and dogs atop a big rock in the woods

co-kings of the world

September

Leah and the boys hiking among the marsh grass at Great Island

the island looming through the fog

our boat approaching the Old North Bridge

what could be finer?

Zion biking up a hill at sunrise

the dawn of a new era

October

Zion and some friends lying with the dogs on the deck

sharing the dogs

Elijah standing on a log in a yellow wood

Lijah the woodsman

Zion sitting with the dogs watching the airport

boy and dog adventures

November

Zion and Lijah playing in a leaf pile

they all came down

Zion sitting on a pillow doing school work at our bubble school

bubble school is comfortable

Harvey and Zion walking along the beach, Blue running after them

Thanksgiving beach walk

December

Lijah looking at a partially frozen pond

almost sliding time

the boys decorating the Christmas tree

decorators

our solstice fire under the 1st quarter moon

starting the longest night

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moments from the week

Harvey and Zion disassembling gingerbread houses

farewell to gingerbread

Moments from the past week.

our bubble school crew at the table with lots of dessert

back to school, with dessert

Harvey balancing atop a thin stump

balance

Zion standing on ice of a pond, the dogs running behind him

I don't think the ice is safe, but they do!

Elijah in front of a clock doing a worksheet

time for school for time

Elijah standing on a ledge halfway up a big rock

up a rock

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light already

It seems like just last week we were celebrating the solstice, but it's clearly long behind us now. I headed out this afternoon at quarter past four to walk the dogs in the woods, and I didn't even think to take a headlamp along with me. No need: it was still totally light when I got back half and hour later, and even well past five. The times are changing!

With the longer days we're starting to talk about seeds. Leah and I were talking yesterday about it, thinking about if we're going to try anything new or just plant the whole garden in kale, tomatoes, and butternut squash. That sounds good. Today my best seed-starting friend and I were vowing each other that this year—this year—we were going to get our seeds in on time, and take care of them right. So many things can go wrong! With gardening—with seeds especially—it can be hard for me not to focus on the negative. At least the January sunshine always feels positive.

on the ice

As much as I'm loving the light lately, we do love winter—and it's been a little disappointing lately in the snow and ice department. There's still no snow around now, but it's been cold enough overnight the last few days that the ice is finally solid, on ponds at least. This morning we got to enjoy it on the Old Reservoir.

Harvey and Lijah sliding on the ice

Harvey is demonstrating the "starfish slide"

The dogs have been braver than any of us over the last couple weeks so they've had plenty of ice time already, but today it was firm enough that they felt completely confident and chased each other around without a care. I wish I had a video of the the flailing legs every time they tried to change direction or accelerate suddenly. But with four legs to flail, they never fell down! Unlike the children who fell down constantly. Of course, they loved it!

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getting our workout

The pandemic changed our lives in lots of ways, and one of them was to stop us playing Pokemon. In the before time, it was ever on our minds: when the next event was, how many points was Harvey at, what decks should we play, what cards were coming out in the next set... We played in events, we played at the local game store, and we played on Pokemon Trading Card Game Online. Then in March we stopped. Lately, though, we've been getting back into playing online (which is of course all there is), and for Christmas I got all the boys new cards. With our regained enthusiasm for the game, though, I was worried we'd lose all the fitness we'd gained from a summer and fall of off-road cycling. So now we're taking exercise breaks after each game, with jumping jacks and pushups. I don't know how it breaks down in caloric intake compared to actual outdoor activity, but today I did 225 jumping jacks and 63 pushups, which is certainly way more of either of those than I would have otherwise! The boys didn't get quite as many in, since I play faster than them and also I do seven pushups after each game to their five. And then we also took a walk and a bike ride. So while video gaming might not be the best for our bodies, I don't think we're doing too badly.

wet weather? let's go to the ocean!

It's been sunny and beautiful for at least parts of the last couple days, so of course when it turned gray and rainy we headed out to visit the ocean!

the boys by the shore at Good Harbor beach under gray skies

perfect beach weather

Actually, the timing wasn't really deliberate like that. It's just that we have a lot on our schedule, actually, and it's been a couple months since we've been any distance from home; so when last weekend I saw that Thursday was free I put a trip out to Cape Ann on the calendar. In my defense, the forecast at that point called for sun! Not that we minded the light drizzle—we're that hardcore, and we'd actually much rather have rain than crowds.

Our first stop of the day was the rocks along Atlantic Ave, where, before we did anything else, we had lunch (we got a late start because there was lots of school work to do first—like I said, busy schedule!). It turns out it's cold at the ocean; at least two of us wished for warmer clothes (not me! nobody dresses warmer that I do). But as soon as we finished lunch, an hour of climbing around the amazing rocks warmed us right up. Nobody died, either. When Elijah fell on his face it wasn't from 25 feet above jagged rocks, which had been my fear.

Zion and Elijah looking down at white water from orange rocks

looks perfectly safe, right?

Then just as we were about done with the rocks, Harvey found a piece of sea glass, and then another one. I don't know if you're aware, but sea glass is rare in New England these days—maybe the only downside of people no longer routinely throwing their garbage into the ocean. So his find touched off a sea glass gold rush, and each of us got at least a dozen pieces. Lijah and I are going to combine our hoards and display them in a jar.

Next we went to Good Harbor beach. The tide was rushing out beautifully under the bridge and it wasn't at all crowded, but the boys were getting a little tired—and it turns out that without a full tank of physical and emotional energy the water's a little too cold mid-January to do much wading. We did find—and walk through—some very interesting sandy mud: it was almost fluffy, with a consistency like slush to a depth of three or four inches. It's lucky there was something harder underneath, or we would have sunk to our deaths!

We ended the outing with a visit to Rockport. We walked around town and out to the tip of Bearskin Neck, admiring all the closed stores and their range of varied and clever please-wear-a-mask signs. Then on the way back to the car we stopped at the candy store where we bought some fudge...eventually. It was actually kind of hard to come to a decision about what to get. It may be that she felt sorry for us or just that she's a wonderful human being, but the woman running the store also gave us—for free, gratis!—a bag of chocolate-covered swedish fish. I had no idea such a thing had ever been even contemplated, but they actually aren't bad! It helps that Tuck's Candy has, as well as wonderful generosity, really good milk chocolate. Tuck's Candy—check em out if you're in the area!

Then we went home. On the drive, both ways, we listened to an audiobook about Martin Luther King Jr. Because, you know us, that's how serious we are about school work!

Oh, I almost forgot the best part of going to the ocean in the winter! Even better than the empty roads and beaches: we found ice among the rocks! It may have been small, but our rink by the water was, for fifteen minutes at least, just about the best thing ever.

Zion and Elijah sliding on a patch of ice among rocks by the ocean

our two favorite things, together at last!

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happy birthday Dr King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. We studied his life this week, and today in Bubble School the kids each gave their reports. (I freely acknowledge the potential pitfalls in doing Black history with a bunch of white kids, but I think trying is still better than the alternative—and anyways, at this point 1/3 of our school population is 1/2 non-white, so there!) Our discussion was sensitive and nuanced. We talked about the considerable role Dr King played in the Civil Rights movement and also about the fact that there were others, less famous, who played roles that were just as significant. We talked about the importance of non-violent protest, and also thought about situations where violence is necessary for tactical or emotional reasons. And we celebrated that there is a Martin Luther King Day holiday, while also all agreeing that we have a ways to go, both as a country and as individuals, before Dr King's dream can come true.

Without libraries the research was more challenging than it might have been—like everything in this pandemic. But our group found a way to make it happen, using a combination of web sites (mainly Wikipedia), audio books from Audible and LeVar Burton's Skybrary, documentary films, and audio of Dr King's speeches. Plus the diversity of sources gave us a chance to talk about historiography, and why you might want to seek out a variety of accounts about any one person or event.

Martin Luther King Day is Monday, of course. We're not taking school off that day, though; we're honoring Dr King's memory by meeting, talking about his legacy and the road ahead, and eating a cake to celebrate his birthday. We're looking forward to it!

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moments from the week

the boys walking on the ice at the Old Reservoir

on ice

A few moments from the past week.

Zion burning holding a leaf to a fire in the kids' firepit

playing with fire

Elijah in his bat-ear sweatshirt exploring a stream in the woods

a bat in his natural habitat

the boys walking on the rocks along the shore in Gloucester

climbing by the sea

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egg consumption outpaces production

It's surprising to me lately how many eggs we eat. Our friends with a new flock of chickens just told me that their hens kept laying right through the solstice; ours do no such thing. While it's true that they kept up production a little bit longer than last time I complained about it, they closed up shop for the winter after the second week of December. I can't be too upset: we do live just down the road from a farm where we can get day-old cage-free eggs for under $3 a dozen. But we need so many! When our hens are laying I don't really notice: we get four or five a day, and use as many, so it was kind of like water from the tap. Now with having to go to the store it's like we're in bottled water mode, and I have to pay attention in case we're going to run out. So, say, I can't plan to make french toast for breakfast and a Spanish tortilla for supper on the same day. It's hard!

On the plus side, visiting the store is a delightful experience, and the kids can use the trip to buy candy. So, while I'm looking forward to the return of the light and the eggs, I bet they're fine with things the way they are!

all kinds of learning

This past Sunday I titled one of our "moment" photos "playing with fire", because that's what the Bubble School kids are into these days. Both school days at our house last week they spent all their outside time making campfires and boiling water, and yesterday in Acton they were excited to do the same thing, with the additional fun of building a shelter by their fire pit (since our friends' yard isn't blessed, like ours, with a playhouse). Some of us parents were slightly worried about the possibility of conflagration—they were doing their fire-building in a corner of woods thickly carpeted with fallen leaves—but when I went out to check I saw that everything was so wet they could barely keep their kindling burning without constant effort from the lighter. So probably no conflagrations were likely, and we could rest easy with an occasional check-in glance out the kitchen window. Or so we thought!

No, the kids didn't set anything on fire (though they did succeed in getting the fire in their ring to be self-sustaining after a half-hour of sustained work!). But a neighbor was even more concerned than we were, and she came over and, after staring for a while, asked the kids if their parents knew what they were doing. Well of course we did! And as we heard the story afterwards, the oldest of our wonderful gang of kids—not Harvey, he's the second-oldest by a month and a half—had the presence of mind to answer. "Yes, they do, thank you," she said. "Goodbye!" (She emphasized afterwards that she said "goodbye").

Now of course, if they were hardened juvenile delinquents they would have scoffed at a question like that—or worse!—but our homeschool children are sensitive! There were some tears when they came in to report to us, and it took some work to reassure them that no, they hadn't actually done anything wrong. Some people just like to... involve themselves in other people's lives. It was too bad, but even as some kids were upset it was awesome to see how they supported and comforted each other. And even better, they went back out and relit the fire that they had stamped out after the neighbor's visit. And this time they set a guard to make sure they'd be ready if she came back!

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is it my bedtime?

One minor benefit of blogging regularly for so many years is that it lets me see how well I've been managing my sleep schedule. Writing is often the very last thing I do in a day, so by checking the date posts are published I can see how long I've been keeping myself up. And it's been pretty late the last couple weeks! There are good reasons to stay up late—it's the only time I get a moment to myself, a moment to think without being assailed by the constant noise of our lovely household—but overall I think I'm better when I manage to retire at a reasonable hour. When I'm up til all hours I'm tired the next day, and then things don't go well and I get frustrated, and then I need even more time the following evening to calm down and collect myself. A vicious cycle.

Even worse, I don't even get to share the evening time with the one member of the family I'd actually like to hang out with by that point. Leah needs to go to bed early; most nights she barely manages to stay awake longer than the kids (in fact, often she doesn't even do that!). So really, I ought to go to bed early and get my quiet alone time in the morning when I'm not collapsing from tiredness. I'm going to try it... keep an eye on those post times if you want to know how I'm doing!

moments from the week

Zion blowing on a little fire

winter fires are hard work!

Moments from the past week.

Elijah lying on the ground next to his fallen bike

drama

the kids gathered around a globe

geography time

the kids working on a fire by a tarp shelter

this, too, is school

Harvey looking down at a rickety bridge over a frozen pond

adventuring again

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<< December 2020 :: January 2021