injury theories and reality

Up until the last week of May I was enthusiastically telling people about my plan to avoid the brittleness of old age by continuously subjecting my body to the types of bumps and falls that people start to want to avoid as they enter their late forties. The theory being that if I keep, for example, falling off my bike, I stay tough and supple and don't have to worry about big injuries from falling accidentally. Then I put the idea to the absolute test by smashing my face into a tree after a failed landing on a jump, and for a couple weeks I wasn't crowing at all: I was sure I had broken myself forever.

Well, it's now over a month later and I'm back to my original theory. Sure, there are a few lingering effects from the crash. I have a scar on my cheek (which I think looks rather dashing). And, while all the pain in my arms is gone, my left thumb is still pretty numb. At least once a day I wonder if it'll stay numb forever and, if so, how long will it take me to get used to it? But it's not too worrying because it doesn't stop me from doing anything. I'm also still weaker that I was before I got hurt, at least in my left arm. That's recovering, though: I don't need to use two hands to put a saucepan of water on the stove any more. And, needless to say, I'm back on my bike! So it's safe to say that I haven't learned my lesson. The experiment continues!

watching sports

A long time ago (so long I can't be bothered to track it down in the blog archives) I declared that I was done with watching sports on television. Which before long meant I was done with following them altogether, because after we got rid of our tv 11 years ago now we discovered that without a cable subscription you can't stream sports without paying for them. Which of course I would never do. It mostly improves my life: paying attention to sports takes a lot of time and emotional energy. I'm much healthier now that I don't have any idea what the Red Sox are doing (really! Until I wrote this sentence it hadn't even occurred to me that baseball might be being played this summer!). But over the past few months sports awareness has been creeping back in.

The first thing I payed attention to a little bit was the America's Cup. Fortunately, they wanted hundreds of dollars to stream it, so I was saved from watching live and only took in the action via highlights on YouTube. SailGP, on the other hand, is live on Youtube, so that's taken up a couple weekends lately. Most recently my attention has been drawn to cycling. Downhill is the most fun; I got the Red Bull TV ap for my phone to watch it, but an even better way to get absorbed in the excitement of World Cup downhill events is all the different folks putting out content on Youtube. From newsy outfits like Pinkbike and Vital MTB, to teams like The Syndicate, to individuals like Wyn Masters and—my favorite—Bernard Kerr. With all those different ways to watch I really feel like I get a complete view of the event... super fun!

Then of course there's also this road race going on in France. I wouldn't have been aware of it but for Youtube's recommendation engine, but now I am. NBC won't let me watch livestreams or even full race replays, but that's probably good because I don't have five hours a day to devote to following the action (I haven't since that time when Harvey was a baby). Even the half-hour extended recaps are more time that I should be devoting to broadcast entertainment, given everthing else that I should be working on. But it's nice to be able to talk about a sports thing with friends, as I did on Tuesday evening. Plus an MTB boy is in the Yellow Jersey now!


moments from the week

the boys talking on friends' lawn at dusk

summer visting

Moments and images from the past week.

an iPad, baseballs, and a mitt on a haybale

childhood at our house

the dogs sprawled in front of the fan

hot dogs

the boys eating breakfast at the picnic table

hot weather breakfast

Zion and Elijah floating in the inflatable pool

how they survived

the boys on the front porch watching a thunderstorm

storm watching as the weather changed

Harvey riding over a plank bridge

not easy!

Elijah picking black raspberries



at church

Yesterday was a big day! Not because it was Fourth of July—though we did celebrate that with dinner at our friends' house, much fun—but because it we went to our first in-person church service since March 8, 2020! Lots of other churches have been open for a while, but we're being cautious: this was our first service, numbers were limited, everybody had to wear masks, and there was no singing. It was still fun to be back, though! Being with lots of other people that I know at least by sight is pretty nice. I've missed it!

It was funny, though, how much we'd forgotten about the whole process. For Elijah, it was hard to even remember what the church building was like. That makes sense: the pandemic closure lasted almost a fifth of his whole life! Leah and I were pretty confident we remembered how to do church, but the length of the drive was a surprise to both of us. We're out of practice taking that long to get anywhere. But nobody forgot about hanging out on the playground afterwards.

summer readings

We signed up for the summer reading program at the library this morning. Well, the boys signed up; there's a thing for adults too, but I have enough trouble helping them keep track of their reading to try and record my own too. I guess the purpose of the program is to keep kids reading over the non-school months, like reading is something that otherwise you'd only do if a teacher was making you. That's not the case at our house! All I had to do today to get the boys to spend hours engrossed in books was to let them pick up some new ones at the library. Although in our case it's not even something I wanted them to be doing: after we read for over an hour in the library and then another hour-plus at home after lunch, I thought everybody would do better to go outside and exercise brains and imagination. I did! And they tried, but the allure of the books—and of the couch—was too strong. It's too bad that the library program this summer is based on days that the kids read, rather than hours as was the case last time. So their five solid reading hours today isn't going to serve them any better in the race for badges than someone else's 15 minutes!

Unrelated to that program, Elijah asked towards the end of the school year if he could work on leaning to read. So we've been doing that. He did awesome with phonics, and fairly well with sight word flash cards. So I got him started on a real book: Go Dog Go, my absolute favorite early reader. What I love about it is that it starts super simple and introduces words with picture and context clues to begin with, so that by the end there's a little bit of story and like half of the kindergarten sight word list. As the back of the book says, it's great for self-directed reading learning. Well, Elijah may be motivated to read, but the way his brain works Go Dog Go wasn't the winner I hoped it would be. Reading it with him I had a hard time containing my frustration when he painstakingly sounded out "dogs" for like the fifteenth time in five minutes. He's also been having some trouble with "the". Maybe it's my fault for starting with phonics! Or for trying to teach him at all... the other two boys learned to read pretty much on their own. But Lijah is his own kind of person, and he's needed someone to teach him things in the past: riding a bike, sitting up (that one was a long time ago)... He's a hard worker, though, and if he wants to read he'll get it. In the meantime, while he did spend some of the afternoon with his nose in a book—a series of books—he had no trouble getting his body and brain moving too. So that's fine.



I'm having a hard time getting everything done these days—even imagining how I'm going to get everything done. The last two days I took many hours making a new door for our bike shed (really just the space under the front porch) after the old one crumbled away to nothing. Today I also took the boys to swim in a pool with friends. They liked it a lot—on the drive home Lijah said, "this was the best day of my life"—and I enjoyed sitting in the shade and talking to an adult person who hasn't already heard everything I have to say. But there's so much other work! Oh well, I guess that's summer.

Elijah floating in a pool on a donut thing

very summer

in which animals continue to target my gardens

I love lilies, but today all of the beautiful blooms I noticed in people's yards all over town made me feel sad. Why? Because this morning I discovered that, overnight, a deer had eaten off all the buds from the two lily plants in the position of honor in front of the house. We have others—the ones in the backyard along the fence are blooming beautifully—but nobody but us gets to see them! I want to make our house beautiful for passers-by! Seeing everyone else's beauty today—it's a great year for lilies, absent deer predation—made me wonder why the critters are targeting my yard in particular. How does everyone else grow anything?! What am I doing wrong? At least the rabbits took a break from nibbling the petunias for a day or two, so there's a little color out front... Man, who knew gardening was such a stressful hobby!

it never rains but it... rains some more

This morning I took the dogs out in the rain, because Leah had already done it more than enough times this week. After a hot dry June—the hottest on record for Massachusetts, I understand—we've had a very wet July, and that continued today with the passage of Tropical Storm Elsa (which by the way, shouldn't Elsa be bringing snow and ice, not torrential rain?!). I had my raincoat on of course, and boots, but I should have added rain pants, since by the time I got home I couldn't have been any wetter if I'd fallen in a pond.

The rain has certainly been good for the plants, and for the water table, and for our cozy inside reading time, but I think we'd appreciate a little moderation. June was too dry, July is too wet. We're feeling kind of cooped up now, and things might be starting to mildew. At least the rain stopped in time this evening to let friends gather on the back porch (rain has a much greater effect on our social life in these pandemic times!). But there's more in the forecast for next week. I hope we don't all float away!

moments from the week

the boys holding up the day's take of blueberries and raspberries

berry harvest

Moments from the past week (amazingly, most taken when it wasn't raining!).

Elijah sitting on a bike seat holding handlebars with his feet on pedals (no bike)

invisible bike

Zion and a friend on a slip-and-slide

close race

Harvey relaxing in a pool

the good life

the boys in a hot tub with friends

hot day hot tub

Harvey standing with his bike ankle-deep in water on a path

local flooding

the boys hiking on a rocky trail

Saturday hike


we done berries!

Blueberries, to be precise.

Zion and Elijah eating new-picked blueberries at the picnic table

and now they eat them

We bought two blueberry plants pretty soon after we moved in, and then got four more a couple years later, and yet until this summer we haven't been able to pick more than a handful of blueberries a year. The first two plants were too close to the woods initially, then we moved them to a sunnier spot but had to move them again when we built the deck. The newer four plants were in the sun to begin with but were then overrun by forsythia bushes, to the point that one of them died. Clearly I wasn't taking care of them enough! But it was hard to be attentive, because as soon as the berries reached any size—before they even got ripe!—they were all eaten by birds. But we've now figured all that out, and I'm pleased to present you with the following tips for growing a measurable quantity of blueberries:

1. Put them in a good spot. Lots of sun. Don't let trees or overbearing flowery bushes grow up over them.

2. Mulch and water. Blueberries like acid soil, so put your kids to work gathering pine needles and spreading them around the plants. The mulch will keep the weeds down, and also help with water retention. Then water long and often. Watering makes the berries bigger, and it also encourages the plants to put out new growth that will let them make more berries the following year. Of course, we haven't had to water in a while since it never stops raining, but that just makes the plants even happier!

3. Build a fortification. We had steps one and two under control last year, and I thought I had this one handled as well. But despite the work I put into building a netting frame, there were gaps that let the critters in to eat almost all the berries. This year we made it better, and now we laugh from the back porch as we watch the jays, robins, and squirrels try and fail to get at our precious berries.

Then all we need to do is pick them. We're getting plenty to eat; the next goal is enough to preserve. That'll happen when there's so many the boys start feeling sick before they finish them. Getting close!


the best jam is quick jam

Sometimes I feel that I like having made jam more than I actually like making it. There are lots of things you need to have in place: all the fruit, the jars and lids, pectin and sugar, boiling water... Actually, as I type them it doesn't seem like that much. But it can feel overwhelming! Especially when I've gone picking and have a big pile of berries in the fridge, slowly—or quickly!—going bad while they wait for me to get my act together. So last week I tried a new plan when I picked a pint or two of raspberries that nobody wanted to eat (because there were also blueberries), and made them into jam right away within half an hour of picking them. Revolutionary!

Sure, it was only 3/4 of a pint, but that meant that I didn't have to worry about boiling water in the kettle to preserve it—just a couple little jars to put right into the fridge. And without the extra cooking that processing involves the jam tastes even better. The boys may have rejected the raspberries, but they're big fans of the finished product! Now I'm just wondering if I'll get a chance to practice the same kind of efficiency with the blueberries...

this life

In something of a turnaround from our usual practice over the past year, we've had a full in-person social calendar the last couple of days. We hung out with three different groups over yesterday and today—and even more amazing, I enjoyed three mixed drinks over those two days! Yesterday we closed the day with a delightful driveway picnic at our "Bible study", which is atypical of Bible studies in many ways and most notably yesterday in that the host offered us his signature cocktail of the summer, a beautifully colored concoction of mango juice and rum. How could I refuse?! Then today we took a hike with friends and then went to their house to play—indoors in that case, because while we're now somewhat dispersed they're still technically members of our bubble. No drinks there, though.

In the evening we were at my parents' house to celebrate the birthday of the boys' cousin Nisia, who they hadn't seen for something like two years. The visit was a last-minute surprise—I don't know if the boys were even more excited at the short-notice party than they would have been with more advance notice. I will say that, denied the opportunity to count down the days, Elijah did his best to count down hours. "I can't wait!" he told me at something like 11:00 in the morning. And my dad was ready for us all with free refills on the gin and tonics. I stopped after just two: even more than the socializing, I'm just not used to drinking any more!

our studio

Today Leah spent some time at recording video for a project. Audio recordings are much more common: we leave the house so she can record her podcast every couple weeks or so. Today the boys were with their cousins all day so it was only me who needed to vacate to make sure the video wouldn't be interrupted, but I didn't mind at all. I know the drill: I made something like 40 video recordings over the course of this pandemic (maybe more! I have no idea really, and I'm too tired to count). But I haven't had to for some time now, since our online Kids Church program—they were all for work—wrapped up in mid-June, and we'll be meeting outside in person this summer (starting this Sunday!). The skills are still there though, as is the simmering frustration at being interrupted in the middle of a good take by someone moving a chair upstairs. So I stayed well away.

When will one of us next need to record a video? Who knows. We may be seeing other people, but there are still some disturbing pandemic signs... our studio will be ready for action for a little while yet.

the garden mid July

the main part of the garden on July 16

lots of green

The first half of July had a lot of rain—the only days it didn't rain were the 5th and the 15th. So I haven't needed to water much! Of course, when the sun started shining yesterday and the temperature shot up into the 90s the plants were a little shocked. And tomatoes and peppers are probably a little behind schedule with the lack of sunshine. But everything that's just leaves is doing great: kale and basil are everything we could hope for. With all the water the blueberries are also giant, just like the ones at the store but better tasting. And I had the weeds under control before the rainy season started so, in the absence of sunshine, the garden is also fairly weed-free despite all the wet. The second round of peas I put in after the first one failed may have failed, but so, apparently, did all the weed seeds! Or maybe they're just waiting for next week's sun. We'll soon see!

moments from the week

Zion airborne jumping onto the slip-and-slide


Moments from the past week.

Zion and Elijah looking out the back door at the rain

rain rain rain

the boys listening to live music at the farmers market

music back at the market

Elijah looking at a book on the couch between the two dogs

when it rains we read

Elijah and a friend climbing up a boulder

they both made it up

the boys watching Nisia hit a pinata in Grandpa's backyard

birthday with cousins!

Harvey and Elijah breakfasting on the deck

sunny beautiful morning

Zion and Lijah exploring the big jumps of a derelict BMX track

abandoned BMX


family party

We did in-person Kids Church for the first time yesterday, but as exciting as that was it wasn't even the headline story of the day: it was completely outmatched by the baby shower we went to in the afternoon. Now, I know that baby showers aren't usually considered to be non-stop fountains of fun and delight—certainly when I told people we were going to one they were inclined to apologize. But they didn't need to! Because it was a fantastic party. There was a pool!

the boys playing in a pool with their cousin

shower? pool party!

The mama being showered was my sister-in-law, who along with my brother and their two already-born kids are visiting from Virginia. We haven't seen them since before the pandemic—fairly long before—so it's been a joyful visit. Joyful, and just full! Our cousin who lives about an hour away wanted to get in on the family reunion fun, so the shower was really just an excuse to get us all together. The heart of the party was the ten kids: our three boys, their two first cousins, three of their second cousins (the hosts), and two of the second cousins' friends from down the street. As you can see from the photo above, they had lots of fun together.

The party started at 2:00, and besides the pool featured plenty of food, a Disney singalong (sorry, covid restrictions; we forgot!), and lots of relaxed hanging out. When we finally left a little after 8—facing an hour drive home!—we had to drag ourselves away, against the wishes of everyone else there, who all have later bedtimes than we do. We're tired this morning, but it was well worth it. Easily the party of the year so far!


cousins on the water

The cousin adventures continued yesterday. Nisia came over in the morning to join us for a trip to Walden Pond with the boats. Of course, going to the pond on a nice day is always a chancy proposition; even though I checked just before we left, while we were on the road it reached capacity and closed. Never mind, we could find some different water!

Nisia paddling the canoe with Zion as a passenger, Harvey in the kayak far ahead

giving Nisia a turn

The last time we paddled on the Sudbury River the water was low. It's much higher now, thanks to the constant rain, but the channel from the launch was still plenty gross with algae. Out in the river itself the water was clean and beautiful, but the smell of decaying vegetation coming off the recently-flooded banks was not. So any thought of river swimming soon left us. Still, Fairhaven Bay is a pretty cool place to be regardless!

Thinking of a lunch picnic, we headed across towards the boathouse. Last fall the water was too low; now it's so high that the concrete pier around the boathouse is well underwater. So is a good bit of the building itself. We managed to land (coming ashore on the stairs that lead down from the hill above the boathouse) and found a dry spot for lunch and some tag. On the way out, we of course had to try to get the boats into the boathouse. It was a tight squeeze, but they fit! That's one life goal achieved.

Harvey bringing he kayak out the boathouse door

just fits!

On the shores of Fairhaven Bay I realized that we were only a little over a mile from the shore of Walden Pond—the shore by the railroad tracks where you can just walk down to and jump in regardless of how crowded the place is. So I asked the kids if they wanted to head over that way. They declined: a mile and a bit seemed like a little far to walk *after they swam, plus the paddling that would have to follow. And we hadn't brought the towels out of the car. So never mind, we headed for home.

But then, joy of joys! As we got to the car I checked my phone and learned that the pond had just opened again. So we made another stop and had another whole adventure: a couple hours of swimming! For the kids. Me, I just napped on the beach. Adventuring is tiring!

the cousins swimming in the pond

they still have lots of energy


two books' take on foster care

In the last couple weeks I've read a couple of books, one very good and one not as good, that I thought were an interesting juxtaposition. Our read-aloud chapter book for the last while has been Pine Island Home, by Polly Horvath. We loved her silly story The Pepins and Their Problems a couple years ago, so I thought this one about kids living on their own on a farm on the Vancouver coast would be a sure hit... but for some reason it didn't quite land with us. The book does a great job subverting expectations about what's going to happen next for the precarious family of orphans, but we actually found that more stressful than delightful. I think that might be because we wanted a little more character development and atmospheric detail? In any case, we saw it through to the end but were glad to move on to a more compelling story.

I did think it was interesting comparing one facet of Pine Island Home with a book I read on my own a couple days ago: Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It's about a pair of sisters who are in foster care, with their mom in jail after blowing up a motel room cooking meth. The narrator is ten-year-old Della, and she's a fantastically convincing and compelling character with plenty of development. The book deals with—is about!—issues of sexual abuse and child poverty, so neither of my boys for whom it would have been appropriate felt like they wanted to read it, which is fine. But I felt like it was a super valuable read.

The big difference between the two books was their treatment of foster care. In Pine Island Home the kids—four girls from 8 to 14—lose their parents to a tsunami and then, after some time with a caretaker, are sent to Vancouver to live with their great aunt only to find on arriving that she's just died as well. Since nobody else is looking out for them they decide to live in the house on their own, and their greatest fear throughout the story is that they'll be discovered by social services, separated, and taken into care. In Fighting Words Della also begins the story frightened of social services: her mom's abusive boyfriend, who took Della and her older sister in after their mom went to prison, threatens Della that he'll send her to a group home if she complains. But once she actually does enter the foster care system she finds it's made up of people who really care about kids and are willing to stand strong in support of her—even when she's not able to give them much in return.

That arc makes Fighting Words read as real and true. Pine Island Home not so much. That story's four girls aren't rich, but the way the story goes what stands out the most is their privilege. There's some talk of the trauma of losing their parents, but it doesn't really seem real. And they land on their feet in a beautiful multi-acre property on the ocean where they have a real chance of living on their own unless they get found out. I think I understand why the story plays out that way: we want stories about independent kids but we don't want them to be too traumatic. And in the 21st century it's hard to think of kids having realistic independent adventures that aren't. But Fighting Words shows that there are actually plenty of kids having adventurous lives against their will. When Della hears that some kids in her new school never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from she's amazed; she'd never known anyone who wasn't food-insecure. Unfortunately that's very much a reality in 2021, and it's wonderful to have stories that reflect it.


bands back in Bedford!

There were no concerts in Bedford last summer because of the pandemic. Probably anywhere else either. Here, they started up again today and the folks scheduling them got things going right by kicking off the series with The Party Band. Of course you know we had to be there!

There was a moment of panic just before the show when it started raining. It's been raining pretty much nonstop this month but the forecast was clear, so it felt particularly unfair. I was determined to not move from our spot in protest, but for a moment the rain got significant enough that we all scurried for cover under a tree. But the band wasn't deterred, and took the stage (well, the grass) under steady light rain to start the show. As they finished their first song the rain ended, and a rainbow appeared in the sky directly behind them. Really!

the Party Band with a rainbow behind them

an omen of good music!

The Party Band plays great danceable brass band music, so I really don't know how anyone would want to just sit and listen to it. But then, I don't know how folks in Bedford do a lot of the things they do, and overall it wasn't a crowd who wanted to move. So I felt kind of silly as I moved and grooved up in the front row. But not that silly: that's what you do at a brass band show! The band certainly wanted to get people up and dancing, so I imagined that they appreciated that at least one adult was actually into the music (lots of kids were dancing all over the place, of course). And that was confirmed at the end of the show, when the band applauded for me! Good times. We'll go to the other concerts this summer I expect, but there's no way they're going to be as good.


a Friday

Summer life is full. Today we had our maybe last chance to play with Nisia, we had a homeschool park day to attend, we had an invitation from friends in the afternoon, and we had our church community group in the evening. And we made it all fit! The day kicked off with a trip to the playground in Billerica where the homeschool gathering was supposed to be. We were late because we had to wait for Grandma to bring Nisia—but that didn't matter since it turns out nobody else showed up. That's homeschoolers for you. No wonder a lot of new groups can't get off the ground. We had fun playing, anyways, and the kids even drew in a couple of others because they were having such an obviously great time. Then we went home and had lunch together, before the rest of Nisia's family showed up to hang out for a while before taking her out on her next adventure.

Not too long though, because we needed to be in Chelmsford to do some trail work at our friends' house. They've got a little MTB track they're working on, and nothing is more delightful to me than digging and then riding! Our community group was meeting in Chelmsford too, at someone else's house, so I kind of thought we'd go straight from one to the other—but I didn't think so much that I brought any food. So when the fun of digging kept me at it until 6:00 it was a scramble to get to McDonalds for something to sustain us! (and our hosts kindly donated a veggie burger for Harvey to go with his fries). We were late for community group, but that was fine since almost everyone else was later. I guess summer is full for everybody!

moments from the week

Zion and Elijah wading into the high water among the trees on the Sudbury River

high water

Moments from the past week.

Elijah painting at Kids Church

in-person Kids Church is back!

the boys playing in a pool with their cousin

they were in that pool for four hours

Harvey, Zion, and a friend digging in the woods

digging a new trail

Zion and Elijah riding a train at a concert

festival atmosphere

the boys and members of our community group around a firepit

new spot for community grouping