too bright

I never paid much attention to the issue of light pollution, except maybe when I wanted to do some suburban star-gazing. But ever since we first saw the looming glow that is the new The Edge Athletic Facility it's been on my mind, and now instead of wondering why our street light was burned out for so many months I'm kind of bothered that it's back on. Why do we need a street light, especially one that's on all night?! We have lights on our houses that we can turn on, and flashlights—not to mention the fact that, if you're not accustomed to constant electronic illumination, it's not really all that dark outside at night. It's not like we need the street light to avoid, say, walking into a parked car.

I felt like writing this, not (only) as another sign that I'm going crazy and wanting ever more to retreat from the modern world, but because I came across and article yesterday that proves I'm not the only one thinking like this. Via Root Simple, it's called Turn Down the City Lights and Make Streets Safer. Makes sense to me!


going green? we've already gone

A few days ago the Bedford Patch fake newspaper website thingy published a wonderful piece called 20 Ways to Go Green in 2013, all chock full of great Bedford-specific tips on how to be more environmentally sound. My default writing register is sarcasm, so I need to work extra hard to let you know that I really think this was a good article, and that I'm excited that this sort of conscious-raising has gone mainstream. Sure, I would have been happier had few of the tips involved buying different things than you usually buy, but at least the links in the article are to local stores. The only problem is, we're already doing nearly 75% of the recommended activities, and I still want information on how to improve myself! Isn't there like a challenge level?! Oh wait, there is: it's called blogs, where even I can find people crazier than myself on nearly any subject.

One thing I want to publicly disagree with in the article, though, is number 12:

Got an older house? Install double-pane windows and you’ll see immediate savings on your heating bill.

Yes, you'll see immediate savings; savings of up to several dollars a month, which means it'll only take you 23 years to make those windows pay for themselves! And in the meantime you'll have replaced your beautiful old wood-mullioned windows with, unless you paid extra crazy money, uglier modern replicas. Even worse, in our house the 102-year-old windows (fitted with probably 40-year-old storms) are actually a bit warmer than the replacement windows the previous owner put in on one side of the house in the early 90s sometime, so who knows what you're going to end up with. When we had a home heating consultant in last year (number 19 on the list) he told us that windows are actually a pretty minor component in the heat loss from your house, so I don't know why that issue always gets so much press. Lobbying from the window-industrial complex, no doubt.

But besides that it's a grand list. Check it out, and, if you're not already super-cool environmentalists like us, try out a few of the things that the author suggests! And if you do manage number 1—shopping at Chip-In Farm—we hope you stop by afterwards for a visit, to talk all about gardening and cycling and, you know, low-flow showerheads. Good times!


a day of bad decisions

We had kind of a blizzard here today, and nobody was ready for it. Lexington schools decided on a two hour delay, which put everyone's arrival at school right when the storm was at it's height. Then they cancelled after school care, and immediately the snow stopped and pretty much melted off the roads. Maximum inconvenience for parents, achieved! Not us, of course; Leah was home with our sweet babies anyhow, and I had a fun time playing in the snow. My only bad decision was to take the car instead of biking, because I was afraid of being killed out on the narrow, snow-choked roads. But Lexington actually plowed the bike path at least twice during the day today, which is pretty awesome. Ah well, discretion is the better part, etc, and it was snowy enough in the morning that even the car presented some interesting elements of challenge.

So now we're snow-covered again, but the best thing about March snowfall is that it doesn't stick around for long!

outside day

morning sun on the snowy chicken coop

bright morning

The sun rose bright and warm this morning, and when I stepped outside to bring the chickens their water I was astounded at how warm it was already, before 8:00.

Rascal walking in the snowy yard

he made the first tracks

My enthusiasm was enough to get Harvey right outside with me (Leah and Zion were still abed), and we spent a happy half hour tromping and playing with Rascal. After a bit the sleepers awoke and opened the bedroom window to say hi to us; so pleasant was the day that it was a few hours later when we noticed the window was still open.

Harvey venturing into the snow in snowpants and mittens

more "deep deep snow"

We do get outside plenty in the winter, but it's a cramped sort of experience—we're ever conscious of the need to fit in as much enjoyment as we can before someone breaks down and needs to recover inside. Today didn't feel that way at all; aside from our pre-breakfast adventures Harvey and I also managed some bicycling in front of the house, a snowball fight, splashing in puddles, and sitting on the front steps, and Leah and Zion joined us for a long relaxed walk.

The soundtrack for the whole day was the steady patter of snow melting off the roofs at a pretty impressive rate. I said yesterday that March snow doesn't stick around for long, but I wasn't prepared for it to go this quickly! Good thing we had fun with it while we still could.

water dripping from the melting snow on the chicken coop, close-up

drip drip


changing times

This morning and yesterday morning were a little tough around here, thanks to the time change. We all got up late for church Sunday and had to scramble a little bit; my alarm woke me this morning—what a shock!—and everyone else stayed asleep long enough to throw off our usual routines. I don't like having the clocks changed on me. Reminders of how much we're bossed around by arbitrary temporal standards are always unpleasant.

Not that it's all bad. Getting up in the dark is tough but the early morning ride to work was beautiful, especially with the fairly warm temperatures. And the later sunset means we can play outside as much as we want, and then get the kids to bed without them having to use any artificial lights at all (well, besides a little supplemental headlamp work for the end of story time). It's still a little too early in the season for us big people to start going lightless, as much as I wanted to this evening: for us there's bread to bake, seeds to start, and Easter suits to make over a period which extends past twilight at 7:15. But we'll get there... a minute more light in the evening per day, this time of year!


Chicken Chasing video

It's not a productive blogging season for this mama. Which is to say, the house is pretty clean, healthy home-cooked meals make it to the table several times a day, and the children are well engaged with wholesome projects. The tenuous balance only works when I keep my computer shut during their waking hours, of course. But I do miss the slow march of parenting recorded on this blog, so I did manage to take a video of their outdoor pursuits this morning. Their cuteness can stand in lieu of my blogging.

No chickens were harmed in the making of this video. Annoyed maybe, but not harmed.


my real job

I'm spending all week teaching in the same classroom of fourth-graders, which is kind of a luxury: it's nice not to have to remember new names every morning! But it also gives the kids time to wonder about me. Yesterday one asked, "what's your real job?" After I assured him that all I do is substitute for teachers who are out, he—by this point joined by other interested students—pressed, "but what about when no one needs a sub?" They were clearly concerned about me. "Do you run out of money? Do you have to go to your mom to get more money?"

Haha, if only they knew! I did reassure them that my mom gave me some money for my birthday last week so I'd be ok. It's hard to think about financial planning when you're 10 and live in the suburbs.

best thing since what?

The other day I cut a slice of bread for a sandwich before I remembered that we had delicious leftovers that I could bring for lunch instead. I grumbled as I put all the bread back in its bag, annoyed that it would be a little staler than it should have been thanks to being exposed to air on two sides. It wasn't until a little later that it occurred to me that, at some point in my life, I only ate bread that came from the store already sliced; and furthermore that many people are even now in that sad situation themselves. Not us: even the second-rate, non-homemade bread we get from the food pantry tends to be leftover faux-artisanal loaves from Panera which are also resolutely unsliced. In fact, I think I may be able to say that in his nearly four years of life Harvey hasn't eaten pre-sliced bread more than a handful of times.

Not that there's anything wrong with pre-sliced bread, necessarily. Were I a rich person going on a picnic and stopping at the bakery for a loaf of bread I might request that the bakery boy slice it for me, for convenience sake, which would take away nothing its quality. But it does seem to be the case that bread that comes from the store already sliced is more likely to be not good. As much as I used to love Home Pride in my college days, but lately I don't feel the need for so many ingredients in my bread:

Wheat Flour Enriched (Flour, Barley Malt, Ferrous Sulfate [Iron] , Wheat Flour Enriched (Flour, Barley Malt, Ferrous Sulfate [Iron], Vitamin B [Niacin], Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid [Vitamin aB]), Water, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Yeast, Wheat Bran, Wheat Gluten, Wheat Flour Whole, Molasses, Contains 22% or less Salt, Soybean(s) Oil, Butter, Honey, Whey, Calcium Sulphate (Sulfate), Dough Conditioner(s) (Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Calcium Iodate, Calcium Dioxide), Polysorbate 60, Dicalcium Phosphate, Ammonium Phosphate, Soy Flour, Datem, Enzyme(s), Ethoxylated Mono-And Diglycerides, Mono and Diglycerides, Yeast Nutrients (Ammonium Sulfate)

In the blog post linked to above (no, I don't have any idea who the author is; his blog was just high on the Google rankings for a search on "Home Pride") as objection is raised in the comments to dealing with bread that comes to the table unsliced. I'll admit that it did take me a long time to feel really comfortable cutting bread; many a slice in the years between 2004 and 2008 came out decidedly uneven. But it's still all food, and no one should complain too much about a piece of bread being too thick. And in any case, today I can turn out as skinny a piece of bread as you'd ever like to see, so clearly practice is all.

So no, sliced bread is not the greatest thing. Voting is now open for a replacement saying.


seedling season

a few pepper seedlings in their tray

pregnant with possibilities

The snow has just about all melted off the garden, just in time for another forecast storm on Tuesday (and sub-20°F temperatures here this morning). But we're not letting winter's relentless grip stop us from thinking about summer, and seed-starting is in full swing here on the squibix farm. So far we've seen the onions and the first round of peppers emerge, and tomatoes will be following in the next couple days. Next thing you know it'll be looking like this around here again!

Of course, that's not the ultimate goal; no, what keeps us going this time of year is pictures like this one:

wide-angle view of the garden in July 2012

July's lush growth

Can you believe things are ever that green?

Besides sharing a topic that is constantly on my mind this time of year (really; just ask Leah) my motivation for this post was to get folks thinking about seedlings in case you want us to start any for you. Now's the time to start thinking about it! I wrote about it over on the farm page but I know I'm the only one ever to look at that.


pray as if everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on you

We are cleaning up after breakfast and I am wearing my big apron.

Harvey: "Mama, you haven't made me a new apron yet!"

"That's right," I say, "I've been waiting until the Easter sewing is done." (That's not really true, actually. I just forgot he had asked for it.)

"I pray in my heart for it," Harvey says.

"What did you say?" I say, turning off the water. "Did you say you pray in your heart for it?"

"When the sun comes up, when it's almost morning, when I'm in my bed, I pray in my heart for an apron."

Yeah, he totally said that, I am not making this up.

"For heaven sakes, Harvey!" I exclaim. "I'm glad you pray but it would have been more direct to ask the seamstress!"

ask and it shall be given unto you

complete with baby pocket

Pre-dawn prayer merits a response, even if it interrupts the progress on the Easter suits.

two pockets for two babies!

Two mornings to make two aprons. No, we could not make just ONE apron. What kind of a monster do you think I am?

I don't know why Zion sneaked his arm out the shoulder. It's not meant to be an asymmetrical style, but maybe he's got his own fashion ideas. After destroying the office with fabric scraps, buttons, and pins the boys were very happy to stand and pose. Say cheese little chefs!



persistent winter

the fence standing up from wet snow

the wet part of the day

It's hard to believe that at this time last year we'd already sowed radishes and arugula outside and were thinking about starting peas. Right now we're once again buried under a fair amount of heavy snow; we got close to a foot yesterday before it changed to rain and consolidated down to a glacier-like four inches. Then evening saw a few more lighter inches on top, and it all froze solid overnight. The solstice today was greeted by clear skies and beautiful white winter scenes.

Oh, we're ready to be outside! Even Zion spent a long time yesterday playing in the snow as the sleety rain gradually increased in intensity. Harvey pointed out how loud the ice balls were on raincoat hoods, and we all threw snowballs: the wet snow was so sticky the kids could even kind of pack it.

zion playing in the snowy street wearing raincoat and mittens

fine weather for playing outside

That jacket means good times: when it comes out it means that almost-two-year-olds are reaching the end of a long, frustrating winter!


he knows what he wants and how to say it

On the linguistic development front, I'm happy to report that Zion is making great strides. He can now shout, "No, my red coat!" with perfect articulation of the terminal consonants.

Is it summer soon?

Alright, in fairness he actually says "toat" for coat. But we can't expect too much perfection before two... [Edit: this is shameful perfidy. When roused, he makes even initial /k/ a thing of precise beauty.]


cliche parenting

Harvey grabbed the hair cutting scissors and took a big chunk out of his bangs today. I gave a friend a haircut last night and left the scissors lying on the sink in the bathroom. So I guess I should blame myself if I blame anyone. And hey, I figure it's good he used the hair cutting scissors and not the paper or fabric ones. At least he's learning there's a proper tool for every job.

Last week Zion emptied an entire box of tissues one by one into the toilet. Plunging wasn't enough to get the thing unclogged; I had to scoop up the sopping mess with a trash bag.

I find it strangely heartwarming when my children act like stereotypical children. So much of parenting has come as a surprise to me that I rarely find myself acting "like a parent" in any way I thought I would. When I try to teach some value or lay out some disciplinary scheme, Harvey looks at me all "who are you and when are you going to lay off this bull crap?" Witness our conversation the other day about a certain educational program.

"I don't think I like that show Veggie Tales," I said to Harvey. (We watched one episode online, called The Grapes of Wrath. There was a moral at the end, but only after a long segment of insults delivered by characters with awful accents. The moral was don't do insults, but I don't think Harvey's able to make a distinction between the model for right and the model for wrong. And the rude family of grapes was apparently from the Ozarks but they had a New York Jew for a father; that just doesn't make any sense!)

"Well, they have the bible at the end," said Harvey. "So that's great."

"I know," I said. "I like the bible part, but before they tell the bible verse they talk all snarky to each other. I don't like it when they talk all snarky. Do you like it when they talk all snarky?"

Harvey shrugged his shoulders, then he looked down at the floor as he slumped into a posture of guilt. I feared suddenly that I was shaming him for his preferences, which are probably beyond his control. Then he looked up at me and his eyes narrowed. "I don't want to tell you," he said.

Score one for Harvey.

I tell this story to illustrate that my children have minds of their own, and our relationship feels false when I try to "play" the parent in some way. It feels more authentic when I think of us as people trying to figure out how we can best live happily with each other. Our power distribution is unequal, sure, but Harvey and Zion are just as able as I am to make our daily lives together miserable. As such they have a more than equal say in how things go.

Which is why when they get up to a classic childhood cliche like cutting their hair or plugging the toilet, it makes me feel surprised and a bit soothed. Oh right, we're not the only ones doing this ever. Parenthood is still a shared human experience, no matter how "innovative" I think I'm being in my approach.


At least this much is done.

It's that time of year again, the time for frantically sewing Easter suits. Well, the pants are done, and the ties, and one vest minus buttons and pockets and suspender clips in the back. And one pair of pants for one Pow Pow baby doll. That's all done. What's left is another baby doll pair of pants (hand sewn because they're two small to fit under the machine) and two baby doll vests and ties, and finishing Harvey's vest and starting Zion's. And cleaning my house for a party and stuffing 50 plastic eggs. And cooking... something.

Hosana in the highest.

In past years I've made stuffed animals to go in the easter baskets, but I backed off this year because the kids didn't really take to the chicks I made last year and because they have too many animals as it is. And I'm doing the suits for their babies, which is sort of a toy. I did, however, make them an 'educational' present to share. They've been having fun playing with the felt board sets lately, so I made them an extra fancy felt set for Easter. I give you the Golgatha play set:

felt board crucifixion figures

the tomb doubles as a carrying case!

I made a tomb, a big stone, Jesus, Mary, and a soldier. I know there are more characters in the story but I got bored. This will be enough for one year.

felt Mary Magdalene

early in the morning the women went to the tomb

I said to Dan while I was making Mary Magdalene, "This is the sluttiest looking two-dimensional felt doll I've ever made!"

Okay now, let's get serious.

felt board Jesus on the cross

embroidery floss crown of thorns

When Zion saw this figure in process he exclaimed happily "Dedus!" But that was before I attached the hair. The hair confused him and now he thinks it's a girl. I kept saying "Jesus" and he kept shaking his head and saying "gu-gul" and sometimes "mama." Yes, I know mama acts like a martyr sometimes but this would be pushing it.

Here he is with the stone rolled away.

felt jesus outside the empty felt tomb

For those of you who sew you can tell that both stone and tomb were dashed together in no time at all. I told you, I've got a lot to do this week.

Since this is a blog post about religion and crafting I should now say something high-level about offering faith to my children. Something stirring or questioning or heart-warming. But it's beyond me today. I don't think anything I can sew or say will romance my children into a relationship with Jesus. And that's probably for the best. If Jesus isn't compelling and magnetic, if he isn't good to his word and good to those who give their lives to him, then he isn't real. I'm banking on Jesus being real, so my only job is to get my children to recognize him when they see him.

With or without long hair.


Naughty or nice?

This month has seen an explosion in naughtiness in my children, naughtiness on the scale I have never seen before because two-year-old Harvey, though often annoying, but did not have so many novel ideas. Like Tuesday, when I packed up veggie sides and chocolate covered matza to go to grandma's family passover, the children stood outside on the porch and pitched every piece of recycling over the banister and into the bushes. Or today while I was folding their laundry, Harvey and Zion went into my bedroom and removed all Dan's shirts from their hangers. Imagine folding two full bins of tiny laundry and then walking into the next room to find the contents of an entire closet bar on the floor.

I think I'm parenting? I have not yet BEGUN to parent!

This week we celebrate a holiday whose message is very much the opposite of secular Christmas. My children will not be added to some imaginary list marked "naughty." There will be no easter basket filled with coal. Tomorrow we remember the great mystery of God's love for us. We were naughty and someone else took the fall for it.

There is no messiah of cleaning who will hang up shirts and pick trash out of the bushes for me, unfortunately. But I do praise the one who loves me even though my life is an unruly heap of floor laundry. I am a rhododendron smeared with ketchup and half covered with junk mail.

Thank you Jesus for taking the fall for me. And the children said: Amen.

Bethany house of prayer

On Good Friday we were invited to participate in a Stations of the Cross walkabout at the Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington. We'd never been before, but it turned out to be an awesome location — a little monastic retreat center in the middle of suburban Arlington Heights.

does it have a dinger?

The small campus tucked among normal suburban Arlington homes includes a modern living space for the Sisters of St. Anne-Bethany, a large stone-clad chapel that's used for programs and retreats for both church groups and interested individuals, and an intriguing statue garden. The garden was the site of our prayer walk on Friday.

ooh! rocks!

HighRock church provided the readings for each station and Dan and Ms. Katie (who is a member at HighRock and turned us onto this event) bravely engaged the children around the story and prayers.

Harvey wants to make sure PowPow gets the full effect of the holiness

In between the readings there was plenty of leeway for exploring the garden.

Zion makes a new friend

There was a stone amphitheater with some books laid out, an irresistible draw for my boys and the young Mr. Nathan.

multi-sensory faith experience, pshaw. We just want to read about it.

All in all I was amazed how many little corners of peace the sisters packed into under an acre of garden space. I hope friends invite us back here again!


Woolapalooza 2013

For the forth year in a row we went to Woolapalooza to see the Drumlin Farm sheep be sheered.

if Zion can't pet it then he doesn't care for it.

I do love a good festival, but navigating all those people and the attractions and the food lines, I got plum tuckered out. I look forward to the day we have our own sheep, then every day will be a festival! If by festival I mean exhausting non-stop work.


That's how I felt by the end of the afternoon. Still, it's good to get out on the farm; the more routine, the better.


Easter report 2013

Harvey in his brown Easter suit holding his basket

welcoming the happy morning

Easter is about many things, chief among them the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but around here we tend to focus on cute clothes for the kids.

Harvey is always appreciative of his finery, but Zion wasn't the biggest fan first thing in the morning; his refrain of "no Easter pants!" lasted until he realized that he would be the only one among boys and baby dolls without a matching outfit if he didn't go along with the program. Even then, he wasn't entirely happy to stand and be photographed.

Zion in his brown Easter suit holding a baby doll and a snake

I don't know what the snake represents

But after a delightful time at "big church" (that's what the boys call it when there's no Sunday school and they come in to worship with the grownups) even he started to feel like there might be something in this Easter business after all, especially when playgrounds were involved.

Zion smiling at the top of the slide

preferred activity

Then we headed home for our giant party, which was well-supplied with food and drink by our wonderful friends and family, allowing us to begin it with a nearly clean kitchen. Our part was setting up the egg hunt and, while there was some brief unpleasantness over the unequal distribution of eggs, in the end I think we managed to provide everybody with a passable entertainment.

Harvey and friends opening their plastic egg finds

checking out the haul

We didn't manage to get a good family photo this year, but we had a wonderful day otherwise and feel full of both the Holy Spirit and the love of friends and family—not to mention a tremendous lot of food too. Now why do I have to go to work tomorrow?!

Happy Easter everyone!


the sweet Well Done in judgement's hour, aka Easter sewing revealed

The Lord hasn't given me any female children (yet), but Jesus be praised I have two boys who love dressing up. Especially in mama-made clothes. The only problem with doing fittings on Harvey is it's hard to get the clothes back afterwards! And there's only one thing they love more than new handmade clothing: dressing their babies in new handmade clothing.

at least PowPow's vest doesn't have cream-cheese on it.

When the boys found the tiny suits in their baskets on Easter morning, they both immediately asked to have their babies dressed. Zion's 22-month-old voice saying "My baby easter pants on?" was just about the sweetest sound I ever heard.

Harvey proudly showed PowPow to every adult at church who looked his way, but he was quick to point out that, "PowPow's vest doesn't have pockets." So don't say that they match, okay?

Because it's not enough that I copied the kid's pants pattern by giving the babies tiny hand-sewn cuffs that were too small to stitch on the machine. 1/8 inch pockets would have made the match BELIEVABLE.

I actually had a conversation with myself on Friday night: should I edge-stitch the baby vests? Yeah, I should definitely edge-stitch them. But I'm not going to do around the armholes because that would just be CRAZY.

Which goes to show that everyone's definition of crazy ends in a different place. Harvey just thinks mine should have extended past pin-sized pockets.

Here's Harvey lifting his hand to experience more of the Holy Spirit.

Actually, he's not saying More Lord as much as he's saying More Juice!

I am so proud of my two beautiful boys. Every single moment of sewing is worth it.

you bite that snake's head, Zion