Halloween retrospective

We observed Halloween last night. The boys were very excited about their costumes, made as per tradition by Mama.

Snoopy and a pair of ninjas

Snoopy and a pair of ninjas

Also about the prospect of lots of candy—especially Lijah. He got into the stash early, and after some considerable negotiation agreed to a dinner of chocolate cake as his "healthy food" before his candy blowout. A few other notes:

1. Candy is terrible. I hate having it in the house. Read a little from Marion Nestle on the subject. We made a batch of cookies to give out, but we also had lots of candy—and we only gave out a little bit of it while the kids brought lots more home.

2. In a blog post about their awesome trick-or-treat experience, Eric and Kelly of Root Simple point out a valuable truth: "the fun that Halloween provides really helps get to know neighbors. We need more festivals in our lives like this, where we take a break from day to day concerns and work together, on the neighborhood level, to create space for joy and unity." I've heard folks talk about lovely Halloween community experiences in Somerville and Cambridge and even Arlington; we have a little of that here in Bedford but not enough to balance out the individualistic pursuit of ever-more candy.

3. In the aftermath today the boys found and collected a plastic diamond, a spider ring, and an adult-sized hot-dog costume. One of those might come in handy one day...


Halloween retrospective addendum

This evening when we got home Lijah whined for candy for a little bit, but he was mellow enough after a day and Grandma and Grandpa's that we could hold him off with the promise of dinner. After he ate his noodles Leah gave him his candy bag so he could pick out one piece for his dessert—a Snickers bar, today. He trotted off to eat it, but in a couple minutes he came back into the kitchen. "I don't like it," he told me. "I want some more real food."

So we gave him more noodles, which he ate happily, and then he asked to go to bed. The end.

beach retreat

Just like last year, we had an October church retreat to the seaside. This time it wasn't on an island, but the ocean was bigger.

Zion walking towards the gray stormy ocean

almost-november sea

The event was in Falmouth on Cape Cod, and since we're shiftless layabouts we were able to leave early on Friday to beat the traffic. That meant we had plenty of time to sight-see, so we met friends in Woods Hole to see some sights.

Zion, Harvey, Matthew and Sam looking at the research ships in the harbor at Woods Hole

young men and ships

I had no idea, but Woods Hole is full of free attractions, including an aquarium and a museum of oceanography. The latter featured a very realistic mockup of the cockpit of Alvin, a famous submersible that sails out of the port.

Harvey, Zion and Matthew in the mock-up Alvin cockpit

there's a 5 1/2 in floppy drive in there

There was also a movie to watch and lots of delicate displays that our energetic children needed to be warned away from occasionally. So when we got to the hotel where the retreat was being held the boys and I headed right down to the beach—with the gray sky, spitting rain, and whipping wind we knew we'd have the place to ourselves with plenty of room to run. Never mind the weather, the ocean is wonderful.

Zion running away from waves

don't let the waves catch you!

my feet, wading

feels nice

the boys playing in the waves

inevitably wet

As we settled into out luxurious hotel room a few minutes later—distracted only slightly from our unpacking by the littler boys dancing naked on the bed—the setting sun peeked from below the clouds, giving a promise of better weather tomorrow.

the setting sun peaking below storm clouds

promise for tomorrow

Of course, who needs good weather when you have a king-sized bed, a tv, and chicken fingers and fries served on fine china?

the boys and friends enjoying chicken fingers in 3-star surroundings

they better not get used to this

There were also cookies; a plate for each kid, adorned with a decorative flower. The adults had a Mexican buffet.

True to the promise of the previous evening, the morning dawned bright and fine. It turns out that tv is a wasteland—even the kids didn't find anything they thought was worth watching—but never mind, we had a balcony.

Harvey and Lijah on the hotel balcony watching the morning

watching the morning

At this point—maybe a little past 7:00—Leah was already out and about, on her way to running a half-marathon. Maybe she'll write something about it here... but probably not. So I was in sole charge of the kids for the morning. My own three were perfect angels at the delightfully complete breakfast buffet, although Lijah, with a waffle and chocolate chips on his plate (basically his favorite foods, and the latter not usually a breakfast choice), ate only a single packet of sugar. After breakfast I took charge of a group of 15 other kids (well, 12 others and my three), and about that the less said the better. It did not go so easily. But, as directed, I took them to the beach (not sunny any more—in fact, pretty chilly!) and, for variety, to a marsh behind the parking lot.

kids walking in a marsh

nature walk

They also acted crazy in a small ballroom for a while. In retrospect it wasn't so bad—they were all making the best of a tough situation, and we mostly had fun—but at the time it was pretty stressful. So I was glad to get outside for a picnic lunch with just a few close friends (including Mama with her fresh new medal!).

After lunch I couldn't dissuade the boys from swimming in the heated indoor pool, which was fun and all... but it didn't have waves. So after a bit I declared unilaterally that I was going out to swim in the ocean, and I got Harvey and Mama—and few other kids—to come along for the fun!

Leah and Harvey in the cold ocean

we're a hardy bunch

The water was only regular cold, but it was super windy, so we didn't last long. It was still lovely, though. Harvey and I made plans to try it another time with snow on the ground. Zion and Lijah are more sensible.

Lijah and Zion on beach chairs wrapped in towels

probably a wiser choice

Mid-afternoon it was back with the Kids Program, but less-programed: another volunteer and I just took everyone interested out to the beach. That was super fun. The wind was stronger than ever, so it was just the thing to play in a deep hole.

Harvey and Abby working in a deep hole

hole buddies

A little later I took a small group for a run down the beach. We found a breakwater and walked out along it, then turned around and walked the other way along an inlet and then under the beach-front road (we had to crawl!). On the other side we were all delighted to find a secret beach!

Harvey and friends walking on a secret beach

first footprints

It was out of the way and out of the wind, and we would have loved to stay to enjoy it fully... but sadly, our retreat time was drawing to an end and parents would soon be looking for their children. So we ran back—much easier with the wind!—so they could be delivered. It was hard to leave the beach.

pinkish afternoon light over the beach

some sun somewhere

At no point in the weekend did I or Leah get to participate in any of the many retreat activities planned for adults—well, except the spectacular meals! But that's ok, because I had a great time with some lovely people, which as far as I'm concerned is much more valuable.

Harvey, Zion, Elle, and Reed looking at a book together

comfortable together

Let's do it again next year! (with some minor changes, already being discussed among the church staff...).


moments from the week

Harvey, Zion, and Kamilah playing in the leaf pile

leaf friends

Just a couple moments from a mostly-sick week.

Harvey swinging on a rope into the leaf pile

action shot


falling back

Thanks to serious sleep debts all around in our household, we didn't have as much crazy extra time before church yesterday morning. But it was still enough to give us a nice reset—it was also nice when Zion asked for his bedtime story at ten of six! Of course, I still stayed up too late trying to update my computer's operating system (no luck so far), but besides that this time change thing is a complete success. I don't know whether to root for Standard Time 12 months a year, or to a rolling system in which we get an extra hour every two months or so. That seems like it could be useful. Is there any technology anyone could think up to slow the Earth's rotation just a tad?

moments from the week

the boys walking shoeless on Cambridge Common

out and about in Cambridge

Some moments from a challenging week.

three boys captivated by a computer game at the Billerica library


Lijah with a crown and a big big leaf

king of leaves

the wall of tacos

election party dinner

me burning my

election results

headlamps on Harvey and Zion and the moon over the marsh

night hiking


a tough week

The election was kind of terrible, and its aftermath pretty much cast a pall over the whole past week. I didn't write about it much here, but I was all-in on voting for Clinton—excited by her policies but even more by the tone of her campaign, and of course by the chance to have a woman in the White House. And naturally I'm disgusted by Trump and everything he seems to represent. So the results were hard to bear, even before I started to hear that friends are wondering if they should leave the country.

Other minor things contributed to my feelings of dislocation. I made some stupid mistakes in trying to bring my computer into the current decade through a series of updates—until a few days ago it was pretty much stuck in 2007. Despite that it was at least deeply familiar to me, and fairly well-customized; now with the botched update it's still out-of-date but strangely unfamiliar. And my camera's not working, so even when we did have moments of delight this past week I wasn't able to capture them for posterity (except with my crappy phone camera).

I don't mean to suggest those little annoyances are anything like our national catastrophe; far from it. But as I wandered around the house in a stunned daze I often found myself sitting down in front of the computer only to realize I basically couldn't do anything useful with it—it had no comfort to offer me. It didn't help that I've sworn off the news, because it turns out reading about politics online occupied maybe 20% of my time over the past couple months. Avoiding it now leaves me with lots of time to wonder what I'm doing with my life.

But we had a good day today, even if I didn't manage to photograph it. And I'm beginning to accept that my elderly computer is as updated as it's ever going to be, and make my peace with that. At least it won't ever change again! The national picture's no better, but I'm encouraged by what I hear from friends in person and online about how the election results has made them think harder about what they're doing to be kind to people and to make the world a better place. That's small consolation in the face of Tuesday's catastrophe, but at least it's a start...


things we can make work

To continue on my positive tip: we had a lovely day of homeschooling today. Harvey wrote a page of a story I told him to write (a ridiculous battle I should describe in another post), Zion was super excited to work on math, and Lijah got to do a week's worth of awesome preschool arts and crafts with Grandma (who also did the dishes from breakfast... thanks Mom!). And we had some great recess/PE time, and Harvey and Zion played appropriately with Lijah for a long time outside, even as light rain started to fall. But best of all were two musical moments.

Number one: I got all the boys together for a song-and-movement session. All three of them stayed engaged the whole time—not distracted by their own instruments or toys or each other—and did some great singing and direction-following. Some of it was kindergarten-appropriate, some of it aimed more at the two-year-old demographic, and Harvey was a great helper and demonstrator through it all. It may seem like a small thing—it may be a small thing—but our boys aren't easily led, so it felt like a great blessing to be able to do something like that with all three of them at once. And they had fun; maybe we can do it again some day.

Number two: immediately afterward I called rest time, sent Harvey and Zion to their beds with their books, put on some loud music, and told Lijah it was time to take a nap. He protested, but by the time "Brooklyn" was three-quarters done he was asleep. Just like old times! And when I told the big boys they could get up they asked if they could keep reading (it helped that the alternative I offered was helping me clean up).

So not everything is horrible. I'll note the good things here, and in our homeschooling log. In a month or so we'll maybe have enough to send in a progress report!


growing garlic

Since I want to be a garlic farmer when I grow up, the beginning of November is an exciting time for me. Back in the first week of the month I took some time a couple of days to put in this year's crop: about 90 cloves, of five different varieties. Lijah helped me with the planting and, knowing we were working on a culinary crop, insisted on having a taste. Really insisted: I put him off for as long as I could before finally giving in and letting him have a bite of an interior clove that was too small to plant. "It's yummy!" he told me hoarsely, then wiped his eyes vigorously with the backs of his hands for a bit.

me holding a just-pulled garlic bulb, in front of the row of the rest of the plants

beginning the 2016 harvest back in July

I like eating garlic, and the garlic we grow is delicious. Besides that, though, I also appreciate the simple multiplicative nature of the endeavor. You plant one clove in the fall and then in the summer you pull out a whole head, five or eight or twelve cloves. Then you break those up and plant them to get even more! I've never played Farmville or any of those farming simulator games, but I think the garlic planting business captures something of the same appeal. It's a little bit slower, I guess, but never mind—plenty other aspects of my life are rushing by too quick to manage.

I've also heard that garlic is the best crop small farmers can grow, on a dollar-per-square-foot basis. While I don't know if that's really the case—seems like heirloom tomatoes would be tough to top—it's certainly true that you'll pay a dollar a head at the farmers market for garlic that's much punier than what we grow here in our well-composted garden. I bought about $40 of seed garlic this year to broaden the diversity of our crop and we'll only harvest the $90 worth next summer; but we'll be able to eat or give away 70 of those heads and still have enough left to put in over 100 cloves next fall. Then 150 the year after... and 400 the year after that! Assuming we only keep back the 70 each year, that is. We may have to do better than that, or our whole yard will be garlic plants by fall 2022...


moments from the week

Harvey and Zion on the roof of the shed

up on the rooftop

A few moments from another phone camera week.

Lijah sitting astride a giant dollhouse in our playroom

we got a big dollhouse

Lijah swinging from a bar at the playspace gym

hanging in there

Zion and Lijah planting bulbs in the front yard

bulb-planting time

Zion balancing on a log in the swamp

swamp exploration requires balance



So, for the most part we really enjoy going to church on Sunday. There are lots of wonderful people there, for one thing. But for our family, it's not entirely a relaxing and restorative time. More of a work day. That makes sense for me, since I actually do work for the church—I have a full morning of looking after the elementary kids and the coffee and bagels. Leah's not sitting around relaxing much either: besides keeping up with the all-encompassing needs of Lijah (and the other boys sometimes), she also does her part to volunteer with the middle school kids, as a greeter, and—every once and a while—up on stage at the preacher. Yesterday was one of those days.

She did a wonderful job with her sermon—twice—and that would have been plenty. Besides that, though, she ended up doing most of the Cafe setup, since nobody else was there on time to do it. It made the church feel smaller than it is: you know, when the preacher has to set up the refreshments. Lijah was in my care for some of the second service, after spending some time in Sunday school and some time with Grandma. I was trying to do things, like brew more coffee, but he was very distracted by being able to hear Mama's voice over the speakers. One time I turned around and he was gone; I knew where he was going and caught him just at last (first!) row of seats before the stage (and I like to think I did it without being too distracting too!). Then we sat and listened for a while.

We were there from 8:30 until almost 2:00, so it was a day. Everybody was glad for some down time when we got home—just like we are every Sunday afternoon! And we're all looking forward to a nice quiet day of school and housework today. Mondays are the best!


winter is here

Snow on the yard and chicken coop at dawn

first light on first snow

It snowed Sunday night. After we put the boys to bed Leah asked me about the forecast for the day to come; checking the forecast I saw that the "current conditions" said snow. And so it was! (I did check). Not the most romantic way to notice the first snow of the season, but we'll take it. I was sad the boys couldn't see it falling—but on the other hand the surprise only intensified their joy in the morning.

Zion going down the steps into the lightly-snowed yard, the chickens in front of him

boy and chickens experiencing winter

Zion and Lijah made some time to play in it before breakfast. Harvey, being older and more heavily burdened with responsibilities, had to make due with bringing a snowball in along with the eggs as he did his chores. (Don't worry, they all got to have fun in it when we went out to the bus stop—we still do that).

When the sun got going at 11:00 or so the snow melted right away, but not before marking our morning with delight. On the other hand, it was pretty cold in the house all day, which we might have to do something about... but that's a topic for another blog post.


missed moments

the moon over our house just after sunset

november moon

Now that my camera works again and I could get the pictures off it, here are some images and moments from the first week of November. Oh, it was a heady time before November 9...

Zion ready at the bat

we had a World Series

a tomato sandwich photographed in front of the garden

the last tomato sandwich of 2016

Lijah painting at the easel

home preschool activities organized by Grandma

the boys posing outside the polling place with their stickers on

Zion dressed up for the presidential vote; look how well that worked


Happy Thanksgiving

me and the boys holding up our Thankful posters (and a squash)

thankful and joyful

We're packing up to head down to a giant gathering of relatives for the day, but we took a moment to pause and be thankful as a family. Luckily, given the chaos, we'd done lots of the thankfulness prep earlier this week when the boys and I made posters showing some things we're thankful for. Well, the bigger boys; Lijah made a squash friend like in Sophie's Squash.

Whatever you have going on today I hope it's delightful. May all the travel be safe and easy, all the food delicious and easily digestible, and all the interactions with relatives joyful and life-giving! Happy Thanksgiving!

as attempt at the photo above, with everybody moving

thankful for this crazy family


Thanksgiving report

We survived an epic Thanksgiving week. Who knew sitting and eating could be so tiring?! After a warm-up dinner with friends on Tuesday we celebrated the real day as part of a party of 21 at my aunt and uncle's place. The boys were delighted to see their second cousins and their second cousins' second cousins, and were delightfully well behaved the whole time.

Harvey, Zion, and Lijah sitting at the Thanksgiving board

big kids table

They did lots of running around together inside and out, miraculously without any damage to the house. Harvey and Zion were huge fans of the other boys at the party; they're sad to hear my feelings about the likelihood of reconnecting with second cousins' second cousins, especially ones who live in New Jersey. Lijah impressed in how much he was able to keep up with the rough play, and when he got tired out there was always the football to watch.

Lijah watching an enormous television

what Thanksgiving is all about

Yesterday we went to Leah's parents' house, where we had a delightful time hanging out with them and her brother, recently moved away to California. It was so nice we didn't realize how late it was getting and didn't leave until after 9:00. So this morning was slow, but by lunch time we were galvanized and ready for our last party, with the Archibald grandparents and friends. It was another bigish gathering, but a very relaxed one.

Zion and Lijah eating at the kitchen table at Grandma and Grandpa Archibald's

a relaxed feast

With all that fine dining, the only thing we made ourselves was a loaf of bread and a couple of pies. True, without a dinner here at home we miss out on the best of the leftovers (though both grandmas were kind enough to send home doggie bags), but we have plenty of desert to go around!

lots of pies in various stages of consumption on our kitchen table

pie factory

I took pictures of each of my four turkey-dinner plates this week. Here they are, presented without comment (those are just the first helpings—in all cases I had at least seconds).

food on my plate

dinner zero, with friends

food on my plate

dinner one, the real thing

food on my plate

dinner two, with Leah's family

food on my plate

dinner three, with my parents and friends

Now I don't need to eat for a week.


moments from the week

Harvey and Zion sitting in front of Grandpa's fire

warm hospitality

Moments from the past week.

Zion and Lijah posing in the snow

first snow sillies

fall craft trees the boys made

thanksgiving decorations

the boys in the yard

"what time is it, Mr. Fox??"

the thanksgiving table at the Archibalds, with only my food yet

early at the Thanksgiving table


egg-citing news!

In case you're keeping score at home, we have nine hens now, the most we've ever had. One left from our first batch (five years old now!), three from the second, this year's four "chicks" (now full-grown, of course), and one bonus hen that was delivered to our doorstep in early fall (a story of its own). The is year was the first time we got spring chickens—the other two batches were born in August—so I didn't know what to expect in terms of the egg production schedule. Well, never mind the cold and dark: they've started it up now!

11 varied eggs in a carton

look at the variety!

Harvey is in charge of collecting the eggs these days, so I don't know if he experiences a thrill when he sees three eggs in the box this late in the year. Visiting children certainly seem to appreciate finding even one, but they aren't out in the cold before 7:00 in the morning doing a chore they have to do six days a week. Either way, though, I'm pretty thrilled when he brings in a haul like that. Here it is the end of November, and our egg carton is still just about full! I think we've bought five or six dozen for fall baking, but for eating we've been doing pretty well with what our farm can provide. I can't wait to see how many eggs we'll get come spring! Strangely, it makes me want to get even more hens...

It's a good thing the egg numbers are holding up, because we now have another egg eater in the family: Lijah has finally realized that scrambled eggs, at least, are delicious, and now happily shares in the breakfasts we make for the other two boys (that's his little hand reaching out for a raw one in the photo above). Since Leah's not doing breakfast these days I get by making four eggs on egg mornings now, though I understand from friends who have bigger kids that that won't suffice for long. But for now we're doing well, and I feel confident about the future. Keep up the good work, hens!

Lijah looking thoughtfully at the full egg carton

Lijah saying, "which egg should I want..."


narrow horizons

Besides letting the hens out in the morning and shutting them up at dark, I don't think I left the house today. Lijah did me one better by not even setting foot on the porch. But we still had a pretty good day!

Monday and Tuesday are our heaviest homeschool days (heaviness being relative, but you know) so we're already predisposed to sticking around the house, and with rain falling steadily and the car away with Mama at work, it was even less likely that we'd get out. I did have hopes of taking a trip to the play space (for jumping), the store (so we could make food for our friends coming over in the evening) and the library (as always, the overdue books), but when Harvey and Zion were invited over to our neighbors' house over after lunch we lost our one relatively dry opportunity. Given that with winter coming up we're probably facing lots more indoor days, I thought I should examine what we did to capture how we survived so well... but I'm not sure I have any answers.

It does help that all three boys have plenty of indoor interests that can captivate them even when the weather's fine. And I had some school things for them to do too—and so did Grandma when she visited in the morning. School and books took all morning, then we had lunch, then I played pirates and Legos with Lijah while the big boys enjoyed some time away from me across the street. Lijah's nap time was devoted to discovering—and inventing—how I could make dinner for seven adults and six kids from the ingredients we had in the house. Then all those folks came over and brought all the life and energy of the outside world here. I don't think any of us felt confined at any time today.

Although, I didn't get a lot of exercise, so I'm not sure how well I'll be able to sleep tonight. I guess a good first step would be going to bed...