model children

Zion modeling his sweatshirt

sweatshirt model

Grandma Beth bought the boys new sweatshirts yesterday, just in time for the cool weather. They've been wearing them steadily since.

Harvey modeling his new sweatshirt

the original model

They look so cute and preppy I wanted to take some pictures of them. Only the light wasn't very good this morning, so in order to make the shots catalog-worthy I had to do some filtering. Like you do.

Lijah with his new sweatshirt

too little to model properly

Pretty good looking! Thanks, Grandma!

Zion modeling his sweatshirt with his hood down

cutest 4-year-old


this moment

Harvey sitting on the porch floor using a ruler to measure distance on a string

measuring the time line

A moment from the week.

more early fall moments

Not as much time to write as I'd like, but enough to take pictures. After the party the boys were happy to have the tables around to enjoy.

Zion, Harvey, and a friend playing a board game on a party table outside

tables outside in beautiful weather

There are lots of things you can do with tables.

Harvey and Zion pulling Lijah sled-style on an overturned table

mush, you huskies!

The weather last weekend was cold in the mornings and hot mid day; hard to know what to wear first thing.

Zion and Harvey walking in the woods; Harvey with winter jacket

morning walk... shorts or winter coat?

It was plenty warm last Saturday for the local church's Apple Fest.

a display of pumpkins at a church fair

pumpkins for the apple fest

And whatever the weather, we like to spend time by the water whenever we can.

Harvey and Lijah by the shore of Spy Pond at sunset

still ponding


on being a crazy person

We're back in the compost business, and this afternoon I went on an errand to pick up a couple full buckets that we had left to sit at a friend's house for far too long. Since I was just going around the corner—maybe a half mile away—I couldn't bring myself to take the car. The blue bike could handle the load fine. It was only as I rode home that I realized how I might appear to the more conventional citizens passing me in their cars on their way home from work: this guy in worn-out carhartts and broken shoes, piloting a ridiculous bicycle loaded down with two open five-gallon buckets of rather fragrant food waste.

In all fairness, I am actually pretty crazy; though I like to think my particular insanity is actually a rational response to the environmental threats our planet is under. So from that point of view I may be saner then the folks down the street who spent the afternoon using an excavator to smash down a perfectly good house (filling two dumpsters full of what, moments before, had been perfectly good building materials) in order to make room for a bigger house (made of newly-cut wood, naturally). For many reasons it might be possible to argue that they're the crazy ones. But they have the numbers on their side, so I get the label. Fair enough.

It could have been worse, actually. On the trip to the pick-up, I was going down a hill when the wind started to lift my cap off my head. I reached a hand up to keep it from flying away just as the front wheel hit a bump, and down I went. It was a pretty hard crash, and I have a bloodied elbow and some serious bruises to show for it. But when the bike went over the only things flying out of it were the empty bucket and an assortment of trash that the kids had left behind. Imagine if I'd been coming home when it happened: ten gallons of slop landing on my back as I hit the ground would have made me feel a lot, lot worse. So all told, I count the outing as a complete success!


artistic outing

a stone bird sculpture; Harvey and Zion in the background

in the sculpture garden

On Saturday I took the boys out to Old Frog Pond Farm, an apple orchard that also has a sculpture walk.

a big egg-shaped porcupine-looking sculpture

porcupine egg?

As we pulled in the boys were delighted to see what looked like an egg made out of porcupine out on the front lawn, and we were instantly sold on the idea of mixing sculpture with apples. It was a chilly gray day, and the morning's light rain had just ended when we got there, so we had the place to ourselves. The woman at the sculpture side of things greeted us warmly, gave Harvey a map, and pointed us in the right direction... then we were on our own to explore.

Zion and Harvey walking in the sculpture park

a farm where they grow art

There were all kinds of pieces by a variety of artists, but all of them shared certain qualities—especially in how much they blended in to the natural (and agricultural) environment. Sometimes so much so that they were hard to spot!

an instalation: white plastic leaves in the oak tree


All the art was very approachable for the kids, and lots of the pieces just cried out to be touched. I'm not sure what the rules really were, but when things looked safe enough I didn't want to hold the boys back. Who could resist, say, this giant mancala board?!

Lijah checking out a giant mancala board

begging to be played with

The biggest piece on the walk was a rusty-brown teapot of a considerable size. We saw it right from the beginning but the path took us away from it, around a pond and through the edge of the woods. When we came to the end of the loop and saw it again the boys ran right up.

the boys checking out a giant teapot sculpture

the biggest sculpture

I was delighted to see it was made out of old leaves stuffed into a structure of chicken wire. Even more delightful was discovering, a little later, that the piece is called "Compost Tea".

detail of the teapot sculpture: leaves under chicken wire

that's what it's made of

I don't think I could pick my favorite of the sculptures we saw—I could barely restrain myself from posting pictures of all of them! There were eggs woven from twigs and carved out of wood; golden dragonflies suspended over the stream and a silvery creature emerging from the pond; suggestions of birds in pieces of branches and cast-off iron machinery; and a sacred circle of standing stones, to name just a few.

The walk was free (though we did pay the suggested donation, despite not being asked—I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't read the website) so I thought we might support the endeavor by picking some apples... also Lijah was just about demanding it, since he could see them hanging on the trees. So we did.

Harvey and Zion picking apples, alone in the orchard

a real orchard, and all to ourselves

The only varieties left were two I'd never heard of, Green Crisp and another one I can remember. We got both, and it was nice to have to work to find good apples off of real trees in a real orchard.

Lijah walking back through the orchard, munching on an apple

Lijah approves

The only bad part of the day was we came home to find that Leah would have loved to come with us to the orchard, something I completely failed to realize. I'm now working on being a better listener.


hey kids, it's the day people won't try to kill you with their cars!

Today is "International Walk/Bike to School Day", and Bedford is observing it with all the care of a squeamish teacher pretending enthusiasm for the mealworms the kids are studying in science.

Led by Selectman Margot Fleischman and other volunteers, the Lane School walk from St. Paul’s to Lane School is approximately 1 mile long, and follows neighborhood streets. The bike ride will follow the Narrow-Gauge rail trail from Loomis Street to the school with police support for all the road crossings.

Note how it says "the Lane School walk" and "the bike ride"—that's because, rather than letting everyone make their own way to school (presumably they know how to find it) administrators are hoping to gather folks at a few central locations in order to have them all walk or bike together. I wonder how many of those kids will be driven to the assembly points?

My favorite part of the whole ridiculous mess is the title of the Bedford Citizen article I linked above: "Wednesday is Walk-Bike to School Day — Drive with Care!" Unspoken subtext: if you try to walk or bike any other day, you crazy hippies, you can just expect someone to run you down! It's funny because it's true... wait, no, it's not funny at all!


playing music

I'm interested in too many things to give any of them the time they deserve. Farming, baking, cycling, adventuring with my family... writing blog posts.... There are moment where I wish I could devote myself entirely to one of them, in order to do things properly; but of course I'd never be able to settle on which one. So I divide my time. Some of my interests, like reading, have fallen by the wayside as I devote every extra moment to hanging out with the kids; and none so completely as playing music.

It's not that I've ever been very good as a musician, but before Harvey was born I had plenty of opportunities to play: in the town band, the worship band at church (our previous church had a low bar for worship participation!), and around the house—Leah didn't complain too much about my noise. After I had a baby to worry about disturbing, though, I couldn't play as much at home. More importantly, all the diaper-changing and whatever meant that I didn't have time to spend two or three evenings a week out of the house, so I gave up playing with other people. And it's playing with other people that makes music interesting and makes me a better player.

So I was delighted this past weekend to attend an Oktoberfest party hosted by friends of ours, where, despite the presence of beer, brats, and pretzels, the main attraction was the communal live music!

Dan holding the cornet amongst other folks playing a living room concert

focusing on the music

The main attraction to those of us playing, at least; everyone else at least endured the noise. I was a little worried going into the evening, since it was so long since I've played at all, to say nothing of improvising with people I mostly didn't know, but in the event I acquitted myself pretty well. It helped that most of them weren't too accomplished, unlike the last time I played with other people: alongside two members of the very polished worship band at our current church I was too nervous to make very much noise. But this time I was able to keep up with the guitarists—mainly by holding my second valve down at all times—and harmonize reasonably with Sarah's trumpet. It was super fun, and it's a good thing Leah wasn't feeling well or I would have kept the kids out super late for not wanting to stop playing.

As it was we left at a very reasonable hour, but now I'm left wanting more. The electric bass is out in the playroom, and I took a few minutes off from painting the trim this afternoon to make some thumping sounds... who do I get to play with next?


this moment

Lijah wailing on the mini drum kit in front of the mini piano

he's a musician too

A moment from the week.

a wide range of Saturday outings

We were talking with friends of ours last week about what it would be like to move out to the western part of the state to have more land and freedom to farm, but our two outings today show that there are some pretty sweet advantages to living where we do. In the morning, we headed half-an-hour west, to show Mama the beauties of Old Frog Pond Farm that she missed out on last week.

Leah and the boys checking out the porcupine egg

fun for the whole family

It was even more beautiful in the sunshine, and after a picnic lunch the boys were delighted to be there (there was some absence of delight before the food was served).

the family checking out art on the banks of the Old Frog Pond

the beauty of art and nature

And no, Leah's not checking Facebook in that picture... she's looking at the photos she just took herself. While she loves having a new smartphone, she's still totally present for her family.

With the sunshine and drier weather we noticed some things we had missed out on the first time, like a seat carved from granite.

Zion sitting on a stone chair sculpture

this, he likes

We also enjoyed seeing old favorites from last week. The boys were excited to see if Mama could spot the white leaves (Zion was so excited he let the secret out early), and to share the Adam and Eve piece—particularly pointing out how Adam's penis is made from a spring.

Then after a bit of a rest at home the boys and I headed out again to the big city to catch some of the Honk Festival performances (Leah stayed home; she doesn't do cities). We can't do the parade this year—a birthday party takes priority—but we didn't want to miss the anarchistic brass band fun! Looking to avoid parking problems and too much walking, we left the car at church in Cambridge and biked over to the festival. There was music everywhere.

Lijah up close behind the stage watching the band

the Rude Mechanical Orchestra

We stayed for about two hours and listened to four bands up close. Lijah enjoyed dancing to the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and he loved that the crowd was passing a couple beach balls around (despite Harvey's hopes and thoughtful maneuverings, we never got to bat them ourselves).

the Ten Man Brass Band, from behind

still pretty loud from behind

Next we got right up close behind the Ten Man Brass Band, and even though the horns were facing the other direction it was seriously loud. They played two Youngblood Brass Band songs while we were there, so Lijah was thrilled (he still digs the band); while he was a little too overwhelmed by the crowd to get down and dance, he totally got into the music from the safety of my arms.

Lijah with his hand in the air

waving like he just don't care

Not the best picture, since I was holding him and trying to selfie him with the phone, but let me assure you he was absolutely feeling the beat!

After that we headed over to check out the New Creation Brass Band set, which was even more crowded. The older boys were tiring a bit, and were happy to sit at the back of the throng and enjoy some dinner. You don't get Mama-style bento boxes on an outing with Dada, but at least there's plenty of food.

the boys on the sidewalk with their tupperware supper

music dinner

Ten Man and New Creation were the bands I most wanted to see, so when the latter wrapped up their set I figured it was time to show the boys some fun. Happily there was another band playing by a playground right around the corner. As soon as Harvey and Zion got through the gate they were off, and I only saw them from a distance for the next 20 minutes or so.

Harvey and Zion, seen from above, running on the playground

running wild

The structure was a little to tall for Lijah, so he and I watched the band play on in the gathering twilight.

the Leftist Marching Band playing in the gathering dark

Leftists at dusk

Our two outings were very different, but they did have one thing in common: they're both full of so much artistic vitality that it's hard to leave them to go back to regular life. It doesn't seem fair that Honk is just one weekend; we could use more of that wild anarchist joy (and good music!) spread over the other seasons too! And while Old Frog Pond Farm is open weekends all fall, it can be pretty easy to forget its spirit of quietly surprising creativity during the week—to say nothing of over the winter.

But we'll see what we can do to hold onto them: in between church and the party tomorrow we'll be playing music and adding to the world of adventure we're creating in the woods behind the house. Come over Monday and join in the fun!


NOW who's a wet blanket?

When you wake up suddenly in a pool of your own urine, it's normal to wonder where your life took a wrong turn.

Was it just last night? When I drank too much elderberry tea to boost my immunity, and then failed to use the bathroom before falling asleep? Because I was already in bed with the fussy baby and the shifting of the mattress might rouse him to a scream? Again?

Or were the seeds of the problem planted far, far earlier than that?

Was it my failure, from day one, to sleep train Elijah? Putting me in a sleep deficit, night after night? Where any slight irritant, a cold or a tooth or an upset tummy, means the child demands to nurse every hour, on the hour? So I only get 40 minutes of sleep at a time, and when an unexpected long stretch comes, say between 1 and 2:30 in the morning, there is nothing rousing me, NOTHING, not even the urging of my own insistant bladder?

Or does it go back to his birth, which I chose to make at home? Or the births of my other two children, also at home, all of which in their own unique way normalized on the release of bodily fluids onto my mattress?

Or was it the choice of that third baby, was that the thing that pushed me over the edge? Mentally, in terms of exhaustion, but also physically? In very nitty gritty terms? In terms of the ability of my sphincter muscles to hooooold it in until my mind regains consciousness?

It's hard to know exactly where I went astray. All my decisions seemed like good ones. Maybe peeing in my bed is the natural result of a life well planned. Maybe I should count a few midnight accidents among acceptable losses.

When you wake up suddenly in a pool of your own urine, it's normal to wonder: Who am I? How did I get here? Where oh where did I take a wrong turn, and how can I possibly backtrack to sanity?

Then again, my children piss their beds all the time. They just get up, shower, and ask for breakfast.


Harvey the writer

Monday is our big homeschool day here, so we don't take Monday holidays off. And we didn't even do any Columbus-themed content today, because Columbus was a big jerk. We did chat for a while on our walk the other day about what the holiday was about, and naturally I tied the explanation in to our ongoing history conversation this fall about Europeans trampling on indigenous people's rights; but in view of what I learned on the internet yesterday and today I think I understated the case. But never mind, because Harvey and Zion have lots of time to fill in any gaps in their historical knowledge or ideological formation; what Harvey worked on today was writing.

You see, in an effort to generate more content around here we're training him to write blog posts—or, as they're known in the world of elementary school, "personal narratives". Today he wrote about Taya's birthday party yesterday; it was a great time, and his account will save me the trouble of writing it up myself.

It was Taya’s pool birthday party and we brought a present for Taya. It was a princess doll that Mama made. We went for a drive and it was so long!

When we got there Taya was already in the pool. We put on our bathing suits and went swimming! And then everybody was leaving the pool, so we left. Then we went in the party room and it was all cold. Then we went in the locker room and put on our warm clothes. Then we went in and made puppets. And then it was time for a game, and we didn’t play. Then after the game Taya wanted her doll so much she opened it up. Then we had cake.

Then it was time to go but we went to the playground with Taya and played with the fire truck and went in the hippopotamus and played “steal Tintin”. And then it was time to go, but we remembered we lost Tintin, so we drove back to the playground to get him. Then we drove back home.

the doll--pink hair, silver crown, dancy skirt--posing on the porch

the doll in question

He needs work on his transitional phrases, but the content is solid. That's pretty much what happened! While it was tough getting him started, once the creative juices were flowing he had lots to say (the story was dictated; we're interested in storytelling, not handwriting and spelling). And when it was time to add the illustrations, he was all-in with the project. He even asked about the technical details of making copies of the masterwork—and then started on another story after supper. There will be many more personal narratives to come over the next few months.

We'll work on writing anti-colonial polemics a little later.


more picture books, please

I was in the school library today looking for a book to read to some first-graders, and as I perused the picture-book shelves—a significant share of the library's real-estate—I wondered how many of those books the kids were actually reading. And it's not only because it's hard to find picture books you like at libraries—their spines are so thin you have to pull each one out to see if it looks interesting. No, the real problem is everyone wants chapter books or comics.

Not that there's anything wrong with either of those. Good chapter books draw you in and expand your world like no picture book could ever do, and good comics are great for developing readers like Harvey and 6-year-old me. Lots more good things to say about both, elsewhere. But picture books are awesome too, and for lots of reasons they're just what first-, second-, and even third-graders need. For one thing, they're more like what kids that age are producing themselves: short, illustrated, stand-alone stories. And the pictures hit the sweet spot between chapter books and comics: they can keep kids' interest and give scaffolding for imagining the events of the story, without filling in all the gaps like most comics do.

Most importantly, though, picture books are great examples of good writing. Like poets, picture book authors faced with limited space need to shape their language carefully, and the elegance that engenders is just what kids need to be exposed to as they develop as writers themselves. Any kid that wants to can do plot—kids plot all the time in their imaginative play—but to write good prose they need to be exposed to good prose.

The reason for all the chapter-book love also points to how picture books are helpful for kids developing as readers too. The way reading is taught now drives kids to achievement: how many pages can you do? How long can you read in one sitting? How many inferences can you write down on post-it notes? To be reading chapter books, then, is a badge of success proudly trumpeted even by kindergarteners. Only... most chapter books at that level are terrible. And when kids are only reading books—bad books—as status markers, they'll stop reading entirely when their peers stop thinking reading is cool. Like in second grade.

The perception of picture books is that they're for little kids (and the child's definition of little kids is always someone littler than me) and that they're easy to read (they're filed under "E", for goodness sake!). That's obviously far from the reality: plenty of picture books feature vocabulary kids won't find in chapter books until they hit the stuff written for middle-schoolers. And you can find picture books that address the issues of people of all ages. (Some libraries have even started shelving some with the chapter books as "advanced picture books" or suchlike—which I think is solving all the wrong problems!)

So the problem: kids think picture books are babyish, and when they pick them up they can't read them anyways; and even if they want to find a good picture book it can be hard (and—a subject for another post—there are plenty of bad ones). What do we do about that? Why, it's easy: read to kids! When we grown-ups pick good books, and show kids that we care about those books and think they're worthwhile, and read the words expressively, and invite discussion about the stories... we're inviting the kids into a world of literacy instruction that's more than skill-building in reading and writing. It's creating life-long appreciation for the wonders of the written word. Then they can enjoy chapter books and comics at their leisure; and write em too!


downtown by bicycle

I had a little extra time today between finishing up work in Cambridge and meeting Leah and the boys to hang out with friends in Arlington, so I hopped on my bike for a little extra ride. I thought maybe I could head downtown and go all the way to the ocean. That may not have sounded like a reasonable plan to Harvey ("there's an ocean in Boston?!" he asked incredulously, as I described the adventure afterwards) but, judging by distance alone, it was entirely reasonable—just like five miles away! Never having biked into the city, though, I overlooked one crucial point: it's a terrible experience!

Well, maybe not entirely terrible. But doing it as I was on a whim and without a well-planned route I exposed myself to all sorts of things that made for a not-so-fun ride. Things were fine as I started out from Rindge Ave down Sherman into Harvard Square. But east of Harvard—I ended up on Mass Ave, because, you know, you do—I was faced with a series of red lights that made me start doubting the whole enterprise. Over the river I was into Back Bay, which wasn't my original plan; I meant to cross the Longfellow Bridge, which is much closer to the ocean! Avoiding Comm Ave, I headed down Marlborough St, where four-way-stops every block—not to mention countless double-parked trucks—kept me from building up any momentum. And things got even worse when I hit Berkeley St, where, apparently, Marlborough's one-way traffic reverses! It was only with difficulty that I found a legal way around that didn't lead me onto Storrow Drive.

So there were navigation challenges; there's also the insanity of city drivers who, wherever the road allows, accelerate to maybe 30 miles an hour over a short block. That's tricky on, say, Arlington by the Public Garden, where I was trying to cross four lanes of traffic to make a left. Up Beacon Street I went to the State House, where I looked at the time... and made the decision to give up my quest. Caught in the crazy tangle of Old Boston streets, I was needing to look at the map on my phone at almost every corner, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get anywhere in the time I had available—never mind getting back! So with many more map checks I made my way back down to the river and across the bridge by the Science Museum; if I was going to turn back before my objective, at least I'd make a good loop of it!

Across the river conditions improved right away—well, as soon as I got myself on the right side of the street. The cycling was fine on Cambridge St and I finally got into a rhythm and felt like I was on a bike ride rather than a mad orienteering expedition. Then I turned onto Beacon, where the paving is exceptionally bad. But Beacon took me up to Somerville Ave into Porter Square, where the green-painted bike lanes are a thing of beauty: a true paradise after the desperate struggle I'd endured. Too bad I could only enjoy them for a quarter of a mile before I turned onto Rindge and finished the loop (in an hour and ten minutes; I had plenty of time to spare).

I really ought to have taken some pictures along the way; there were many fine sights, and this is like the fourth pictureless post in a row here. But frankly I was too terrified and/or confused most of the time to be thinking about aesthetic concerns. The biggest problem was with navigation, and obviously if I knew the city better—or at all—I would have done much better there. But even if I'd been totally certain of my route, I'm still not sure it would have been a really pleasant experience. There are lots and lots of cars downtown—I can't imagine why—and when they aren't playing drag race on multi-lane roads they're stopped in traffic, so close to parked cars that you can't find a way to squeeze through. Add in the stop lights and the pedestrians (who are the smart ones—that's the way to get around the city!) and you start to question the sanity of the whole endeavor.

It was so bad that I need to try again one time to see if I can do it better.


wagon afternoon

For his 2nd birthday Grandma and Grandpa gave Harvey a totally awesome wooden Radio Flyer wagon. We used it lots—for blueberry picking, for gathering reusable trash from the woods, and for getting places with the kids. Not to mention all the fun the boys had with it on the street in front of the house. Then it was supplanted—by the blue bike, and by the boys' own bikes and scooters—and retired to the back of the shed. But today when I kicked them out into the beautiful fall day Harvey and Zion somehow pulled it out, and showed the whole family a great time.

Harvey pulling Mama and Zion in the wagon

remember this old wagon?

I looked at a lot of old blog posts trying to see if I ever wrote about Harvey attaching the wagon to his tricycle in order to pull Zion around, but I couldn't find anything (though I did enjoy reading through the archives: I highly recommend it if you have a few hours to kill!). He remembers it well, and is still happy to be the engine in this particular train. And now he can pull Mama too!

Harvey pulling Mama and Zion in the wagon.. he's working hard!

Harvey is much stronger now

This evening he was wondering aloud about towing things with bicycles. We'll see what he comes up with tomorrow. Today it was enough for him to be on foot, pulling every member of the family from the mailbox to the end of the street and back. Good times for a fall afternoon!

Mama smiling in the wagon

fun for the whole family!


this moment

Mama and the boys in the playroom sorting winter gear

winter readiness: sorting hats and mittens

A moment from the week.

early winter

The first snowfall of the year yesterday afternoon was over too soon for me to think of taking a picture—we had other things going on—and for Harvey to suffer too much disappointment about not having a new snowsuit yet (our tryouts the other day revealed that the one he wore last year, already tight at the end of the winter, is now a complete impossibility). Not that we needed any special gear for a five-minute snow squall, but we like to do things right around here.

Besides the snow—a signifier if nothing else—it's been pretty cold the last few days. Our first frost was a hard freeze, and last night it was below freezing before bedtime. As balmy as it's been lately I was taken a bit by surprise; I got the potted pepper plants inside (to Leah's dismay and everyone's inconvenience) but there were several squashes that I hadn't bothered to pick yet, and a couple of them suffered damage that will dramatically shorten their storage life. Oh well, we go through squash pretty quick... just put em on the top of the pile! For a non agricultural reference point, we had windows open until two days ago, and it was a bit of a scramble to get the air-conditioner out and the storm windows closed.

As much as most of us are looking forward to real winter weather, there is one thing we'll miss. With the dry fall the bug population has been minimal, and most days the door to the side porch has been wide open a good bit of the time. Our house is much bigger when the porch and yard feel like part of it. Not that the cold weather is stopping us from playing outside—the convenience of moving between inside and out without shoes has just been replaced by the excitement of hats and mittens and, soon, that new snowsuit.


pre-halloween fear-mongering

Q: When Can Kids Trick-or-Treat in Bedford?

A: Whenever the #&*% they want!

glowing jack-o-lanterns: a bat and an H carved and illuminated in little pumpkins

our early display

Alas, my sensible answer isn't the one proposed by Chief John Bryfonski and the Bedford Police Department. As the article I linked above explains, they want to keep kids safe this Halloween; and apparently the safest hours are between 6 and 8. Or something. I'm sure it's not any reflexive desire for control on their part.

If Halloween is dangerous at all it's because of drivers being idiots (I almost wrote, "because of cars"... but it's the drivers who are the problem). It seems to me that holding an alternate activity in a parking lot isn't the best was of avoiding that hazard; I suppose they must close part of it to make room for the kiddies. I hope so! At "Trunk-or-Treat" representatives of local businesses give out candy from the trunks of their cars, because taking candy from strangers—strangers representing corporations, natch!—is such a better idea than getting to know your neighbors.

At least local businesses would never poison the candy (or I should say they wouldn't add additional poison... I've tried Laffy Taffy). Your neighbors trying to kill you is what the police chief is worried about when he suggests we should "[e]xamine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before you eat them.... Eat only factory-wrapped candy. Avoid eating homemade treats offered by strangers." Never mind no one has been poisoned or injured by any Halloween treat, ever (well, except that kid who was poisoned by his dad); it's important to make people aware of made-up threats so they'll... be more attuned to real threats later? Feel like the police dept is a worthwhile expense on the town budget? Watch more news reports? I confess I have no idea. It might just be that none of us has any idea what's going on in the world these days and why everything feels out of control, and mythical dangers are something we can wrap our heads around.

Now if you're so inclined, there are plenty of reasons to hate Halloween. We tried it for a little while! (We backed off pretty quick, because of costumes. Who can resist this little mouse?! Or these monkeys?! You prefer kings? Pirates?)

mousie close-up


But please, don't pretend to love the holiday and then do all you can to stifle its proper observation.

We're going to be doing Halloween this year. As of the moment Harvey and Zion have their costumes planned (though plans can change—and have more than once already) and we fully intend to make homemade treats, like we do. And we'll be trick-or-treating, of course. Probably around 6:00, too.. but not cause they told us to! That's just when we finish dinner.


weekend long ride

On Saturday Luke finally got me out to do a long ride with him. He started the day off by riding up here from West Roxbury, so he already had a lot of time in the saddle by the time I joined up; but with plans to go almost 50 more miles I wasn't sure if I was going to make it! We were headed out to the Haystack Observatory out in Westford, which meant plenty of fine fall riding along quiet rural roads.

Luke riding down a country lane

he knows the way

After 25 miles or so (and only one major wrong turn) we made it to the base of Haystack Hill and, eventually, to the top. It turns out they like to put observatories up high.

Luke riding towards a towering white ball

I think we found it

It being a Saturday the place was closed to automotive visitors, but there was a sign pointing to a pedestrian cut-through around the gate. We thought that could go for cyclists too.

Besides a pair of giant white orbs (the Haystack Radio Telescope proper, pictured above, and the Westford Radio Telescope) and one smaller orb (Haystack Auxiliary Radar; only a 40-foot dish) the site is also home to a couple of much more visually interesting exposed metal antennas.

the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna and the Zenith Antenna, seen from across the parking lot

I'm sure they all do something

We deemed the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna as the most photogenic for the purpose of our official posed bike shots; though I was challenged to get both bicycle and antenna in the frame.

my bike leaning against the fence in front of the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna; with Luke and warning sign

proving I biked there

Because we kind of had to sneak in we were the only visitors, but the site seems like it would be at least moderately welcoming to visitors during work hours. Outside one of the buildings they had a pair of parabolic dishes with platforms in front of them; standing on one platform you could hear a whisper from the other, 30 yards away (just like the one at the Discovery Museum only bigger and better!).

They also had an apple tree, and, as is always the case, I couldn't resist trying one. I had some thought it might give me super-powers—you know, the radiation and all—but no luck. It was pleasantly sweet but soft and mealy, so I didn't finish it (the only disappointment of the whole outing).

me holding a red apple in front of the Haystack Radio Telescope


Then it was time to head home. We chose a more southerly route in order to make a loop, and it took us through picturesque Concord.

a red barn (or garage) amidst fields and stone walls

well-kept rural landscape

We crossed the Concord River by way of the Old North Bridge, which merited another stop for a photo.

my bike leaning against the rail of the Old North Bridge

almost home

Then home, for a total (for me) of about 45 miles. There were definitely moments along the way when I thought I wouldn't be able to make it up the next hill, but after finishing up with three flat miles on the dirt of the Reformatory Branch Trail I was feeling good and would have been happy to keep going even further. And I didn't even get sore afterwards! So... 75 miles next time?

Thanks, Luke, for getting me out there!


dark for sleeping

Despite the fact that it's really warm again, there's one big way it's feeling wintery around here: light levels. A week and a half before the time change it's dark before too long after dinner, and dark well after it's time to wake up. It's a little frustrating from the point of getting things done outside. On the other hand, it's great for the sleeping! This evening the boys were all quiet in bed by 7:15, and Leah followed within an hour. I don't want to say anything to jinx it, but we may be ready to start chipping away at our gigantic summer sleep debt!

After we get back from the church retreat this weekend, that is.

this moment

Zion and Harvey at a farm looking at a pen full of turkeys

farm visit

A moment from the week.

weekend away

We went to Boston Friday only to leave it again, by sea.

the South End skyline viewed from the ferry

the journey out

We spent a lovely and challenging 26 hours on Thompson Island with a bunch of folks from church.

Lijah exploring the hallway in the dorm

exploring the dormitory

Most of the time I didn't have my real camera with me, which was too bad, since there were some delightful sights.

Harvey on the gravel beach of Thompson Island around sunrise

the beach, first thing

We made it home safely late yesterday evening. We're still recovering.

on the subway platrform: Zion in the stroller, Harvey watching for a train

homeward bound late


the patience of stubbornness

The boys have a hard time resisting the cheap-toy dispensers by the doors of the Burlington Market Basket. We now have a fair collection of tiny plastic dinosaurs, so a few weeks ago Zion switched it up and opted for a blue lobster that grows when you put it in water. You know the type.

I was dismissive, and after a couple hours of soaking produced maybe a ten percent increase in size I was ready to call myself right. "It's only a little bigger," Zion noted. "Maybe it needs more water. Maybe the water needs to be higher."

"I think that's as big as it's going to get," I told him. "You can't expect much for 25 cents."

He wouldn't listen, though, and he wouldn't give up. He added more water to the tupperware where Crabby was soaking (despite living all their lives in New England neither Harvey nor Zion have ever managed to acknowledge the existence of lobsters as distinct from crabs) and left him sitting there on the kitchen table for one day, and then two.

And Crabby kept growing. Twice, and then even three times his original size, his bulk pushed at the sides of his container as he continued his slow, steady growth. I watched in wonder; Zion was merely quietly content. He knew that was going to happen.

I don't know what made him decide at some point to take Crabby out of the water. He sat for a few days on the table: large (well, two inches or so), bulbous, and damp-looking. We had some thoughts that he might shrink again out of the water, but he didn't to any noticeable degree. I only wish I had taken a picture—or better, a pair of before-and-after shots. Zion didn't play much with the post-transformation Crabby, but I suppose he didn't need to: the entertainment we got from him was already worth well more than 25 cents. Zion, you were right!


Thompson Island report: phoning it in

A little more about our church retreat on Thompson Island. Whatever the challenges of getting there, and eating and sleeping while there, it was lovely to be in a place where even the view out the bathroom window is worth photographing.

the view out a bathroom window: lawn, ocean, boats

relaxing sights for handwashing

Unfortunately, though I brought my camera along (of course) various other concerns kept me from remembering to have it with me most of the time. So most of the photos here are from my substandard phone camera; but they're sufficient at least to illustrate this over-long account that's probably only of interest to me and Harvey. You've been warned!

My adventure started at 3:30, when Leah and the boys picked me up at work.We drove to Cambridge, where we left the car at church and walked to the Red Line at Porter Square. That was a leisurely stroll, but by the time we detrained at Downtown Crossing I was feeling the press of time and I led the family on a desperate march over the hill and down to Long Wharf. We got there five minutes before we were supposed to and joined the happy—though chilly—throng milling about. Then onto the boat, where we admired the sunset as we waited for departure.

Harvey looking aft towards the pink sky over Logan Airport

sailor's delight

The voyage was Harvey's favorite part of the whole thing, and he's supposed to be working on a story about it, so I'll leave that to him; I do want to point out how wonderful it was, given Zion's love for the ball moon, that for most of the outward track that moon was leading us on.

Harvey and a friend looking forward as we steam towards the moon

moonward bound

When we got to the island we packed into the dining hall for a hasty dinner, then got set up in our little dorm room and went to bed. There were activities we could have joined—oh, there were activities!—but after 9:00 we turn into pumpkins, so we turned in instead. It was lovely to be inside on a very chilly night, and having three twin beds for the five of us made it extra warm and cozy—especially when the heater came on and blasted dry heat at us most of the night.

In the morning when Harvey and Zion woke up I took them and Lijah—who Leah had already been watching for some time—down to the shore while we waited for breakfast to open.

the boys on the gravel beach

early exploration

While the weekend was a retreat for most of the adults, many of the adults came with kids and those kids had to be entertained. I volunteered to help out, so after breakfast I found myself leading a group of eleven of them—including Harvey and Zion—on a series of outdoor adventure stations. Usually with those church kids I'm the one doing all the planning work, so it was nice to be able to follow someone else's directions; especially when the directions were basically, "go to these locations and have fun". Our first spot was the beach, where the kids threw stones.

Zion throwing a rock into the water

it's pretty much what you do

They also started building a bridge across the stream draining the salt pond, which was flowing high and fast; only two of them got their feet wet.

Next we moved to a "make-your-own obstacle course", where the kids used planks and various other found objects to enhance a small existing adventure play area.

kids moving a 2x8 plank into position

all hands working together

As well as challenging themselves with feats of balance and daring—"you can do the whole obstacle course? How about hopping on one foot?!"—they were also delighted to be able to smash up some (already slightly broken) chairs they found lying around. Lijah joined us for the fun; he couldn't smash, but he could climb!

Lijah climbing up a board on our home-made obstacle course

rising to the challenge

For our last stop the kids were supposed to pair up and take turns either blindfolded or serving as a guide dog. Tiring, not all of them were into it; somewhat surprisingly, Harvey was one of the more enthusiastic participants.

Harvey, blindfolded, being led by a friend

leading the blind

The non-participating kids played around on the pair of former Outward Bound boats set up on the lawn; before long the rest of the group joined them.

kids chilling on one of the grounded boats

high and dry

When things evolved into a shooting war (well, apple throwing anyways) between boys and girls I called a halt, and we headed up to the dining hall for lunch.

Parents were meant to pick the kids up from there, but most of them were having awesome spiritual and/or community-building experiences and didn't want to rush back too quickly. Recognizing that the dining hall might not survive the active energy of 35 kids once they were done eating, I brought my group out to make leaf piles to jump in. Everyone else soon followed, and somehow the bigger kids located a half-dozen rakes, so it was real.

Lijah watching the big kids make a leaf pile

it's fun because they don't have to do it

Next up on the day's agenda was a concert. Kids were welcome, but I couldn't bear to miss any outdoor time, and the boys felt the same. So did some of the other kids, and we put together an expedition back to the beach. The tide was lower, and between that and the work the other two groups put in after us the bridge was passable, with care. That opened up delightful new areas for exploration!

Zion gingerly crossing the bridge of rocks accross the stream on the beach

carefully now..

Harvey, Zion, and their friends found all sorts of treasures: shells, rusted metal bits, bricks, glass; even some crab traps, something else to throw.

Harvey throwing a crab trap into the salt pond

traps away

Free of the tyranny of a schedule, we hung out at the beach for quite some time, until dinner called us back to the buildings (I'll take that kind of tyranny any day!). After dinner the kids wrestled outside on the dark lawn for a bit before we all went in together for a final worship and prayer session. It was a little loud and distracted back in the family section, but with everyone starting to hit extreme tiredness the kids finally settled down a little bit, still happy to be together.

in the dark: Harvey chatting with a friend, Zion looking sleepy

the cool kids

Then we all rolled on down the path to the dock and back onto the boat. The return trip felt much quicker than the voyage out, and before long we were walking back to the Red Line; this time, happily, with friends who were going the same way. It's good that we had them along, because otherwise we might not have made it. Also the stroller was essential.

Zion asleep, leaning to the side in the umbrella stroller

wiped out

Ferry, walk, train, walk, car... we finally made it back home at 10:30. It was a good time for most of us—Leah will share her own feelings a little later, I believe—but we're in no hurry to do it again soon. Adventures closer to home for the next couple weeks, please!


school at home

One of the big advantages to homeschooling a single kid is how much time you save over a classroom setting. There's no sitting around—it's all efficiency. Add just one more student, though, and that goes out the window. Not only does each kid has to wait while the teacher works with the other, but they immediately start distracting each other. So I observed yesterday when we had a friend join us for school... but it was totally worth it.

Harvey gets plenty of socialization time, and we enjoy doing school just the two of us, or with Zion. But what fun it was for Harvey to have someone other than me to play math games with, and to teach and learn from! Plus, pulling carrots is more fun with two.

Harvey and Taya pulling carrots

they were working too hard to pose for a photo

Taya is a kindergartener, and I struggled to recall what I had done with Harvey last year to kick-start his incredible mastery of place value (the most important foundation of math knowledge!). She's also a different sort of learner. It's good for me to work on my skills in the home-school arena, broadening myself to become a teacher of children rather than just of Harvey. Like Harvey, though, she soaks up direct instruction like a sponge... I need some more active, resistant students to really test myself.

Going into this school year we had hoped to do more of this sort of thing. I even had some thoughts that this would be the year we'd start our "school", on a small scale at least. But various family situations—for us and our prospective students—has kept it from happening so far. Yesterday was very encouraging: like getting back on track. We're scheduled for another meeting next Tuesday. Yay school at home! Maybe next time we'll even get to some literacy work.

Harvey carrying Taya on his back

working together


goodbye October, goodbye farmers market

the boys checking out bright peppers, tomatoes, and gourds

bright bounty

Our home school day Tuesday concluded away from home, at the last regular farmers market of the year. Overall, we did well this year: we didn't miss a single market, and we saved enough food stamp coupons to come away the last few weeks with two gallons of maple syrup and five pounds of honey (that should be enough Leah-grade sweetener to last us through a long winter!). And we enjoyed lots of delicious fresh veggies and fruits, along with a fair amount of ground beef and bacon.

Of course, there's always room for improvement. We bought lots of kale, because rabbits, caterpillars, and our own chickens did such a number on ours. Beets, because I didn't manage to plant any. Carrots, because... well, we eat a lot of carrots. My dream is to be able to grow much of our own vegetables and fruits, leaving us with money to stock up on meat for the freezer, honey, and maybe even some cheese. That didn't happen this year. I can assign some blame to Lijah—or really to having three kids!—but I still have to take most of it myself. That we were spending money on tomatoes this September is entirely my fault, and nearly unforgivable.

Still, those are high level worries. All in all the market was great, and we'll be sad to see it go—we'll especially miss chatting with the fine folks from Charlton Orchards, and not only because they responded to our faithful patronage by letting us have the funny-looking donuts from the end of the batch for free! We're looking forward to the special Thanksgiving market on November 24; after that it'll really be winter!


this moment

Lijah in a leaf pile; the ocean just barely visible behind him

island leaf pile

A moment from the week.