moments from the week

the boys sitting on a rocky outcrop in the woods

quiet time in the woods

Moments from the past week.

Zion, Elijah, and a friend digging potatoes in our garden

digging for gold nuggets

Zion and a friend swimming in the pond

water is still nice

Elijah going down a hill head first lying on a long board

a little blurry because he was moving pretty fast

my hand holding a red bell pepper we grew

we've done it at last

Elijah standing on a bridge looking at some slight rapids

on the Concord in Lowell

the boys and friends sitting around a fire

friendly fire


competing on Saturday

I like playing Pokemon. Of course, I like lots of other things too, so it isn't always—often—a priority. Also with competitive play still only slowly starting to come back after the pandemic, there aren't as many chances to get in there with the card game. And while our local store runs monthly events, I ended up having to judge for the last one rather than playing. So I was eagerly looking forward to the tournament this past Saturday, and with a careful eye on the metagame developing after the new set released a couple weeks ago ordered cards to make some fun new decks. When Saturday's mail arrived without the most important parts of the order, I was thrown into despair and ready to skip the whole thing. But Zion—now part of our family team—was still eager to go, and was bringing a friend along, so Harvey and I packed up the same old decks we made last month and headed to the store. And I'm glad we did!

two lunarock decks facing off

who expected the lunarock meta?!

Not only did we have a great time with a fine bunch of folks who are obsessed with the same dumb thing we are, Harvey and I both finished first in our age divisions. It wasn't a super-competitive group, but it was still rewarding. Zion, who took down the last two events in the Junior division, was third this time, and his friend was fourth.

Most of the folks there were long-time players—it was especially nice meeting up with a family we had spent some time playing with before the pandemic but hadn't seen since. One junior was new to the scene, though, and besides being the only girl in the room she also wasn't entirely in the know about what makes a good deck. She came in with lots of energy and enthusiasm, but when the final round finished with her fourth straight loss she looked ready to give up on Pokemon entirely. I didn't want that! I had brought a box of spare trainer cards (in the distant hope that we could borrow the missing cards and put together the deck I had hoped to have) so I gave her a bunch of those, and then gave her one of the packs that I got as prizing. Hopefully that makes a difference, and we'll see her again at the next event. Because playing Pokemon is fun!


moments from the week

Zion and Elijah on a rock outcropping on Mount Monadnock looking out into the distance

getting some altitude

Moments from the past week.

Zion, Elijah, and a friend putting a toddler in a cage

how you play with toddlers

Harvey and Elijah walking on a boardwalk through the woods

there's some mud under the boardwalks now

Elijah and Zion on camping chairs by a campfire, reading

camping comfort

the boys sticking their faces into pictures of firefighters and a fire dog

at ice cream


camping for climbing

We say we like camping, but we really don't usually do it more than once a year. Which is fine! We have a great time when we do go to the same place every year (and maybe I'll even write about this year's trip someday!). But hearing about all our friends' awesome trips made me want to branch out a little bit, and what better place to branch out to than the only other campground the boys have ever stayed at, so long ago they can't remember. Plus it gave us a chance to climb that mountain we said we were going to climb two years ago.

the lower slopes of Mt Monadnock reflected in Gilson Pond

our goal

That's Monadnock, by the way. It could totally be a day trip from our house—it's just about an hour and a half away—but I wanted to be able to climb it in a leisurely fashion, and I wanted time to relax at a campground too. So two nights of tenting, with the climbing day in between. My original thought was to leave after Backyard Farm Club on Monday afternoon, but when I broached the idea Sunday it was too sudden for Zion. He needs more warning than that, reasonably enough. So we went Wednesday afternoon instead, after Park Day. Which means we got a late start, since Park Day is so hard to leave, and then with the steady drizzle I didn't feel great about trying to start a fire for supper so we stopped on the way for McDonalds (and a salad for Harvey at Hannafords) and got later still. Getting the tents up in the rain and rapidly falling dark was a little stressful, but we made it happen and then enjoyed a delightful evening of reading books and (in my case at least) being glad of not having to cook.

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear, and we took our first real look around the campground. It met our approval. We breakfasted on cereal and milk and bagels, then read some more before getting packed up for the main event of the day. All four backpacks were stuffed with lunches, warm clothes, and most especially water bottles, after our very thirsty experience the last time we climbed a mountain (I really should write about that trip!). At least, most of our packs were stuffed with water bottles; when we got to the trailhead Harvey found that he had left his at the campsite. For a minute he though he'd left his shoes too, so we were all set to go back, but then he found them. And I loaded him up with the almost-full gallon jug of water I had planned to leave in the car for our return, and we headed up.

Zion and Elijah climbing up a rock slab


Zion and Elijah climbing up broken bouldery rocks

... and up...

The way up Monadnock is steep and long. And kind of unrelenting, really. Most of the hike is a steady slog up a wide, cobble-y path that feels a lot like a stream-bed. At least there were a few big slabby bits to provide some interest.... plus, as we got higher and higher, glimpses of some amazing views. There was also lots of water, which was delightful on what had turned into a surprisingly hot day.

Elijah sitting by water running through a crack in the rocks

mountain stream

Towards the top the trees started to thin out, and we really felt how high we were. And the last bit was totally exposed rock, just like a real mountain. There were even a few spots where we needed to use our hands to get up! It felt like a real accomplishment to make it to the top, and it would have been more amazing yet if there hadn't been 30 or 40 people up there already.

Zion and Elijah far ahead on the rocky upper slopes of Monadnock

almost there!

Zion standing on the highest point of Monadnock, Elijah collapsed nearby

two ways of feeling at the top

Oh well, at least it wasn't a couple hundred like it would have had it been a weekend. We found a spot a little ways from anybody else (and out of the swarms of bugs that for some reason were plaguing much of the summit) and had our lunches. After lunch I read the boys some of the chapter book we're doing together, and we took pictures of fall foliage and red squirrels.

a red squirrel eating a nut

photo (and nut supply) by Zion

Of course, having gone up we had to go down again. That wasn't easy either. We took a slightly different path, one that was supposed to be a little longer but less steep. It was steep enough, and long enough too. At one point I was sure we had already descended well below our starting point—maybe to the center of the earth. No, it just takes a long time to get down 1,800 vertical feet. Eventually we made it back to the parking lot and the visitor center, where we were delighted with the water fountain and the bottle filler. And with the benches, to be honest; I was entirely ready to sit down.

Zion and Elijah resting in a yellow wood

a pause on the way down

After we had restored ourselves for a little while we wandered over to the gift shop, where the boys took advantage of my pride in their endurance by buying them souvenirs: an otter for Elijah, a coyote for Zion, and a pocket knife and sticker for Harvey. Plus two gatorades. Then we headed back to the campsite. As hot as we were climbing the boys had been very much looking forward to swimming in the pond when we got back down, but it turned out that after over five hours of exertion (and seven hours away from our tents) we were ready for a rest. Good thing we brought lots of books! And good thing that I had planned a simple dinner, because I didn't have much energy for cooking (and all that I did have was taken up by starting a fire with the wet wood we collected). But never fear, there was enough fire for marshmallows to finish the day.

smores over the fire

we know how to do things right


the garden in early(ish) October

October garden

garden color

The garden has been in passive mode the last few weeks. I think I hoed the paths once, otherwise we've just been ignoring it except to raid it for food: carrots, kale, and peppers mostly. We're still getting a few tomatoes, and I've brought in one butternut squash; the rest are curing on the vines for a couple more days. The kids dug the potatoes last week with Backyard Farm Club friends.

Pretty soon we'll be getting to work again, clearing beds and putting down compost and mulch. And planting the garlic: next year's garden starts soon!

more music in our lives

It's been so long since our last Honk parade that we almost forgot Honk was a thing! Well it is, and this weekend it was back after two pandemic years off. Thankfully Leah's dad alerted us that it was going on and we were able to make it to Cambridge Common Sunday after church to take in the scene.

cloth HONK signs being carried at the head of the parade

back again in our regular spot!

Even better, we brought some friends along! Despite some nervousness on my part we got there with plenty of time to spare, so the kids had some time to play at the best playground. They're the biggest now, but never mind that, it was still lots of fun. For a little while at least; then we headed over to Mass Ave to stake out a spot and wait for the parade. We were super early, but since nobody had bothered to restrict parking along the street there wasn't actually that much room to sit. Which means that after we found a good spot lots of other people came and stood blocking our view up the street. Boo.

But never mind that, we could see things right in front of us, and there was plenty to see. Bands, of course (though not as many as usual); also dancers, kids on stilts, hula-hoop experts, and activists. A lot of people concerned about rents. Only one group passed out candy, but that was enough for us all to get a piece, and there was also a group passing out hot dogs. Seems good!

Zion eating a hot dog

his favorite

After the parade the majority view held that going into Harvard Square for Octoberfest would be too much, so we headed back to the car. Plus there was some strong interest in making some music ourselves! So after I put some lunch together for the gang—muffins and cake at church plus candy and hot dogs at the parade were all just snacks—we grabbed some five-gallon buckets and trash cans and did some serious drumming. Some neighborhood friends joined in too, and then when we were done with drumming one of them went home and got his trumpet so we could do some more melodic music too. It was pretty awesome! Honk is definitely inspiring. I'm glad it's back!


the sound of learning

Every once and a while I wonder how our kids would do if they actually had to go to school. Probably fine, to be honest, though it might be challenging for them to concentrate and sit for what would be considered an age-appropriate length of time in that setting. And one of them would definitely suffer from too little alone time. But there is one issue that might be insurmountable: they really can't think without talking out loud. Whether it's Lijah reading to himself or Harvey working his way through cube roots of negative fractions (or something; 8th grade math is way beyond what I trained for) there is a lot of external processing happening in our house. Luckily, we have—just barely—enough space to make it work: Zion likes the couch, Harvey works at the kitchen table, and Elijah has to make do with what we sometimes call the schoolroom. And they're used to each other talking, since it happens so much. And really, I can't complain... it's actually pretty great listening to the sound of so much hard work!

moments from the week

the boys walking on the sidewalk in the rain

to the library

Moments from the past week.

the boys in the woods wearing winter hats and mittens

chilly in the morning

Zion with grass on his head

grass hair

Zion and a friend kayaking in Freeman Lake

on chilly water

Zion apparently burried to the waist in sand, Harvey trying to pull him out


Harvey blowing out the candle on his birthday cake among friends

delayed celebration

Harvey (in a top hat), Elijah, and the dogs walking under a bright blue sky

a fine first outing for Harvey's new hat


celebrating Harvey

Harvey's birthday was a long time ago. But somehow it never seemed the moment to have a party for him all through July, August, and September. Partly the problem was one of responsibility: who is in charge of inviting teenagers to a teenager's birthday party? And of planning the food and activities? In the end Harvey and I worked out a collaboration (I would do the food and he would do the activities; he'd invite his friends, I would confirm with the parents). And then after one further week of delay—one of his friends was away—we finally had the party on Saturday. It was a delightful affair.

a yellow-frosted cake with flowers on top of it

with elegant food and drink

It was a costume party, but a relaxed one where the guests were in no way obligated to keep their costumes on or act in character. Or even have a real costume; one of Harvey's friend just wore a t-shirt reading "404: costume not found". Harvey ordered an awesome feathered mask and wore his cloak from Halloween a few years ago; he said his costume was "someone at a costume party". Elijah was a white ninja with a face-paint scar. Zion's ninja costume was in the wash so he went as himself. It was all fine.

The kids all played outside for a while, first running around and hitting each other with things (enough of them were warriors of some kind as to make it inevitable) and then they sat down around the picnic table and played Mafia. Harvey had planned a water-balloon activity, with candy prizes, but his friend who was going to bring the balloons thought the party was Sunday so he wasn't there (so much for all the delay to make sure everyone could come!). So they just ate the candy. Then there was the taco lunch, with beef, two kinds of beans, and soy crumbles, plus homemade flour tortillas. And lots of chips.

the food being served up

taco party

After lunch they all went and played Smash Bros for a while—not my favorite but definitely something 11-15 year olds can get together on (Elijah and his friend played outside some more). Then there was cake—a yellow cake with lemon buttercream frosting was what Harvey asked for, and he liked the fall-hued zinnias I decorated it with—plus ice cream and also apple pie. The kids had eaten a whole bag of peanut-butter cups at that point, along with a fair number of twix bars and smarties, so I have to say they didn't do the real dessert justice... but on the plus side nobody threw up and we've been enjoying the leftovers since.

It was a good party, to be sure. But maybe not enough to make it up for Harvey for being so late. We should have another one!


the rain

Most of this summer was dry, very dry. Ponds were empty, lawns were yellow (except for half the houses in town where they were watering heavily) and even trees were suffering. We didn't water our lawn, but I definitely spent some time in the garden with the hose; even so, it was a tough year for things like cucumbers and beans. Then towards fall the rain came, and it was amazing to see how things greened right up. Now lately it feels like it's been raining half the time. I love seeing the brooks flowing full, and it's so fun to see the kids playing and working outside in the rain like real farmers. Sure, there's some more painting I want to do that's been held up, and rain this time of year only makes the decay that's already part of the October garden even more disgusting. Plus when it's pouring rain at night it makes me worry about what all I might have left out, or left open! It was pouring rain last night. Still, on balance I'm in favor. Bring on the rain! And then the snow?

mildly festive

Yesterday it was the Harvest Festival at the farmers market in Lexington. Kind of a silly idea; obviously, the farmers are harvesting all the time or there wouldn't be a market! But it's still fun to mark some sort of inflection point towards the end of the season, and they do a fine job making it feel just a little bit special.

I think it really helps that we've been enjoying the festivities for so many years. Racing vegetables strapped to little wooden carts might not naturally appeal to big kids like we have now (or maybe it would?) but knowing they've been racing those same carts for the last eight or so years is kind of meaningful! The butternut squash was unbeatable this year, if you're wondering. There was also the traditional pumpkin tic-tac-toe, a ring toss, stickers, face painting, and cornhole (a serious draw to big kids, especially when they manage to beat their dad!).

the boys playing cornhole at the farmers market

it was Harvey and Zion vs Elijah and me

a dry park day

Nobody went in the water at Park Day yesterday, not even in the boats. It's not so much that it's cold (or not just that it's cold), there's just so much pond weed and muck that it's a little gross. I'm not going to say for sure that we're done with lake water for the rest of the year, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. That's fine, it's had a good run: the kids jumped in for the first time this year in March and we had the boats out by mid-April. Which means just five short months til we're swimming again! And in the meantime we're having lots of fun on wheels and with balls, and eagerly waiting for the ice to form. Who needs a playground?!

new visit to an old fave

The Discovery Museum in Acton opened in 1982, when I was five. I don't know when I went for the first time, but I definitely have early memories of that Lego area in the museum's original building. So do the boys: we made lots more memories there together over the years. Not so much lately, though, so I was excited to hear (halfway through the month) that, for the museum's 40th anniversary, admission in October is discounted to the 1982 rate of $2.50 a head. I guess we can swing that! So yesterday we made the trip (and combined it with a stop at the feed store, just like we did back in 2014).

Elijah sitting on the railing outside the museum

primed for discovery

Of course, the museum property is changed entirely from what we were used to back when the kids were little, to say nothing of what it was in 1982. The original building closed a couple years ago, and while the new one is pretty awesome, it doesn't capture the DIY 1970s (1982 was totally the 70s) amazement of the original. And since then the property has added a big new parking lot with enough solar panels to power the entire operation—super cool!—which required taking down most of the trees that used to make up the Fairyland woods area. The boys felt the sting of the changes even more strongly when they got spoken to for not wearing shoes in the outdoor play area and for being too far away from a parent (I suppose it is mainly a museum for little ones).

Still! Most of the time was fantastic. Despite being big enough to survive without supervision, the boys were entranced by all the exhibits. They loved that they remembered so much about them from a couple years ago, and also they were able to appreciate it all at a little more sophisticated level. We enjoyed playing with prisms, magnets, sand tables, and musical instruments, and we all had to admit that the water room and air tubes in the new museum are easily better than the original. And of course all three boys made pictures on the pendulum table. If we could still get in for a dollar with the SNAP card we'd definitely be going a couple times a year, and if you have younger kids it might even be worth the price of 2022 admission when it comes back next month. It's a great place!


moments from the week

the boys on the dinosaur statue at the Discovery Museum


Moments from the past week.

Zion and Elijah in the wet garden

pulling carrots

Harvey and Zion wading in a shallow stream

there's water to wade in again

Elijah holding a triangle piece of thin ice

ice, baby!

Elijah walking in the woods in winter clothes

the winter part of fall

Zion and Elijah in animal winter hats playing MarioKart

creature karting


goodbye to Leia... or is that Luke?

Back in the spring when we got our latest batch of chicks on what has come to be known as Star Wars Day (locally celebrated as Zion's birthday) all three boys thought it made sense to name their personal birds after something from Star Wars. For his chick—an Easter Egger—Harvey picked "Leia", which I thought was just the best name ever for a hen; he didn't see the pun at first, but eventually came to appreciate it. And was he proud when his chick grew faster and bigger than the other three! For the fair, where we weren't allowed to show birds because of avian influenza, he made a beautiful poster of Leia filled with information all about Easter Eggers and their beautifully colored eggs. And then, not a month later, I started to notice how big and full Leia's tail was becoming. Uh-oh... When, a week or two ago, she he let loose his first tentative crow what I had heavily suspected was revealed to be true.

an Easter Egger rooster on a roost in our chicken run

what a beautiful rooster!

Yes, Leia (or should that be Luke?!) is actually not a hen. As I said to the rest of the family when I knew for sure, "Leia will never lay a single egg." We had ordered sexed chicks, but sexing chickens is not an exact science, I suppose. It's too bad—but not because we don't like roosters! They're lovely, and as I've said before I think that the crowing actually adds a lot to the general ambience of the neighborhood. Most of the time, at least; Leia has been kicking off the morning's crowing at around 5:00, which isn't terrible, but we're into the winter half of the year now... that translates to 3:30 at midsummer, if not earlier!

Well, whether or not we could get used to it—I think we could!—doesn't matter, because the neighbors can't be asked to. Roosters aren't allowed in our part of the world. At least not yet; I can see that changing in 15 or 20 years if interest in backyard farming keeps developing at the pace it has been lately. So we had to find Leia a new home. And being part of the 4H poultry club really helped! One of the member families had lost their own rooster a few months ago, and were thrilled to take Leia off our hands. So with a mix of sadness and relief we packed him up Saturday morning (in a carrier borrowed from another 4H friend!) to bring him to his new home in Newton.

Leia in a home-made chicken carrier, Springdot the Speckled Sussex looking on

"why am I in this box?!"

They're not actually allowed to have roosters in Newton either, but this family has done better outreach work with their neighbors, and they're also prepared to use a crow collar on him. Aside from the collar I think he's going to have a great life down there: they're actively wanting to increase their flock naturally, so if all goes well he'll get to see lots of his chicks grow up amongst the bamboo and cherry trees in his new yard. With the stress of potentially angry neighbors hanging over me I would have paid someone to take him; instead we got to give him to grateful friends, and we got a big bag of black walnuts in return! Plus we can even go visit him some day. I wonder if he'll remember us?


cider economics

For Backyard Farm Club yesterday folks came over to our house to press cider. We got through all the drop apples we've been saving—the ones that hadn't turned entirely into gross decay, that is—and bottled nearly three-quarters of a gallon of delicious appley goodness (then drank half of that, in very small servings, with our snack). With the pressings we did before that brings our total to around 1 1/2 gallons, worth $16.50 at Chip-In Farm prices! Or $12.00 if you go to Whole Foods (I don't even count the cheaper grocery store cider; if it isn't locally pressed it's kind of something different). Even if we take that Whole Foods price, that means we just need to produce 48 1/2 more gallons to break even on our equipment costs! Um, does anyone have any fruit they want pressed?

cider flowing out of the press into a jar

let the cider flow!

no business like

Lately Harvey's been feeling that he'd like to have a chance to try out musical theater. We listen to lots of musicals and sing them too, so it makes sense! Not being in school, though, he doesn't have as much access to the stage as many kids, and I figured he'd have to wait until the summer. But then via the Homeschooling Together email list I learned about the North Cambridge Family Opera Company, holding open auditions for a show about pirates. Everyone who tried out would get in! Sure, opera isn't precisely what Harvey was going for, but it's modern opera, so he didn't take much persuading to give auditioning a try. Plus the auditions were being held Sunday afternoon, just a few minutes walk from church. It's like it was made for him!

It was slightly stressful transitioning from a busy morning at church to getting ready to walk into someone's house and sing for them, but aside from the boys trying to walk briskly holding full cups of hot chocolate ("don't spill on your shirt", I told Harvey; "I did!" he answered) we managed it. And Harvey did great with all aspects of the audition: answering questions about himself, smiling for a photo, and doing his best singing on command. He hadn't had time to prepare anything, but that was fine; they just tested him on pitch-matching, then explored his range by having him sing the first half of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in many many keys (he wondered afterwards why it was that his voice was so shaky; I told him that's what happens in auditions).

As he finished, the show's music director asked what experience Harvey had with singing. When I told him we just do a lot of music at home, he wondered if I sang too. I had to admit that I did, so he suggested that I should audition myself. I tried to demur, saying that this was Harvey's thing, and plus I had the littler boys to think of, but he wasn't having it. "It's a family opera," he told me. "And they can join too!"

So we all three auditioned. Each of us had to do less than the last: I sang plenty, but much faster than Harvey. Elijah volunteered to go before Zion and did fine; just a couple minutes was enough to show off all his strengths and limitations. Zion stood behind a chair and did his best not to take part at all, but he loves singing so much he couldn't resist singing along when it was supposed to be Elijah's turn, and then he was persuaded to give just enough to give a sense of his considerable range. Then of course we all had to get photographed and measured (Harvey told us how it was done).

Zion and Elijah still aren't convinced that they want to be in an opera. In fact, right now they might be convinced that they don't. But we were all so proud and happy Sunday afternoon as we left the auditions, that I hope they change their mind. They're both fantastic singers, and getting to be part of a big production seems like a great opportunity. I told them we'd all go to the organizational meeting and see what it's like; that'll be towards the end of November. Stay tuned!


I feel this way every fall

We're having trouble getting up in the morning these days. It's dark. Daylight Savings time doesn't end until a week from Sunday, and I can't wait; I'm so glad the permanent DST revolution didn't pass. I would like to say more about the whole subject, but I find that I've already said it all. I just have to repeat myself because it's still terrible!

moments from the week

Zion jumping into a pile of leaves

the annual ritual

Moments from the past week.

Zion with a raccoon hat over his face and Harvey's top hat on it

raccoon man

Elijah dipping his head in the pond, Zion flinging water off his hair

the pond is still fun

the boys coming out the Wilson Farm hay maze

escaping the hay maze

the boys splashing water in the wishing pool at the Lexington Minuteman statue

Elijah says, "it's not an adventure if you don't get wet"

Zion and Elijah holding carrots on our back deck

the last of the carrots

heavy frost on a fading zinnia

goodbye flowers


playing in the woods

Back at the beginning of October we ventured into the wilderness to climb Mt Monadnock. The hiking was fun and rewarding and we had a great day on the mountain. But even without the lure of alpine adventure Monadnock State Park is a worthwhile destination, because the next we also had an amazing time just exploring around the campground!

the boys exploring a stream in a broad gorge

campground wilderness

Gilson Pond campground is a pretty cool place even if you don't leave your site: the hilly terrain means that each site is unique, above or below the road and often with wooden platforms hanging off the slope to make enough room to pitch a tent. And they're well-spaced out too, so there's lots of woody slopes to play in between sites. Which we did! (the boys also enjoyed using the spare platforms as stages and battle arenas).

And just beyond the boundaries of the tenting sites there's a pond, a stream through a gorge, and cliffs to climb that are small enough to be doable for younger ones but still big enough to be interesting. And wide open white pine woods: we started off following a trail, but then bushwhacked a ways in search of a shortcut back to our site, and it was even fun just walking through the pines (and along the giant trunks of a couple that had fallen!). It's just the sort of landscape that would be perfect for an outdoor adventure camp with a group of kids; as much fun as we had with just the four of us, we immediately started planning a return trip next year, with friends!

the boys atop and angled rock slab

we could play here all day