<< August 2020 :: September 2020

vacation time

We spent the most of the past week on vacation in Truro on Cape Cod. It was fun and exhausting in equal measure, which I think means it was a good vacation. We missed our Maine camping vacation this year, for the first time in like fifteen years—Maine didn't want us. That was sad, but Truro was a reasonable consolation. The only problem with it was it meant leaving the tomato plants. I don't know what it is, but our time away from home always seems to coincide with peak tomato season: we were away later, but the tomatoes were later too. I left five or six almost-ripe Pruden's Purple tomatoes on the vine, which made me pretty nervous; happily, nothing happened to them while we were away and a tomato sandwich on new bread was just the thing to make coming back home feel worthwhile. Yay for vacation... now bring on September!

moments from the week

the boys looking at the ocean on a foggy beach

perfect beach weather

Moments from the past week.

lots of roma tomatoes on the kitchen table

the roma tomatoes are producing well

the boys walking across a boardwalk in a jungly patch of woods

a walk in the jungle

Harvey and Zion in front of a big breaking wave

ocean waves

the boys, red-faced with sun, eating ice cream

ice cream to cool down

three dogs by the water at sunset

vacation sunset

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Labor Day boating

After our vacation we took a day and a half off from adventuring, but today being Labor Day we just had to get out for some summer fun! Harvey and I took a dawn bike ride, but that doesn't count—we do that on regular days too. No, the true Labor Day excitement was found in a canoe trip on the Concord River.

our boat approaching the Old North Bridge

what could be finer?

We could tell it was an appropriate way to observe the day because hundreds of other people had the same idea; it was easily the busiest day I've ever seen on the river. Cars were parked up and down the road by the ramp where we put in, and there were streams of boats coming from the rental place a little further on too. We had debated between putting in there versus the boat launch in Bedford, and I'm really glad we chose the upstream spot: the river in Concord is too shallow for powerboats, and I sure they were swarming downstream in Bedford and Billerica. Even a crowd of canoes and kayaks leaves plenty of space for other river users!

our boat pulled up on shore, three kayaks in the water beyond it

practically a traffic jam!

We were only out for about an hour and a half. We headed downstream first and stopped by at the Old North Bridge, which was crowded with a mix of boaters, cyclists, and people who just had to drive there (poor things). We walked around a bit but were disappointed to find the boathouse dock had been taken up—probably because the water was so low it would have been completely aground. So we reembarked and continued downstream, noting wildlife as we went. We tried to find exemplars of each type of animal, and were successful for most: insects (dragonflies were our favorite), amphibians (a frog), reptiles (many turtles), fish (um... fish), and birds (a great blue heron who was much less shy than we're used to). Unfortunately we didn't spot any muskrats, so our mammals category had to be filled by a gray squirrel.

a great blue heron quite close up

posing for its glamor shot

Then we went back upstream with the intention of visiting our secret harbor at the confluence on the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers. Of course, with the water level so low the cleft in a rock that we had poked the boat into many times before was about three feet above the surface of the water, so that didn't work. Of course, that also meant that anyone who wanted to could just get out and walk, which was kind of fun.

Zion and Elijah wading in the middle of the Concord River

can't do THAT in the spring!

We had thought of going up the Assabet a little ways too, but given that it didn't look to be deeper than 18 inches at any point we gave up that idea. Plus, Lijah was hungry. So we came home. We may not have had a cookout (that's on the schedule for tomorrow) but I think it's safe to say that Labor Day has been properly celebrated.

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what I did on my summer vacation

We spent four days on the Cape last week and, while we didn't do everything we hoped to, we certainly hit the high points! The main things we were looking forward to in a vacation was going to the beach and spending lots of time sitting around reading and playing games, and the weather cooperated perfectly, with two rainy afternoons for curling up and warm enough weather that we could swim any time we wanted to. Including once in the rain!

We left home right on time on Tuesday before lunch, and had a quick and easy drive all the way to Truro. On the way we listened to Diana Wynne Jones' The Year of the Griffin, our current vacation audiobook; it was little hard to remember what was happening since last time we heard the story, on the way home from camping more than a year ago, but we put it together somehow. When we arrived it wasn't long before everyone was in the water!

the boys in the water with Grandpa, Leah walking to join them

this is what we've been waiting for!

Well, almost everyone: it took the dogs a little while to get used to the idea of waves, even the little waves on the bay side beach that we could walk to from where we were staying at Leah's parents' house. They had it figured out by the end of the day when we took an evening walk on the beach, as pictured at the end of this post. It was hard for everyone to go to sleep in a new place, but eventually we managed it; one of the boys even fell asleep in the bed assigned to him!

The next day dawned cooler and overcast, and with rain forecast for the afternoon we scheduled some essential outdoor activities for the morning hours. The boys went to play tennis with Leah and Grandpa—he's an skilled player, and provided both slightly-larger kid model tennis balls and mostly patient expert instruction. I took a bike ride.

my road bike by the shore of a little pond

seeing the sights

In the afternoon the rain seemed to be holding off, so everybody except me went out for a walk on the beach. Of course, it started raining mere moments after they left, but that didn't faze them. In fact, Harvey and Zion took the opportunity for a rainy day dip in the ocean, never mind that they were wearing their clothes. One advantage of this sort of vacation over camping is that laundry facilities are easily accessible! When they got back (and put their clothes in the dryer) we settled down to some card-playing and reading.

The next day was warmer but just as overcast, with the addition of fog and possible thunderstorms. Leah and I are limited in our ability to sit still in a place where we don't have chores to do, so soon after breakfast we packed the boys up for a hike. We went to Great Island in Welfleet, which, as the most promising hike within range of Truro, we've attempted before. The last two times we defeated—or at least kept from doing any "hiking"—by hot sun, gnats, and sandy trails that are just about like walking on a beach, so we figured a day where the fog was coming in ever-thicker would be perfect for another try.

Leah and the boys hiking among the marsh grass at Great Island

the island looming through the fog

We did get farther than we ever have, but once again detoured to the beach before we reached Great Island proper. It's just as well; not only do I learn that dogs aren't allowed on the island, the beach was empty and beautiful. The humans collected lots of rocks and shells, the dogs collected gross dead birds, and the boys and dogs enjoyed the water (one of those groups wished they had brought their swimsuits).

the boys and dogs wading in the ocean in the fog

the ocean is irresistible

After we had enough (and conveniently just as other people started to fill in) we headed just down the road to Welfleet Harbor. Leah and the dogs took a rest in the car while the boys and I played on the playground, walked on the town beach, and ordered some take-out fried food for lunch, which we brought back to the house. We were disappointed of our thunderstorms, but it did start raining right on time just after noon, so we settled in for another round of games. "Code Names" was very engaging for everyone but Elijah.

Leah and her mom thinking hard about Code Names

intense competition

We originally planned to stay through Saturday morning, but we missed our house and decided to leave Friday evening. Before we took off, though, the boys and I needed to do the most important adventure of the vacation: the bike ride to the ocean beach with the big waves! They did not disappoint.

Lijah looking at a crashing wave

crash!

After the beach we stopped for ice cream on the way back to the house. Now that's vacation! Grandpa very kindly prepared us a take-out order of hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, so as we made our weary way home even our dinner on the road was still vacationy. It was all lovely. We'll be ready to do it again in a year or so.

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summer supper

Determined not to see the end of summer quite yet, we enjoyed the most summery of meals yesterday evening. Hamburgers (hot dogs for the little one who doesn't eat real food), corn, watermelon, and lots of tomatoes. The corn was not perfect—the first disappointing corn we've had from the farmers market—but the burgers, also locally sourced, more than made up for it. And of course the tomatoes only had to travel ten feet or so to get to our table on the deck. They were perfect! The grocery store watermelon was a watermelon.

Harvey chomping a big burger

chomp

For dessert we had smores, as I like to do when we have a fire going. The meat cooks so quickly and the fire is so lovely, it seems a shame not to do something with it! Especially when I haven't made anything else. This batch of smores was notable for Elijah's first unqualified success at making his own—and his second, too, because once he figured it out he went right in to making another one! His problem in the past has been with holding the marshmallow steady over the fire, where it needs to be; between heat, smoke, and boredom or distractedness he usually gives up before his marshmallow is much more than gently warmed. He doesn't actually mind raw marshmallows (ew) but they do tend to break the graham cracker when you try and squash them. There's been some shouting over that in the past, but no more! He's figured it out. It must be because he's a first grader now.

Elijah biting into his first perfect smore

bad picture, PERFECT smore

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perilous dessert

I like cooking, but I tend to make the same things over and over again. I guess mostly I don't like reading recipes. It's not really a problem—I make at least ten different dinners, so it's not like we have the same thing every night. And the desserts I do regularly are entirely satisfactory. Still, sometimes I envy the folks who crack a new cookbooks every couple of weeks and turn out exotic treats like chocolate cheesecake or lemon bars (to name two that I've thought of trying for five or six years now...). Yesterday, I was trying to think of something delightful I could create with the ingredients I had on hand, to make it up to the kids for working all morning and being grumpy, and I settled on dream bars—a thing that I've enjoyed tremendously at parties but never made myself. It turns out they're not hard at all, even if the recipe I used (mostly; I added chocolate) wasn't entirely what I was looking for. They're still quite good, though, which leads to a problem: I don't have any trouble controlling my consumption of the desserts I make all the time, but when there's something brand new in the house... watch out! I ate a few more dream bars than I should have in the name of "tasting". Yesterday that was maybe excusable; today not so much. And yet here we are. I guess I'll have to make them again so I get used to having them around!

moments from the week

Zion and Elijah standing in the middle of the Concord River

mid-river

Moments from the past week.

Harvey riding doubltrack with golden morning sun coming throught the trees

golden morning ride

in the canoe on the river

on the river, more conventionally

Zion and Elijah atop a big rock

up top

Zion riding his bike through a big puddle in the rain

what we do on rainy days

Scout sitting between Harvey and Zion in the van, with a seatbelt buckled around him

they buckled him in

the boys and a friend atop one of the Two Brothers Rocks

climb all the rocks

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our school at home

The Monday after Labor Day seems like as fine a day as any to kick off our fall season of school at home, so that's what we did today. Not that you'd notice, necessarily, if you didn't know us and just happened to pop in. We started things off after breakfast with a chat about what learning means, and what school means, and how there's lots of learning outside of a teacher-student relationship, and how it's also sometimes good to do some formal study and practice. You know, to lay the groundwork. Then we went outside to see if we could spot any signs of monarch butterflies on our milkweed plants. We found plenty of chewed-on leaves and one egg, but no caterpillars. We also observed various other flowers around the yard and thought about how much butterflies might like different types (we noticed that, this morning at least, many many bumblebees were enjoying the goldenrod). We made a yellow and purple bouquet to bring inside.

Then I had a Zoom meeting for work to attend, and the boys did a little writing and drawing. Bedford schools aren't in session yet so before long a friend stopped by, and they went out to play for a while. After lunch we did a little cleaning, then we headed of for our first homeschool co-op outing of the fall: a hike at the October Farm Riverfront (I wanted to do something with people today, since yesterday marked six months since Covid shut down our co-op in the spring). Not everybody is ready to do that sort of thing yet, though, and even those who are aren't really organized yet. So only one other family joined us. Never mind, we had a great time playing in the river and the mud and on the hills, and noticing grasshoppers, stick insects, poison ivy, frogs, and oak galls (and collecting, temporarily, examples of all of those except poison ivy). We also brought home rocks, sticks, mussel shells, and broken glass; we saw racoon tracks, but couldn't think how to collect them short of photographing them. Oh, and we also saw herons and egrets. No attempt was made at capturing either.

Nowhere in there did we do any math, despite it being the top-listed attraction of school at home for two of the three boys (Harvey said he was most interested in music learning). So there's still plenty to look forward to for tomorrow!

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scheduling conflict

Zion holding his grade 4 sign

Zion, grade 4

School in Bedford started yesterday, sort of, so we took our traditional start-of-school photos. There was no chance to go to the bus stop, of course, since it was a virtual school day for all the kids. Today Cohort A actually went to school for the first time; tomorrow it's Cohort B's turn. I was hoping that the public school kickoff would give us a little more uninterrupted time—the summer is full of fun times with neighborhood friends, even in the Covid era—but no, at least not yet. The schools are easing into this hybrid model, with half days every day this week. I suppose that makes sense: it's been a long time since either kids or teachers have been in the school building, and they might not remember how things are supposed to go. But it means that the boys have been out playing almost as much as they were last week, at all hours of the morning and afternoon.

Of course, I can't put all the blame for our slipshod schedule on outside forces. We're not the best at making plans and sticking to them. Unless, of course, you're talking about plans for outings: those continue to occur regularly. It's so much more fun to go where interest takes us! Before breakfast Elijah was wondering about a pennyfarthing bicycle in the picture book we were reading, so our morning lesson was all about bike history and mechanical advantage. There's now some desire among the children to build a period-accurate dandy horse—or at least to take the cranks off an old bike so they can run it around. That all took an hour or so, then we did some math, and then Bedford school was over for the day and so was ours. That's fine.. it's going to be a long year!

Elijah holding his grade 1 sign

Elijah, grade 1

Harvey holding his grade 6 sign

Harvey, grade 6

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visiting all the woods

This week we visited two new-to-us forest areas (so far!). On Wednesday we went to Wilderness Park Conservation Area for a quick walk; it's right here in Bedford, adjacent to Fawn Lake, but somehow we've never been there before. It's a nice little woods, with lots of interesting glacial rocks and a good-sized stream, Fawn Brook (well, it would be good-sized in a regular year; this month it's dry like everything else). We walked a loop counterclockwise, which was a good call because the first third of the walk was closed in with marshy brush and not particularly interesting—until we came on a wasp nest right in the path and Harvey and the dogs got stung. We detoured around it and in a little while reached some more fun, varied trails over on the other side.

Elijah looking down from a little bridge among rocks

we wish there was water!

Then yesterday we traveled to Lincoln with the intention of exploring the Adams Woods Conservation Land. At the suggestion of the Lincoln Conservation website we parked at the Mount Misery parking lot on Route 117, which meant of course that we had to climb it before we left that bit of land! It was appropriately steep, at least the way we chose to ascend, and there was a delightful shelter of sticks on the summit.

Elijah visible inside a teepee made of sticks

there are three boys and two dogs in there!

Besides the Mount, the woods there also had their own delightful streams (dry) and bridges, along with a few ponds and some steep ridges (all apparently part of the glacier-created kettle landscape, which we learned some about this morning). Half of the woods was remarkably open, with nothing but white pines every 20 feet or so but with canopies big enough to touch and leave the pine needly forest floor in shadow. It made us want to build some bike trails in there.

Harvey and Zion on a bigger bridge

plenty of points of interest

Like I said, my hope was to walk through the Mount Misery area to access Adams Woods, but that turns out to have been overly ambitious. It's actually kind of a trek. Even worse, the dogs had to be leashed for lots of the way, and that's no fun for anyone. So we turned back short of the goal. That was ok, because on the way back we went a different way that passed by the biggest kettle hole, and we also had time for a short detour to the Sudbury River. Three of us were too tired to engage much with it, but the dogs are always game for a swim; their example encouraged Zion to take off enough clothes to really get in and enjoy the water.

Zion almost submerged in the Sudbury River

how's the water?

Then on the short walk back to the car we talked about what, besides towels, would be useful to include in an emergency pack that we could bring everywhere with us. It was an exciting enough discussion that we're all ready to tackle another new woods soon... with better supplies!

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how big is the galaxy?

We were reading a Calvin and Hobbes comic and Lijah got interested in the size of the galaxy. I let him know that I could look it up and tell him, but it wouldn't be a meaningful number. He still wanted to know. So I started typing into my phone, and read out the Google suggestions as they came up. "Size of..." gave "size of queen bed", "size of king bed", and "size of twin bed". "Size of the..." predicted us to be wondering about the sun, the moon, or the earth. "Size of the g..." gave us "great lakes", "grand canyon", and, finally, "galaxy." Reading the wikipedia page we learned that the Milky Way galaxy is between 170,000 and 200,000 light years across; a light year is 5.88 trillion miles; so in units we can comprehend, the diameter of the galaxy is somewhere in the neighborhood of one quintillion miles.

"So," said Lijah, who never misses a trick, "it's bigger than a twin bed?"

moments from the week

Zion balancing on a log above a marsh in the late afternoon sun

marsh voyaging

Moments from the past week.

Zion and Lijah high in a tree on the riverbank

climbing by the river

backyard gathering with friends at dusk

in-person gathering

Lijah grimacing at the smoke while toasting a marshmallow

a hot fire, but too much smoke

Lijah jumping on top of a big pile of weeds

compacting the compost

Lijah and Blue checking out a chimney in the woods

giant hearth

boys and dogs resting at the edge of Fairhaven Bay

Fairhaven Bay rest stop

Blue in the driver's seat of the van, Scout in the passenger seat with Leah

can dogs drive?

the dogs looking at the Sudbury River

a week of rivers

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we need more bicycles

With Harvey and I doing lots of off-road cycling, and a few of our friends into it too, Zion started to think he'd like to join us. Only he needed to upgrade his bicycle: the bike he's been riding is heavy and its 20-inch wheels aren't really enough for rocks and roots on the trail—and worse, while it's ostensibly a 7-speed it's impossible for Zion to shift. So we started looking for a new bike for him. Actually a new one, unlike every other bike he's ever owned; not having paid money for a bike since 2005, we thought the budget could stretch as far as a good mountain bike for our beloved middle child. Only then it turned out that 24-inch bikes are another unobtainable pandemic shortage item. After many hours of searching, though, we found a bike available at REI, placed the order, and rejoiced that soon three Archibalds would be hitting the trails together! Then the next day Harvey broke his derailleur hanger.

Ordinarily that wouldn't put his bike out of commission for long; after all, derailleur hangers are meant to break and be replaceable. In order to make it happen quickly we brought it in to the bike shop to ask them to do the repairs (he also needed new shift cable housings). Sadly, the bike shop was not at all helpful. Since the bike is so old (2005, actually; see above) they suggested that the part needed would not be able to be located; and they further suggested that a bike of this vintage would be better scrapped and replaced entirely. That may work for the rich folks who come in to look at the four-figure road bikes they stock, but not so much for us. We're savers, and repairers! We don't need new bikes! Except for the one we had ordered for Zion. But then, after some discussion, we decided that since Harvey is the one who's already been putting in hours riding he deserved a new bike of his own. Extra-small adult bikes are much less scarce than kids' bikes (at least to someone with Leah's exceptional online shopping skills) so we no sooner made the decision than the order was placed.

It was exciting. We kept looking at the pictures of the bikes. And waiting. All this happened twelve to eight days ago, and we still have no new bicycles. It turns out "in stock" means that the pieces of the machine exist in a warehouse somewhere in the United States, but we find it takes some time for said pieces to be shipped to a store and put together into something a person could ride. The anticipation is hard, and even harder is not riding all this time; this must be the first time Harvey's gone a week without getting on a bike since he first learned to ride, about half his lifetime ago. And the weather's been so perfect! The worst part is, neither company gave us anything like a firm date that we could expect the bike to be available, so there's a new disappointment every day. But it can't be long now!

During the waiting period—and technically we're also still waiting for the bike shop to call with a quote for fixing Harvey's older bike, which they said they would do if they could locate the part—I did some research online into bike maintenance and repairs that we could do at home. And it didn't take long for me to locate the amazing resource that is derailleurhanger.com, and once there to locate the part we need. So now the plan is to fix the old bike ourselves. Then we'll have a backup, which is comforting: I don't ever want Harvey to be bikeless like this again!

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bedtime hilarity

We had a full day today—besides all the regular stuff we went to pick up Zion's bike, the boys came with me to Market Basket for the first time in over six months, Harvey started a Zoom class about Ancient History, and we had people over this evening to share in the joy of our equinox fire (which required a fair bit of cleaning and preparation; we haven't had any adults over it a long time!). So it's maybe understandable that when I shared my ability to speak in ubbi dubbi at bedtime the boys thought it was pretty funny. It's nice to know that I can still surprise them. Also it's nice that Harvey was able to calm down enough to breathe so he was able to go to sleep, too!

new bike excitement

We picked up Zion's new bike yesterday, and I told him I'd we waking him up early today to take him for his first ride on it. He wasn't sure about that, but when the time came he got up promptly enough and we got going in time to hit the trails by 6:30. He got into it right away; how could you not?!

Zion biking up a hill at sunrise

the dawn of a new era

In our excitement to get going we forgot both masks and helmets, so we took things a little easier that we might have otherwise. But that was fine, since Zion's new ride is like twice as big as the one he was on before, so that took some getting used to. Also the brake levers are on the very edge of too far away for his little hands. There were no disasters, though, and the only time he fell he very cleverly landed on his belly and chin, so no brain damage. We stayed out for about an hour, then came back to a breakfast of pancakes: as Harvey described it, "if I can't ride with you than at least I want to cook!" I think I'm doing something right as a parent...

Harvey was rewarded for his generous nature by the arrival of his own new bike this evening. He and I drove to Newton to pick it up at dinner time, and then he and Zion were both so excited they rode for about an hour in the gathering dusk, including a 20-minute loop around our local woods (I think lights will need to be our next purchase...). Not to be left out, Elijah got his own bike out and rode with me as I walked the dogs through the woods after supper. He's been hesitant to ride off-road in the past with his little wheels, but with the motivation of trying to keep up with big brothers he did great! Both of them getting new bikes within the space of two days has been a little tough for him: while we were picking up Zion's yesterday and looking around at the other things at the store he was heard to remark, "I want something new!"

Now tomorrow we have a date to meet friends at Russell Mill Pond to really take the new bikes through their paces—pump track and trails both (Lijah will have to be left behind, sadly; but his time will come!). Expect to hear more on the subject of mountain bicycling in coming weeks.

Zion halfway up a big rock, his bike leaning below him

loving the lifestyle

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<< August 2020 :: September 2020