<< August 2022 :: September 2022

pressing matters

Last winter Leah and her parents gave me a cider press for Hanukkah. Super exciting, but naturally I had to wait quite a while to use it. A little over a week ago we brought it along to a Backyard Farm Club grape harvest and pressing date, where it performed nobly; perfect for a warm-up. Then yesterday we put it to its true purpose for the first time.

Zion cutting up apples at the kitchen table, Elijah turning the press behind him

cider time

Despite the drought our apple trees are doing quite well this year... or at least, they're producing lots of apples. Most of them are pretty small, and lots of them were knocked off by last Friday's storm (not to mention all the other things that are constantly knocking down apples). Plenty of the drops are fine to eat, but we have so many—including plenty with cuts and bruises that started attracting fruit flies as soon as we brought them inside—that we pretty much had to do something drastic with them. Like make cider!

One slight problem is that we don't have an apple grinder. My generous gift-givers didn't realize that cider making is actually a two-stage process: first you need to crush the apples before you can press them, or else no juice will actually come out. Instead, we used the food processor (after first coring and slicing the apples and cutting out the bruises and worms). We did five and a half Cuisinart bowls full, which we estimate was maybe 40 apples (but we're not really sure). Some hard work on the crank of the press netted us just over a quart of cider.

I don't know if that's any good; internet research suggests that many apples could produce a gallon, but I don't know how much the small size and dryness of our droughty apples contributed to our reduced total, as opposed to the unsuitability of the food processor for its part of the job. It it worth it to buy a grinder? The cheapest ones are close to $150 on Amazon, with ad copy that suggests they're designed and constructed by people for whom English is not their first language ("Enjoy the nature,how happy they are smiling!"). But then again, speaking English shouldn't in any way be a requirement from making great cider! So maybe we'll try to pick one up before we press again. Though I don't know how soon that'll be: I'm starting to hear requests for apple pies...

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our swimmer's ear

A week or so ago Harvey complained of a pain in his ear. The way he described it didn't sound like an ear infection, and the pain wasn't bad enough that we wanted to rush off to the doctor; we decided to wait and see. And it got better for a while. Until Wednesday morning when it got worse, and Wednesday night when it got terrible. The pain kept Harvey up most of the night, and he kept us up. Everybody suffered. Yesterday morning Leah took him to the walk-in time at our pediatrician's office, and we got an answer to what was bothering him: swimmer's ear. Makes sense! He spends all the hours he can in the water, and lots of those hours are in Freeman Lake, which has been known to host some bacteria. The doctor prescribed him ear drops with an antibiotic and a steroid, and he's learned to swallow pills so he can dose himself with Tylenol and Aleve in alternation. The medicines are working: he let us get some sleep last night, and most of today he was back to normal. Good thing: Leah is taking the boys to a water park tomorrow!

moments from the week

Zion and Elijah swimming in the wide expanse of Freeman Lake

no more ropes

Moments from the past week of rest.

Harvey getting an award at the outdoor stage at the 4H fairground

fair success

Zion picking up apples from under the tree in the front garden

apple picking (up)

apples in a bowl on the outside table, next to a plate of french toast

apples for breakfast

Zion cuddling Scout on the couch

quiet time

the boys at a skiball machine in a brightly colored arcade

weekend bright lights

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the garden in early September

the garden on September 4

some growth, some death

We still have a garden. Blight is starting to damage the tomato plants, and nearly all of the sweet peppers have rotted. Inconsistent watering? No idea. We'll try again next year! On the other hand, I picked off all the gross woody beans and tossed them, and with even more watering we're starting to get some good ones again. And there was even one more cucumber! And even with the blight, we still have way more tomatoes than we can eat, and the hot peppers mostly aren't rotting. The new kale is good, too: the seedlings six or eight inches high, and we've had our first baby kale salad. There will be more to come, or else they won't have room to ever get big!

lots of young kale plants

netted against bunnies

red birds-eye peppers growing

just the right height for toddlers to pick and eat!

(By the way, I also belatedly put up the updates from early August and mid August. I had taken notes so they aren't completely made up...)

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first day of... school?

I was talking to a friend today and she mentioned how unfair it seems that the school year starts so soon after the County Fair. Sure, there was a full week in between but the fair was pretty intense, and we're definitely still recovering. But recovering or not today was the day the calendar said, so we got down to work. It actually went pretty well in our house: the boys even made first day of school signs, though I didn't get a chance to take their pictures. Tomorrow maybe? We worked through the morning, and then after lunch we went grocery shopping (with a stop for a 45-minute hike on the way). When we got home we had to get the house cleaned up and make food to be ready to host six adults and five kids—that's besides the five of us—for dinner. And I had to try and stay awake: Leah wasn't feeling well in the morning so I was the one up before 5:00 with the dogs. Then just now I had to continue to stay awake to do the dishes. I'd love to continue to build routine with another great school morning tomorrow, but I have an in-person meeting at work from 10:00 to 3:00. Oh well, there's always next week, right?

what if I just used a typewriter?

I got a new computer. I didn't want to; I'm old, so I don't enjoy new things. But I need to make some videos for work and opening up Premiere Pro last week showed my that my old machine has some... issues. They're actually issues that would have led any normal person to start shopping for a new computer weeks—months!—ago, but I resist change, so it took something not functioning at all to force a decision. I spent a fair bit of my work day today setting up and configuring (all while trying to do work) and I am feeling pretty frustrated with what seems to me to be change for change's sake. Can't I just have a new computer that's exactly like the old one, but working?! I don't want to get used to a whole new mail client with a different layout. But that frustration is tempered by the fact that's it's actually pretty nice to not have to wait an average of three seconds after each mouse click to see something happened. My work will definitely go quicker once I get used to all the changes. And the old computer lasted me almost eight years; if this one is even near as good I'll have plenty of time to adapt.

fun in the sun

This week was our official start of school, but as much as I wanted to get cracking on the academics we can't deny that it's still summer. And not only that, it's the best part of the summer for going to the beach!

Zion jumping off a rock into the ocean

rocks plus water equals joy

So that's what we did this morning. The original plan was to go up to Rockport, but when I heard that the Gloucester beaches were free and open after Labor Day we just had to visit Wingaersheek, where we had so much fun a year ago. And it was just as much fun this time! We arrived a little before high tide, so we spent a delightful half hour trying to reach the most far-away rocks before they were covered up. Then once the tide was full we did some jumping off rocks, as seen above. At lunch time our friends arrived and we ate together on the biggest of the rocks, where we made our camp, before heading back to the water to play.

the boys sitting on a big rock on the beach

the scene at high tide

The best thing about Wingaersheek is how it constantly changes as the tide rises and falls. You can never get bored! With fond memories of sliding down that rock last year we looked to repeat the experience, but for the longest time we couldn't find the right spot. Never mind, there were lots of other fun places to play! Like this ridge of rock where, for about half and hour, the waves sluiced over just right so that if you were sitting on it when one came you would get washed down the other side like a waterslide (or a toilet...).

the kids sitting on a smooth part of rock getting hit by a wave

whoosh!

As the tide fell further the kids started to get interested in making their way out to the sandbar that is the most exciting feature of Wingaersheek at low tide. It was still too soon, though, and when the younger kids started to get over their depth they turned back. Not Harvey and his friend, though: they can swim well enough that they pressed on. Which was maybe a mistake, because the tide was ebbing so fast that they actually got stuck out among the distant rocks for quite a while, unable to swim faster than the tide to make their way back. And here we thought they were just enjoying some teenager time to themselves! Eventually we realized their plight and I swam out and helped them find their way to shore. It was a bit traumatic for them, actually, but also will make a good personal narrative essay someday. So that's something.

the boys walking in the shallow water at Wingaersheek beach

that water doesn't look dangerous, but...

All that playing was pretty tiring, so after only about six hours or so we were ready to head home. Just as well; even though it's September now I got a little too much sun! I guess there's still more summer to enjoy!

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moments from the week

the boys walking through a misty field in long sleeves

September-type outing

Moments from the past week.

spaghetti and eggplan parmesan on the picnic table

just a picture of some food

the boys reading and writing in the living room

school mode

Zion and Elijah walking down a path

each with his own style

a bowl of tomatoes and a bucket of apples on out kitchen floor

harvest season

Zion and Elijah swimming in Freeman Lake under cloudy skies

still swimming at Park Day

Zion with a stick, Elijah, and the dogs atop the airport hill

adventure crew

Elijah jumping from a rock into the ocean as Zion climbs out

Elijah jumps too

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a little hard ride

I still haven't managed to write about the 4H fair, to say nothing of our camping trip back in the end of July. There's just so much to say! And in the meantime we keep on doing more things. Today the boys hung out at my parents' house while I had a meeting at work, and then we went to Backyard Farm Club. But my favorite part of the day was a ride we squeezed in between those two engagements, at Whipple Hill in Lexington.

Harvey and Zion with their bikes atop Whipple Hill

made it to the top!

Whipple Hill is a challenging place to ride. It's a hill, obviously—the biggest one in Lexington—and besides that the trails are extremely rocky, and rooty where the rocks aren't. The challenge is super fun if you're into it, but young people would be excused for maybe not being entirely thrilled by the type two fun. Especially Elijah who, with his 20-inch wheels, had to walk a fair amount of the way (even downhill! the rocks are just that big). To be fair, the rest of us weren't going that much faster in the saddle, but it probably wasn't what he signed up for when he agreed to go for a ride. But he did great—they all did! I was so proud of the effort they put in, and told them as much more than once.

We haven't been doing much riding this summer, which I regret. Too many other things to do, I guess? My thought was we could get back into it now that it's getting cooler. Unfortunately today was not cooler, and in fact was about as humid a day as you could imagine, so we sweated some. But the theory is good, and the boys are strong, so I expect we'll keep it up in the days to come!

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appley ever after

One of the things that's feeling a little stressful in this busy busy time is the couple bushels of apples sitting on our kitchen floor. For whatever reason, despite the drought this was a great year for apples. It wasn't anything I did; wild crab apple trees are coming out with bumper crops too. But we're benefiting, because we have way more apples than we've ever gotten before. Three or four times more! Lots of them are far from perfect, of course—most of them we pick up off the ground—but all the ones we bring inside are good for something. More cider is in our plans, and jelly. There are more than enough solid northern spies to make a few good pies. And even amidst the bruises and insect damage there's a goodly number of beautiful, perfect apples, that feel like an amazing gift: apples that when you bite into them juice drips down your chin. It's the life, I tell you! Now if only I didn't have anything else to do so I could deal with them with the attention that they deserve!

the longest four weeks ever

In September 2021 when I organized a Park Day meetup I told people we'd meet for four weeks, September into October. The idea was that people would be more willing to invest in a gathering that they knew wouldn't be a one-off that everyone would forget about, but they wouldn't have to make a big commitment either, like they would joining a co-op. I guess it worked, because this afternoon we celebrated our one-year anniversary!

kids on the play structure, the pond in the background

another day at the park

I don't know that anybody decided the thing was going to keep on for a year and more, but I guess we just never felt like stopping (except a couple weeks at Christmas and one time when it was rainy and folks were tired). Getting together every week is as important for the parents as it is for the kids: homeschooling can be isolating, and the pandemic was isolating, and some of the parents who come have said that getting to talk and listen at the park is what kept them sane over the past year. I don't know that I'm ever sane, but I sure liked hanging out with old friends, and meeting some new ones.

And eating! Once we got started with bringing food it never really stopped. It's mostly not overwhelming, though there are definitely weeks when some of the kids are challenged to burn more calories than they take on. Just something else to look forward to! I didn't make a cake for the anniversary, like I was kind of thinking of; there wasn't time. Instead I just made banana chocolate chip muffins. Which was fun because I've brought them before a bunch of times, and I wasn't the only one to offer an old favorite. Harvey made chocolate chip cookies, someone else brought popovers like they do every other week or so, and there were gluten-free cookie bars like many times before. All together it felt like a greatest hits: very celebratory.

There was a good crowd too, with some new families coming for just the second time and a few other back from summer vacations and obligations. We'd be all set to go another year—we were talking about how we're looking forward to more skating—but there are rumors the park is being torn down soon. So who knows? I guess we've started one institutional event, so if need be we can do it again!

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the garden in mid September

the garden on September 15

the sun setting on the garden

It's a little dark in that picture, because I forgot to take it until quite late in the afternoon—just like I've been forgetting about the garden generally these days. There's so much else going on! And it's definitely on a downward slide, especially the tomatoes: after the first rain of their lives, practically, they're trying to catch up on the blight-related decay they missed all the rest of their existence. But I can't complain, since we can still get a meal's worth of cherry tomatoes any time we want, and there are some fine slicers among the rot. The second sowing of peas might be too little too late but the new lettuces and kales are doing great, and the old beans are holding on strong. We'll start harvesting winter squashes soon; there's not a lot, but it's more than last year. And of course there are the apples! All in all, I think we did alright this year, and if the rest of life slows down for a second I'm looking forward to getting out there to start getting ready for next year's growing!

cold nights

Putting the boys to bed this evening I warned them that it was going to be cold: maybe the coldest night of the year! In their bedroom, at least. Because they have their windows open and their fan on. But don't worry, they're piled up with all their winter blankets. Good sleeping weather. It's forecast to drop into the mid forties overnight, and it already feels pretty chilly. Not chilly enough for me to wear socks to bed, though! I tried yesterday, on another cool evening, but I could only stand a couple minutes with them on. I don't actually know if it could ever get cold enough that I'd be able to keep them on all night. Maybe winter camping? Or maybe we can try keeping the fans on into the winter!

moments from the week

Zion standing in the tidal water of the Anisquam River looking across at the town

the clear blue waters of Gloucester

Moments from the past week.

Elijah's muddy feet

finally a little rain

Harvey taking a bit of a big cookie

Harvey was experimenting with big cookies

Harvey and me canoeing in Freeman Lake with a passenger

Harvey and me in the boat

the boys walking along the sandbar at Wingaersheek under interesting clouds

September beach sky

Elijah and everybody watching the Bedford Minutemen in the parade

it's Bedford Day!

Elijah watching fireworks

our town knows how to celebrate

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the best day

This past Saturday was the most important day in the civic life of our town, the day which gives the town it's very name... or is it the other way round? In any case, it was Bedford Day, and we were very excited to wake up on Saturday morning and get ready to start the festivities (Elijah was actually counting down the days). Not everyone was as singularly focused, and I did have to do a little work on the porch reconstruction project—yes, it's still ongoing—before we could head up to the parade to meet our friends. No worries, we got there in plenty of time to get a good spot for the parade. And then of course the crowd of kids eager for candy pushed through the barricades to block most of our view, but hey, that's what Bedford Day is all about!

crowds of people in the street for the parade

the excitement is palpable

After the parade we headed over to the fair, where the first thing we did was park our bikes in the free bike parking coral and put on stickers letting the world know that we biked to Bedford Day. The tree we're accustomed to using as our home base during the fair was a little less peaceful than usual thanks to the kiddie train ride (new this year!) that stopped right by it, but we're creatures of habit so we didn't let that put us off. Plus it's convenient to the karate demonstration.

the karate demonstrators bowing to the crowd

well-trained

The boys now have two good friends who wear the red jackets of the Callahan's Karate leadership team, so it was extra fun watching them go at it. Although Zion says the adults' pretend fighting gets less convincing every year. Callahan's is maybe the biggest of Bedford's youth-oriented institutions, so there was a lot of karate energy at the fair. Zion and Elijah each had the opportunity to break a board.

Elijah breaking a board, held by a karate teacher, with his hand

hiyah!

All that activity was balanced out by tons of calories from sugar. Besides all the parade candy we could pick up more from many of the booths. And there were a couple Evangelical churches there, always good for some treats. The line for the free cotton candy was too long for any of the boys, right up until they ran out, but Zion went back to the free shaved ice booth three times. I ate my share of candy, and Harvey and I also split a thing of samosas from Bedford Embraces Diversity and some cookies from the soccer bake sale. Plus we all had lunches from home!

Our fair energy stared to fade at about the same time as everyone else's; we weren't the absolute last to retrieve our bikes from the corral this year. But even then the thrills weren't done, because apparently Bedford Day fireworks are now a thing we do regularly. Yay! So after dinner we headed back up the hill to meet up with lots of friends. Not that you can really have much of a conversation over fireworks, but it was still nice to share the evening with so many great people from our town. The show was good too!

red fireworks

boom

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beach school day

We had so much fun at the beach the Friday before last that I decided to make it a thing, and we went back again this past Friday. By ourselves this time; everyone else was either busy or resting. Which was maybe just as well, because when we got there it didn't really feel like a typical beach day.

the beach under gray clouds; Zion standing in the waves, Elijah drawing in the sand

chilling at the beach

It was even colder than we expected, but that was fine, because we had lots of non-swimming activities to do. Like schoolwork! I made the boys bring their journals and stuff to draw with, just in case. It turns out Wingaersheek is popular with homeschoolers. Last time we met some kids who must have been (they were collecting invasive species crabs and feeding them to seagulls), and Friday we arrived at the same time as another family of school-aged kids who I actually asked if they were doing a beach school day too. And they were!

But it couldn't be school right away. Our first order of business was to walk out onto the sandbar, the one that almost drowned Harvey last time. This time we arrived just about at low tide, so were able to wade out to the bar without even getting our shorts wet, and then walk way out into the ocean on (relatively) dry land. (That's where the picture up top was taken.) It was super fun, even if we were a little worried about getting cut off. As it happened, we survived.

Elijah standing at the end of a sand spit among waves

the end of the land

By the time we headed back the clouds were beginning to disperse. It still wasn't swimming hot, though, so after some lunch we took advantage of the expanse of low tide beach to walk around the corner, inland along the Annisquam River. We enjoyed the different consistencies of sand, the light on the channel, and the space to run around.

Elijah running, waving his shirt, along the beach

joy in the sunshine

With memories of too much sun the week before I also brought our little beach tent. As cool as it was the sun didn't feel like a threat even once it emerged, but it was also a great place to rest in out of the wind! And it let us organize our piles of spare clothes, food, and school materials. The boys did some journal writing, drawing, and reading.

Elijah reading in our beach tent, his brothers lying on a rock outside drawing

beach school room

To that point they would have been fine limiting themselves to a little wading, but I wasn't having that. As the tide began to creep up over the rocks I tried out the water myself, then invited—forced?—them to come and give it a try with me. It was too chilly for Elijah, but once the older boys got in they had to agree that it actually wasn't that bad. And as the tide flowed around the rocks there were lots of opportunities for fun!

Harvey in the water among rocks, Zion on one getting ready to slide

the best rock for sliding

Wingaersheek is a fairly sheltered spot, so it's not generally a place you'd go to for waves. But the wind was so high it was actually kind of choppy, and as we let the tide push us up the beach as it rose we found some spots where the waves were certainly big enough to be fun.

all three boys playing in the smallish waves

even Elijah got back in for a bit

As delightful as it was, though, a couple hours in the water left me, at least, feeling increasingly cold. And Elijah was getting bored, running out of things to do by himself up on the beach. Plus everybody wanted to go into town! So even though it was 25 minutes in the wrong direction for home we packed up and headed to downtown Rockport where we walked around, took in the sights, and bought candy and food for dinner. Among other stores we visited the Bearskin Neck Country Store, which I'd somehow never been in before. We admired the wide range of gummy candy items available—and the player piano!—but all we bought was a jar of spicy pickled beans.

Zion and Elijah looking at the player piano

more than just a piano!

Even in town, though, we couldn't escape the fact that the true lure of Cape Ann is the ocean! And I feel so lucky to be able to visit it regularly.

Harvey walking out on the breakwater in Rockport

blue

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Harvey's scary Sunday

On Sunday I had a meeting after church. There was childcare available, but I didn't sign up for it for the boys; they're all easily big enough to hang out around the church for an hour and a half without anything bad happening. That's what all the other parents thought too. Sure, they had a bit of a water fight in the parking lot but on a fine sunny day there wasn't anything wrong with that... until one of the kids got some hot water from the dispenser and poured it on Harvey's back. We'll never know what she was thinking, but she knew it was a mistake right away because of how he screamed! One of the other kids put cold water on the burn right away and then we got ice on him which brought the pain down pretty well. But it still looked bad: super red, with a fair amount of peeling skin. That's a second-degree burn! I brought the boys home and without even coming inside Harvey transferred to Leah's car for a trip to the emergency room. They gave him better ice and he had his gaming device so he didn't mind the wait, and eventually they saw him and sent him home with cream and some big bandages. He's recovering well, and hopes to not need daily bandage changing by this weekend when he's supposed to be going away on a trip with the church Youth Group. I imagine the supervision there will be a little better than at Sunday's meeting!

reading practice in math

Elijah mostly enjoys practicing math and mostly doesn't enjoy practicing reading. He can read, but he doesn't love pushing through books at the slow pace he can currently manage, so it's hard for him to put in the practice he needs to get better. That's the curse of a kid who's just naturally good at things, I suppose! Because he's not confident with reading I initially didn't get him started on Khan Academy math, which the other boys have been using since the last half of last year (when I decided I was completely overwhelmed with teaching 7th grade math). It has lots of instructions and things that I was afraid he would struggle with.

Well, as much as I wish we didn't have to use computers I also really appreciate the consistency that Khan Academy lets the boys have in their math learning. They don't have to rely on me to make lessons and check their work! And that applies to Lijah too, so this week I made him an account and sat down with him to try it out. So far he's loving it! He mostly already knows how to do the things he's working on—practice around understanding multiplication—so getting everything right so far has felt pretty rewarding. Which leads to another upside: I already notice him getting more confident about reading the directions! I have absolutely no fears that he'll be able to read as much and as well as he wants, when he wants to... but in the meantime I appreciate him getting some practice in when he doesn't even notice he's doing it!

skunked

This morning I was still upstairs when I heard Leah open the door to the porch and the dogs rush out. A few moments later there was one short sharp bark, and then immediately after it an immediately identifiable smell started drifting thought the open window. Yes, for the first time in a good while the dogs had been sprayed by a skunk. Luckily for everyone involved it wasn't too bad: they must have been spared a direct hit. They smelled bad when they came back in (right away!) but not unbearably horrid; we didn't even bathe them, Leah just got some supposed odor-neutralizing spray and doused them with it. We don't know how much it actually did, but we were able to survive the day in the house with the pups, and that's what counts. It's just as well we didn't have to get them in the tub, since getting sprayed was traumatic enough! They didn't even want breakfast; each of them just found a spot to curl up and they pretty much didn't move until mid afternoon. By this evening they were back to their regular selves—but, I hope, a little bit wiser!

moments from the week

Grandpa blowing out birthday candles, the boys looking on

happy birthday Grandpa!

Moments from the past week.

Elijah walking Scout

dog and boy

Harvey playing Pokemon at a picnic table at Freeman Lake

cards at the beach

Elijah shivering waist-deep in the pond

fall swimming is chilly!

Elijah up in an apple tree reaching for a good one

trying to pick them before they fall

Zion, Elijah, and friends atop a playhouse roof at Friendship Park

Friendship Park

Zion taking a picture at the zoo

how Zion captured the animals at the zoo

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to the zoo

This past weekend Harvey was away at a Youth Group overnight: he left Friday afternoon and wasn't back until Sunday after lunch. At supper yesterday were eager to hear about his adventures, and he did tell us some, but he was pretty tired. Also he's a teenager. Suffice it to say that he had a grand time. Of course, in his absence the rest of us had to do something interesting enough that we didn't feel like we were missing out on all the fun, so we went to the zoo.

Zion, Elijah, and Leah looking at a crowd of flamingos

look at those crazy birds!

The Stone Zoo, the smaller of Greater Boston's two zoo options, is less than half an hour away at a good traffic moment. Despite that I don't think I'd ever been there before! And the boys had only vague memories of the last time they went with Leah, years ago. So we were delighted to get right up close to the animals, starting with the flamingos and scarlet ibises and then moving on to the cute furry things.

a bush dog (I think) opening its mouth

I think it's a bush dog

The weather was delightful so I was surprised not to find the place more crowded on a Saturday afternoon. There were people there, sure, but not nearly as many as I would have expected. Especially not many bigger kids—mostly lots of toddlers and preschoolers. There was certainly lots for our big kids to enjoy. Besides the real animals there were lots of giant Lego constructions, each with some information and a piece count. They were easier to see from far away than the actual animals, so they kept us moving to see them all.

Elijah next to a lego mouse taller than he his, copying its pose

do they look alike?

Zion and Elijah putting their faces into a lego undersea scene

getting in the picture

Of course, the real animals were the main draw. We tried to each pick a favorite, but it was hard: they were all so charming. The gibbons with their long arms, the hornbills, the various things that looked like crosses between cats and raccoons... even bears! I think my top pick was the otters, who weren't awake when we first went by their enclosure but put on a great show when I went back for a second look. I would have stayed to watch them way longer than the rest of my family. Zion loved the wolves.

a Mexican gray wolf at the Stone Zoo

mostly they were moving, but this one paused for us

The challenge of the zoo for Zion is not getting to take all the animals home. He made up for it by taking control of the camera and working hard to get photos of each exhibit, including some that I would never have bothered about because they were moving too fast, or not at all. The jaguar, for example, was disappointing in its sleepiness, and we never did find the snow leopard in its enclosure. But he also got some great shots where it looked like the animals were posing just for him.

an alligator opening its mouth it what looks like a smile

smile!

He has lots more photos he can show you if you want!

Stone Zoo isn't huge: just the right size for a relaxed afternoon outing. But big enough that we had time for a snack towards the end! Chips and nachos at the Yukon Creek Cafe was absolutely in keeping with the flow of the expedition.

Zion at a table at the zoo outdoor cafe area

pit stop

Sadly the other snack bar closed before Elijah was able to get back there for the caramel popcorn he wanted. Oh well, he was consoled with the pair of slippers he picked up at the gift shop on the way out. Zion got a snow leopard doll to make up for not seeing the real thing. It was a good time!

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professional work

Now that the porch project is mostly done, we have professionals working at our house to fix up the rest of it and get it painted. My feelings are mixed about it, partially for reasons beyond the scope of this post, and partially for some pretty mundane points. The work is kind of loud and distracting, it's hard to find room to park our cars, and I can't hang out laundry to dry because of the dust from the scraping. On the other hand, there's something magical about having someone working on my stuff without me having to put any effort into making it happen! Not something I get a lot of in many other areas of my life...

rocky rest

The last time we were in the Middlesex Fells it was a major hiking expedition. And there was a time before that when just the boys and I explored for a few hours before going to dinner with friends, but I don't remember exactly when it was and I can't find it here on the blog. Both of those times we did lots of walking, and the woods felt giant. Yesterday we were back again, and this time with bikes. And we managed to get a lot further in a lot less time!

Harvey and Elijah coming out of the woods onto an overlook above Spot Pond

running out of woods

In the end we only went about two and half miles, but it was over varied enough terrain, and we made enough stops, that it felt like a real adventure. Plus we went up some serious hills. There was also a high school cross-country meet going on, and we were able—in one case were forced to—stop and watch a couple of the races.

Among all the delights of the outing, my favorite was our stop at a rocky outcropping that's actually in Stoneham's Whip Hill Park (which was our entry point to the Fells). With our eyes on the adventure ahead we barely glanced at it on our way in, but coming back tired and a little ahead of schedule for our next engagement it seemed like just the spot to stop and rest. Especially since it came with a ready-made chair.

Zion sitting on a big natural chair in the woods

the throne of a mountain troll

Besides sitting, we also climbed and explored and found a scattering of feathers where a bird had been killed. Only I have no idea what kind of bird: black and yellow and spotted? Zion and Elijah made crowns with the feathers, to go with their rocky throne.

Elijah with yellow and black feathers in his hair

one of the kings

We never managed to climb the cliff itself, despite some serious attempts. But on the other hand, Harvey didn't knock Zion off to his death when he threw a shoe over the edge and hit Zion on the head, so we can count that as a win! And as much fun as all the biking and moving was, it was also delightful to stay in one spot for half an hour or so in a beautiful spot in the beautiful late-afternoon light. The outdoors are pretty awesome!

Elijah and Zion relaxing in the late-afternoon woods

peaceful

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what a waste

It's a good thing we managed to celebrate our year of Park Day when we did because just two weeks later we arrived at the park just in time to witness the playground's destruction.

Zion, Elijah, and a friend looking at the ruins of the Varney Park playground

just rubble

The town of Chelmsford in their wisdom wants to replace one of the last of the awesome wood playground with something "safer", never mind what all the people who use it now think. We watched the excavator smashing down the structure, and DPW crew cutting up the plastic slides with a circular saw to make sure nobody else could use them (and a member of our group had asked!). Well, I didn't watch for very long; it was too sad. Instead I focused on having a good time at the park regardless of the destruction.

And we did great! We had balls, and hockey sticks and rollerblades. We had a long board. We had snacks. And of course, there's the lake, and even the sub-70° weather couldn't stop a hardy group of us from swimming. As I look back on it, in the short term at least the playground "renovation" dramatically increased the danger level for the kids in our group. Besides walking all over the piles of shattered, nail-filled wood after the workers left, they also climbed on (and fell from) railings, swung eight feet up on the chain-link gate of the basketball court, and zoomed headfirst down hills on the long board (that's the only one that was my idea... I zoomed the most). There were some injuries. But don't worry Chelmsford, nobody plans to sue. And we plan to keep meeting at that park, playground or no playground!

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