posts tagged with 'ice'

midsummer delights

While we do like to celebrate the solstice, we've never managed to throw a bash as big as the summer solstice deserves. There's always too much else going on. So this year I was delighted to be invited to a party hosted by a friend from Latvia, where they know how do do solstices right!

a child in a solstice crown of flowers, and me playing guitar

now that's a party

We met these friends in the fall—they're part of our park day group—but we've never been to their house. Mainly because it's a million miles away, all the way out west in Dunstable. But that means they have plenty of yard to run and play in, and also that they live near a beautiful meadow where we started the party picking flowers to make into solstice crowns.

Zion holding a big bouquet of wildflowers in front of a waterlily pond

midsummer child

Once we all had several armfuls we went to their house, where we sat around a fire and ate for the next six hours or so. Well, I guess we didn't sit the whole time. They have a trampoline and there was a bounce house, so the kids got lots of exercise (I may have taken a bounce or two myself). We helped a stray duck get back into her run. We played some music. I got a little less horrible walking on a slackline. Some of the kids made a seesaw. It was a fun time! Oh, and I jumped over the fire.

me blurily jumping over a fire

somebody has to do it

In Latvia, we hear, sunset on the solstice is at around 11:30. That's why they need strong solstice traditions, like the crowns and the solstice cheese pictured below. We didn't last that long, but it was still starting to get dark as we finally pulled ourselves away at quarter to nine. Good party! I hope they'll invite us again next year.

a cutting board beautifully laid with cheese, crackers, flowers, and oak leaves

solstice board

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water power

Sometimes I wish I lived somewhere where it stayed cold enough all winter that the annual ice breakup in the spring was something people would pay attention to. But there are joys to be found in the crazy up-and-down temperatures of Massachusetts February too. Yesterday morning we took a walk in Lowell in the balmy springlike air, and it was delightfully strange to be wishing I had shorts on while looking down at the ice on the Pawtucket Canal. There was no ice on the Merrimack River, though: any pieces that haven't melted yet have to be all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean by now. There is some flow on that river!

the boys looking down at water roaring over a dam on the Merrimack River

spring tide

It was actually pretty scary standing on that catwalk watching the water roaring under our feet. We don't do a lot of things that would result in near-certain death in case of a slip, but this felt like one of them. I asked the kids how many gallons of water they thought were passing over the dam every second, but it wasn't really a fair question: how could we hope to make any sort of estimate?! (after some research this morning this site suggests it was in the neighborhood of 150,000 gallons per second).

In the afternoon the water at Freeman pond was powerful and dangerous in a different way. There was four to six feet of open water between the shore and the ice, sparkling in the sunshine and rippled with little waves that were well-nigh irresistible to lots of us there. But cold! Because it was ice water. So nobody did more than wading, unless you count the toddler who fell in completely. Harvey challenged all comers to see if anyone could stand in the water longer than him; nobody could, though two people battled him to a bitter (numb) draw. And Zion, Elijah, and a friend made their way on to the ice and ran around on it in their bare feet until I yelled at them to get off. Good times!

the boys wading in icy Freeman Pond

wade in the water

Now today it's back to winter and there's a winter storm warning in effect for tomorrow. Seven to twelve inches of snow forecast. That's fine: we get another day of sledding, and then it all turns into even more water. Spring is coming!

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skate-sailing

I didn't expect much of the ice at Park Day this afternoon, with the warm weather and then snow since last time we were there. I knew it'd be safe, for sure—it was so thick it'll take weeks to break up—but I certainly didn't anticipate any skating. Well, I was happy to be surprised when there was not only skating, but para-skating!

the boys on skates being pulled by a parachute

the best thing ever!

It took me a long time to get my skates on. First we sledded for a while, until we wore out the tiny bit of snow left on the hill. Then some kids recruited me to walk across the pond with them. We've never done it before, and it seemed like the last chance, so fine (I stamped a 25-foot-wide dog cartoon into the snow in the middle, which I hope some pilots enjoy). Then even after a few kids showed that you could skate even with the inch or so of snow on the ice surface I thought I could still do without. But when that parachute came out and proved, in the strong gusty wind, that it could really move folks across the ice I had to get in on the action!

Sailing is my favorite thing that I never get to do, and this definitely scratched a sailing itch. The best way was to have two people each grab a side of the parachute and, with one hand up and the other down, stretch it to catch the wind. It was exhilarating to skim over the ice, and we hardly crashed at all! I don't know that I'll ever get to para-skate again, but it was very satisfying to add something to my bucket list and cross it off, all in the same hour.

the para-skaters getting ready out on the ice

readying for another run

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winter playground

We went back to the cranberry bogs yesterday, from the other direction. They're so easy to get to, going the direct route: just a couple minutes walk through the woods from the road. Then once we got out there we spent an hour or so just playing. We cleared a rink with the shovel we brought, slid, explored, and made snowmen—little snowmen, since there was maybe an inch of snow on the ice. It was so much fun, I couldn't imagine how the woods weren't crowded with everybody in the neighborhood and beyond... it was like the best playground ever!

Harvey and Zion putting the finishing touches on a two-foot-tall snowman on a frozen pond

he's little but plucky

Of course, that's not to say it was all fun and games. Elijah and Harvey had a disagreement about who was responsible for creating the first snowman's face, and Elijah got pretty upset and stomped off to make his own snowman. He was mad at me too, so when I told him to watch out for some thin ice he showed me what he thought of my advice by stomping on it until he broke through and found himself up to his knee in muddy water. That surely improved the situation!

Elijah walking in the snow with one bare foot

he threw his wet boot so hard

Even with one boot off, though, he was determined to finish his work, so we didn't rush off. And despite that bit of grumpiness I think it's safe to say we were all glad for the trip. Hooray for winter wonderlands, right near home!

Harvey and Zion walking on a twisty shoveled path on the ice

the fun you can have with a shovel, snow, and ice

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surprise exploration

This afternoon after our school friends left the boys and I headed out to walk the dogs. We weren't planning anything big—just a quick loop in the nearby woods and then back home to do all the home things we had to do. But at the furthest point in the loop Zion asked if we could check the ice on the swamp—the swamp that's so fun and so hard to explore most of the year, the ice of which has been stubbornly refusing to get really solid—so of course I said yes. To our great pleasure, the giant puddle on the path that's featured on so many of my pictures was frozen over, and so was all the flooded swamp right up to Hartwell Brook. Even more amazing, the brook itself was almost completely frozen over, and it was easy enough for us to use its course as a path heading upstream towards the cranberry bogs and the airport, over territory we'd never been able to really explore before. As new vistas opened up before us, my delight was tempered by only one thing: I didn't have a camera with me! Not even my phone.

So sad. And yet, it's really only sad for you, the reader, because we got to experience the horizon opening up as we left the tall grass, the frozen dams where we stepped up six inches to higher levels of brook, and the cranberry bogs themselves where we slid on the ice and wished, like another time long ago, that we had a shovel to scrape off the little bit of snow that fell last night. We also experienced being a little bit lost, and I had the joy—once we were off the actual ice surface and just crossing puddles in the woods—of breaking through and submerging one foot completely. Never mind; we weren't more than 15 minutes from home at that point and it was totally worth it anyway.

We're thinking about going back tomorrow to slide some more, or even try skating. The bogs are a much better surface than they have been for years; I guess that's what happens when it rains all fall and then freezes suddenly with very little snowfall. It's my theory that the high water is also responsible for the brook freezing: years ago we determined that it could be running even when everything else is completely solid, and that's been true every winter since then. But this year the water level was so high the brook didn't really exist—not that we ever could have determined that before the freeze! But now we see that the ice in the swamp extends straight and flat over the brook's course, which may have slowed its flow down enough to freeze over. The brook is certainly still running under the ice, and there were a few spots of open water we had to detour around (and lots of sticks and dead trees to maneuver past) but overall it was as good an exploration route as you ever could want.

Yes, the kids and I were excited, the dogs were thrilled at the extended outing, we added to our outdoor time... it would have been the perfect afternoon if only I had had my camera! Almost perfect will have to be good enough.

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more skating

As part of our bedtime routine I ask each of the boys what was their favorite thing about the day, and last night Zion said that his was skating. And, in fact, that it would be skating every time we were able to go. We went again yesterday, back to Fawn Lake, and with Harvey this time. On Sunday the pond was bumpy and busy with lots of other skaters; yesterday, after Monday morning's rain, it was empty, and smooth and mottled with frozen puddles that reflected the trees and sky like glass.

Zion skating on what looks like a puddle on Fawn Lake

mirror ice

Or like water: we thought they were water when we arrived, and were worried about getting soaked when we inevitably fell. No, it was easily below freezing and that was all beautiful ice. The only water was at the edge of the pond, which made getting out on to the ice a little tricky, but once we were there it was smooth sailing. Zion and Elijah picked up right where they left off and made great progress (though Elijah didn't fall any less and Zion actually fell more—that's because were going much faster and trying harder things). Harvey tends to be cautious but he worked hard at getting moving and actually learned faster than his brothers had yesterday. Nobody was gliding smoothly around the pond—nobody but me, that is—but the younger boys were definitely able to get where they wanted to go and Harvey was moving forward with ever-increasing confidence. We all kept at it until we just about couldn't stand up on the skates any more, which is a sign of a good outing.

the boys all skating on Fawn Lake

nothing but blue skies

Combined with our walk to the library in the morning the skating netted us three hours outside on the day, which isn't bad. If it's not going to snow, I'm sure glad we're skating to give us something else to do with the winter!

Zion smiling with his cheek lying on the ice

we love ice!

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ice the way it's meant to be experienced

I know I talked about our ice expertise the other day, but I should probably have noted that it was not complete, because the boys had never actually been ice skating. Well, almost never—there had been a few attempts, including one birthday party, when Harvey was seven or eight, but they were not successful. Skating wasn't at all Harvey's thing at the time, and his distress put Zion off the sport completely (Lijah was too young to even know what was going on). But yesterday afternoon we started to remedy that oversight.

Zion and Elijah skating on Fawn Lake

look at them go!

Zion and Elijah have been asking about skating since last Wednesday, when Zion's best friend brought his skates and demonstrated some skill on the pond. On Saturday we spent a delightful (and extraordinarily cold) hour on the frozen Old Reservoir, and while sliding and biking (!) on the that ice was plenty of satisfying fun, they wondered still more about how much better it would be with metal blades on their feet. So yesterday after we spent the first 45 minutes of our budgeted outside time on some farm work—improvements to the chicken coop—I dug up the bag of skates to see what we could do.

Not too badly, as it turns out! The skates Harvey wore last time we tried this now fit Elijah, and Zion found that he was able to use Leah's. We have two pairs my size—which means Harvey's size too—so all of us boys would have been accommodated, but after reflection Harvey decided he'd rather take a walk with a friend. Also great! So the younger boys and I set off for Fawn Lake, which is maybe not as exciting and private as the Old Reservoir but a little more accessible by car, carrying skates.

Because energy and attitude is all, both boys did amazing on their first attempts. Different styles—Lijah threw himself into it and fell down oh so many times, while Zion was more cautious and mostly stayed upright—but both of them made great progress. After the initial learning steps we made it more than half way across the pond before they started to look tired and I told them, over protests, that we had to turn back.

Our feet and ankles hurt and Elijah's backside was pretty wet, but enthusiasm for future skating outings was high as we made our way back to the car. Going to bed last night Lijah asked if we were going skating again today; when I told him the weather didn't look the best he said that, in that case, we should have stayed longer our first time. I've promised them lots more chances... I just hope the ice holds out!

Zion and Elijah far away on the ice at dusk

can you see them way off in the distance?

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our ice expertise

We've had some icy adventures the last few days. Yesterday's park day saw its fair share of sledding, but the snow was really too thin for sustained fun so it was the ice that really held everyone's interest. It was a solid as you could wish for—well, as I could wish for, anyway. Plenty of other parents were a little nervous, so I did my best to reassure them. My line of reasoning was that once a big section of pond is frozen to any depth, to the point that it doesn't move or squish when you step on it, its failure mode becomes much less obvious. Nobody's going to "fall through" at that point, unless they find a weak spot, and I checked before the free-for-all began to make sure there weren't any near the beach. And we weren't totally reckless: I bet we could have ventured pretty far out, but to the disappointment of a couple kids we kept them within 20 yards of the shore. Where, I must say, there was still plenty of fun to be had.

kids playing on the ice

new vistas of delight

So nobody got wet, like the last two weeks. But don't worry, we had our ice-tastrophe for the week a little earlier, on Tuesday, when on a walk at October Farm Riverfront in the beautiful 12° weather Zion stomped through the ice next to the river and got wet up to his knee. No real harm done, of course, except we had to cut our walk short, which made Elijah very grumpy. Even with the quick retreat to the car Zion's pant leg froze completely solid before we got the heater on it, which was pretty cool!

I think it was actually my stories of all the times that I and the children in my care did fall through the ice that convinced some of the other parents that the park day ice wasn't as dangerous as they thought. Clearly, we've had vast experience and must know what we're talking about! So eventually everyone let their kids venture out and they all slid around on feet, tummies, sleds, a snow skate, and in the case of one prepared family actual ice skates! It could only have been better if we'd had hot chocolate, and if there wasn't a thin layer of sticky snow on the part of the ice we allowed the kids to play on. We did manage to scrape some of it off, though a shovel would have made it easier; but in the absence of anything designed for the purpose the big kids were happy to use Elijah as a sweeping tool!

two big kids dragging Elijah by the legs on the ice

he's happy to do his part

We all hope it stays cold, and also snows, so we can play on the ice more next week and also sled down the hill behind the beach way out onto the ice. I'm checking the weather forecast a couple times a day now...

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solstice with friends

We had a party yesterday! It felt like the first in a long time; we've had people over to the back porch lots in this pandemic time, including last winter solstice, but those were all more like relaxed hang-out get-togethers. Last night we know it was a party because I bought beer and chips, made multiple desserts, and had not one but two steaming pots of hot drink available—mulled cider and hot chocolate. And of course a bonfire.

a big fire burning in our firepit

as big a one as the firepit allows

Which was good because we really appreciated the chance to get warm inside and out. It wasn't super cold—and the ground wasn't covered in a foot of snow like last year—but there was a damp chill in the air and it wasn't weather that would typically encourage people to linger outside. But on this night, linger we did!

friends gathered on our back deck under lights

partying the long night away

At least for a little bit. It was still a school night, after all, for those kids who have to go to school; the solstice isn't as important in the public school curriculum as it is among homeschoolers of our vaguely Waldorf-influenced set. But that was ok, because after everyone left and we finished all the cleanup—which took some time!—the fire had died down enough for us to be able to jump over it. Which three of us did! True, it wasn't really a bonfire any longer, but I think it should still count. Now the sun can come back!

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Welcome Yule!

We fully embraced the solstice today. We talked about it, and read about it, and later this evening we're having a big solstice party—the fire is already laid and the backyard decorated with boughs of spruce and holly. But our first big solstice moment was a lantern walk at sunset.

Harvey holding a lantern looking at the darkning west over an icy pond

bye sun, see you in a while

It was organized by the moderator of the Greater Lowell Homeschoolers Facebook group, who also brought supplies to make paper bag lanterns. Some of our good friends were there, and also some folks we hadn't met before. It was a short walk—it was already getting dark when we started and most of the group wasn't hardy outdoorsmen like us—but still delightful.

a biggish group of kids and adults with lanterns in the twilight

setting out under the setting sun

Best of all was that the ice on the pond was about an inch thick, even after barely 24 hours of good freezing weather. Parents were nervous, but the brave kids had a grand time slipping and sliding close to the shore, and nobody got any worse than wet hands and feet. Much fun; and I consider the Yule to have been properly Welcomed. Now let's party!

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