whittling

After scouring the internet for recommendations, I finally ordered the predictably! French model of a whittling knife for the girls. The soft curls drift across our floor every day now. Afterwards there is a small trial in sweeping them up into a pile, they would rather sink gently into the floor crevices or let socked feet sally them into distant corners. But they make like a pile of feathers to start a fire. Lit with a match they burst into hearty hot flame, encouraging even the most dismally-built fire to glow. I can always use help starting a fire myself if Joe happens to be in the city (a phrase I use now) or working in the other room.

So far the only human injured in the whittling hobby has been an adult. The girls seem to mostly make sharp pointy objects, nibs of arrowheads scattered around the living room. I’ve suggested something softer and rounder–like a wooden stone? A gentle bird at rest in the hand? They’ll get there. One evening the two-year-old came up to me with a piece of wood in hand: “Mama, I need a knife. I want to whittle.” Sorry kid. Mama already screwed up one child by blessing her deft precocious hand too early, and scaring her away from mandolines forever. You’ll have to wait till you’re…four?

Speaking of future opportunities, the girls have been busy assigning ages to things that I may have murmured to them at one point: earrings, age 12. Cell phones, age 13. Mothers should never utter age ultimatums out loud. An excellent parenting book would include a chapter of stalling techniques. “I’ll have to check with your grandmother.” “That one might be legislated by the state, we’ll look into it, shall we?”

Last night I was on Ambleside online, browsing again, the intriguing world of Charlotte Mason homeschooling. In the realm of homeschooling curriculums, Charlotte Mason comes across as the mysterious ancient prophet of it—espousing her own unique ideas like narration, nature journaling, dictation, and the power of a few things done perfectly. Like some sort of Gospel epistle writer of erudition there are six volumes of her writing on the topic of homeschooling, rife with words like obedience, perfect execution, fresh air and weak literature.

Wouldn’t mind a Virgil to guide me through it. Meanwhile I’ll pick back up with Consider Thisa book that discusses the melding of classical and Charlotte Mason ideas.

House projects abound. We nearly stumble over them on our walk to the breakfast table, so many things we’d like to do. Here’s a nook in the kitchen that I hoped would be a spot to keep the cook company–lounge before meals, curl up with a book by the light of the baking bread, nursing a baby and a glass of wine, and that’s just what it’s become. The previous owners had a big antique dish cabinet that filled up the space, and it looks like before that it had a wood stove.

 

glamp more; White Mountains, New Hampshire

A few notes on our wonderful time as guests of Huttopia–they offered us a tent for free and we paid for a second one for Joe’s parents who came with us. There is so much elegance to this crisp camp set on a former Boy Scout campground. That may be because the company is a French one, and they have their method down pat. So much so that there were many European and Canadian visitors at the camp with us during our time. In talking to one fellow camper, I learned that Huttopia has something of an enormous following in Europe and is effectively a lifestyle brand there. So it’s pretty fun to encounter their first USA location in New Hampshire.

Sleek tents, tidy campsites, a pretty and warm swimming pool, a generously stocked camp store, and fun daily activities for kids. I didn’t grow up camping, but my best friend did, and I always enviously listened to her stories of cavorting around the campground nearly parent-free for the week. At Huttopia, I totally got a sense of that freedom for the girls. Because there were no cars allowed at the campground beyond the parking lot, they felt free to roam the roads. They liked walking to the playground on their own, and getting sent on errands to the camp store. And they LOVED the evening showing of Moana on the baseball field that got a sprinkle of rain, the better to cuddle under their blankets for. If we had planned the trip with a couple family friends they would have had a blast just running to each other’s campsites and checking in.

Joe keeps a hatchet in the back of our car (such soccer moms!) for all our fire needs, so he can make spiffy designs like this on the go. The Huttopia camp store sells firewood, but unfortunately the firewood for sale when we were there was not aged enough and did not burn well. We recommend picking some up on your drive, nearby grocery stores stock older wood.

That flip-grill thing is on all the fire pits and is genius. Love it. Practically eliminates the need for cookware over the fire.

Diana’s Baths nearby is an easy (and extremely popular) adventure. The trail to it is practically stroller friendly. For two year olds it takes one adult with them at all times as the rocks are slippery, but for ages five and above, there’s lots of independent play to be had.

A few items I might suggest you bring along:

-your own pillow, always a nice luxury
-coffee ground for a French press (the press is provided)
-a tea kettle–just easier to deal with than a pan
-fan, in case of hot & humid temps
-bug spray for the evenings after dark

-cozy food supplies, like bacon, hot coco mix, wine, and these all natural cheetos rip-offs that I find to be insanely good.

-fire wood, see note on this above

-it always pays to bring your own hammock, we have this brand and bring it everywhere!

Some of you told me you were going after I posted on instagram that we were there, how was your trip?

Vermont

Dear readers, Last week we moved to Vermont. We began looking at houses in March. We looked in every New England state, drawing a woozy balloon on the map for a 2.5-hour drive to Boston. I’m writing the detailed hows and the whys, but I’m saving it for a chapter. But I’d like you to know that we found an old farmhouse in excellent shape with land, a lawn of grass that isn’t seeded but has the right kind of weeds, a barn that needs a new roof and maybe floor. Cricketed-silence in the morning. Cricketed-deep darkness at night. Fireplaces, some that don’t work. Yet.

It’s exactly what we hoped and prayed we would find and we are in a state of shock at how happy we are to be here. We will be homeschooling, Joe will be working regular hours remotely, we have so much to learn and be humbled by in the process. It is so exciting.

Ticks: rumors and murmurs

Sipping green tea and thinking how very interesting it is to be a mother of young ones in today’s America. Naturally from here, I could lead this conversation just about anywhere, but today’s circuit of fascination: Lyme’s disease.

If you grew up around ticks, the idea of checking your children for ticks is quite standard, if not a traditional summer activity. But whether you grew up around them or not, the fact is that today’s parents are facing an outdoors full of ticks with epic levels of Lyme infection.

Lyme is one of those things I’ve started bringing up around other moms, casual-suggestively, to learn if I’m missing something. At a book club, sitting around a long table in a lush backyard, I eagerly leaned in as the woman across from me cataloged all the steps she’d gone through after finding three ticks on her daughter. -But what about sending it to one of the websites? I asked. -Practitioners don’t think those are reliable. False positives. False negatives. -But you can’t prescribe doxy…I murmured. -Our pediatrician is prescribing doxycycline.

This was news to me. I’d been told no pediatricians were prescribing doxycycline to children. Amoxicillin only, though it had no recorded success with Lyme. Her doctor’s office was less than a mile away from mine. And yet, different approaches were happening between the two places. to childrenin ways that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Of course there’s a reason this is on my mind. I found an engorged tick on one of my children that had been on her for three days. Not having peeked behind her ear for those three days was a one weekend slip-up, with the potential of the worst consequences. I pulled it off perfectly, sent it to tickcheck.com perfectly (although, if you are in this situation, I highly recommend paying extra for it to get there as fast as possible), consulted my pediatrician and waited anxiously perfectly…and received my text message that said the tick did not have one of nine diseases it could have had. It did have one, but it was not one that is considered dangerous in our area (borrelia mayonii). My city pediatrician was surprised I had found this website and sent the tick off quickly. The only reason I had done so was because a friend from Martha’s Vineyard told me too, because where she vacationed this was considered standard procedure. Even though just a few weeks later I was told that these private-enterprise-tick dissection labs are not considered reliable, I am still really glad I sent it. If I still had seen a rash on my child, I would have asked for a Doxy prescription. But those results, paired with no rash, no fatigue, muscle aches, and no fever, gave me confidence to set this worry aside.

“On the West Coast, when it comes to natural disasters, they have earthquakes. The heartland has tornadoes. The South has hurricanes. Here in the Northeast, our natural disaster is Lyme disease,” said Kevin Esvelt, who specializes in a field called evolutionary and ecological engineering at MIT Media Lab.” –CNN 

(except, not quite so regional as that, since Lyme infected ticks are rapidly spreading in the Midwest as well.)

For those who study Lyme disease and see patients with Lyme, signs seem to indicate that there is no pinning this malicious insidious disease down. Maybe you’ll get a rash. Maybe you’ll have a fever. Maybe you’ll see the tick. Maybe you won’t. Maybe it will test positive or negative at tickcheck.com or something similar. Doxycycline is the only known working antibiotic for Lyme. Doxycycline is not recommended to be prescribed to children as it is known to affect bone growth and stains their teeth. However, it is being prescribed because practitioners are now feeling that it is better than having the Lyme go untreated.

And a separate branch of this discussion begins right there: the long untreated cases of Lyme that were ignored or misdiagnosed for years. This branch of the conversation is centering around a lonely and grim theory: Is Lyme disease a Feminist issue? Take One, and take Two.

Researchers and insurers have often insisted not only on positive test results but also on the classic signs of early Lyme infection, such as the distinctive bull’s-eye rash and swollen knee joints, even though many people infected with the spirochete bacterium do not present such signs. Some of the symptoms of “chronic Lyme”—headaches, exhaustion, and cognitive dysfunction—have been dismissed as too vague or too similar to those of other conditions to be accorded diagnostic weight. -The New Yorker (see One above)

It feels overwhelmingly like the general knowledge database is broken here. It feels like it is totally on us to know everything we can.

This is when a light blue filter slides into my mind and I begin to see filmy images of the future, Minority Report style….what if playing in the woods soon looks like children scampering around in permethrin lightweight suits? What if we never get a vaccine and instead genetically alter mice, deer, embryos, whatever we can to introduce inoculation? What if the equivalent of giant weekly bug bombs becomes standard treatment for anything out-of-doors? What if tick immune robot cats are the new housecats?

Then I switch back to my admittedly healthy and yellow filter life in happy Massachusetts. I believe children can still play outside. I don’t believe we have to resort to toxic chemicals on our lawns. I believe it’s still safe to have indoor-outdoor pets. I believe we can catch this disease in the act of infection, and we can treat it. But, I believe we should be talking about it.

In this spirit, I want to mention a few homegrown prevention approaches I’ve encountered recently:

  1. Cistus Tea: made from leaves grown in Eastern Europe, rumored to successfully make human and animal drinkers repellent to ticks.
  2. Elevation: No rumors here. There are fewer ticks at elevations over 1000 ft.
  3. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap: landscapers claim that washing in Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap makes them unappealing to ticks as they hike through the bushes, trimming back overgrowth in yards up and down the east coast. A refreshing soap and a bug repellent? I’ll take it.
  4. Animals: guinea hens (but dang, are they loud!), chickens and possums are all rumored to eat up local tick from your grounds. Whether maintaining these animals as ground control is worth it, is up to you!
  5. Cedar oil: a known effective natural deterrent for household pets, safe around children and pregnant women.
  6. Nightly tick checks for the entire household. Tried and true through the generations.
  7. Insert your tip here! What have you learned?

To close, a link to this excellent recent summary of the options with bug spray, including the general sense that DEET is not so bad after all.

Obvious disclaimers….I am not a doctor, scientist, or professional researcher. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The advice & statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Any information on this blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

 

a volunteer opportunity

A good friend of mine is building a network of volunteers to help the people hurt and displaced by ICE and border control and the government. They are looking for volunteers in big cities, in coastal cities, but also widely dispersed cities. They are looking for people with lots of days to help, and people with just one day to help. Spanish speaking would be an enormous plus, but isn’t it always? Not required. They are working with all the organizations you’ve heard about (and probably donated to!), as helpful “what can we do?” on-the-ground-action folks. And: it’s working.

For examples of some of the things getting done, small things that quickly add up to enormous things, check out their Twitter feed Together&Free.

To volunteer click here.

It feels like it takes a lot of cherries to make a pie but in the end it takes only about fifty, and then you’ve got a pie of great beauty instead of fifty separate cherries wondering where to begin.

30 days

We have an exciting 30 days ahead of us. My parents, siblings, in-laws, and niece are headed to Greece to travel on a boat together and bicycle for eight days. Before we meet up with them, Joe and I have planned a far too brief four day trip to Rome with the girls.

My parents planned many family trips when I was a kid/young teen. Two extended motorhome trips with six kids, a Switzerland bike and train trip (with all seven kids and a buddy friend for my disenchanted teen brother), annual winter week-long vacations that centered exclusively around the beach and the pool with zero tourism goals unless you count leaving for the closest fish shack every night.

My dad’s company had reward trips that my parents often advocated to take us on as well. Months in advance, the company would send a guidebook to whatever location had been chosen. I would grab it off my mom’s desk and read through the whole thing–an early sign of my deeply held love of researching beforehand!

As a mom, I know now that travel is testing, expensive, and exhausting, yet manages to change your perspective on everything.

And all of my siblings travel what seems like constantly. The three in California go on stunning weekend road trips in that way that is so easy in California. Another two are “based” in Africa which really means they fly internationally almost every month, and the one in New York City has the flexibility to head off on festive jaunts throughout the year.

I’m really looking forward to this trip with them which has all the activity and adventure built in, but will allow for tons of together time as well.

Anyway, all this planning made me want to post these photos of magical Northern California from back in March!

I went with my mom, my mom’s sister Anne, my brother who lives in Los Angeles, my brother who lives in San Francisco and my sister Joanie. Joe watched the girls at home for three days. It flew by in a whirl of wine tasting, delicious food and absolutely stunning scenery.

The roads were edged with plants that I only see in greenhouses here, enormous versions of something I typically see in miniature. It felt like every square mile—even people’s front yards—were planted with vineyards. 

Along the road I noticed a little sign that said Our Moon Still Shines.

Even from Boston (especially if you follow the wonderful (Hither & Thither), one can easily establish that Scribe Winery has an amazing following and is a beautiful place to visit. Joanie knew that they had recently renovated an antique Hacienda on the property and now reserve it for seated tastings with food. The food is served family style in generous bowls, and the tables are far enough apart to allow for easy conversation.

The gardens, house and property glowed with winter desert color: silt, sand, clay, cobbles.

My sister planned the trip, riffing on trips she’d previously taken for ideas, though it sounded very difficult to decide where to go! So many beautiful places. She hired Peter as a driver for the six of us. Of course a driver is very wise to have when tasting wine, but it also makes for an entirely different experience. It was such a luxury to climb back in the car and stare out the window as we went place to place. As a mom I rarely get that tuned-out gazing-out backseat experience that childhood was full of. He was also able to riff on what we wanted, if we needed takeout, a grocery stop, or wanted to grab coffee, he could incorporate it easily on the fly for us.

After Scribe we drove back through the small town of Sonoma and stopped at the lovely wine tasting room of Kamen. We only had about a half an hour, so we split several tastings among ourselves. They were lovely to chat with and the wines were delicious.

Then we headed to Hamel Family Wines, where the tour began with a walk through their gorgeous fields. They have a stunning build-out, clearly one for future generations to enjoy.

On the way home we called ahead and picked up Mexican from El Molino Central.  Delicious seasonal tacos and mole with homemade tortillas, served out of a cheerful cafe on the side of the road in Sonoma. We brought our dinner back at the rental home, sharing a bottle we’d bought that day. The time change was finally catching up with me and I went to bed early!

The next morning, first up was Ashes & Diamonds. On a flat stretch of Napa, just off the main road highway 29, they’ve a styled tasting room and a fleet of wines to match. With their sumptuous green velvet, brilliant yellow paint, and an abundance of the Saarinen chairs, it felt like Hollywood flew in for a styling.

Perhaps my favorite trip photo: this yellow, this brother. ^^

At Ashes & Diamonds, we discussed how the land restrictions to qualify as a winery have changed over the years—from 100 acres, to 60, and now to only 10–which I found fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing this place and imagining the possibilities of a younger generation deciding to invest here.

There were many things that seemed repeat thematically no matter where we tasted, so much so that when I left they were still playing in my mind…

For one thing, everyone was using the Coravin method of opening bottles. It looked intense and gadget-y in the otherwise tranquil wine tasting space. It has thin medical grade needle that goes through the cork, allows you to remove a tiny amount of wine, and replaces the space in the bottle with argon gas. I had never seen it before in my life. But the pourers said it could preserve an open bottle of wine for up to a month. I love to have a glass of wine while cooking but am often reluctant to open a new bottle knowing I won’t be finishing it. However, the price tag is $250. 

Second, everyone was using Heath ceramics. These ceramic dishes seemed to have their own thermal mass that made the food look delicious, no matter what it was. 

Third, biodynamic. I was intrigued to hear many vineyards dropping this as a term as something they pursued. Biodynamic is a theory developed by the same person who came up with the Waldorf method of eduction: Rudolf Steiner. Isn’t that fascinating? Like many of his theories, it’s more of an overarching approach with a few oddly specific things—must have a goat, must let the clipped vines rot alongside the plants, let wild plants grow up among the vines. Funny to think how quirky yet persuasive ideas have staying power. 

I brought home bread from the amazing Costeaux bakery, local butter, grape sized dates from the farmer’s market and of course, wine.

mother’s day gift guide

an annual review with detailed notes about all the progress that’s been made

frozen lemonade concentrate for the freezer because she can’t seem to find it at the normal grocery store anymore

gratitude cardigan 

everyone’s nails trimmed

ticks eradicated from earth

wisdom earrings that whisper lucid answers to science questions

the assurance she will never forget the way their arms feel around her neck

a Taj Mahal of patience

Gandalf sense of where things are going

 

breakfast out

I’ve started getting one of the two older girls out for one-on-one breakfasts every other week. I whisper her awake and we sneak out in the morning before anyone else wakes up. Quietly close the door and head down the sidewalk to a chocolate chip pancake pillage (Lux), a modest plate of bacon (Joan).

The tenor is totally different and I can sense the girls soaking up the luxury of it. I can push Joan in the stroller if she doesn’t want to walk. I can let Lux set the pace on her scooter. We fit at a small table. They can order silly sugary drinks like chocolate milk. Our meals are quiet with spontaneous conversation that peters out and redirects easily.

She was soo good, the heady brunch crowd swilling mimosa pitchers cooed to Joan as we left. Joan looked baffled. It was a date, what was there to do but sit and talk?

My mom was really good about getting us kids out on one-on-one dining adventures, typically framed by errands. She adhered to a strict one child per week schedule. I could track the approach of my week four or five weeks out depending on how many siblings were in the circuit that year. I remember ordering an orange cream cooler, dominating the conversation and saying everything I wanted to say all at one time (my older brother remembers this as well).

In the summertime, there was a northern lake town with a bed and breakfast she would sneak us out to in the early morning. The woman who ran the place never printed a menu, instead she recited it as it was very simply whatever her husband wanted to make that morning. It was special for those one or two of us, and the others didn’t even notice we were missed. Perhaps they didn’t even realize we left at all, until it was their turn to be whispered awake.

 

 

“Yes but even 4 business men can’t poison God’s sunlight.” –ee cummings

This weekend I put the girls in the car after a full day of school and after-school mild weather frolicking (ice cream, winter grass). We were driving to Brooklyn, I had preloaded all of their ipads for the five hour drive, and packed a lot of hardboiled eggs and dried seaweed snacks. Joe had a weekend in New Hampshire planned and I was up for the adventure.

My recent favorite ipad discovery is that Youtube allows you to download any video for off-wifi viewing. Lux adores all of the TedEd videos so hers was full of those. I like to put a medley of Joan’s interests at age 4.5 on hers, so she had:

  1. Joseph’s Machines
  2. Giant Pandas 101
  3. My Mom is an Airplane
  4. Jonathan’s Blue World episodes
  5. A dog and woman dancing at a dog show
  6. Grace Lehane playing to the cattle in Kilmichael Cork

Alma has an ipad as well. At age 2, it is a close to useless as it gets, mostly frustrating her and making her grouchier than she would be if she were just looking out the window. I give her the oldest one we have anyway because I do nearly everything 3×3.

We went to see my brother and his girlfriend who live in Williamsburg and another brother of mine who is soon moving to Crown Heights with his family. We stayed together in an old brownstone that was gorgeously antique, if a bit oddly laid out. Because we stayed together, we could still enjoy vacation things like letting the girls sleep in while my sister-in-law and I talked quietly in the kitchen, or putting them to bed and sharing a bottle of wine in the middle room late into the evening. While in town the girls and I finished reading these kid-friendly biographies on two amazing women that I had brought along: Elizabeth Blackwell and Rachel Carson.

Walking around Prospect Heights and Crown Heights I was a little in awe. It was the first sunny day in a long time (I saw someone on Instagram call it the great thawing of Brooklyn) and there was liveliness everywhere. The sidewalks were so wide, the coffeeshops were so cute, the bagels were so chewy. There were artists painting murals around construction sites and the playgrounds were full of happy kids sharing swings. There was giant line outside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (always nice to see an epic brunch line outside of a garden).

Despite all the things you already know about New York from the movies, the cliches, the postcards, it still strikes you, and you’re tempted to murmur to yourself the greatest city in the world. At the same time, I’m still stunned that my brother has made his life there for the past seven years, and that now another of my siblings will live there.

Traveling with the girls alongside my brother who doesn’t have children and my other brother who has a well mannered two year old, I was reminded of how kid-centric I allow our days to be in Boston. The girls were slightly affronted when the entire itinerary wasn’t about what they wanted, and downright shocked when I was clearly more interested in adult conversation than their insights about the sidewalk. Although it works well for us at home in general, I would like to be more candid with them about how many things in which they are simply along for the ride. My and their understanding of how this should look is certainly a work in progress.

On our way home on Sunday it was blustery and cold again, but we stopped for a house salad and pizza at Grace Farms anyway. It is such a beautiful and unique spot, I love to see it in all weather conditions.

 

The Gospel of Trees

The hallelujah chorus that I woke to every morning was symphony sung by roosters and herons, backed by the beat of the clicking cicadas and the low whirring tick of the fan. Kicking aside thin sheets, I scratched fresh welts on my ankles and watched as a lizard flicked his tongue, then crept on padded toes toward the blood-drowsy mosquito. From the kitchen, the smell of pancakes with imitation maple syrup, carefully rationed to compensate for the sharp tang of Haitian honey. And after breakfast? An unending parade of distractions.

I’m staying up way too late enjoying the missionary kid’s memoir The Gospel of Trees. Set in Haiti and northern California, it perfectly balances the heroism and deep disappointment twined around being the child of parents who believed they could change the world.