February break, here

winter_breakWe’re planning to stay in Boston for February break and I’m noting down the things to do with Lux at home and many other otherwise-weekly activities cancelled.

(I’ve also whiled away several hours looking at houses in Georgia O’Keeffe/Deborah Madison New Mexico. Coincidence?)

I foresee several luxuriously long library visits, at date night in, a hotel night out, a museum we would otherwise save for a weekend. A few of the things on my mind…

THE STAY SOMEWHERE ELSE AWAY

Downtown, the Lenox Hotel offers easy in-house activities for kids like Cookie & Paint night, movie night, or a crafting night. The Lenox is ideally located on the green line near the central Public Library, and a few stops from the MFA, both of which will also be offering special activities for the week. Interesting restaurants abound in this area, making it simple to stay indoors if the weather isn’t great. And do note they offer a few select rooms with working fireplaces! From $260 per night. The Lenox has offered us a free night stay in exchange for me sharing these facts, which we are totally taking advantage of. 

Boston public library copley

On Cape Cod, the Bayside resort schedules full days of activities for the whole week, including themed (free) breakfasts, scavenger hunts, bingo, movie nights, pizza nights and simultaneously scheduled parent’s happy hours. Plus, you’ll have the winter beaches to yourself. One night from $159 per night.

THE AMAZING OUTDOORS

The Highland Foundations sponsors totally free skating at the Boston Common Frog Pond.

New Hampshire Ice Castles: These are built new every year in New Hampshire from scratch and appear to be rather amazing. We’ve never been, but I’d love to take an afternoon to get up there. You can see photos here, and coordinate your visit with a fire show!

The Somerville Winter Market: every weekend on Saturdays, indoors, full of amazing food vendors!

MUSEUMS, YOUR FRIEND

The newly reopened Discovery Museum in Acton (about 40 minutes west of the city). This delightfully hands-on, low tech, and interactive museum could you keep your family busy all day.

**Giveaway now closed. The Museum is offering free admission for kids under 12 on March 3rd & 4th.

The Museum of Fine Arts places special kid-interactive crafting activities in galleries all around the museum. Often there are concerts and special guests as well. All of these activities are free with admission. Check their schedule posted online beforehand.

mfa dining

THE GREAT INDOORS, at home

Buy art supplies: I like to think of the money that would have been spent on the random dining out that happens on trips redirected to other things, like buying a new art supplies. Here are a few we love, and are currently out of; combine any of these with a leftover cereal box and I promise amazing things will come of it! Do-a-dots (two year olds love), pastels (particularly fun on black construction paper), shurtapegold leaf, twistable crayons. Gold leaf and pastels are both special supplies that require adults checking in every now and then. Always useful: this comprehensive list of the Eric Carle Museum Studio’s favorite kids art supplies.

winter_break

^^ This is a recycled chocolate wrapper, not gold leaf, but we’ve done similar activities with that fluttery gold multipurpose dazzle!

Handwriting hobby After a recent conversation with the first grade teachers, I realized significantly less time is made for handwriting practice in today’s school curriculum. Much more time is spent on writing and writing comprehension. This empowers them as writers (or it has, for Lux) but the actual technique gets left behind. So we are working on this habit at home! Paired with a yummy snack and cozy rug, it’s a great activity and all you need are some ruled papers, or order your own handwriting book.

Count the dice Another activity I’m borrowing from Lux’s classroom hints. The kids make charts with a column for each number from 1-12. Then you get two dice, roll them, and color in the box above the number you received, pass the dice to the next person. It’s the simplest thing, but it seems to be satisfying in those ways that adults love too–rolling dice, reading numbers, checking off boxes. It’s communal and fun to do around the table.

make your own

Making your own play dough has gotten a rap as trademark ultra-homemade-crowd, but really, it takes ten minutes and you get to pick the colors and end up with warm play dough. It lasts forever compared to the store bought stuff. I don’t use add spices but I do use the recipes that include coconut oil.

Pillow jump This is from the Waldorf crowd, best for toddlers up to age 3, but fun for all if you’re not worried about the downstairs neighbors. Take a step stool, put it in the middle of the floor. Surround with a big pile of pillows. Climb up, jump off. Repeat.

 My Holidays guide to Boston, some of these things still apply.

Anything special on your schedule for February?

two year appointment

At Alma’s two year appointment, I found myself staring into the doctor’s eyes as she reviewed the signs for me to watch for that would signal Alma’s ear infection had taken hold beyond the viral. I knew for certain she had said these words hundreds of times and yet she was carefully, intently spelling them out for me. For a moment, lulled by her soft background melody of a French/Russian accent, I considered it from Joan’s perspective, slouched on a chair along the wall. Two women talking to each other, standing close together with a toddler perched between them, one learning from the other, the other elucidating as best she could.

Often in her office, I adopt the visage of a first time mother. What is the point of pretending, I decided early on, that I was anything but too comfortable in what I knew? Using a “wait and see” method for almost everything. And getting caught unawares regularly! There was the appointment I had to be talked into for croup that had progressed to steroid levels, the poor twelve months weight gain, the enflamed ezcema, the barely noticed ear infection. I could go on.

In contrast to the constant speculative worrying that seem to sum up all baby’s doctor appointments, it was delightful to remark on Alma’s 70 percentile height and 50 percentile weight. Lovely. I felt great affection for this woman, and how we’d managed together for the past two years.

Joan, Alma and I took the elevator down to the lobby. Alma strode ahead, clearly euphoric to be leaving the risky offices of the doctor behind. We headed to the lobby cafe to buy a coffee and croissants for the girls (my first purchased coffee since I took on the frugal month challenge! Wait, it’s only been ten days.). Got to the cash register and realized I didn’t have my wallet, keys, train pass, etc. The cashier assured me I could pay next time I was there, eyeing the girls with an practiced eye that she knew we’d be back.

a few photos from our week

ballet_at_homeFreestyle Nutcracker before a friend’s parent arrives for pick-up.

pen painted toysShe may be sick but her sister pen-painted her toes, selective joy.

water pitcher Entering the satisfying water pitcher stage.

 

notes from the snowstorm

Brought Alma downstairs by the light of 7am snowfall, found my family texting about crypto currencies. Stare in space wondering what could softly pop the bubble–bend the bubble?–so people like this gal could get their product out before everyone gets too jumpy. Alma hands me a book about water in which an octopus blows bubbles, hoses down the grass, and tears up–differing definitions of water.

The girls are still in vacation mode, entertaining themselves with their new legos sets–freed of instructions and loosed into bins–tromping outside for strictly ten minute periods before asking yet again to be loosed from the strictures of zippers and velcro, making hot coco much darker than mom would have, carefully clipping stickers and sorting them according to elaborate exchange rituals.

girls

Pulled out the last rounds of venison from the freezer because I underestimated our grocery needs, per usual (I was intrigued to hear about this venison cookbook because there is more coming to a freezer near me. I found it on Hoopla via the public library, hooray).

Put a pan of blondies in the oven, went for a walk by myself, a serious snow day perk. Skirted the roaring snowplows. Admired Joe’s work clearing the snow from our block. Stopped for an espresso at a shop that had opened, though left most of the lights off. Read by the dim light a nostalgic glossing speech of a retiring city councilor and the local rates for an overnight garage.

Peered at the bookshelf until I spotted Brother Andrew’s Practicing the Presence of God, put Alma in the bath and sat in the corner reading it. January for me is one of those months when I need monk thoughts from the 1600s.

pizza

 

 

advent word: awaken

and the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it. -john 1, verse 5

To drive our family to the Midwest for Thanksgiving, we woke the girls up at 4:30AM. Rather than waiting for them to gain consciousness, we began sliding their shoes on their still-sleeping legs, tucking their limp arms into their jackets. We murmured what we were doing as they woke up mid-dress change. They walked outside in the cold moonlight with us. Once in car, they fell back asleep, which felt like a great success: to cross and recross the woken line so easily when typically this line is fixed: once woken, they are awake.

An eerie moment among Jesus’s healings in the Bible is when he tells a dead girl lying on the bed where she died, to wake up. It feels profoundly off-territory—-a man telling another man’s daughter, whom the father believes to be dead, to simply awaken instead. Perhaps the father wondered if he had seen her clearly in the first place. And yet it is a moment of glorious upsidedown: the line that should never be crossed–a child dying before the parent–had been crossed and recrossed. 

One layer of the parenting shroud (and there are many) is that you do not see your season of life for what it is. Fondly looking backward and warily looking forward, it’s difficult to evaluate what a stage will mean to your being for the rest of your life. To awaken to your circumstances, your actual life, the decisions you’ve made and where they’ve brought you, the gifts you were given that you did not ask for, is truly a challenge. Often the awake! command is brought on by discomfort, discouragement, or interruption.

The idea behind a prayer journal is that you might reflect on the prayers you once had that were answered. Oddly, without documenting them, these prayers can flee your mind as soon as they are resolved, replaced by new ones. When I encounter a friend I haven’t seen for months, she asks me about something I was worried about last time I saw her, and I stare blankly back at her. Oh, I guess we figured it out, is often my response.

My aunt practices healing of various sorts–acupuncture, herbs, tapping. In that last method, you ask the patient to gauge their pain levels numerically between 1-10. This is important, because as the pain ebbs away, people will quickly forget how they felt moments ago. Or sometimes that pain will be solved, but a new one will speak up quickly, and the mind switches to anxiously centering on the next one.

In daily life, I’ll snap out of peaceful/absentminded parenting when the toddler cuts it too close to an intersection, or one of the girls pushes the other in impulsive frustration. Trotting along cheerfully until I suddenly find myself saying, “Hey! what is going on here???” then we all sigh and look at each other. 

Anger is one of those emotions moms like to keep their distance from. Lots of confessions around anger amongst coffee cup chats. However, kids really don’t seem to mind anger. They embrace it whole heartedly themselves, screaming with fury from the youngest age when they are taken aback by something. Anger is the abundance of feeling. My children gaze at me frankly when I am angrily describing what I am angry about. Recently: “Why is everyone here acting like what they want is the most important? I am doing things for you all day, you can also do things for me, and for each other. That is important and it’s how this household works!” <shout, at the end there>

I am one of those who shyly comes up later in the day and whispers, sorry for yelling at you, i was frustrated. They shrug at me, usually smile, ask where their scissors are and if they can have a snack.

I encountered a list of Advent words proposed by Anglican/Episcopalians and I liked the idea of responding to a few of them throughout this month. 

 

 

the body one day poorer yet

berries2 berries4 berries3

We picked blackberries, dense like daisies, and ate too many, leaving with stomach aches and our two bins of inky tokens from the country to share at school pickup back in the city and mix into our cereal the next day when we could hear the trash trucks sweeping by outside the window. I never see them for sale around here, perhaps they are too fragile to ripen and transport, so their exotic nature and exaggerated size monopolized our attention until they were gone.

berries1

homeberries

I love cooking up fruit  <crumble, crisp, cobbler> but the girls have yet to like anything better than the taste of fresh raw fruit. When my older brother visited last week I made whipped cream to top off a morning-dessert peach crisp. Lux asked if she could use the extra whipped cream on bowls of fresh fruit. I was so impressed by how she peeled and cut up everything, layering it into individual bowls to enjoy with Joan.

*title a line from an autumn poem, Moon-Breath by Mary Jo Salter.

gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying

deli_counter

After all sorts of discussion we decided to have Joan pass on her option for full day preschool this year. Parents! Sometimes I think we grow more relaxed by the year, and sometimes it feels like we’ve become psychoanalyst zombies who can’t help but minutely over-examine our children.

Joan is self-driven, often beginning her morning by piling up books for me to read her, filling whole sheets of paper with alphabet letters and doodles, and telling me things like “I want to get books about the human body.” So on the one hand, I feel she is teaching herself, but on the other, she can be a swift flowing river that doesn’t like to be redirected with my mossy sticks jutting out here and there. She is intensely imaginative, sometimes developing long narratives that she tells herself, barely noticing what her sisters are playing around her. After short social events, she likes to have plenty of time to play and read alone to decompress. These are all characteristics we mulled over when we decided to keep her home for another year.

My memories of Lux’s fourth year at home with me are some of my favorite. I have dozens of photos of our walks around town with her stuffed animals, making soft pink playdough together, the trays of paint she would pull out for the afternoon, the funny games she played with two-year-old Joan, like stacking spice jars in towers or packing snack-picnics.

I’m really looking forward to Joan’s and my year together. What a gift!

We are also joining a one-day-a-week homeschool community. This will give me a chance to experiment with curriculum (with no expectations on her, of course, just for fun and discussion) and give her the chance to have peers she sees every week and practice some public speaking. I found the national program, Classical Conversations, through my friend Jenny, my friend Kacia, and some of the online community that posts on instagram under the name wildandfree.co

I have to tell you, I don’t have high hopes for myself in managing a structure with much elegance. I will try to set about something of a morning schedule, but I’m sure it will take some plotting. In Lux’s first year of kindergarten last year, it took me a remarkable amount of time to figure out how to plan our days. It was practically April before I realized how nice it was to get Alma’s naps in earlier, in order to have her be rested by school pickup time. If you are entering a new schedule this fall, I encourage you to take it easy on yourself (of course!) but also to mix things up in all sorts of ways as soon as you can manage it. Change nap times, snack times, wake up times, all of it, until you can pinpoint a great rhythm for your family.

It’s September! I’m hoping to post soon about our new apartment and the move to a new neighborhood, what I’m working on in my alone time, some of my favorite fall things to do around here, and our travel photos from Maine.

left my heart under the seal deck

August is delightfully quiet in the city. We’ll cross a street without a car in sight. Parking spots appears in places where you’ve never seen a free curb. All seems sleepy until you try to request Uber’s free ice cream truck and then you realize there are many other hungry citizens besides you.

Partial eclipse visible from every park & monument. Love your signs, Tyler Nordgren! Keep up the good work.

One of the few places you’ll find a line, though, is Boston’s only outdoor beer garden. It opens at 4 and has a line until it closes around ten. No harm done though, because you can wait in line with your friends. I love the gorgeous way they built the space out.

I was so happy to see lots of strollers in line. It’s a perfect place to bring kids, but alongside all the young professionals streaming tidily out in their work attire, it can feel intimidating. It’s always better if families show up in numbers!

I parked our stroller outside along the fence (it might sound unexpected, but I do this everywhere in Boston and I’ve never had anything stolen), and the kids walked in with us. Food trucks are always parked nearby, and the food can come right in with you, thank goodness.

There’s a big deck behind the Aquarium overlooking Boston’s harbor that I’ve very grown found of, and that’s what I wanted to frame our day around. It’s expansive, safely fenced in, and the kids can see so many boats coming and going. It’s free, but you feel like you’ve payed to be there. And on your way, you can see the free seals frolicking in the outside tank.

Because Bridget’s oldest has a cast right now–poor kid, mid summer!–we mostly avoided the fountains but they are one of the Greenway’s best assets. That’s another reason why the Aquarium’s back deck was such a great fit for us. And so was a detour into the IMAX theatre….

These popcorn heads after a not-scary imax movie about great white sharks. Is 40 mins the perfect time length for a kids theatre film? I think so.

Sweet Joan with her 3D glasses and nearly constant supplementary narration to the film. “Seals should NOT swim in oceans because sharks DO eat them.”

If I’m in the photo, Bridget took it!

eclipse sandwich

AugustYou can’t rush August, though there is every temptation to do so. It is fully half the summer and the most glorious half, at that.

We found a new apartment to live in, in the North End! The North End is an incredibly historic neighborhood in Boston, full of Italian businesses, Italian churches and Italian people! The streets are residential, peppered with commercial properties, like all city neighborhoods used to be. It’s a few minutes walk from Lux’s school and offers amenities we’ve never had before: a washer & dryer, a patio, air conditioning, first floor living!

North_EndNorth_end_2

Because it has things like more than one bathroom, the actual living space is smaller than what we currently have. We will need to lend a few of our chairs away for a season to make it work. But I’m not worried about that because we’ll (eventually) have a table big enough to share meals with friends on! And the patio! And the same short bicycle commute for Joe. Wow. So much to be thankful for.

We’ve been pruning our possessions a bit before packing things up. For example, I just went through my kitchen utility drawer. I lined everything up and pulled about 20% of it that I wasn’t using. Next up are a few drawers in my closest where things like scarves, hair dryers (as if!), and sewing supplies hide out for far too long.

I’m also studiously emptying ridiculous things; I just used up the last of our hot sauce, and I haven’t replaced the soy sauce. I’m trying to use up all our frozen venison before the end of the month. These are tiny things that no doubt have absolutely no affect on packing–but, it’s a mindset!

We are keeping less adult books now as the girls’ collection grows and becomes more useful. I like staring at the edges of our books, lined up and reminding me of who I once was, but the girls’ books are read more regularly and used for all sorts of things like making towers, and going to sleep at night.

girls_washing

Meanwhile, my friend just sent me something that’s been on my want-list for awhile: a small, countertop ice cream maker!! So, things aren’t getting too pared down around here.

I’m really beginning to regret our decision to go to Maine instead of chase the totality of the eclipse. Planning a vacation around three minutes sounded crazy at the time, but then again, I didn’t consider the fact that there’s really nothing like the totality, versus a partial eclipse. If you are getting your kids ready to discuss it, I highly recommend TinyBop’s Eclipse Primer and the vox video linked to therein. We love TinyBop’s Planets app too, especially the part that lets you compare the planet sizes.

eclipse_sandwich

 

Grace Farms, CT

Grace Farms in New Canaan Connecticut is on the way, or very close to the way, from Boston to New York. It is 3.5hrs from Boston, and 1.5hrs from New York. It is completely unmarked up until you find the driveway, then you will see a sign that you’ve found it. Parking is free, there is a cafe that is open until 3pm serving easy dishes, like one delicious huge house salad, a bookstore/library with just a few quixotic concentrations (art & beauty, justice & ethics), and a tea room where pots of tea are served for $5-$10.

The property grounds have trails are open for wandering but the building is hard to wander away from. Its elegant river shape somehow evokes a mother guiding her hens, you don’t want to walk out from under from her wing.

The Japanese male & female partner architects Sanaa also designed almost all the chairs that you’ll see on the property, like the lovely drop chairs that look like floating mercury thumbprints (your children will ask to get one for home, its better not to google the price).

Stopping by for a couple hours is a chance to luxuriate in beautiful thoughtful design, for free! We had a hard time leaving and ended up coming once more on our way back from Philadelphia. The cafeteria, in particular, is a joy to sit in. Closed on Mondays. And, it’s Connecticut, so do check for ticks before you get back in the car.