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?

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

 

 

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.

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

 

moving city

porch_lights

We are apartment hunting which has me deeply nostalgic for our current apartment even as we live here for a few more months. Reminiscing the present is like writing a greeting card to yourself every morning when you wake up. Things become overwrought with significance.

It was originally our landlord’s idea, but once he suggested it, it felt right to us too. Comparing us to us back at our apartment tour, we now feel just a percentage too big, maybe 15%.

Four years, two infancies in our bedroom, a few rooftop drinks, lots of sleeping-in with light blazing onto our pillows (the eastern reach of the eastern time zone), watching rain fall over the park from the windows, watching the tops of the trees change from flowers to leaves. Actually, much of life lived through the windows, often open on both sides like a railroad car, like a porch you happened to enclose with brick walls and place sixty feet in the air.

Joan helping me in the kitchen, Lux in the bathtub, listening to The Last Battle, the sound of the narrator’s British accent coming through the door over her light splashing.

Lux watching the Hancock Tower’s weather beacon visible from her window and reciting the code to us as if it contained predictive magical powers: “Steady blue, clear view. Flashing blue, clouds due. Steady red, rain ahead. Flashing red, snow instead.”

The mice, a revolving chain of them, heedless of the abrupt disappearance of their elders.”I just saw something scamper in the kitchen, it looked like a bird, but I think it was a mouse.”

Four years with just a bathtub for bathing (such a lovely old fashioned word), fun years where I mentally added shower to the amenities I would enjoy on vacation, even when we were just staying over at a friend’s house for the night.

It’s hard to leave a stage you still love.

window_you

Because we still love it, we have become persnickety rental hunters. We have no interest in replicating our space, we want everything we’ve loved so far, but more! Small, quirky, south facing windows, wood burning fireplace, pets welcome, heat & hot water included, washer & dryer, quiet at night, a real patio, wood floors, same fifteen minute commute for Joe. Because this Christmas list continues to be a hopeful prayer of mine I will avoid blasé language, but suffice to say Boston’s rental market is not in the business of making dreams come true.

Around this time of year I often visit friends with yards, kiddie pools, sidewalks, climbing trees, front porches, and extra bedrooms, and I have to stifle my awe of it all. Act natural like them. They shrug at the grandeur, “well, we’re thinking of re-doing the kitchen.” Their children totter from thing to thing, express boredom, ask for snacks. I become overwhelmed by the probability that my children would act the very same way in such circumstances, instead of turning into joyful competitive cyclists or champion swimmers like I secretly imagine.

(that said, I affirm any dissatisfactions with space, no matter how much of it. Having looked at approximately two hundred real estate listings, I believe we can say that space does not equal human comfort–comfort typically found in things like light that pools on the floor, windows that open, hearing your family while you cook, a room looking clean after you’ve cleaned it, the way a wall can expand a room instead of dividing it.

Is it odd or totally natural to experience deep identity crisis with a new home? Why are we as humans always leaning into things to make them who we are. Must your clothes, job, children, home, aspirations, facebook profile remind you of your value?

Naturally the girls hate the idea of moving. Like a loyal friend, they sing the praises of our current space  (“Isn’t it so quiet on this street Mom?”), brush over the negatives or simply don’t see them (“I don’t want to say this out loud around anyone because I might hurt their feelings, but we live on the top floor.”)

You could make the argument that fertility is arranging this need for a new apartment. We have outgrown it. It worked for the 3rd infancy, but with all five of us walking now, it feels clumsy; the enforced minimalism more insistent than we want it to be.

Fertility can seem like a moving walkway that keeps turning me into new things and handing me things–infancy, baby, kindergarten, drop off and pick up, doctors appointments, feeling late a lot, nights on zappos analyzing miniature sandal straps, grocery lists peppered with apples and peanut butter jars, afternoons that begin when I pack the snacks and end with a bowl of tuna fish between us on the floor, me scooping spoonfuls into their mouths.

To some extent I feel like an active participant, in others, like leaving this apartment, I feel like decisions were made by some other creature.

 

a hot chocolate stand in February

hot_cocoa

A hot chocolate stand setup in 20 degrees is a very popular thing, almost too popular for us to keep up with! Lux watercolored the sign, and we found a spot in the sun next to our neighbor’s house. Mini marshmallows (in the Luxardo can) and whipped cream were included with purchase. Joan sat sedately behind the table, Lux eagerly filled cups, and our neighbor friend counted out change. They sold out quickly, and we learned a few lessons, like: always start with two gallons of milk, buy more cups than you think, and practice basic business habits (“thank you!” “have a nice day!”) beforehand. There was lots of talk about next time, and I’m already looking forward to it.

They made way too much money, because everyone was overpaying, which led to an easy lesson about net profit after cost and tithing.

Lux spent the rest of the day making jokes about how gross profit sounds like “gross pockets.” A thing, I might say, she knows quite a bit about.

I struggle to type anything against Ina Garten, but her onion dip recipe is a mix of sour cream and cream cheese which is too sweet to go with onions. Julia Turshen’s adds mayo to sour cream with a 1tsp douse of sherry vinegar. An action that suggests that you put the “salt and vinegar” in the dip instead of the chip. (Her dip recipe, though I did a thin-sliced caramelized onions version instead of roasted scallions.)

My super bowl weekend was a new jar of pickles and gin martinis with fresh orange juice, the girls running down to the neighbors’ to color while I cooked venison burgers in silence, save the sizzle. Reading Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen, which is excellent so far. Too many twitter checks for me, for sure, but what’s a savvy girl to do these days? I saw a pussy hat out in the wild, shopping with her daughter, and I realized: these pink handknit babies will be with us all winter! We’ll see them out: pulling sleds, loading up groceries, examining birthday cards in the aisles of Target, shoveling sidewalks. A cheering thought.

 

 

January 2, milk street

wireless

This week I listened to vintage Diane Rehm episodes. She has already retired from her daily radio show, but before she did, she replayed old favorite episodes. In one, an interview with her best friend, they confess that they’ve spoken to each other every morning at 7am for over thirty years. ADULT. GOALS.

(Thank you to reader Julia for suggesting these wireless headphones for nap time listening/doing, right when I needed something to ask for Christmas! Thanks mom.)

But I began by listening to her interview with Fred Rogers, a show which sounded like a pillow and a blanket had curled up to talk to each other and recorded it for radio. Quiet and deeply soothing. I listened to the whole thing on the couch and nearly teared up it was so encouraging.

After the episode finished I immediately hunted down the current best-method to watch Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which is: all seven seasons streaming on Amazon, free to prime members. What a gift to modern parents! The girls have both watched Daniel Tiger, the cartoon iteration produced by PBS that carries many of the same sensibilities (and the background-ambient feeling that this is all just a rouse to make better parents out of us), but I see a big difference between the shows. On the Neighborhood adults are running into each other all day and interacting: well mannered and thoughtful. You see adults shaking hands, asking after each other’s health, thanking each other, and bidding good day. You see Mr. Rogers make a point to greet his local shoe salesman, his grocer, his milkman. Watching this social courtesy modeled in slow-motion on television is really quite something.

shakshuka

Another wonderful thing from last week: I had the great pleasure of visiting 177 Milk Street, Christopher Kimball’s (founder of Cook’s Illustrated) new endeavor in downtown Boston. Like Cook’s Illustrated, Milk Street has a TV and radio show and a bimonthly magazine. However, unlike Cook’s Illustrated, they have designed their kitchen to host monthly classes and talks. It is a wide open space with fabulous big windows, located right in the heart of downtown. They are offering free cooking classes to Boston teenagers, which is so cool.

I went with a gaggle of wonderful-cook girlfriends to see Julia Turshen. Julia was a wee bit shorter in person than I expected after seeing many photographs of her fabulous hair. She was soft spoken yet an amazing public speaker. She made several simple recipes for us but even in their simplicity we were all able to pick up a few professional tricks. For example, before mincing garlic, she always crushes the cloves under her knife to flatten them. Genius. When adding garlic to a pan of olive oil, she tips the pan for a minute so the garlic can merrily slosh around and very-nearly fry. She said she roasts pretty much everything at 425–easy to remember!

There’s something reassuring about watching a professional do things you do in your kitchen every day.

So we began with glasses of wine, potato chips, and scoops of her scallion chip dip. Then we sat and watched her cook (luxury!), then we got to taste everything and get our copies of Small Victories signed. It was really fun and I highly recommend it for your next outing.

The photo above is from when I made her turkey and ricotta meatballs along with her very easy to doctor-up can-of-tomato sauce. The next morning I turned the leftovers into shakshuka, where you poach eggs in the simmering sauce (takes about ten minutes, just dump them in and put a lid on the pan) and then serve with a crumble of goat cheese.

secret peek at your neighbor-human

boston_common_rink boston_common_rink boston_common_rink boston_common_rinkboston_common_rinkIMG_6541 boston_common_rink boston_common_rink boston_common_rink boston_common_rink

Even if you skate alone ice skating is romantic because it is a valentine to winter. People leave their cozy couches and make their way in the cold to a clear patch of blue ice. Then they lean down and yank-yank on their skate laces, totter like penguins over rubber mats, and finally step with their steel spindles onto the frozen water.

A few sail away like pretty ships, but many, many, slip and slide, fail, flail and laugh. Get back up, grab their friend’s hand, do it again. Laugh at themselves, lunge into the wall, gently push off, start over. Adults do this! They pay to do it! Sure, some of them are high on drugs, or optimism, or both. But they do it and it’s inspiring to see.

Sometimes you see someone walk out, just a guy, dressed in sweats. Maybe he’s slouching. His hat is covering his eyes. He walks to the ice and all of sudden it’s like he’s dancing. You can’t help but watch his ankles because they are like two birds weaving through the trees. He’s so good! Did he play hockey? Did his mom used to take him skating as a kid? Does he love to skate by himself on Tuesday afternoons every week? We’ll never know. Without them saying a word, you get a secret peek into your neighbor-human and you see how talented and graceful they are, and you just admire them so much, these strangers.

The Ocean House, Rhode Island

We were so fortunate to be hosted by my mom and my aunt Anne in Rhode Island a few weekends ago. My sister Joanie and two of my brothers were also able to come. My mom had reserved rooms at the Ocean House and we managed to squeeze everyone in together.

On the way down we stopped at Monahan’s for a classic clam shack experience, tables outside near the water, fried oysters or clams (you don’t always see both, actually) and lobster rolls. We should have stopped off at Matunuck’s Oyster Bar on the drive as well, but we regrettably decided to wait until later that weekend (and never made it). My mom from Michigan, and my aunt from Denver, kept exclaiming over the smell of the ocean.

In the fall, the Ocean House puts boxes of apple varieties on the front steps for guests to sample on their way in or out. It was this small perk, and the adorable downstairs candy and doughnut shop, that topped the girls’ memories of the place.

The hotel is absolutely stunning. Its restoration was a labor of love by a local man who wanted to save the land from turning into condos. I could not stop taking pictures of it, and I often found myself hiking around the long way just to see it from another perspective.

Not surprisingly the beauty of the property, the time with my family, all their help with the girls, the extra undisturbed time to put Alma down for a nap, and the long dinners together, were totally restorative!

We were all able to sit on one of the giant teak porches for dinner both nights, watching the slow sunset, eating local oysters, and catching up on all we’d missed in the past few months.

The town of Watch Hill is a five minute walk from the front steps of Ocean House. The tiny carousel was closed for the season, but cozy wood-raftered St. Claire’s Annex was serving breakfast with fresh squeeze mimosas, Huxter was stocked like a slim closet for an elegant east coast surfer with a taste for nice dinners, Ten Sandwiches had espresso and sandwiches, and the iconic pink walls of the Olympia Tea Room were visible through the spotless glass windows.

Ocean House has a free borrow-a-car ahem, borrow-a-Mercedes-Benz, program. You show up at the front desk and ask if any cars are available at that moment. If there is one, they pull one around for you right away. Thanks to all the devoted volunteers, Joe and I were able to go for a short (FAST) drive together. I wanted to show him the rolling green farmland-n-pond drive to the Weekapaug Inn. Then we drove on for a bookstore date to The Savoy. I found the hardcover of a book I’d read on the kindle, Fates and Furies. I loved that book and it was fun to see its beckoning presence in a real live bookstore. (We bought Commonwealth, Substitute, and for the whole family: Thing Explainer.)

After we got back, we handed the car on to my brother and his girlfriend for their own tour.

Oh, let us remain fearless in the face of school calendars. Let September and October always be dotted with crossed off long weekends of refreshment! Let late beach visits and still-long sunny days and hotels that feel peacefully abandoned flourish alongside neatly packed lunchboxes and clean uniforms.