We knew upfront that Easter and April Fools would fall on the same day. I was secretly pleased that April Fools was so easily superseded by Easter. April is my birthday month, an elegant spring month that contains snow, rain, mud, and sunshine. It is a unique month, as months go, and beginning it with a Fools day belittles it.
So we knew those two were paired together, but I don’t know if we realized that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day would then also be the same day until a few weeks before when I asked our babysitter to come that evening so we could go to the service and dinner, how luxurious. A babysitter, an evening service sitting next to each other in the pew, then the train to Thai food. During our meal, where we were seated next to a bright aquarium of fish, there was a birthday song for one of the diners that night. For the song the restaurant dimmed the lights, flipped on hidden flashing disco lights all around the room, blasted a pop version of the song, and circled the table with clapping waiters. All of this happened within 30 seconds and then the lights returned to a dim romantic glow and I could just make out the finger smudge of ashes on Joe’s forehead.
And we couldn’t have known that the March for Our Lives would take place the day before Palm Sunday, a day that recalls a march-cum-parade that celebrated Jesus but also eerily confirmed his death soon to come. As re-creators of this parade–at church we each hold slim palm branches and wander outside singing hymns–one experiences the enthusiasm of crowd spirit and the sickening feeling of the doom to come.
And a March to draw attention to the constant threat of gun violence, to the way a seven-year-old quietly told me the only things she was nervous about with her new school in a new state were “the shootings,” an ebullient morning of group zeitgeist that only happened because people died…well, the parallels were there.
In Boston, the March for Our Lives ended on a muddy hill. Though respectfully a movement of the young, many old people were at the March, even old enough to have canes and walkers, creeping slowly up the hill and standing on the edge of the mud with their signs like, It’s Harder to Adopt a Puppy.
The speakers were young and we couldn’t make out their words from where we stood, but we could hear the screech of their voices, rising in anger and shout here and there, which made them seem all the younger. I realized I hadn’t heard from an inexperienced speaker in a long time. Vulnerable has been a feeling present from the beginning–vulnerable at school, vulnerable on Twitter and in responding to the verbal attacks of adults questioning their character and motives, vulnerable in their emotions and hopes.
I absentmindedly made a palm cross from the palms in church, folding the still fresh palm into corners, then folding them again. I handed the finished cross to one daughter, and another whispered please make me one while I’m at children’s sermon. I am not the fine handcrafter of the family; they don’t ask me to draw things for them or cut straight lines, though dirty dishes, dirty clothes, tattered books in need of a sling of tape are often left in my hand. I felt honored by the request.
A few photos from our cozy stay-away in February. The Lenox Hotel offered to host us for one night of vacation week. We had so much fun with it! In the winter it is so easy to get stuck inside and stare at your own walls a little too much.
I had never been to The Lenox, never had reason to stay before, but I felt that it was an ideal hotel for visiting the city. There was an intimate feeling to it, plentiful free coffee in the lobby in the morning, chocolate on the turned down beds in the evening (a lost art in hotels these days), excellent location, friendly staff and quite affordable.
The escapism of the night worked better than I imagined. I packed toothbrushes and pajamas in the bottom of the stroller and we took the train over. “I just love the green line,” Lux sighed as we walked. I do too.
The Lenox is neighbors to one of our favorite buildings in the city: The Copley Square location of the Boston Public Library. It is also several blocks away from the downtown Flour bakery, the Pru (which now has Anna’s Taqueria, Sweetgreen, and dig inn, not to mention Eately), the Apple store, and in the summer, the Copley Farmer’s Market. So it’s an ideal location for visitors to the city.
And directly next door is the Lindt chocolate shop which offers free samples to anyone who walks in, including your kids! Gourmet milk chocolate, as Joe refers to their delicious line up (though they carry amazing dark chocolate as well).
The girls dug into snacks and jumping on the bed, as one does. We requested one of their fireplace rooms, a novelty I just could not get over: a fireplace in a hotel! You do have to defer to a bellman to build the fire for you for safety reasons. They reassured us not to worry about rebuilding it. We called down several times for more wood, and it wasn’t an issue at all.
I had packed a folder of stationary to catch up on a few letters, including ones to the international buddies that we sponsor through Compassion (been meaning to post about these; a favorite way to expand global thinking with my kids and myself) and got to work on them. Selecting one task from my overflowing to-do drawer and bringing it with me always works well.
I had also packed a wine bottle opener for that evening and sandwiches so we could do an easy dinner in the hotel.
After Joe biked over from work we headed to the Pru for an after dinner Pinkberry snack. Once home, we brushed teeth, dimmed the lights, and Joe and I set up reading lights, wine, and pulled chairs around the fire. It was bliss!
Waking up without the immediate, “Mama, I neeed cereal!” which is Alma’s rooster crow, was a refreshing change. I ran across the street for Dunkin Donut breakfast sandwiches and bagels. After Joe headed to work on his bike, the girls and I packed up the stroller and headed to the Library for a couple hours and then headed home. Thanks Lenox, we so enjoyed!
We are on our third round of colds, and I’ve got two gardening books (an organic gardening classic and a friendly kid-project one) out from the library to plot for our tiny patio garden this summer. I want to have an edible flower basket, a line of sweet peas on trellis, and tub of new potatoes, and string beans. My next step is to sketch a floor plan and make a list of what I need to buy.
I also need to find a really, really, classy inflatable pool.
On Sunday Lux and I appeared at one of the occasional outreaches of our church. I’ve been meaning to go, but the weekend never seemed to work (on the gravestone for many of my hopeful participations: it just didn’t quite work).
As a matter of fact, outreach at an Episcopal church with an urban professional congregation can be hard to muster. The church services themselves take 6-10 people to run, relying on a heavy volunteer force. Then there are weekly Sunday coffee hours, with food provided by four parishioners for each of the two major services. There is also a loyal crew that prepares, serves, and cleans up after a weekly three course meal for the homeless. For the outreach needs that simply crop up in an urban parish–arguably the most important part–one is recruiting from an already over-committed and largely overworked (though ironically very successful) crowd.
The program is a twenty-two-year-old weekly, rain snow or shine, outdoor church for the homeless, the “housed and unhoused.” They gather at an open plaza around a fountain in front of the capital building on Sunday mornings. They serve lunch beforehand, but they call it coffee hour so as not to place too much weight on the food element—simply letting the food nourish and then moving right along into the service.
The director reminded me of a New Hampshire hiker-turned-priest. She had a thermometer toggle on her backpack that jangled alongside her long braid. She pointed out that the mild cold of that Sunday was worse than the extreme cold of another day because it was a cold that crept up on you. She pointed out that waiting when you are traumatized can induce anxiety. She emphasized that we only set up the food a few minutes beforehand so not too much time is spent waiting in line. Those handing out food should be careful not to continue the paradigm of giver and receiver. Those handing out food should be greeting and smiling, nodding and saying certainly if someone wants more than one sandwich. Time would be left in between refills for those who wanted to approach the table without making human contact.
I was thrilled to listen to these subtle directions mentioned with care. For a few moments it felt like training to be a valet at the Ritz. Lux listened to all of it with great attention and then whispered the order of the food to me as it should be set up: sandwiches, hot soup, popcorn, bananas.
She and I volunteered to cut and give out the sheet cake. Evaluating how many people came and how many sheet cakes we had, I cut really enormous square pieces. People asked for the pieces with yellow flowers, just like they do at birthday parties. Birthdays were an easy discussion topic. I’m turning 33 next month, one man announced. I am oldddd.
Me too! I said.
He frowned at me. You don’t look old.
You don’t look old either! I said.
As people in their thirties often say to each other.
Lux and I were really grateful to be part of this event, to step into it as participants and friendly faces. The delight of sharing this new experience together reminded me how difficult it is to find volunteer opportunities to do with your children. She didn’t want to leave my side, didn’t want to strike up her own conversations, but she was quietly observing how everyone interacted with each other, the physical disfigurements and disabilities that were taken in stride, the way an “uh huh” or “oh yes,” could smoothly breach an awkward conversation gap. It is both a hurdle and goal of mine to find more of these opportunities.
I can’t get the UN write up of the visit to the United States out of my mind. You may read it and different painful elements may stand out to you. Infant and maternal mortality always stand out to me. Whenever I read that phrase, for a moment I have a flashback to waiting for a visiting nurse to come by my humid July apartment to check the infection on my c-section cut. It felt like a lot of work scheduling that nurse every couple days, whom my insurance paid for, being awake for it, answering the door, calling them back to find parking. This concept that somehow mothers make it through pregnancy, give birth and then die is baffling, infuriating, and yet totally imaginable.
The slow debilitating effects of living with zero covered dental care stood out to me to me as well. If you read it, and then look at the Guardian’s photo essay accompaniment, you’ll see a man the same age as me whose teeth have completely rotted out.
“Poor oral hygiene and disfiguring dental profiles lead to unemployability in many jobs, being shunned in the community, and being unable to function effectively.”
I recall the period between getting married and being officially employed when Joe and I didn’t go to the dentist for several years. Naturally we both had cavities, many of them, when we finally went. It took $500, in addition to the insurance, to get us back into good shape. And we don’t drink soda. And we were in our 20s.
I don’t know, the whole thing left me feeling like it might be wiser to sponsor education and healthcare for children in the US rather than in Central America and Africa as I do. Reading the report, I realized later, brought on a horrifying I already knew this feeling. Nothing was really new to me, it was simply as bad as I had guessed it might be.
We’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.
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.
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), shurtape, gold 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.
^^ 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You 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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.