the first hot weekend

houghton's pondhoughton's pond

I found a drawer for the sunscreen, sun hats, sunglasses, sun shirts, and the bright bathing suits that pile together like fresh picked wildflowers. I can’t wait to use it every day.

sweaty hikeshut

We all have sandals but I’ll probably order another round just to be safe. Sandals are the ninety-nine problems shoes, in my experience. It would be better if we could apply a seasonal permanent sole to the children’s feet. Easily removed with mineral oil, come autumn. Young corked, or maybe, rubberized feet would be a small price to pay not worry once about the buckles, the velcro, the pinched toe, the rubbed heel, the way they slide a bit when they’re wet, the way they don’t fit now but will in July, the way one falls off under the restaurant chair and both fall off in the car.

But of course I would never go for this because, aside from feeling squeamish about plastic adhesive surgery on the very young, the truth is I love all their sandals. I love how they show the toes, love how their texture is faintly squishy, love how they cut around their ankles so prettily, love how once discarded, in the sand, they look like oval lollipops.

hikers

This weekend we went hiking, a hobby that has unexpectedly become an interest of ours, though ideally not launched on a day, like Saturday, forecasted to be ninety degrees. My friend suggested the Blue Hills, a convenient half hour drive. The Blue Hills website is what really wooed me–the old fashioned list layout, with photos!–was ideal for finding the hike we wanted. After a sweaty thirty minute hike, blessedly circular, we picnicked on sparse provisions that I had thrown together before we left and then searched for a place to put our feet in water. Only a seven minutes away was Houghton’s Pond, clearly no secret as approximately two hundred other people had already thought to visit that day. There were small grassy hills with shade, a playground, a large bathroom facility, and parking.

The pond itself was fresh water, lukewarm and sandy-dirty. The girls got in with just their underwear (bathing suits having been ignored in their new drawer-home) but it felt wonderful and from there we could walk to a small snack shop for syrupy slushies.

gazebo light

 

Juliet, Union Square, Somerville

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Juliet is tucked into the old Sherman Cafe space in Union Square, neighbors with the ultra cool Loyal Supply Co. Sherman’s space never had the right vibe layout-wise, but on the weekends they did make toothsome english muffins, and Joe and I used to go there back when I lived up the street and he was in graduate school for architecture.

They’ve remodeled the space so it feels full of light, white, and wood. You can go for a prix fixe lunch at the counter, meaning they decide the menu for you. Or you can come in and just get a lovely coffee and sandwich and sit at one of the tables. In the evening for dinner, the roles are reversed–à la carte at the counter, or prix fixe at the tables.

I love the idea of a luxurious lunch where you commit to sitting through dessert from the very beginning. My friend Lisa and I ubered over together from Boston last week. It was so relaxing and I loved sitting at the counter watching the cooks prep hundreds of vegetables for their dinner and lunch tomorrow (realizing I could really learn a thing or two, or six, about how to cut mushrooms well). Lisa went off the menu, something they usually can’t offer at the counter but were able to because it was quiet, to order a kale salad and a lobster roll.

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The prix fixe comes with a house made soda (it was rooibos when we were there, delicious!) and of course dessert (one slice light lemon tart, perfectly homemade).

However since you are in Union Square already, and it’s not every day that you’re there, I think walking over to Union Square Donuts for one more sweet bite is worth it. If that somehow doesn’t appeal, Gracie’s Ice Cream (home of the cone with toasted fluff) is right there as well.

Tea at the Boston Public Library

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Joe’s parents came to town last weekend and then my mom came shortly after. It was so wonderful to have all that love for the girls around! Plus, Joe and I enjoy planning these short visits and filling them with all the good things as best we can manage. For Joe’s family we spent a morning at the Museum of Fine Arts to see the amazing Megacities show (I picked up a library pass beforehand to offset the cost a bit). From the museum we drove to the greenway and went to the Public Market and picked up a few bags of the amazing roasted nuts from Q’s nuts for snacking, plus some very ripe, very cheap fruit from the outside Haymarket weekend vendors. The girls played on the greenway benches and grass till dinner time when we ordered lobster rolls from Pauli’s to eat outside. The next day Joe and I took his brother Ross for an evening at the wonderfully funky Hojoko, followed by shakes outside at Tasty Burger. And on Sunday after Alma’s baptism, we spent the morning in the Public Garden with Swan Boats, finally seeking drinks and hot chocolates in the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons when we got too cold.

My mom comes to visit more frequently, so I often use that grandmotherly babysitting time to do things like get a haircut, go to a pediatrician appointment with just one child, return clothes and try on clothes in the actual store, get lunch with a friend, or go out to dinner with girlfriends. What I just typed up is basically my complete personal hit list of wonder!

marble

My mom and I started a tradition of going out to tea and this time I remembered to make a reservation at the BPL Courtyard Restaurant. I thought the food was delicious, really, and the staff was very accommodating and kind with the girls. Alma fell asleep in the stroller right before we went in, which always feels like such a lucky break!

It runs $35 each, we ordered three teas total, and made it our lunch-dinner for the day.

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The girls know all about sugar cubes because I like them in my afternoon coffee, so this jar provided immediate distraction when we sat down. They do offer high chairs or booster seats, but the girls preferred the wide armchairs.

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When the food came Joan made a point to inspect everything on the trays and pick out her favorites–which turned out to be one of nearly everything. Actually it’s a little silly that I order these grand teas–I’m really obsessed with scones and that’s all I eat, especially with the devonshire cream and jam.

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The tea is served in the BPL Courtyard restaurant Wednesday-Saturday, a spot that feels hidden and quiet from chaotic Copley Square. If anyone gets overtired or overwhelmed, you can always step back out into the sunlit courtyard. And absolutely you should head upstairs to the children’s library after your meal! We got there just in time for a story hour and craft.

tea_skeptics^^This was before they saw those tea trays. And the sugar jar.

 

Museum of Fine Arts

During Joe’s paternity leave he took the girls to the MFA and the Harvard Museum of Art frequently. Originally I suggested that he take them to one of my favorite programs–the homeschool Fridays at the MFA. He did that one time, and told me he didn’t like how programatic it was. Which is funny because that’s exactly what I like about it! We realized we each have preferred styles for outings with the kids. I like to plan ahead and have plenty of direction. Joe likes to decide that morning, and riff on the plan as he goes. A nice thing to discover.

On a grey day this week, a day guaranteed to rain all day, Alma and I got to tag along on one of their trips. Joe led the way, and asked the girls a good question to frame our time: what kind of thing do you want to see? They said a tapestry, and a painting of Mary. We never did find a tapestry, but we found plenty of Marys.

“I just love to see children in art museums,” someone commented to me as the girls twirled and semi-sprinted through a gallery. Which is exactly what someone should say when they see kids in public spaces!

And we managed to eat lunch in the lovely glass courtyard. With the new addition, completed in 2010, the restaurant was given an amazing space–centered in the atrium built between the old building and the new. The 63ft high ceilings and the equally high windows dull the acoustics and make you fee like you’re the only table in the place, while the green plants outside make for the most soothing view. We asked for a table along the edge so the girls could hop off their seats to wander while they waited for food.

Joan really really likes to hold onto whatever stroller I’m pushing Alma in. She’s like the guide dog trotting alongside beside me.

Please note the silverware that was used as a distraction before the food arrived.My lunch: steak and cheese. Favorite things!Alma life

Hallway bench, a classic breastfeeding oasis (though they do also offer a lovely enclosed nursing room, near the entrance). 

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

For the record there is no nailing an adventure with kids. There is no perfectly packed backpack, no perfect interlude before naps, no perfect weather that will soothe all concerns. You will always find out at the end that one of them has been acting strangely because it turns their feet have been soaking wet from the beginning. They will always be suddenly starving as soon as you buckle their seat belts. They will always ask to be carried at regular intervals and refuse to go down the path you’ve pointed to.

But anyway we still say, “Woah that was a good adventure wasn’t it?” when we get home and they always say, “Yes!”

About forty minutes outside Boston, the Sanctuary is a wonderful place year-round.Free for Mass Audubon members (like Drumlin Farm) about $3 each otherwise. Twelve miles of trails. But you can follow the .6 mile trail to the Rockery, a magic cave made of enormous rocks constructed around 1910.

Joe just finished reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to the girls (“That witch is not very nice!” -Joan Bea). The woods felt just as you might imagine them when Lucy steps through the back of the wardrobe.

You can bring birdseed, or you can just hold out your hand, and the birds will land lightly with their spindle feet that feel like gentle paper clips on your fingers.

Somethings can root in the cold

The baby is coming in December, but December is coming first. The calendar is a scribbled caricature of bustling—evening parties, teas at hotels, a Nutcracker performance for Lux, gingerbread house decorating, some warm dinners, and cold mornings (me watching) Joe and Lux ice skate. I hope to visit the local libraries for their shelves of Christmas books, bake salt dough ornaments, help the girls memorize a few carols, find a Christmas pageant to attend, burn some balsam-scented candles, and eat a lot of kale (just got my low iron results back, whoops).

It’s a funny thought that five years ago, pre-kids, I didn’t do any of those things. And eight years ago, when Joe proposed to me in the Garden, it was my first Christmas in Boston. My holiday participation was downstairs to the city’s upstairs, a la Downton Abbey. I helped everyone else celebrate and made some money for my employer along the way.The night Joe proposed, we went to the Christmas Eve service at Trinity Church in Copley Square. It was glorious cozy service, the pews were full with families parading in wrapped in cashmere and wool. It was briskly cold outside, snow was predicted, and very warm inside.

Trinity has old-fashioned bracketed church pews, the type weathly families rented for a few thousands dollars and some prestige back in the day. Nestled between Joe and an old wooden bolster, lulled by the choir and the incensed air, I fell asleep. I had been at the flower store where I worked all day, dashing about tripping on loose red berries and roughing my hands on sticky fragrant evergreen wreaths. I wrapped up hostess gifts, wrote down delivery orders (as a midwesterner, it took me months to memorize the funny pronunciations of all the New England towns), sold brilliant arrangements for tablescapes, and tied everything up festively before it left our doors.

Anyway, I fell asleep at the service, Joe woke me up when it was over, we walked home through the Garden which was lit with white lights, Joe proposed in the snow along the edge of the duck pond and gave me a beautiful perfect ring that was slightly too big. The next day was Christmas, we went out to breakfast, went for a walk, called our families, and relaxed together. I had to work the day after, and that was that for Christmas.

The flower store was beautiful but like any retail-level worker, I was on my feet for 100% of the day, never getting two days off in a row, with no predictability from week to week. If people were going to teas and tree lightings, I didn’t notice. Working at that store was to be surrounded in beauty all the time, though it was beauty that was in various stages of demise. The flowers were dying as soon as we unpacked them from their boxes overnighted from the Netherlands.

To sell a fully open flower was viewed as déclassé, an embarrassment. Arrangements should have many teasing buds waiting to open, with just a few that were open enough to brighten the whole thing. I never attached to the South African amaryllis, the deeply red flowers that arrived in December with droopy unopened buds on each side of their tall celery-like stalks. And I grew to hate the strange truth that poinsettias liked sunshine and warmth—everything our New England winter didn’t offer. Any poinsettas put near the door of the shop would weaken and whither as each customer burst in with a freezing gust of air. Why was a tropical flower being heralded here anyway, I would grouse when we were forced to throw out another dead plant. Right outside there were snow-dusted holly branches glossy and dotted with red berries, deeply green evergreen boughs, pale blue juniper berries, and hearty wooden pine cones that sucked in the cold and relished it.

photos from last year’s holiday season. 

October snaps

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I have not had one daytime sitter for several weeks, thus no posts lately. (Tempted to delete that, because who cares, but it’s important to keep it real for those of you who never get breaks and wonder how you feel so brain dead!) Half of me thinks find a new sitter immediately! And half of me just doesn’t mind. I mind in context of “other things I want to get done” but I don’t mind when I look back on my day with them.

September finished up summer for us–a few more beach days, last ice cream adventures and outdoor picnics–and now October: “the golden hour of the clock of the year,” as I heard it beautifully described in this poem the other day.

We have begun a few school-like activities. I still hesitate to use “homeschool” as she’s only 4, but sometimes it is just easier to label things, isn’t it?

We have a math-games class, her same ballet class (with *all* 4-year-olds now–apparently a game changer for the attention span of the group), and a wood shop class, which I look forward to finding out if it works at all. She may reject it. It’s a big deal to me that Lux likes the classes and looks forward to them. I’m pretty wimpy about pushing things she doesn’t like and I would drop out if she wasn’t enthusiastic. Fortunately she loves everything so far.

These classes are funny because they are drop off, so you only get the review you get. It’s like ordering take-out and instead of eating it, reading a yelp review of it. Last year, the only review Lux solemnly gave me after her first ballet class was, “We didn’t do any twirling at all.”

Something we do labeled distinctly with homeschool is the Friday program at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The kids troop around to see few pieces of art and then make a wonderful craft loosely based on what they discussed. The architecture of that building makes my mood soar, and I get to stare at the paintings for as long as they do, which is lovely.

I took a drive to the cheap area grocery store to stock up on pantry supplies and came upon a tub of non-hydrogenated shortening. It was complete news to me that this product exists! Aside from allowing some of us to dive back into recipes of our grandmother’s that have shortening in them, after reading Amazon reviews, I’ve learned it allows people with dairy allergies to bake well again. Pie crusts which I make with butter, for example, can be very successfully made with shortening.

So anyway I bought it and made several batches of chewy fragrant ginger snaps over the last week. I only had blackstrap molasses in the house (bought in a brave nutritional attempt to fix my constant iron anemia. Found in my pantry unopened, of course.) Using the unsulphered blackstrap instead of “baking” molasses definitely makes it taste more molassas-y, but all batches have been eaten with gusto by Joe and the girls nonetheless.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in the final step before the oven, kids love to be the ones to roll the balls of dough in the granulated sugar.

Grandma Agnes’ Ginger Snaps

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 t baking soda

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in order given and chill. I mixed with a spoon, and then my hands, with great results. I wrapped mine up in saran wrap and chilled for about 40 minutes. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

 

apartment tour

Emily just did the loveliest post about our apartment on Apartment Therapy. There’s nothing quite like seeing your space through someone else’s eyes—I just love it! Lux joyfully followed Emily and her husband Max around when they were here, and managed to get into about half the photos. : )

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It’s a pertinent post for these days because it feels like everyone has been asking since I got pregnant: are you moving? We are not, or at least not for a year or two. The baby will be in our room for six months or so, and then might move into the closet like Joan did, and then into the girls’ room. Joan can move under the new bunk bed and baby can take over Joan’s crib. It feels so distant to remember our old place, when Lux was in our room for her first year and a half.

With even just a little bit of nesting that I’ve done, I’m already finding corners we can rework and make more livable and comfortable, and storage that can be done better.

The girls’ clothing storage, as seen below, is probably not going anywhere though and is in fact, accumulating with time!

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I’ve been wanting to post a photo of Lux’s bunk bed that she conveniently asked for for her 4th birthday. Joe found it on craigslist. It’s vintage IKEA and took him about four uninterrupted hours to put together…it’s so vintage that none of the screws were streamlined or matched at all.

Our main goal was to find a bunkbed design that let in as much light as possible–which was surprisingly hard to find. We’re so happy with this one. Joe made the romantic roof from the old detachable side of Lux’s crib! (Her IKEA sniglar crib bed, same model as Joan’s, had really taken a beating and had to be retired completely.)

toys

Minor, but I’m very into the results that come from the magna-tiles and duplos being the only accessible toys outside of their room. They are constantly playing with them and building-chaos is one of the few types of chaos that makes my heart happy. If you decide to order magna-tiles, I recommend splurging for a lot, like the 100 piece set. We’re planning on ordering more soon, just to keep up with the range of structures they both like to build.

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The pinboard wall has solved all our art storage needs. I love it so much. You can find some of the construction details on the apartment therapy post. At the time, it seemed crazy to me to splurge for custom-milled wood, but it was totally worth it because it’s so pretty and it’s the biggest thing in the room! (I was initially pinboard-inspired by this home tour on Cup of Jo.)

I find that as long as I clean off their art table every evening (and yes, ruthlessly throw away the ten sheets of paper they filled that day), it’s one of the first places they head to every morning.

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I tried not to fuss and perfect too much before Emily came over to photograph–I hope this comes across as a realistic tour, with our “lived-in minimalism” as Joe sagely put it.

Anyway, head over to the post to see the whole thing! Thank you Emily!

all photos by Emily Billings for apartment therapy. 

Books and Lunch

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My favorite day this weekend was when it was a breezy 70 degrees instead of our lately-so-typical-90 and we drove to Concord. Since we decided not to travel for the holiday weekend, I announced that we could all treat ourselves to new books. Last time we were at the Concord Bookshop we were buying books as a gift for a young friend of ours, and I had rushed them out murmuring “maybe next time.” So now was next time.

If you go, you can always get a very nice drink at the lovely Haute Coffee next door. If it had been just a touch more Autumn-feeling we would have wandered the graveyard across the street as well; the faded type and nearly toppled slate markers always make for great conversation with the girls.

Or you can hop back in your car and drive the odd ten minutes over to West Concord to Nashoba Bakery. You may have seen their breads around Boston, they sell to over 200 wholesale accounts. They have a cafe attached to this, their original bakery location, tucked back in an odd, barely-marked parking lot. Delicious sandwiches and cookies, fill your-own-coffee, and on weekends before 1pm: slow rise waffles with toppings. Perhaps the real attraction is the picnic tables that line the back porch and yard, overlooking merry Nashoba Creek. A lovely bridge spans the dwindling water, leading to a parking lot, safe and enclosed so the girls could run back and forth across.

Berkshires Family Itinerary

The Berkshires is a general term applied to the hills and valleys running along the western edge of Massachusetts. They are oddly sophisticated with grand old hotels and great mansions like Edith Wharton’s The Mount. There are swimming holes, orchards, museums, and lots of long beautiful country roads that smell like damp woods and the rushing wind. Joe and I had been wishing for a couple days there with the girls for a long time, and finally things fell into place.

We drove out from Boston Thursday evening arriving at the Porches Inn, the hotel across the street from Mass MOCA around 9pm. Weekday nights run about $80 cheaper than weekend nights at Porches ($300 total). We had requested a pack n play and a pullout couch for our room–both were already set up as beds for the girls–lovely! It was pouring rain and pitch dark but we decided to show the girls the hot tub anyway. The four of us sat in there with our hair getting soaking wet from the rain, and it felt like such a family memory, I loved it.
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