My holiday armchair mystery novel ended all too soon, a natural consequence of tucking into oatmeal flannel sheets and reading far too late into the night. The days till Christmas still seem long and calm though I have a few more aspirations: homemade marshmallows, sparkling sugared cranberries, salt dough ornaments. This morning the windows were etched over with frozen snowflake glass and after breakfast of toasted english muffins and two fried eggs with melted cheddar (a meal I am totally addicted to and eat every single morning), I bundled all the girls to the three-year-old’s pediatrician appointment. “And do you eat fish or meat?” asked the kind pediatrician. “Dogs eat fish,” Alma cheerfully replied. “Would you like to finish drawing the eyes on this face?” she asked. “You can draw the eyes,” Alma replied.
I love looking at these foggy photos from finding a tree earlier this month. A quiet muddy Christmas Tree farm, an hour before closing on a rainy day. It was so muddy Joe had to hop the girls individually off into their socks before they got back into the car.
Christmas Trees of Vermont Springfield, VT.
Upon revisiting Boston for three days I was intrigued to find we had already fallen out of city habits–how to hustle, how to be on time, how to evaluate the speed in which a three year old can scooter across town, how to weigh the pros and cons of a quick dinner down the street. The muscle memory of city life had faded.
The initial reason for the trip was to accompany Joe as he had several consecutive days of work and his company’s holiday party which we always like to be at.
I had announced to the girls that all of the expensive glitzy city traditions we’d once maintained were off this year: the Nutcracker tickets, the restaurant-run gingerbread house afternoon, the fancy hotel teas, and city Santas. It was time for new homemade traditions with new Vermont friends! Wasn’t it?
The seven-year-old looked at me like I had pulled the floor out from under her and asked if we could do a few of them “just one more year.” I realized how reasonable that sounded. And I wondered too what I could possibly have been thinking, having carefully woven a rug of traditions for her and set her upon it year after year; then grandly announcing they were all passé as if I were some Oprah magazine cover for January: new year, new YOU.
So the three days slowly filled up with favorite things: riding the trains in all the colors: orange, red, and green, ice skating downtown, holiday movies in the hotel room, dinner with old friends, scootering under the light-wrapped branches of the naked trees down Commonwealth Avenue, sharing a sloppy tiny dark hot chocolate at Burdicks, joyfully singing “Dreidel dreidel dreidel, I made it out of clay…” as a giant Menorah lit in the square outside our windows, and yes, even the overpriced gingerbread house tradition.
In which, incidentally, we had the loveliest time building together and trading candy supplies and I couldn’t believe we were at a stage where I could sit quietly with my three daughters for two hours while they carefully applied bright candies to frosting smears and plied each other with their extras.
And for myself, the treat of those moments of wandering on one’s own–for morning breakfast sandwiches from Flour, a breakfast date with a friend at Juliet, a late evening drink with friends at the Bristol lounge–that feel more accessible when one is just up the street.
(The Nutcracker ballet performance stayed off the list, not because of price as you can often get steeply discounted tickets, but because we’ve gone the last few years and last year I sensed that it had ceased to feel as special as one would imagine a child’s attendance at a ballet performance might feel.)
After we left, I realized there was a second important reason for our visit, besides seeing friends and revisiting a few favorite traditions at a time when the city is at its prettiest. The things we did and the places we stopped still meant something to us. We still have mental maps of where things are and how to get there and we felt vague ownership over our experiences had there. But the longer or more frequently we are away, the more those will fade. One cannot hold two existences in hand at the same time. An adult can believe that they will, but really one is being colored with nostalgia while the new one is formed. And for a child, the old one fades to almost black-and-white levels of the distant past. I caught Alma staring at the passerbys and shop windows like she’d never seen a wide avenue before in her life. Is this how quickly it goes? I wondered.
I’ve recently challenged myself to reexamine what movies I’ve let slip into regular rotation in our house. I like to think we’re unconventional in our approach–favoring Miyazaki films or old musicals–as well as strict. We don’t watch movies or television in the house on any consistent basis; a month can go by without watching a movie as a family or with the kids by themselves. Though I curate the girls ipads for travel eagerly—I really enjoy the world of education apps—I have also purchased a few Disney movies over time. The way Apple has designed it, the app has always displayed all of these, even the ones I don’t want them to watch anymore and have deleted, like the vintage Looney Tunes that I immediately realized was too violent. (Honestly, friends don’t lead friends to fall off cliffs.) They see these purchases on the app and ask me to be sure they are downloaded for the trip. I say “oh, ok sure…” and it goes from there. Somehow Alma ended up watching Frozen a few times during travel and it bothered me to think about how often she’d heard certain lines repeated and how impactful that could be.
I checked this gem of a book out of the library: Ty Burr, dad of two daughters and the Boston Globe film critic wrote The Best Old Movies for Families: a Guide to Watching Together. His tone is really perfect–he loves movies, and he loves sharing them with his daughters and watching them respond. He reviews all sorts of old movies, summarizes the plot, makes the pitch to watch, even tells you which dvd edition to try to get. He’s careful to flag films that you may have forgotten have a few creepy scenes (I did this with the original The Absent Minded Professor, oops).
A beginning list I scribbled for us to check out: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Sherlock Jr (1924), The Music Box (1932), and La Belle et La Bete (Criterion edition from 1998), as well as many old comedies like The Gold Rush and City Lights. The girls recently finished memorizing the ten commandments chapter of Genesis and I’ve got the 1956 version on the list as well.
I’m ready to rehash the few films we do have on hand digitally completely. I think I used the excuse of not wanting to spend more money as a reason to leave it alone. The shrug effect. And it may mean spending a bit to rebuild the digital library and straight up deleting the few that were ill advised to begin with, fun songs or not.
Ty Burr doesn’t recommend the film Gandhi, but we applied the same approach when we recently decided to screen it for the girls. They had memorized a brief history sentence about imperialism and Gandhi, and I was itching for them to have a sense of all that was caught up in those two words. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi was it. We spread the viewing over a couple of days, typically 30 minutes after dinner. There was so much to discuss. Joe and I almost choked on our food when one of the girls said, “His words were his weapon.” Though the film has been criticized for portraying Gandhi as saintly, I would argue the moments when that didn’t happen–in particular with his wife–were just as powerful to them. Not to mention the beautiful shots of Indian landscape and cities and music. I’ll have to wait for the remarks that come out in the weeks to come to see if we made a mistake.
Photos from neighborhood early October walks.
After scouring the internet for recommendations, I finally ordered the predictably! French model of a whittling knife for the girls. The soft curls drift across our floor every day now. Afterwards there is a small trial in sweeping them up into a pile, they would rather sink gently into the floor crevices or let socked feet sally them into distant corners. But they make like a pile of feathers to start a fire. Lit with a match they burst into hearty hot flame, encouraging even the most dismally-built fire to glow. I can always use help starting a fire myself if Joe happens to be in the city (a phrase I use now) or working in the other room.
So far the only human injured in the whittling hobby has been an adult. The girls seem to mostly make sharp pointy objects, nibs of arrowheads scattered around the living room. I’ve suggested something softer and rounder–like a wooden stone? A gentle bird at rest in the hand? They’ll get there. One evening the two-year-old came up to me with a piece of wood in hand: “Mama, I need a knife. I want to whittle.” Sorry kid. Mama already screwed up one child by blessing her deft precocious hand too early, and scaring her away from mandolines forever. You’ll have to wait till you’re…four?
Speaking of future opportunities, the girls have been busy assigning ages to things that I may have murmured to them at one point: earrings, age 12. Cell phones, age 13. Mothers should never utter age ultimatums out loud. An excellent parenting book would include a chapter of stalling techniques. “I’ll have to check with your grandmother.” “That one might be legislated by the state, we’ll look into it, shall we?”
Last night I was on Ambleside online, browsing again, the intriguing world of Charlotte Mason homeschooling. In the realm of homeschooling curriculums, Charlotte Mason comes across as the mysterious ancient prophet of it—espousing her own unique ideas like narration, nature journaling, dictation, and the power of a few things done perfectly. Like some sort of Gospel epistle writer of erudition there are six volumes of her writing on the topic of homeschooling, rife with words like obedience, perfect execution, fresh air and weak literature.
Wouldn’t mind a Virgil to guide me through it. Meanwhile I’ll pick back up with Consider This, a book that discusses the melding of classical and Charlotte Mason ideas.
House projects abound. We nearly stumble over them on our walk to the breakfast table, so many things we’d like to do. Here’s a nook in the kitchen that I hoped would be a spot to keep the cook company–lounge before meals, curl up with a book by the light of the baking bread, nursing a baby and a glass of wine, and that’s just what it’s become. The previous owners had a big antique dish cabinet that filled up the space, and it looks like before that it had a wood stove.
A few notes on our wonderful time as guests of Huttopia–they offered us a tent for free and we paid for a second one for Joe’s parents who came with us. There is so much elegance to this crisp camp set on a former Boy Scout campground. That may be because the company is a French one, and they have their method down pat. So much so that there were many European and Canadian visitors at the camp with us during our time. In talking to one fellow camper, I learned that Huttopia has something of an enormous following in Europe and is effectively a lifestyle brand there. So it’s pretty fun to encounter their first USA location in New Hampshire.
Sleek tents, tidy campsites, a pretty and warm swimming pool, a generously stocked camp store, and fun daily activities for kids. I didn’t grow up camping, but my best friend did, and I always enviously listened to her stories of cavorting around the campground nearly parent-free for the week. At Huttopia, I totally got a sense of that freedom for the girls. Because there were no cars allowed at the campground beyond the parking lot, they felt free to roam the roads. They liked walking to the playground on their own, and getting sent on errands to the camp store. And they LOVED the evening showing of Moana on the baseball field that got a sprinkle of rain, the better to cuddle under their blankets for. If we had planned the trip with a couple family friends they would have had a blast just running to each other’s campsites and checking in.
Joe keeps a hatchet in the back of our car (such soccer moms!) for all our fire needs, so he can make spiffy designs like this on the go. The Huttopia camp store sells firewood, but unfortunately the firewood for sale when we were there was not aged enough and did not burn well. We recommend picking some up on your drive, nearby grocery stores stock older wood.
That flip-grill thing is on all the fire pits and is genius. Love it. Practically eliminates the need for cookware over the fire.
Diana’s Baths nearby is an easy (and extremely popular) adventure. The trail to it is practically stroller friendly. For two year olds it takes one adult with them at all times as the rocks are slippery, but for ages five and above, there’s lots of independent play to be had.
A few items I might suggest you bring along:
-your own pillow, always a nice luxury
-coffee ground for a French press (the press is provided)
-a tea kettle–just easier to deal with than a pan
-fan, in case of hot & humid temps
-bug spray for the evenings after dark
-cozy food supplies, like bacon, hot coco mix, wine, and these all natural cheetos rip-offs that I find to be insanely good.
-fire wood, see note on this above
-it always pays to bring your own hammock, we have this brand and bring it everywhere!
Some of you told me you were going after I posted on instagram that we were there, how was your trip?
Dear readers, Last week we moved to Vermont. We began looking at houses in March. We looked in every New England state, drawing a woozy balloon on the map for a 2.5-hour drive to Boston. I’m writing the detailed hows and the whys, but I’m saving it for a chapter. But I’d like you to know that we found an old farmhouse in excellent shape with land, a lawn of grass that isn’t seeded but has the right kind of weeds, a barn that needs a new roof and maybe floor. Cricketed-silence in the morning. Cricketed-deep darkness at night. Fireplaces, some that don’t work. Yet.
It’s exactly what we hoped and prayed we would find and we are in a state of shock at how happy we are to be here. We will be homeschooling, Joe will be working regular hours remotely, we have so much to learn and be humbled by in the process. It is so exciting.
Sipping green tea and thinking how very interesting it is to be a mother of young ones in today’s America. Naturally from here, I could lead this conversation just about anywhere, but today’s circuit of fascination: Lyme’s disease.
If you grew up around ticks, the idea of checking your children for ticks is quite standard, if not a traditional summer activity. But whether you grew up around them or not, the fact is that today’s parents are facing an outdoors full of ticks with epic levels of Lyme infection.
Lyme is one of those things I’ve started bringing up around other moms, casual-suggestively, to learn if I’m missing something. At a book club, sitting around a long table in a lush backyard, I eagerly leaned in as the woman across from me cataloged all the steps she’d gone through after finding three ticks on her daughter. -But what about sending it to one of the websites? I asked. -Practitioners don’t think those are reliable. False positives. False negatives. -But you can’t prescribe doxy…I murmured. -Our pediatrician is prescribing doxycycline.
This was news to me. I’d been told no pediatricians were prescribing doxycycline to children. Amoxicillin only, though it had no recorded success with Lyme. Her doctor’s office was less than a mile away from mine. And yet, different approaches were happening between the two places. to children. in ways that would affect them for the rest of their lives.
Of course there’s a reason this is on my mind. I found an engorged tick on one of my children that had been on her for three days. Not having peeked behind her ear for those three days was a one weekend slip-up, with the potential of the worst consequences. I pulled it off perfectly, sent it to tickcheck.com perfectly (although, if you are in this situation, I highly recommend paying extra for it to get there as fast as possible), consulted my pediatrician and waited anxiously perfectly…and received my text message that said the tick did not have one of nine diseases it could have had. It did have one, but it was not one that is considered dangerous in our area (borrelia mayonii). My city pediatrician was surprised I had found this website and sent the tick off quickly. The only reason I had done so was because a friend from Martha’s Vineyard told me too, because where she vacationed this was considered standard procedure. Even though just a few weeks later I was told that these private-enterprise-tick dissection labs are not considered reliable, I am still really glad I sent it. If I still had seen a rash on my child, I would have asked for a Doxy prescription. But those results, paired with no rash, no fatigue, muscle aches, and no fever, gave me confidence to set this worry aside.
“On the West Coast, when it comes to natural disasters, they have earthquakes. The heartland has tornadoes. The South has hurricanes. Here in the Northeast, our natural disaster is Lyme disease,” said Kevin Esvelt, who specializes in a field called evolutionary and ecological engineering at MIT Media Lab.” –CNN
(except, not quite so regional as that, since Lyme infected ticks are rapidly spreading in the Midwest as well.)
For those who study Lyme disease and see patients with Lyme, signs seem to indicate that there is no pinning this malicious insidious disease down. Maybe you’ll get a rash. Maybe you’ll have a fever. Maybe you’ll see the tick. Maybe you won’t. Maybe it will test positive or negative at tickcheck.com or something similar. Doxycycline is the only known working antibiotic for Lyme. Doxycycline is not recommended to be prescribed to children as it is known to affect bone growth and stains their teeth. However, it is being prescribed because practitioners are now feeling that it is better than having the Lyme go untreated.
And a separate branch of this discussion begins right there: the long untreated cases of Lyme that were ignored or misdiagnosed for years. This branch of the conversation is centering around a lonely and grim theory: Is Lyme disease a Feminist issue? Take One, and take Two.
Researchers and insurers have often insisted not only on positive test results but also on the classic signs of early Lyme infection, such as the distinctive bull’s-eye rash and swollen knee joints, even though many people infected with the spirochete bacterium do not present such signs. Some of the symptoms of “chronic Lyme”—headaches, exhaustion, and cognitive dysfunction—have been dismissed as too vague or too similar to those of other conditions to be accorded diagnostic weight. -The New Yorker (see One above)
It feels overwhelmingly like the general knowledge database is broken here. It feels like it is totally on us to know everything we can.
This is when a light blue filter slides into my mind and I begin to see filmy images of the future, Minority Report style….what if playing in the woods soon looks like children scampering around in permethrin lightweight suits? What if we never get a vaccine and instead genetically alter mice, deer, embryos, whatever we can to introduce inoculation? What if the equivalent of giant weekly bug bombs becomes standard treatment for anything out-of-doors? What if tick immune robot cats are the new housecats?
Then I switch back to my admittedly healthy and yellow filter life in happy Massachusetts. I believe children can still play outside. I don’t believe we have to resort to toxic chemicals on our lawns. I believe it’s still safe to have indoor-outdoor pets. I believe we can catch this disease in the act of infection, and we can treat it. But, I believe we should be talking about it.
In this spirit, I want to mention a few homegrown prevention approaches I’ve encountered recently:
- Cistus Tea: made from leaves grown in Eastern Europe, rumored to successfully make human and animal drinkers repellent to ticks.
- Elevation: No rumors here. There are fewer ticks at elevations over 1000 ft.
- Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap: landscapers claim that washing in Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap makes them unappealing to ticks as they hike through the bushes, trimming back overgrowth in yards up and down the east coast. A refreshing soap and a bug repellent? I’ll take it.
- Animals: guinea hens (but dang, are they loud!), chickens and possums are all rumored to eat up local tick from your grounds. Whether maintaining these animals as ground control is worth it, is up to you!
- Cedar oil: a known effective natural deterrent for household pets, safe around children and pregnant women.
- Nightly tick checks for the entire household. Tried and true through the generations.
- Insert your tip here! What have you learned?
To close, a link to this excellent recent summary of the options with bug spray, including the general sense that DEET is not so bad after all.
Obvious disclaimers….I am not a doctor, scientist, or professional researcher. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The advice & statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Any information on this blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
A good friend of mine is building a network of volunteers to help the people hurt and displaced by ICE and border control and the government. They are looking for volunteers in big cities, in coastal cities, but also widely dispersed cities. They are looking for people with lots of days to help, and people with just one day to help. Spanish speaking would be an enormous plus, but isn’t it always? Not required. They are working with all the organizations you’ve heard about (and probably donated to!), as helpful “what can we do?” on-the-ground-action folks. And: it’s working.
For examples of some of the things getting done, small things that quickly add up to enormous things, check out their Twitter feed Together&Free.
To volunteer click here.
It feels like it takes a lot of cherries to make a pie but in the end it takes only about fifty, and then you’ve got a pie of great beauty instead of fifty separate cherries wondering where to begin.
We have an exciting 30 days ahead of us. My parents, siblings, in-laws, and niece are headed to Greece to travel on a boat together and bicycle for eight days. Before we meet up with them, Joe and I have planned a far too brief four day trip to Rome with the girls.
My parents planned many family trips when I was a kid/young teen. Two extended motorhome trips with six kids, a Switzerland bike and train trip (with all seven kids and a buddy friend for my disenchanted teen brother), annual winter week-long vacations that centered exclusively around the beach and the pool with zero tourism goals unless you count leaving for the closest fish shack every night.
My dad’s company had reward trips that my parents often advocated to take us on as well. Months in advance, the company would send a guidebook to whatever location had been chosen. I would grab it off my mom’s desk and read through the whole thing–an early sign of my deeply held love of researching beforehand!
As a mom, I know now that travel is testing, expensive, and exhausting, yet manages to change your perspective on everything.
And all of my siblings travel what seems like constantly. The three in California go on stunning weekend road trips in that way that is so easy in California. Another two are “based” in Africa which really means they fly internationally almost every month, and the one in New York City has the flexibility to head off on festive jaunts throughout the year.
I’m really looking forward to this trip with them which has all the activity and adventure built in, but will allow for tons of together time as well.
Anyway, all this planning made me want to post these photos of magical Northern California from back in March!
I went with my mom, my mom’s sister Anne, my brother who lives in Los Angeles, my brother who lives in San Francisco and my sister Joanie. Joe watched the girls at home for three days. It flew by in a whirl of wine tasting, delicious food and absolutely stunning scenery.
The roads were edged with plants that I only see in greenhouses here, enormous versions of something I typically see in miniature. It felt like every square mile—even people’s front yards—were planted with vineyards.
Along the road I noticed a little sign that said Our Moon Still Shines.
Even from Boston (especially if you follow the wonderful (Hither & Thither), one can easily establish that Scribe Winery has an amazing following and is a beautiful place to visit. Joanie knew that they had recently renovated an antique Hacienda on the property and now reserve it for seated tastings with food. The food is served family style in generous bowls, and the tables are far enough apart to allow for easy conversation.
The gardens, house and property glowed with winter desert color: silt, sand, clay, cobbles.
My sister planned the trip, riffing on trips she’d previously taken for ideas, though it sounded very difficult to decide where to go! So many beautiful places. She hired Peter as a driver for the six of us. Of course a driver is very wise to have when tasting wine, but it also makes for an entirely different experience. It was such a luxury to climb back in the car and stare out the window as we went place to place. As a mom I rarely get that tuned-out gazing-out backseat experience that childhood was full of. He was also able to riff on what we wanted, if we needed takeout, a grocery stop, or wanted to grab coffee, he could incorporate it easily on the fly for us.
After Scribe we drove back through the small town of Sonoma and stopped at the lovely wine tasting room of Kamen. We only had about a half an hour, so we split several tastings among ourselves. They were lovely to chat with and the wines were delicious.
Then we headed to Hamel Family Wines, where the tour began with a walk through their gorgeous fields. They have a stunning build-out, clearly one for future generations to enjoy.
On the way home we called ahead and picked up Mexican from El Molino Central. Delicious seasonal tacos and mole with homemade tortillas, served out of a cheerful cafe on the side of the road in Sonoma. We brought our dinner back at the rental home, sharing a bottle we’d bought that day. The time change was finally catching up with me and I went to bed early!
The next morning, first up was Ashes & Diamonds. On a flat stretch of Napa, just off the main road highway 29, they’ve a styled tasting room and a fleet of wines to match. With their sumptuous green velvet, brilliant yellow paint, and an abundance of the Saarinen chairs, it felt like Hollywood flew in for a styling.
Perhaps my favorite trip photo: this yellow, this brother. ^^
At Ashes & Diamonds, we discussed how the land restrictions to qualify as a winery have changed over the years—from 100 acres, to 60, and now to only 10–which I found fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing this place and imagining the possibilities of a younger generation deciding to invest here.
There were many things that seemed repeat thematically no matter where we tasted, so much so that when I left they were still playing in my mind…
For one thing, everyone was using the Coravin method of opening bottles. It looked intense and gadget-y in the otherwise tranquil wine tasting space. It has thin medical grade needle that goes through the cork, allows you to remove a tiny amount of wine, and replaces the space in the bottle with argon gas. I had never seen it before in my life. But the pourers said it could preserve an open bottle of wine for up to a month. I love to have a glass of wine while cooking but am often reluctant to open a new bottle knowing I won’t be finishing it. However, the price tag is $250.
Second, everyone was using Heath ceramics. These ceramic dishes seemed to have their own thermal mass that made the food look delicious, no matter what it was.
Third, biodynamic. I was intrigued to hear many vineyards dropping this as a term as something they pursued. Biodynamic is a theory developed by the same person who came up with the Waldorf method of eduction: Rudolf Steiner. Isn’t that fascinating? Like many of his theories, it’s more of an overarching approach with a few oddly specific things—must have a goat, must let the clipped vines rot alongside the plants, let wild plants grow up among the vines. Funny to think how quirky yet persuasive ideas have staying power.
I brought home bread from the amazing Costeaux bakery, local butter, grape sized dates from the farmer’s market and of course, wine.
an annual review with detailed notes about all the progress that’s been made
frozen lemonade concentrate for the freezer because she can’t seem to find it at the normal grocery store anymore
everyone’s nails trimmed
ticks eradicated from earth
wisdom earrings that whisper lucid answers to science questions
the assurance she will never forget the way their arms feel around her neck
a Taj Mahal of patience
Gandalf sense of where things are going