Raising New Englanders

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I was trying to get them to show me their ski tags for my blog post.

I am not a New Englander. I visited New England once when I was 14. Then again – for colleges – when I was 17. Most of my New England knowledge came from a weird combination of books and stereotypes. (Little Women, Daddy Long-Legs, Hawkeye from M*A*S*H … I would say the LL Bean catalog, but we actually didn’t get it.) Then, I came here for college. Early in the process I was targeting Pennsylvania. My first choice school was Williams, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. But I found myself, a hot August day, in a double-dorm-room in a hundred-year-old stone building in historic New London with a roommate who was profoundly *from* a town fifteen miles away.

Since then, I have acclimated. I remember the shock and horror with which I discovered Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t carry maple bars. (A fact which still mystifies me – why they’re a regional delicacy of a place with no maple tradition and entirely unknown in Vermont/New Hampshire/Montreal.) I mastered rotaries. I cheered on the Red Sox to their World Series pennants. I learned that “Wooster” and “Worcester” were in fact the same place. I have eaten lobstah in Glostah (Gloucester), listened to the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall, developed a finely honed snow shoveling methodology, consider stop signs advisory and can’t help raising my fist to the chorus of “SO GOOD!”

But in one way, I remain distinctly un-New England. My junior year of college, I was invited with my college friends on a ski trip. They’d gone the prior year. I don’t remember why I didn’t go (it was probably some rot about seeing my parents more than twice a year). It felt deliciously grownup to be invited. I distinctly recall that we drove the Kankamagus – home to my frequent summer journeys in my adult life – in the crystalline snow of February. I’d never gone skiing before, despite living in close proximity to epic mountains. We rented equipment (I following the advise of my long time boyfriend) and hit the slopes.

Adam gave me a few lessons – which I accomplished well. After an hour or so, he deemed me ready to hit the slopes of Loon and try my first modest trail. The first few minutes of your first skiing ever are more terrifying than exhilarating, and I comforted myself that this was a thing people did. Look at all the people around me, skiing? Seconds in to the trip, I took a turn wrong. My leg did something wrong. I don’t clearly remember too much of what happened next. The ski patrol. The sled. The inability to hold weight on my leg. I limped back to our condo and have never – since that day – gone skiing again. I had torn my ACL – it took months before I could walk without limping. I tore my MCLS also later, and had major knee surgery and still feel my knee as an alertness of the possibility of pain. I will never ski again.

But.

I’m raising New Englanders. Grey and Thane are locals. They were *born* here. They belong here. They are from here in a way I will never be. And New Englanders? LOVE winter sports. There are ice rinks all over the place. It seems like every car has ski racks. To be from the New England suburbs (I don’t pretend that this is not a combination of both location AND privilege, because it certainly is) and not ski, or know how to skate well… not cool. Not cool at all.

So I was *thrilled* when our YMCA afterschool program offered (get this) SKIING LESSONS! I signed up before they even had official signups. They pick the kids up from school and take them directly to Nashoba Valley for ski lessons. The kids return around 7, having had an amazing adventure with their friends. Apparently Grey & Thane have been improving in their three lessons already, and there has been pretty much no whining. (I thought that 18 degree weather and a hard new skills would equal whining. I was wrong.)

The Y teachers/ski instructors are freaking saints. My two lunatics are on the left.

The Y teachers/ski instructors are freaking saints. My two lunatics are on the left.

I was feeling all satisfied by having done New-England-right by my kids using the proxy of the Y, when somehow word came to my husband? Kids? That there’s an open skate time in the Stoneham Arena on Sunday from 4:00 – 5:30. The kids begged. Adam took them. I had a quiet ninety minutes. They have, by husbandly reports, improved by leaps and bounds.

Grey skating

Thane skating

Truthfully, I confess to be a little bit ashamed of how scared my knee makes me to do things like this. I mean, professional athletes have the same surgery, and they’re back smashing into each other scant months later. (See also: Gronk). But I think I might have a legitimate panic attack if I ever strapped on skis again. Even having my children doing it is easier if I don’t think too hard about it. The slicing and twisting nature of skates (did I mention I’ve only been skating two or three times? I’m a better roller-skater) makes me uneasy. My knee throbs just thinking about it. My failure to responsibly overcome this fear is no testament to me. But I’m extremely grateful that despite my unease, my children are learning to love snow and ice, and to be – well – real New Englanders.


I have just uploaded my January pictures. We had a great adventure in Cambridge at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. I also got some more great blizzard-day pics!

Tales from the heart of a blizzard

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These are semi-regular updates from our snow day. Since I’m going to be getting cabin fever, the least you can do is read about it!

9 am – woke up to a windy, white world. It’s hard to tell with the blowing snow, but I’d say there’s considerably less snow than predicted. This looks more like 6 – 8 inches than 18. (Note the lower portion of the fence.) Not saying we should be having school today, by any means.

Everyone is now on a screen – Mom and Dad are working, Grey is on his Chromebook and Thane is watching Wild Kratts.

Backyard blizzard view

10 am – Adam made four hot loaves of fresh bread for our neighbors, to help keep starvation from the door. I invited the older kids over to entertain our kids with a rousing rendition of HeroScape. Then I realized that people probably needed to be able to, you know, get to our house. So I grabbed a shovel.

The snow on the stairs was taller than the door, but powdery and easily pushed aside. I cut my way to the road, noting that the front yard snow was waaaaay deeper than the back yard snow – the promised 18 inches at least! The snow filled it even as I cut it. I got slightly stymied by the plow berm, but then decided my friends have legs and they could step over it.

Great thing about elementary schoolers is that four of them are less work than two of them….

Snowstorms make getting to your neighbors a logistical exercise.

Snowstorms make getting to your neighbors a logistical exercise.

11 am – the kids read and played quietly for an hour, but then they spotted other little heads on the street, and booked it to get their snow gear on. Let’s all take a minute to appreciate having kids who can put on and take off their own snow gear without parental intervention… ah….

Now there are some hijinks next door that involve sleds and vertiginous drops. Despite the transport ban, the road is a bit busy for sledding. Adam’s taking his turn on the walks to try and stay ahead of the DOOM. (The sidewalk portion of what I shoveled had completely filled in. The walkway portion stayed bare.)

Little figures in the snow

Little figures in the snow

1 pm – We went out sledding at noon. The DPW was attempting to plow our street, which was a bad combination. They asked us to stop sledding, so we did. I took most of the older kids in the neighborhood, and they’re currently wreaking havoc in Grey’s bedroom. Grilled cheese for lunch!

Grade school neighbors

Grade school neighbors

2 pm – I found the snow from the back yard. It was all on top of the cars. A million thanks to both David and Tobin for the snow-blowing. The snow removal on this driveway is a classic reason you should never buy houses during glorious October weather.

There's a car  under there. Somewhere.

There’s a car under there. Somewhere.

4 pm – Nothing like a day at home with your children while trying to do a full day’s work to make you really grateful for school. It’s just about time to stop splitting my personality and being full time at home!

7 pm – Best possible way to end a snow day!

Potluck with neighbors

Potluck with neighbors

10 pm – friends have returned to their home and our house is returned to a semblance of order. And yet it snows.

Digging in

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Grey made this cake from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. At 9, he’s already a better cook than I was when I graduated from college.

So you might have heard that New England is looking at a wee bit of snow tonight. Just a trace. Hardly more than two feet, with hurricane force winds. I mean, barely hurricane force – no more than Category 1!

Tonight, the great city is quiet. The blanket of softening snow has begun to fall, but the vast dimensions of the sky have not yet opened their portals to loose the flakes upon us. In another hour, by law, we will be contained to our homes with those children who lay slumbering in guaranteed-snow-day anticipation upstairs. There is no sound of traffic outside – no airplanes flying overhead. There is the hum of the furnace and the creak of a hundred year old house settling in the cold night air. The winds are sliding past – not yet howling or moaning. The house is warm and slightly messy – scattered with Transformers, stuffed animals, cables & little boys’ socks.

The entire region on every side gives a great exhalation from the normal pace. We lay down our commutes and our schedules and our appointments. We forgo our childcare. We do not go into work. (Although – curse of the age – work we must tomorrow since our labors depend hardly at all on our physical location.) In the morning the world will be transformed into twisting snow, cutting us off from the burdens and comforts of our society and demanding that we take a few moments to think of who we are and what we are doing in this world. We will shut the doors against the icy gale, but open the curtains to see the power of the storm. Before the world resumes anew there will be shared meals, laughter, sledding, video games, board games and baked goods. Some of those moments will soak into the souls of my young sons, and become the definitions of winter, of storm, of blizzard.

Assuming the power stays on (we’ve never **knocking on wood** in the seven years we’ve been there had the power go out in any meaningful way), this storm will be for us an interregnum. A gift. (I know it won’t be that way for everyone. We are very lucky in our circumstances.) For us it will be a time set apart.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably live-blog it for you – not so much because I think you’ll be fascinating, but because our era allows us to feel most connected when we are most apt to be isolated. I’ll tell you whether it’s a lark, or getting a bit scary. We’ll ponder together the likelihood of school on Wednesday (low). We’ll be joyful and funny and snowbound together. Tonight, I feel great gratitude for the circumstances of this storm, that brings us together even more than it keeps us apart.

Two decades of building a bikeway

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Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen

Over 30 years of leadership is represented with these two gentlemen

Back in 1988, a few folks had an idea about turning an old rail line in Stoneham into a trail. It was a cutting edge idea, at the time – the rails to trails projects were just kicking off. But the land was publicly owned, and it seemed like a good idea. Twenty-seven years later, the plan has final cleared (almost) all the hurdles required to break ground. My own part in this saga was trivial from that big picture perspective, but it was extremely illuminating for me.

Looking from the outside in, it can be awfully hard to get a hook into local politics. For example, googling my selectmen before a vote revealed… pretty much nothing (fun fact – my blog posts are like time 20 hits on nearly all of them). You can find some general information on what they do for a living. One or two of them have campaign pages, which reveal, well, nothing. Without a hook into the community, it’s hard to tell the obstructionists from the development-happy, the cooperators from the blockers, the sensible from the selfish. It’s almost impossible to educate yourself to vote responsibly when neither you nor anyone you know has any insight into these candidates.

Then came the Greenway. This project was so incredibly clear cut, I didn’t need a 20 year Stoneham veteran to explain the ins and outs to me. The pro was that we had an amazing project on public land paid for by state funds and sponsored by MassDOT. On the opposing side we had… uh…. safety concerns (which were bogus – the crossings will be much safer with the new work to be done) and uh… … The funny thing was that despite voting down a delay of a vote, and then voting down the initiative in the October meeting, no one could or would articulate a real & compelling reason why they didn’t think Stoneham should have this awesome amenity. The reasons, I believe, were all buried in relationships, history and some selfishness on the parts of the businesses who had been using the land for years with little or minimal compensation to the public. (I’m left to speculate. Anyone who’d prefer to explain the real reason is free to leave a comment!)

So in this complex community, I finally had a touchpoint. Using information available to me, I could see that the Greenway was good. This provided me the entryway into understanding more about the town. My involvement started out very lightly. In 2011 I walked the Greenway route. In May of 2013 I wrote about the project. In a sign of my outsiderness, I tried to reach out to the Selectmen using the publicly available contact information (which was rather unsuccessful). Then this fall, at the request of a friend, I went to the Town Hall meeting where the vote was both delayed and denied.

I was shocked into action. The excuses for failure were SO LAME. And they looked very much like they were going to successfully kill the project. I spoke at the meeting, and came to the attention of the advocates. Coming back from that meeting, I wrote a letter to the local newspapers. I reached out to the supporters, and helped collect signatures for a special town hall meeting. I engaged in the ad hoc group that pushed to get out the vote over a one month period. I walked door to door with my kids. I cold called 200 likely voters (a more pleasant experience than usual, based on the fact that 99.8% of the town thought the Greenway was a great idea). I called for the vote in the special Town Hall meeting, packed to the gills with hundreds of usually unheard residents who had answered our calls to support the project.

The townhall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end

The Town Hall meeting felt like a movie where the hard work all pays off in the end

My portion of the effort was definitely at the eleventh hour and much less than that of others, but when the time came for drinks afterwards, I got the invite. I sat at a table of people who had poured years, tens of thousands of dollars and their hearts and souls into making the town a better plan to live, with no ulterior motivation. There was elation. There was exhaustion. There was a vague sense of unease that the opposition might find one more thing we hadn’t known about or thought about to block the project. I looked at those people, still struggling to put faces and names together, and settled into my place in the community.

Many things have come from this effort. The largest, of course, is that we now have a Greenway (assuming nothing bad happens from here on out). We have invited many residents of Stoneham to their first ever Town Hall meeting – hopefully some number of them become more engaged in guiding our community. I hope that the older entrenched interests in the town have realized that there are many more people in Stoneham than the handful of hundred who have historically done so much for the community, and that our planning needs to take both new and old residents into consideration. And I – I hope that I and my neighbors become more engaged in the town. Finally, enduringly, I have made some new friends in this adventure, who may be my friends in this great town for years to come.

What about you? Do you understand how your town ticks? Are you a voter? How do you figure out how to vote on local issues? How does a stranger come to become a local in your community?

Becoming a family

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There are two socially sanctioned ways to increase the size of your family: babies and weddings. Adding babies is a lot of fun, but it’s not really a team activity. At most of the key stages, there’s two or a few people there. Also, pictures of the precise events are not, shall we say, to be encouraged.

Weddings, on the other hand, involve a team. Heck, they involve a tribe! And the moment where two people create one family is one of the most public, most photographed and most iconic in our culture.

New family!

My family just grew, this past Christmas. I thought it was growing by one – my sister-in-law Andrea. But then I met Harvey, and it became clear that it was growing by two.

We had almost a week together – my parents, my siblings and my new sibling and puppy-in-law – before we had to kick into wedding mode. The first activity was the traditional Johnstone Christmas, with the uncles and cousins and grandpa’s famous chip dip. I finally got my uncle to tell his war stories, and there were the age old arguments about which Seattle street had housed which relatives. These are the brothers and sisters by marriage in the prior generation whose relationships have lasted for over forty years. It was my oldest family – the family at whose feet I wandered when I was a kid and didn’t think much about what made a family. It was the first time I’ve been together with them in several years, and it was lovely.

Spinning yarns around the Christmas tree.

Then, the team turned to decorating cupcakes to be planets. It’s possible that way too much frosting was consumed. WAAAAAY too much frosting. It’s possible we stayed up a little too late giggling. We siblings by marriage started to get to know each other, under the influence. Also, the cupcakes and cake were delicious and way cooler than anything we could’ve bought.

Decorating. Not all that frosting made it onto the cupcakes.

Over the next few days we added in adventures – we went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and wandered through a submarine. We watched animation techniques, had dinner together, poked through Powell’s books for an hour and made commando raids to find a better wireless router for the home castle. We talked Space Law & Insurance and then somehow gravitated to book recommendations on the long dark ride home. The week went on and Harvey went on walks, we went on hikes, puzzles got half-started, sewing and banners were created, children hid themselves in the basement and created imaginary worlds inhabited by Warrior Cats. By the time we rang in the new year, we were starting to feel gelled and connected, family-like.

The extended team

As they year ticked over to 2015, the rest of the team arrived. I’d quickly met Bobbi before, but not Joe or Susan. The wedding crew was in place, and we delved into the work with a passion. Fingernails were painted. Flowers (which were ordered but did not arrive) were purchased and crafted. Tuxes were obtained (with much angst – the flowers and the tux were the angst moments of this wedding). We were on the slopes, getting closer and closer together as we went, to the final moments of the wedding.

Group pedicures

The very best moment was the night before the wedding. None of us who had grown up in Mineral had EVER been to the Headquarters Tavern there. Given that Mineral has two churches, a general store, a bar and a post office… this seemed a lapse. We decided to cut apart an hour to go rectify said lapse the night before the wedding. It was fantastic. It’s possible there was head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody. Some people might have reported that the dulcet tones of Sweet Caroline (so good! the bride is from Saugus) reverberated for the first time in the crawdad traps in the ceiling. It was, generally, phenomenal.

Such a sight the tavern hadn’t seen since fishing season ended

The wedding was beautiful. It was small, but lovely. I played trumpet. My mom performed the ceremony. The bride was lovely. The groom was smitten. The children (and dogs) were adorable. The two people became one family in a kiss.

Practice kiss

It was lovely. We took pictures at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and dined in the Melting Pot in Tacoma. From there, we all fragmented back to our packing and our regular lives. (Funny story about the rv we were staying in and the broken door latch… which wasn’t really all that funny until we found an unlocked window.) Our Kindles as thoroughly mixed up as any French farce could devise we parted – as a family. A new family. A larger, more joyful family, connected by frosting, puppies, submarines, Staples-runs, pedicures, Arbys, ice-crystals, Kindle-swaps and lipstick-color-arguments. Welcome to the family, Andrea & Harvey. Thanks for inviting us into yours. Welcome, Joe & Bobbie & Susan. I’m so glad we are together in this!

Team wedding

The lines between Christmas and wedding are blurry. I have two sets of pictures – the first half are here, and the second half you can find here!

Back to life, back to reality

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Was this Christmas afternoon disc the last frisbee session until April?

Well, it’s done. We have Christmas Eve’d, Christmas Day’d, flow out to Washington, done Christmas twice more with the natal clan, relaxed, hiked, had a wedding*, locked ourselves out of the RV, got back in, returned to Boston, deconstructed the Christmas tree, put away all the suitcases and watched “The Battle of the Five Armies”. (Because being home at 3 pm on a Monday is an opportunity not to be wasted. We had the theater to ourselves!)

The frenetic pace of the holidays is well and truly done – even Epiphany has passed – and we’re through to the other side.

Oh, what a dark and bleak other side it is. The oppressively cold, persistently dark, nothing-to-look-forward-to time of year. I was reminded, being in Washington in January, that at least here in New England we periodically see daylight. Yesterday was a day of darkened skies and lowering clouds in the Northwest. The rivers ran high with rain and snowmelt. It never got above dim the entire day. Returning to New England the winds blew through our coats like Legolas’ knife through Orcish armor as we stood shivering, half-asleep at the taxi stand. But at least there was daylight.

I haven’t quite decided whether I kind of like this time of year, or actively loathe it. Let’s review:

Actively loathe:

  • It’s really cold
  • I’m never warm
  • Paying off the bills from Christmas
  • No days off until like May
  • Also, Christmas cookie weight, and January gyms
  • Commutes in snow
  • Tax time

Kinda like:

  • No pressure to “make the weekends count”
  • Looking outside and noticing that it’s snowing
  • Snow days
  • Feeling like you can really settle into hard work at work, and plan
  • Time to read
  • Hot tea

I think that even in the final analysis, the negatives outweigh the positives, but there are some small compensations to treasure. The ground is still bare here in Boston. The weather this week is supposed to hit negative numbers. I am ready for a month of seeing people I always intend to see and have trouble making the right time for, reading books, and wearing my fuzzy bathrobe as much as possible.

What about you? Is Q1 your favorite time of year, or least favorite? What small compensations are there to the lousy-weather, no-holidays time? What, if anything, do you look forward to?

*I promise I’ll give you a full rundown, and I did take approximately ninety-bajillion pictures, but my sister-in-law has requested that we wait to Socially Media her wedding until she’s back from her honeymoon to join in the fun!

New Year’s Resolution 2014

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I have actually had a wildly successful New Year’s resolution before. I’m still keeping it up as part of habit and second nature, instead of intentional resolutioning. It was to serve a vegetable at every meal (well, lunch and dinner) and I changed my life in order to accomplish just that. So I’m ready for another real resolution this year. In business, when we set our objectives, they’re supposed to be S.M.A.R.T. That means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. In New-Years-Resolution-land, a resolution of “Lose weight” isn’t really specific or measurable. “Lose 80 pounds this month” fails to be attainable or realistic. Just “Lose 20 pounds” isn’t timely. It’s difficult to fully separate what you know (work version) from what you know (real life), so when I was thinking about my resolution, I carried over some of those S.M.A.R.T. attributes.

Truth be told, I’m pretty happy with the person I am. Yes, I could be fitter, smarter, kinder and better organized. But I think I work just about as hard as I’m capable of working, so I’m not TOO hard on myself for failing to attain those. (Plus, I think most people think that’s true of themselves, so I have good company.)

What I wish I did differently was… well, this. I miss blogging. Back before kids, I wrote (short form) multiple times a day. Then after kids, but in a much less absorbing job I blogged every day, or sometimes every other day. But now that I’m in the white-heat of both career and kids, I’ve been trying for once a week. Lately, I’ve been failing, and that makes me sad. I don’t have a big readership. I don’t get to write sponsored posts. I don’t write professionally. (Well, I do, but not this.) I just *like* to write. This blog has over 750 posts. I like to tell people what I’m thinking, and hear their thoughts back. I like to look back and my posts and remember what I’ve forgotten. I like thinking out my conversations to you in cold, quiet moments. And lately I haven’t been doing much of this thing I like doing.

So here’s my S.M.A.R.T goal: to post once a week on Thursdays at 11 am EST. I would like to be so consistent you can rely on “Oh, it’s Thursday lunch! Let’s see what Brenda posted!” Of course, given that I’m working at 11 am on Thursdays, this means that it’s very likely to be written ahead of time and queued. (In fact, I’m thinking that I should write up a number of backlog, non-time-sensitive posts just in case I have a busy week!)

One sign of resolution success is a public declaration. This helps your friends hold you accountable to what you said you’d do. So I am empowering you, beloved reader, to go ahead and give me a hard time if Thursday 11 am passes and I haven’t posted my blog post yet!

What do you think? Will a once a week post beat my current average? Is Thursday 11 am a good time for it? What goals are you going into the new year with?

2014 Year in Review

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My boys

My boys

I did not manage to write a Christmas Letter for my Christmas cards this year. I know, I’m so terribly sorry for disappointing you like that. I’m sure you’ll somehow manage to pull through… but the Christmas letters serve a useful purpose in addition to making my Christmas Card process even more complicated. They’re a nice moment to reflect back on the year and set down the milestones, for posterity as it were. So in this close of year time, I’ll take advantage of the six hour flight to Washington to do just that. (Then I’ll play Minecraft. My sons are guaranteed to think this is entirely unfair.)

Grey

Grey

Grey is nine, and started third grade this year. Thane is six, and starts his school career in Kindergarten. We had his preschool graduation this year, with cap and gown. Both of them are doing very well. Grey is majorly obsessed with screens of all sorts (can’t imagine where he gets that from…) and has dabbled with blogging and Scratch programming. His online time is primarily spent playing mindless video games. His favorite is Minecraft. Grey has gotten very good at board games. On a few occasions, he’s stayed up late and played “grownup” games with our friends (like St. Petersburg or 7 Wonders). He’s done quite well.

Thane

Thane

Thane is a still a young and innocent 6. He’s less all about screens than Grey. His DS has gone unplayed for at least a year. He loves that fiddly finicky work – like making mosaics or building with Legos. He can sometimes disappear for several hours into his room, building things and singing to himself. Less charmingly, he’s definitely at the disgusting-obsessed phase of life. If I never hear about poop or vomit over dinner again, it’ll be fine by me. He is reading, but it’s heavy work for him. You can watch him visibly tire over the course of a book. So he reads… but he’s not really a “reader”. Lately he’s been in constant motion – unable to stop bouncing. He never walks – there’s always a hitch or a skip in his step!

I got cats in high places

I got cats in high places

Our cats like to sit on Adam’s head. Their hobbies include eating things that aren’t food, and throwing up.
Neither Adam nor I made major work changes this year. Our roles and companies remain the same. Work is, of course, a thing that requires a tremendous amount of time and energy, and creates a significant part of identity. It seems misleading to talk abou the year without work. But, on the other hand, a personal blog is really no place for work talk. So let’s leave it a big part of our lives that shall go unremarked.

Tropical Island boys

Tropical Island boys

This year, in the “fun things” category, we went to Cozumel with the kids. I was nervous that we’d go through great expense and effort for a vacation that would end up wearing us out. Happily, it was a tremendously relaxing and enjoyable experience! There was snorkeling, game playing, lying reading on beaches, jeep adventures, Mayan ruins and early nights. I think we’re all hoping that the future will play out in such a way that we can go back again!
Adam and I also celebrated our 14th anniversary with a meal of dehydrated noodles on the north side of Mt. Rainier. We had a superb five day backpacking trip that fed my heart, soul and imagination.

Adam & John

Adam & John

Our family experienced some additions and subtractions this year. In the subtraction category, Adam’s grandfather, John Turley, died in October. He had come to the end of a long, and largely joyful journey. I was extremely glad that I had gotten to spend a bit of time with him a few weeks before he left.

In the addition category, on Halloween my brother asked his lady to build a life together with him. I’m delighted to report that she agreed to this plan! We’ll be celebrating their wedding in the first days of the new year (assuming that spending a week with my entire family doesn’t scare her off the proposition). It reflects that last time someone will voluntarily enter my family in a generation. I’m really looking forward to getting to know her better.

This year was one of the years in the heart of the “young family” time of life. My children are getting so big, so fast I can start to understand that confused lamentation of the parents of teens, wondering where their babies went. Grey is halfway through his childhood – with as much behind as there ahead. We are busy busy busy – at work, at play, with our children, with our chores. I have a hunch that this will be the time of life that we look back on most fondly when the business ceases and the house quiets. This was a lovely year. I have great hope that 2015 will be lovelier still!

Mutiny from the Bounty

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Every week.

There are few things that make me feel richer and more fortunate that putting away my groceries. I grew up *hours* from the nearest grocery store. My parents went shopping once a month (with exceptions for milk). I, meanwhile, live minutes from the nearest grocery store. And Peapod delivers. But if you looked at my pantry, you’d think I was stocking up for the quarter. So when it’s time to put produce away, I practice a form of meditative ‘fridge reorganization that bears a striking resemblance to Jenga with Carrots. (This is aided not at all by the fact my kitchen organization requires a smaller-than-average ‘fridge. This is “on the list”. Tragically, about $20k of more pressing updates [see also: furnace, windows, attic redo] are above the it “on the list”.)

Typical Monday night fridge

Since about the first of June, I’ve been signed up for Farmer Dave’s CSA. This is our fifth or sixth year as Farmer Davers, and the first year I’ve been able to stomach the thought of extending the season into the late fall share. (It’s a sign your CSA is working on changing your eating habits when you’re tempted to keep it going because broccoli.) Every week, when I get that ginormous box of farm-fresh produce, I have this mental dialogue as I put it away.

Hippy Brenda: Oh! Arugula! Let’s make lots of salads this week!
Skeptical Brenda: You’re gone for like three days this week, and Adam isn’t going to make salad. You might as well kiss this arugula goodbye.
Homesteader Brenda: I bet there are some great arugula pesto recipes out there. I could just spend the next three hours whipping up a batch of arugula pesto to see us through the winter.
Sleepy Brenda: It’s already 11 pm. Seriously?
Liberal Guilt Brenda: How can you contemplate wasting arugula? Don’t you know that most families across America lack access to affordable healthy food? There are people out there who work three jobs and just DREAM of arugula! And don’t get me started on food insecurity in Africa. You better enjoy this arugula, because you are darn lucky to have it.
Practical Brenda: Let’s compromise. We’ll wash & spin the arugula, beet tops & red lettuce together in salad mix, and cram it in the left drawer which almost still closes. Then in the off chance we can find a time for salad, at least we have the salad fixings.

Repeat for an entire crate of luscious produce.

Worse than zucchini

Of course, then there are the _other_ bits of produce. Let us take kohlrabi as an example. Kohlrabi grows amazingly well in New England. You just think about kohlrabi while looking at a patch of soil, and it starts growing. Kohlrabi is what we call “edible” which means that if you can deep fry it in butter the butter tastes good. I have yet to find a recipe improved by the addition of kohlrabi (after six years of trying) and have frankly given up. My new goal with kohlrabi is plausible deniability. My favorite technique in this regard is to put it on the counter and ignore it until it goes bad. Kohlrabi, of course, requires about three straight weeks of ignoring before I don’t feel too guilty composting it.

What you bring to parties when you have a veggie share. Everything but the carrots was seasonable farm share produce.

In truth, I think the farm share has fundamentally transformed the way my family eats. If you ask my children for their favorite vegetable, they cheerfully profess a string of vegetable-adorations. Spending week after week wracking your brain for yet another use of arugula (see also: romanesco, cabbage) you develop a much more robust repertoire of veggie heavy dishes. You serve your children (and, let’s be honest, your husband) vegetables over and over again in desperation, and on some glorious day those veggies go from despised to a favorite. (True fact: Thane loves cooked collard greens! Grey adores broccoli, even raw!) Last week, at our last pickup, I found myself thinking “yum!” at almost all the produce (there was no kohlrabi). That’s a huge improvement from my attitude toward veggies ten years ago!

Medley of root vegetables, thanks to an entire crisper teeming with root vegetables

Farmer Dave reckons he saves us something like 30 – 40% over buying the produce in a store. There are several ways in which this is a completely useless calculation. For example, I have never once seen some of my favorite veggies in a store. Romanesco? Garlic scapes? Purslane? Amazingly, Stop & Shop does not stock these delicious offerings. (Of course, they’ve also never inflicted kohlrabi on me.) But it’s very difficult to use all your weekly onslaught of produce. (Did I mention we got fresh sweet corn in NOVEMBER this year?! Craziness!) I would never, in the normal course of things, buy nearly as much produce as Farmer Dave brings me every week. And that’s a bit of the point, my friends. We eat SO MUCH MORE produce in order to be able to see the fridge light again than I normally would. And that’s great for all of us.

I adore garlic scapes. They’re basically scallions, but for garlic. Also, they look like hydra heads.

So if you’re interested in kohlrabi, contact me and I’ll send you mine. Otherwise, if you’d like romanesco, herbs, root veggies, garlic scapes, greens and a wide variety of foods-not-found-in-stores, now is the right time to sign up for the 2015 Farm Share! I find the small vegetable share is enough, and I combine it with a fruit share. (Mmmmm fruit.) Farmer Dave has pick up locations all across Massachusetts. If you aren’t near Farmer Dave, there are CSAs available in most regions now!

Ooh look! Is that arugula?!

Meanwhile, I’m personally looking forward to a few months where the only produce in my crisper is stuff I actually bought on purpose and know how to use. We get to eat asparagus (which Farmer Dave does not yet produce) and tropical fruits! I can buy frozen veggies that are pre-cut! I know that by June I’ll be dying for some fresh local goodness, but for now… bring on the bagged spinach!

Bring on the heat

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Heating in 2+ hours… or never.

I woke up yesterday morning to a cold house. I contemplated whether my son figured out how to open his heat vent and steal the heat back into his room (after we’ve rightfully stolen it into ours)… but no. Too cold. The hallway was cold too. The heated floor in the bathroom couldn’t get up to temperature against the chill of the air. I went downstairs praying the battery in the NEST had just died, but no. It was the furnace. We had quick and chilly morning ablution with two icicle-boys eating breakfast in their coats. I called my amazing furnace company Royal Air Systems, and they sent someone right away. This hero of heating replaced something as part of my plan, then checked back an hour or two later. No dice – it still wasn’t working right.

At 7 pm last night he was just leaving my house, having ordered a part from the warehouse. “I adjusted your furnace manually, so the pipes won’t freeze. But please, don’t sleep in the house with those boys. There’s a chance there might be Carbon Monoxide.” Right. Cold temperatures I can handle, but even with CO monitors throughout the house, I’m not a fan of dying in my sleep. The boys were thrilled, THRILLED to have a sleep over with our kind next door neighbors, who opened their home to us last night. They were awfully cute together this morning!

The furnace news is not good. Either it needs to be replaced like today, or it needs to be replaced really soon. If it has to be replaced, it’s entirely possible I’ll need to impose on my friends’ hospitality for another night. (The kids are rooting for this outcome, since they think their sleepover is SO COOL.) I’m cheering for really soon since I am not a fan of snap purchases. My beloved husband is also – conveniently for him – traveling this week, so it’s all on me.

I would say something cheerful about how times like this make me feel lucky because I have such amazing friends, and am capable of handling projects, and am impressed as heck with my service provider, and lucky enough that we can postpone our planned home improvement project (the freaking windows) and do this instead but… I don’t feel 100% and it’s a gray rainy nor’easter outside and I’m not feeling cheerful. So bah humbug!


UPDATED: Just got the call from my dude. He managed to fix the part that needed fixing. He checked on the part that that might have required a new furnace and it’s ok. He ran tests on Carbon Monoxide, and there is none. So we can go home and sleep tonight in a warm house and not die. Yay! We probably need to replace the furnace this year – likely in January. But I don’t have to do it like today. YAY YAY!

And the total out of pocket with my service plan? Not a single red cent. $0. No invoice. The parts alone cost $700 and the dude was there for HOURS and it cost me nothing. YAY YAY YAY!

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