A happy home

It’s been a very busy summer indeed. I spent 90% of this weekend driving to or from Camp Wilmot, where I either picked up or dropped off my eldest child. We also did an outing with Adam’s company at the Boston Aquarium, made pesto, went swimming at Good Harbor beach in Gloucester (more driving), watched the new Ghostbuster’s movie (which was thoroughly enjoyable), attended a Mom’s Group fundraiser planning meeting (more later) and caught a lot of Pokemon. (Currently level 15 – go Mystic!)

A happy camper
A happy camper

Not on this list: blog posts and/or laundry.

Also, I think I might be getting sick. At least, I feel like crap. My neck is killing me, and that’s giving me a headache, and my stomach hurts. And I’m just as busy at work as I am at home.

So, of course, I’ve been thinking a ton about my house’s history.

The story of how this transpired is a small town story. Debbie Sullivan, proprietess of The Book Oasis and a friend of mine, posted on Facebook that she had a new book in on local history. Now I am on my way to owning every book on local history that’s been published (working on it, at least), so I figured I’d better get it while I loaded Grey up on some books from his summer reading list. Thus did “Stoneham’s Great Fires and Tragic Events: 1806 – 2016” by Chief Raymond L. Sorensen, Ret. end up in the bag of books in the back seat.

Somewhere just south of Concord, New Hampshire, a voice emerged from the back seat. “Mom,” said the fine young man being sent off to build character, “Our house is in this book.”

Maturely, I responded, “No way! Get outta here! Our house? What’s it say?”

As he read, my heart fell. In September of 1948, the charming pink house I love so much was home to one of the town’s great tragedies of the century. Three children were killed in a fire. Right here. The book focused on the effects this had on fire department funding. (Spoiler alert: the Fire Department asked for 10 additional firefighters but only got 6.) But my mind kept going back and back. What were the children’s names? How did the fire start? Where did they die? Did the family lose all their children, or did any survive? Most critically, was my son ever going to fall asleep in this house again? (Am I?)

I used the Google search engine. Nothing more than was in the book. It was time for the heavy guns. I sent a note to the lady who embodies the Stoneham Historical Commission. While I worked, she and the reference librarian pulled microfiche (a skill I do not possess) to find what was in the newspapers at the time, while she also looked at finding their graves. I feel a great desire to visit their grave, and tell these children I’m so sorry that this happened to them, and that we’ve loved living in their house.

The story unfolded through the day, and my goodness, is it a sad one. The oldest boy and youngest girl survived, with both parents. There was a oil stove explosion, and the accelerant closed off the staircase. They only got out through windows, and just barely that. Neighbors brought ladders. The time it took to hook the engine up to the hydrants was too long. Three of the children did not make it out. Two died that morning. The third died at the New England Sanitarium a few days later.

The town rallied, though. They came together. They raised money for the family. (One guy raffled off a bat signed by Babe Ruth, which would cost a pretty penny today!) They worked hard to support the family, and make sure this didn’t happen again. According to Mr. Sorensen’s book, “Citizens demanded a hearing, ‘not to condemn the fire department,’ they said, but to find out what went wrong.” And when they figured out they didn’t have the right equipment or personnel, the bought and hired the right amount. It’s the same small town where I’m connected to the book store, the historical commission, the library. It still feels like that rallying community.

I’m thinking about reaching out to that oldest son. He was 12 when his home burned, and his sister and two brothers died. He still lives in the area, as do the rescued baby and some more siblings added later in life. He’s 80 now. I would love to sit down with him and get an oral history. I do really wonder whether he’d be happy to tell the story of those lost ones, or if reliving what must be the worst day of his life is a cruel thing to ask him to do. I find myself wondering if his family knows the whole story. Is it lore among them? Or is it hidden? They’re very local – do they ever drive past my house and cry? Do they remember? Or do they try to forget? Do you think I should try to reach out?

I must say, I’m really surprised to find this out, nearly nine years into owning this house. We knew there had been a fire. It came up during the disclosures and home inspection. But it looked small. See – here you can see where they whitewashed the black scorch marks in the attic. The inspector assured us it was minor, and had no structural impact.

The charred part of the attic
The charred part of the attic

But I was mystified about why one of the unfinished attic spaces had one single, lone scrap of wallpaper – in a room where the roof nails stuck through perilously. How do you put up wallpaper, and not, I dunno, put in a ceiling to prevent you from splitting your head open on a nail?

The only wallpaper scrap
The only wallpaper scrap
Why I wouldn't consider this a finished space...
Why I wouldn’t consider this a finished space…

It becomes clear. This was finished. And it all burned that night in September. And our plan is to finish it again, and live up there. This time with one key addition:

One of these suckers in every room
One of these suckers in every room

The perfect age of boy

I remember when Grey was about three months old. He’d just started smiling. I looked over his fuzzy head to my husband and said, “I wish I could just freeze him at this age. He’s just perfect.” I wished it again at a year, and at three years (each time thinking I’d been foolish the last time – he’d clearly only improved). Granted, there were a few times in the life of each boy I haven’t wished to freeze them in place (see also: Thane at 4, Grey at 6), but so far I’ve really enjoyed my sons.

This last week or so was a particularly great time to be their mom.

On Friday, I installed Pokemon Go. I mean, everyone ELSE in the office was playing, and I’d really enjoyed Ingress. It’s, um, a touch addictive, so I happened to mention to the boys. Which explains why I spent hours this week, walking around my town with my youngest son, consulting my living breathing encyclopedia of all knowledge Pokemon related. (Seriously, these kids are amazing. They can rattle of the evolution paths, types, relative rarity and stats on like hundreds of different Pokemon. This may seem like arcane information until they’re out of their minds excited because you caught an Eevee, which can evolve into any type!)

Thane and I walked along the waters of Spot Pond for two hours today, trying to catch water type Pokemon. We stood in the twilight, and listened to the wolves in Stone Zoo howl to the waning crescent moon, while catching yet another Ratatta.

Serious Pokemon Expert
Serious Pokemon Expert

Thane will have considerable time this next two weeks to display his astonishing expertise to me. This afternoon, on a cold and drizzly day, I dropped my eldest son off at Camp Wilmot, with four other good friends by his side. It was a very gray day, and a very long ride in the car. About an hour in, he said, “Mom, I appreciate you doing so much driving. I appreciate everything you do for me. Thank you.” Awwwww. I think he’s actually gotten more affectionate as he’s gotten older, and better sees what it is that his parents do for him. I’m going to miss his good company over the next two weeks, very much.

Even though he was more than ready for me to go, and invited me to depart _several_ times before I actually went. There’s loving your mom, and not wanting to look too much like you love your mom at dropoff time.

I’m under strict instructions to write regularly, and to send a care package with his father’s bread in it.

The camper, very ready for his mom to depart
The camper, very ready for his mom to depart

You can see pictures from our 4th of July Camping Trip, and this Camp Wilmot dropoff! Enjoy!

6 reasons I like Sportsball

Among the people I spend time with, referring to a game is as likely to be about 7 Wonders or Fate as it is to be about baseball, or basketball. In fact, depending on the precise people, it’s considerably more likely. During March Madness, all my office could talk about was Google’s AI going 4 of 5 against a Go champion. Sometimes, friends or acquaintances of mine disparagingly (or bemusedly) refer to whatever big sporting event that’s going on as sportsball, they seem so indistinguishable.

I’m not an obvious target for breaking from this culture, and liking sports. My favorite kinds of music are mid-century American folk, pre-baroque early music, and opera. I read science fiction and fantasy primarily. I have a 15 year career in software. I got my degree in medieval studies. This is not a profile that screams “I can correctly identify offsides before I see the flag go up”.*

But here it is, Sunday night. Game of Thrones is on, but I’m 100% tuned in to the Copa America finals, really hoping to see Lionel Messi do to Chile what he did to the US in the semis. I’ve loved the summer of soccer, although I admittedly only really watch the international tournaments. I listen to or watch at least parts of probably 80 baseball games a year. For the last several years, I’ve watched almost every Pats** game, and as many Seahawks games as I could catch. And it’s not because I love my husband who loves sports. In fact, he doesn’t like anything but soccer. He calls the baseball broadcasts “the voices in my head” and only goes to a game in person because he likes the hot dogs.

So why do I like sports? What makes it worth spending two or three hours on the couch?

1) You can connect with so many people
I started my sports interest in 1995, with the amazing Seattle Mariners team. Everyone around me was talking about the Mariners. Very few people were interested in talking about Seattle Opera’s superb staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is what I was excited about that summer. As a supercilious 16 year old, I did of course feel superiorly artistic. But also a bit lonely. At some point, I decided I would open-mindedly investigate this whole “baseball” thing to see what it was all about. And it was amazing! Suddenly, these people with whom I felt like I had nothing in common became friends. I could say, “Did you catch the game last night?” and then we could talk about the game last night. It opened up this huge point of connection, which was my primary goal. It was almost heady, how being interested in what other people were interested in made them more likely to talk to me… or even to like me.

2) It turns out sports are interesting
Chances are good you have one of two reactions to that statement.

    a) Well duh
    b) I doubt it

But the reason that millions of people spend time, money, energy, passion and attention on sports is because they’re fascinating. I think of them like the best poetry. The form is known – like a sonnet. You know that a sonnet will be ABABCDCDEFEFGG. You know the form so well you don’t even have to think about it. But like poetry, each expression of that form is profoundly unique. All the best sports have uncertain outcomes. The only way to know what will happen is to watch the game, even if probabilities and prognostication seem to point to certainty. It’s like poetry of human accomplishment, in opposition to other striving humans, written out for you in real time.

3) You get to feel strong, conclusive feelings
You can be dumped in the pit of despair, but no one actually died. You can exult in the height of exultation. (But you did not actually win the lottery.) You can have aching, edge-of-seat uncertainty for an hour or two, when you wonder if you have any underlying heart conditions. That uncertainty is always resolved at the end. Most entertainment is designed to help us feel things we don’t usually get to feel (and often don’t want to feel) in the day to day course of our lives. Movies make us feel, love, admiration, fear, joy, terror and disgust. Sports can do the same, but in a way that seems less scripted or constructed. We do not feel those emotions on behalf of others, but rather for our own selves, and in community with those around us. No one knows ahead of time which feelings they’ll feel. That’s a powerful catharsis, with a firm and absolute ending point.

4) You join the shared memory
We’ve had to redefine communal memory several times in the last few generations. For the generation prior, it was the shared tv shows on the few networks. Before that, the radio shows. Before that, it was likely more fragmented with stories being told in communities about those communities, that people would share and retell across time with other people who remembered them as well. In an increasingly fragmented world, where we have neither shared history nor shared media, the biggest sporting events are something of a touchpoint. In Boston, “Where were you when the Sox won the World Series?” is likely to get as many stories (well rehearsed, usually) as the still-annual “Where were you when the towers fell?” They make you feel like you belong.

5) It provides a brief break from reality
Do you know what word WASN’T spoken during the broadcast tonight? Brexit. I work hard to stay well informed. I read and listen to a reasonable amount of news. But sometimes I like to have media that allows me to dip in and out (so not a gripping novel), that involves people talking, and that isn’t as depressing as the Dead Sea.

6) Legitimate excuse to sit on the couch
Maybe this is just me, but if I can do something “later” I often don’t do it “at all”. But with sporting events, it’s really really best if you watch it when it’s live. And that means I get to sit still and relax. I don’t live a life conducive to relaxing. If I wasn’t watching the Copa America*** tonight I probably would’ve done the dishes, worked on the attic project, cleaned the living room and then fallen into bed exhausted. Instead, I got to sit with a friend on the couch with no demands. It was brilliant.


What about you? Do you love some sports? All sports? No sports? Do you think sports are silly? Do you follow them passionately? Have you learned over time to see the point in them?

*New skill. Won’t lie. I just figured that one out this summer.
**Having acquired the skills and background in just the last few years to find American Football really interesting, I have decided it’s not a sport I can feel really good about watching. The recent findings about the way football destroys both mind and body of so many of the players makes it feel too much like a blood sport – like I’m a Roman in the coliseum. I’ll still come watch with you if you invite me (and I’ll probably enjoy it), but I decided to take it off my calendar as an event I’ll pursue of my own interests.
***I still can’t BELIEVE that ending!

Moving On

I remember Grey’s preschool graduation – my first ever graduation as a parent. The little kids sang this song with a refrain that “Now I’m Moving On” and I got a little weepy.

This week marks a lot of moving on in the life of my family. There are three people who stand in the heart of my life who are marking major transitions this week.

The Certificate
The Certificate

First and foremost, my eldest son. On Thursday, we attended a graduation ceremony for the 4th graders, which as unexpectedly excellent and poignant. I think his teacher this year is the best artist we’ve had so far, and the artifacts she helped the kids create are very poignant. The music was good too, with the kids having mastered many more numbers than the usual concert pieces. I was struck at how capable and competent they all looked – these kids whose faces and names have been part of our life since Kindergarten or before.

The "I wishes" were interesting to read. One little girl's made me want to apologize for failing her. It was "I wish girls could play baseball for as long as they want."
The “I wishes” were interesting to read. One little girl’s made me want to apologize for failing her. It was “I wish girls could play baseball for as long as they want.”

Next year is Middle School. I think we all have questions and trepidation about that. Should the little kids continue to walk to school? (I’ve been super impressed at the walking they’ve all done – the kids walked pretty much 100% of the days this year, and have run out the door to not be late to walk with their friends.) What will Middle School be like? What’s the schedule look like? How do afterschool clubs work? Where are there crossing guards? The only way we’ll really figure out how it all works is to do it. It’s a big change.

2016 Walkers
2016 Walkers

So Monday, the kids head off to Camp Melstone for a summer of trying to remember their swimming trunks and towels, and sunscreen and bug spray and… and it will be great.

But Monday is a change in routine for someone else. On Monday, my husband starts a new job! He spent 8 years with his prior employer, with people he loved and respected deeply. Eight years is a very long time in today’s tech economy, and moving to a new role feels like a very big deal. Just the logistics of figuring out how you get to a knew job can feel daunting – never mind learning the new job! I’m excited for him, he’s excited for him… but it’s going to be a big change all around.


Her accomplishment numbers the millions
Her accomplishment numbers the millions

And then the biggest of the changes. My mother is “graduating” after 29 years of teaching school. I still remember her first day, teaching pre-K. She’s spent almost all her life teaching those early years of middle school. (She used to say, before, that if she were noble she’d teach middle school. She taught me never to admit what I’d do if I were really noble.) I was in 5th grade when she started teaching 6th grade at Columbia Crest. She’s had generations of kids come through her class and learn about geography, French, history, technology and how to be a good human. Many have come back with their 4 year degrees in hand to come sit on Mr. Stool.

Mom definitely has her face pointed to the wind of freedom, though. In fact, in what I consider to be an insane move (but one that is entirely in keeping with my family!) she’s crawling on an airplane on her last day of school to fly to London! I hope Mom and Dad have the amazing, international adventures that they both long for.


So good luck to all my loved ones trying new things. To my sons, heading to summer camp and middle school. To my husband, headed to a new day’s work. To my mother, headed to a new phase of her life! I love you all!

Roller coaster family

One of the great joys – and hardest parts – of becoming a new family by having children is figuring out who they really are. Do they love to read, like you do? Do they love hiking and camping? Are they morning people or night owls? Do they tend to see things as funny or offensive? Is their first reaction one of compassion? Do they work hard for their goals? There are so many things you discover over time about your children. Many of these things you can influence. It’s hard to get a kid who loves to read if they never have any books around, whereas a constant supply of books and time set aside for reading increases the odds dramatically … but not guaranteed.

Some of these identities extend from the individual to the family. We learn who “we” are. “We” go camping together. “We” play board games. “We” play soccer. For this period of twenty some odd years, we’re a team who does a lot of things together, or not at all.

This weekend, Adam and I asked our family a big question.

Do “we” like roller coasters?

Six Flags New England - I didn't take this one!
Six Flags New England – I didn’t take this picture!

There’s a lot riding on this question. If the answer is absolutely not, then I probably never ride the big coasters again. It’s not worth it to go with reluctant kids, and it’s probably not something I’d do after I have no kid responsibilities. I mean, maybe my life would hold one or two more big coasters… but not many more. With Thane at the 52″ mark, this was the first time we’d be able to investigate and really thoroughly address the question. I confess to being a bit nervous – I really like roller coasters and would be sad not to share that with my kids.

I’m happy to report, the kids loved the coasters.

We tried a bunch: the one built in 1941, the one where you bounce up and down from a great height. We went on the Mind Eraser three times, when a gentle rain dissuaded everyone else from riding it. Then the skies opened and there was thunder, which means nothing was going on. We had lunch (totally breaking from the Pantry Challenge for a day), bought ponchos that were apparently spun from the most precious plastic-sheep ever raised and waited for the rain to stop.

Legit downpour
Legit downpour

This was the best possible thing to have happen, since most folks left at that point. We bought too much fudge and waited. Miraculously, the weather cleared and we had fast run of almost all the rides. It was phenomenal.

Bumper cars were first to open
Bumper cars were first to open

Then we hit the big rides, with very very few lines. Our favorite coaster was the Cyclone. It was a perfect coaster – great drops, twists, upside curves… but not so shaky or vertiginous that we felt like barfing. The kids loved it. We loved it. I think we ran it three or four times.

Grey in line for the Cyclone
Grey in line for the Cyclone
Thane in line for the 300 foot swingset
Thane in line for the 300 foot swingset

At the end of the day, Adam wanted to do one of the really big coasters. Thane is 52″, not 56″, so there was a category of coaster out reach for him. So Adam and Grey went to do the big one, while Thane and I tested our courage against 300 feet of elevation. Thane loved it. He was phenomenal. After every roller coaster he’d say “That wasn’t even scary! Let’s go again…”

So. This weekend I discovered, we’re a roller coaster family.

Especially if the roller coasters come with non-stop sugary treats
Especially if the roller coasters come with non-stop sugary treats

Pantry Challenge: Week 1 Report

So we’re just about at the 1 week mark of the Pantry Challenge. So far, I’ve run out of bananas and am perilously short on ice cream.

I expected the first week to being something of a non-event, since I buy groceries weekly. But I learned something after all. (That’s the point of an experiment like this, right?) We eat out or get takeout more often than I realized. It was hard going a full week with (almost) all the food we ate being food I made. Usually there’s pizza (or fast food) on Mondays for Library Pizza night. And then maybe sometime mid week we’d go out to eat. There’s walking to get ice cream at the Dairy Dome, a cappuccino at Kushala Sip… many small purchases over the course of the week. But not this week.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I ended up getting a coffee at Kushala Sip, but I paid for it out of my own allowance. And Adam asked for and got some Five Guys fries which I again paid for out of my allowance. But he’s recovering from a minor surgery and it seemed like it was only the right thing to do to get the poor guy some fries.

It will be interesting to see what genre of food I run out of first. I thought a lot about all the different kinds of dinners I can make, but I suspect that lunch-making materials will actually run out first. I have these thoughts of baking snacks instead, but the kids have a poor track record of eating the moderately healthy things I could bake. Breakfasts might also run out first, but Adam’s bread toasted makes an amazing breakfast, and we have enough ingredients to make that for the full run of the month, even if we eat a lot more than usual.

So here’s what we ate for dinner this week. Just as a reminder, you can follow all the fun during at The Pantry Challenge site! I am not sure I’ll post regular updates here (because I suspect they’re boring).

Monday –
Last Peapod order arrived! Last restaurant trip made on the way back from camping. I meant to take a picture of all the crazy bags scattered across the kitchen floor, but we were in the middle of a board game, so I didn’t.

Tuesday –

Taco day!
Taco day!

Mostly compliant with tacos to use a box stuffed in the back of the cupboard plus perishable veggies. After everyone pointed out it wasn’t June yet, we got one last round of ice creams. Mine is always a twist cone dipped in chocolate.

Dairy Dome twist cone
Dairy Dome twist cone

Adam also baked a batch of scones for his coworkers, several of which didn’t quite make it to work. That led to our first (and so far only) from-budget purchase. He got a pint of heavy cream, sultana (golden) raisins, lemonade, a cumcumber and a lime.

From the Empress Hotel recipe
From the Empress Hotel recipe

Wednesday –
On Wednesdays we often host a number of our friends for gaming. I have thought a lot about how I can feed 10 people a nice meal on this restrictive budget. I think if I plan ahead, I can do it. But it definitely takes forethought. This Wednesday’s meal was sponsored by the color beige. Chicken pot pie is a fan favorite and was spectacular as usual. Adam’s home made bread will be a staple of our penury – he makes it every week and it never gets undelicious. (We have enough peanut butter and home made jam to last far more than a month!) Then we had the scones from Tuesday for dessert. So much delicious beige…

Pot pie and bread
Pot pie and bread

Thursday –
Fried rice is a farm share staple for me, and plays an important role in my standard cooking repertoire. See, you buy a rotisserie chicken (which can often be as inexpensive as $5 if you catch it on a sale night). You strip it and use the meat in fried rice (often along with the “what the heck do I do with this” vegetables from your farm share). Then you take the remnants of the carcass and pressure cook them (along with more random vegetables) to make chicken stock. A tremendous number of my recipes rely on a constant, large supply of homemade chicken broth, so I do this pretty often.

Dietary staple
Dietary staple

Friday –
Pizza night. Honestly, it wasn’t as good as the violet pizza I made last time we had homemade pizza! But it was still pretty darn good.

Pizza - store bought dough. We can make our own though.
Pizza – store bought dough. We can make our own though.

Saturday –
I used this amazing technique called “get invited over to a friend’s house and eat their delicious food”. Like most of the techniques I’m using to not spend money on food, this is probably harder if you live in an impoverished community. But man, it was tasty.

This whole plate was delicious
This whole plate was delicious

Sunday –
I make chili (and cornbread) very often on Sundays. Maybe even as often as every other Sunday. The rest of the family eats leftovers for lunches. (My company provides lunches for us, which is an amazing perk.) Chili makes premium leftovers for lunches, and we all love it. I’m thinking that I’ll run out of ground turkey (which we use instead of ground beef) first of my dinner ingredients. It’s used in a ton of my recipes.

The color filter is off in this picture - too yellow
The color filter is off in this picture – too yellow
Company lunch. No complaints.
Company lunch. No complaints.

Screen free camping

For the eight year in a row, as Memorial Day has come around, we turned the car northward to New Hampshire to go camping. I marvel every year that Thane has done this literally every year of his entire life.

The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.
The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.

Usually, the kids play on their screens on the car rides while we’re camping. Well, and in the mornings while mommy sleeps in. (Let’s talk about things I’m really, really bad at: mornings.) As their screen tastes have trended less towards DS games and more towards top 10 Youtube lists, Vines and those gawdawful addictive freemium games, the whining about the fact there’s no wifi in camping has ramped up a notch. In fact, I’ve been increasingly unimpressed with what they use their screenful time for. At least video games are problem solving. Watching other people play video games? Mmmmm…. And those freemium games are just click click click “Mom can I buy some gems with my allowance?” (Ugh. No.)

My children like to read, but it’s not their first choice activity. Their first choice activity is screen time. They only read when they don’t get to do screens. I wrestle with this. I love reading. Adam loves reading. The kids apparently read voraciously at school. But they don’t lose themselves in their rooms for hours working their way through novels. This makes me sad. I really don’t think watching other people play video games is as rich an experience as, say, reading Lord of the Rings was for me. (Which I read when I was Grey’s age.)

Ice Cream & Book
Ice Cream & Book

After a particularly whiny session in which the kids argued about who got which iPad and complained about the lack of wifi, I told the kids I was thinking about a screen free camping trip (I heretofore unheard of concept). And then we decided to do it. Better yet, our camp site was out of cell coverage, so Adam and I also put away our screens. And we all spent four days doing other things.

I prepared for this by making sure everyone had lots of books. A heavy stock-up trip to The Book Oasis was the bulk of the material, with a top-up trip to White Birch Books mid-trip. We also stopped at Toys-R-Us with an amount that the kids were to spend on toys that didn’t require screens. Thane got a Lego set. Grey got a Nerf Gun. Adam got a Nerf Gun with which to pelt Grey. I got a mocha at Starbucks.

I also prepared myself for the massive amounts of whining I expected. “I’m bored!” “There’s nothing to do!” “I hate this – I wish I had screens.” I practiced my lines in the mirror “Being bored builds character.” “Go read a book.” “If you don’t have anything to do, the dishes need doing.” “How can you be bored when you have this beautiful camp site to play at?”

You know what? I hardly needed those lines at all. Grey spent then weekend nose-deep in The Mysterious Benedict Society which is on the Stoneham Fifth Grade Reading List (which in an awesome small town moment was sent to me by the owner of the Book Oasis). I read it after him, and I have to admit it’s a very enjoyable read.

He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.
He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.

Thane dove into Tashi. I keep overestimating Thane’s reading level, and it’s been hard to find just the right books for him since he finished The Magic Treehouse series. He tried a few others, and did a great job of keeping count of the words he didn’t know to identify his just right reading level. But he loved Tashi, and I loved the fact that when he’s reading, he can hardly hear you talk.

I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That's it. (I'm not afraid of heights, but I didn't love the torsion on my knee.)
I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That’s it. (I’m not afraid of heights, but I didn’t love the torsion on my knee.)

In addition to time spent reading, we did a bunch of fun adventures. We did a great ropes course that Thane is now just tall enough to fully participate in. (I am also tall enough, but between my knee and my lack of upper body strength, I had less fun than the boys did.) The boys rode their bikes around the campground. We rented innertubes and as the mercury cracked 97 degrees we floated our way down the Saco, splashing together and really enjoying each other’s company. And yes, we did the rope swing pictured in the link above, but I didn’t bring a camera since I don’t (yet) have a waterproof one. We hiked to the top of a granite cliff (the course of the biggest screen free meltdown as Grey opined that we were completely wasting a day by hiking). The boys biked around the campground, and built a fort in the boulders behind us.

Grey had exactly 0 fear
Grey had exactly 0 fear

It was idyllic. I feel like the children grew a lot even in so brief a time.

Of course, now I’m caught on the horns of a dilemma. I never want to bring screens again – this was perfect. But I also don’t want to punish the kids for their great behavior. And they do see screen free time as a penury. So now I have to figure out how to talk them into doing it again for the 4th of July!

Looking over Echo Lake
Looking over Echo Lake

The Pantry Challenge

I was raised in a small town about 20 miles from the nearest grocery store. Those nearest grocery stores (one in either direction) are not exactly gigantic. There are 3 or 4 aisles, and they’re short on produce (which is expensive to get there and which has fewer people to eat through it). My father was retired military, so we had base privileges. Once a month my folks would make the long trip to the nearest military commissary and we’d load up on everything you needed for a month – chicken thighs, cereal, pasta, milk. We might add one or two things when we went to town, but in general that food that we got once a month was the food that we had for the month. When I was born, it was much harder to get groceries (I was born in a tiny village in the heart of Africa). My mom tells stories about how they had one Coke a week, and treasured it.

The nearest grocery store.

I live in the halo of one of the great cities of the world. It’s about a quarter mile to a grocery store with 16 aisles and vats of produce. (Which, ironically to me, isn’t considered a “nice” grocery store – there are much bigger ones within a 10 mile drive.) Even that convenience isn’t convenient enough for me. I get my groceries delivered once a week from Peapod. I’m pretty methodical about how I go about shopping for it. Any staples that are used are written on a list on the ‘fridge. Then I go through recipe books and pick 3 – 4 recipes I plan for the week, and add any special ingredients I need for those recipes. I also have a list of standard items I buy every week. (Which might be why we currently have about 20 bags of pretzels.) For about half the year I’m signed up to a farm share where vast amounts of fresh produce enter the house every single week. Finally, if I’m missing something or need inspiration, there’s a Farmer’s Market once a week, two blocks away. Oh, and we eat out a lot.

My current life is about as far from the food desert I grew up in as you can get.

The nicest of the nearby grocery stores where I live now – just the produce section

This great bounty is a great privilege – and one I recognize as such in part because I know what it’s like to live somewhere where it’s NOT easy to get healthy, tasty food. But I find that this abundance leaves me with a few problems. Most obviously, it leaves me with an abundance of self. It’s amazing how little food it takes to eat 2000 calories in this environment. That is, perhaps, a story for another day.

A week's worth of farm share fun
A week’s worth of farm share fun

The second problem is that my sons are not exposed to the appreciation of having healthy and abundant food that I got. It’s wonderful to be able to provide my sons for everything. But while I (mostly) know what to do if that food budget gets slashed and pennies need to be pinched, my sons would have no clue. Which costs more, lasagna or split pea soup? How do you get enough protein if you can’t afford the best cuts of meat? How do you make the recipe serve the ingredients, instead of the ingredients the recipe? What is it like to budget and made trade-offs in your food allowance? These are life skills that I hope my children don’t need, but that I’d like them to know exist in case they ever DO need them.

The third problem is that the cupboards are wastefully overflowing. There are ribeye steaks in the freezer from a farm share, which I’ve just never found the right time to cook. There are cases of pasta and beans in the basement. There are boxes of cake mix and bags of rice kicking around the corners of the pantry. I find it easier to just order a new thing than to check and see if I already have it.

So I’ve hatched a plan to tackle problems 2 & 3. My plan is to not buy any food for the month of June.

My pantry overfloweth. Not pictured: several other cupboards.
My pantry overfloweth. Not pictured: several other cupboards.

Between our two camping trips (Memorial Day & 4th of July), I’m giving us a budget of $50 a week for ALL our food purchases. So that’s one pizza order, plus some milk and eggs. Or maybe that’s one brunch at a local diner. Or we could buy ingredients to round out the supplies in the pantry we’re working our way through. According to a Gallup poll, 8% of Americans have $50 a week or less to spend on groceries. I’m guessing many of those folks don’t also have pantries brimming to overflowing with supplies, and a farm share to kick in produce halfway through the month. (And heck, an excellent book on foraging!)

I even just cleaned out this fridge!
I even just cleaned out this fridge!

I’m hoping this will do several things. First, I plan on working through this with the kids, so they can understand making trade-offs of convenience, tastiness, nutrition and better appreciate how lucky we are to usually get all three. Second, I’m hoping it makes ME less lazy about honoring the resources I have, and using them more efficiently and less wastefully. I feel like wasting food is being ungrateful for what I’ve been given.

Then, once we’ve all come to appreciate what we have more, I’d like to take some steps to make sure everyone has enough food to eat. Assuming my math is right here, and assuming we can stick to this plan (a big assumption), we’ll save well over $400 in groceries in the month of June. (And that doesn’t count how much we’ll save by not eating out!) I’d like to give that savings to The Greater Boston Food Bank which does an amazing job of getting food to those friends and neighbors who need it.

Downstairs freezer. Those cardboard boxes at the top are completely filled with meat - ground turkey, chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, and some random cuts of meat from a meat share last year
Downstairs freezer. Those cardboard boxes at the top are completely filled with meat – ground turkey, chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, and some random cuts of meat from a meat share last year

So…. let’s see how this goes? I’ll be posting updates in a Google+ Collection for those who want to follow along. If any one else is inspired to try something similar, I’d love to hear about it!