Never ask “What else could go wrong?”

So you all ready my slightly annoyed post two weeks ago about how I’ve had to repair or replace five appliances in quick succession. I thought to myself – but did not say – that the only thing left to go wrong was something with a car, the one piece of machinery we own that costs more than a furnace.

I also didn’t note that things come in threes. “Maybe” I thought, “three replaced appliances counts and the repairs don’t.” Or maybe I’m not superstitious and things don’t really come in threes, we just use logic like the above to make them come in threes.

Regardless, I’ll admit that I was really relieved when the AC got fully hooked up on Saturday and NOTHING ELSE BROKE. Finally, done with all the hassle of getting things repaired and service windows etc. etc.

You can see where this is going, right?

A dark and stormy night
A dark and stormy night

Tonight, Adam has invited a few friends over to play a long role playing game to celebrate his 40th birthday. Grey was at a birthday party, so Thane and I went to the Burlington Mall to buy some Legos and kill some time. I was headed back on the chilly, dark night – after the rains of the day had stopped. The car in front of me squealed its tires as it came to a fast stop. I did that quick prayer and slammed on my brakes, relieved that I managed to stop bare inches from the bumper of the car in front of me. Then the car behind me plowed into us. (OK, ran into us. It wasn’t THAT bad.)

I asked Thane if he was ok, pulled over and turned on the flashers. The good news is Thane is fine. My neck hurts. Our airbags didn’t deploy, so it wasn’t a big hit. The front bumper is damaged from where I hit the car in front of us. The rear bumper is damaged. And I think our muffler was impacted, based on how I sounded like I was driving a racing lawnmower. The folks in the fancy car behind us did have their airbags go off (although the car didn’t take that much obvious damage). They behaved so weirdly we weren’t sure what the story is, and I didn’t get their insurance info (although the police did, so I’ll be able to get it).

Here’s the thing. I just got the car detailed today. I was talking with the dude about what a great, reliable car it is. Having a 9 year old car that runs really well is like money in the bank. You can’t buy a car worth the value of the car you have. I was joking any time I started to think of buying a new car, I’d just get my car professionally detailed (he does a great job) and then I stopped thinking about a new car for a good year or so. I really don’t want to buy a new car. They’re expensive. It’s a hassle. There are few less enjoyable experiences than going to a car dealership. I’m really hoping the car isn’t totaled, but I’m guessing that it wouldn’t take much to total my 2007 Toyota Matrix with 88k miles on it.

I do know this: more obnoxious logistical handling is in my immediate future. Time to go file the accident report, I guess. And schedule a chiropractor appointment. And figure out where to bring my car to see just how bad it really is.


The Bargain of Benjamin Gerry

Benjamin Gerry is said to have been a man of great courage. The following incident will prove it to be the fact. At that time this country was inhabited to a considerable extent by wolves. On a certain day, Gerry was out either for labor or business. He called upon a family, living upon or near where the Almshouse now stands, about dusk. It was thought rather dangerous for him to return home; however, having an axe with him, he proceeded homeward, but before proceeding far, he came in contact with a number of wolves. He braced himself against a large tree and pitched battled with his antagonists. The neighbors heard the conflict, notwithstanding he was left to conquer or die. He conquered, and returned home. In the morning, he went to the place where he fought, and there found that he had killed no less than four wolves, the fifth having walked off, leaving blood to show that he also had been wounded…

The house … afterwards occupied by the father of Benjamin Gerry .. was formerly known as the Matthews place. It is thought to have been built about seventy years since… At the season of harvesting a quantity of pumpkins were carried into the garret; one evening while the father was absent, and the mother with the children and other members of the family sat by the fireside, a noise was heard; something appeared to be coming down the stairs. It came stamp, stamp, down the garrett stairs; it then came to the entry stairs, which led to the lower door, and with increased force, came pound, pound into the entry below. There the noise ceased. The afrighted family waited with great anxiety for the return of the husband and father. When he returned, the news was communicated to him. He repaired to the entry, when on opening the door a good lusty pumpkin was reposing on the floor. Whether the house was ever afterwards haunted, is not known.

Gerry remained here for many years, but was called upon to fulfill his engagements, made previously to settling here. He left his wife and children, never to return; as it is said he fell during an engagement with a foreign enemy.

A Brief History of the Town of Stoneham, Massachusetts: From it’s First Settlement to the Year 1813 With An Account of the MURDER of Jacob Gould on the Evening of Nov. 25, 1819

Written in 1870 by Deacon Silas Dean

Everyone said my father was the second bravest man they knew. This was an old yarn they’d spin out. I think Scotchman Hay told it best, wicked grin curving around the stem of the pipe which was the only thing he’d brought from the old country. As stories about him told, whenever we were confident he was not listening, he’d even left his clothes behind when he showed up naked in my father’s barn. He had been running, as he said, from an impression aboard a redcoat war ship. But he brought the pipe, and he kept it with him.

“Ye see, my lad,” he’d say above a haze of blue Virginia smoke, “The bravest man I know’d was braver than he was wise. It was Phillips, laddie, who was the bravest I ever did meet. Why, he was out with the other men, a few years after the unpleasantness with the British, chasing after some Indians who murdered a local family. They followed ’em all the way to Concord – and a long way it was too. The sons of the forest were hiding in a rye field, and Phillips – he was warned they were there. Told him to be on his guard, they did. Told him that there was death and trouble in that field. But he answered in his decided way that ‘I am not afraid of the black rogues!’ Scarce had the words escaped his lips, ere a musket was discharged. Phillips took a fatal wound, sprung several feet off his horse and died right there on the spot.” So see, you dunna want to be the bravest man, son. You want to be the bravest man alive, lad. And your father, he is that.”

As my father’s eldest son, I worshiped him from afar, working hard on my labors to win his approval, and facing all life’s young challenges with the resolute chin and unwavering hand that seemed his legacy to me. But the closest I ever came to shaming my name was that All Hallows Eve night when he made his name as the bravest man alive.

As the sun on that day reached it’s zenith, my father made known to us that he intended to go up to see Richard Holden before dark, for he had promised his aid in setting some foundations for a new house before the ground froze for the winter. We’d spent a long morning in the uncommon heat of the fall day harvesting all our pumpkins from the patch. They’d done well this year and were plump and plentiful. We had a time carrying heavy loads of them out from the fields and straight up the stairs into the garret, where they’d be safe from freezing. Even my littlest brother had to take a hand carrying one small pumpkin at a time up the narrow, dark stairs.

It was heavy work, and we were all tired by the time the sun reached the top of the day. I hadn’t thought my father would then go on to more heavy work at the Holden’s – which was quite a walk away besides! But Benjamin Gerry was a man of his word, and he said that he thought as he carried the pumpkins that the cold might come early this year, and he had said he’d help. So weary though he was, he left after wetting his lips and tasting a morsel.

Wanting, as I did, to make my father proud of me, I returned to harvesting the fields. Without the watchful eye of my father, my brothers found other occupation in fishing nearby Doleful Pond for stripers, and I cursed them under my breath as I carried heavy load after heavy load up the rapidly dimming stairs. As the evening purpled, my mother greeted me with a cold heavy mug of cider, and turned with her faithful broom to sweep the stairs of all the mud we’d tracked in with our labors. Her face had a look of concern under her bonnet.

“Mother,” I asked, “I thank you for the cup! This year’s press is particularly fine I think. Does something give you fear?”

She turned in the black door frame, broom in hand, and looked back at me. “Well, son, I don’t doubt I’d not dare to say such a thing if your father was here. But it’s All Hallows Eve. In the old country, we’d be extra careful on such a day. We’d not go haring off to our neighbors’ so late when the work could just as easy be done on All Saints Day. Your father is a honest and brave man, and takes no stock in foolish nonsense. But I can’t help but wish he was already home tonight.”

As I sat and listened to the hiss of her broom on the rough planks, I couldn’t but think that she was right. I lit the main lamp, as the room grew dark and my brothers returned with their catch. Then I lit a second, and hung it over the door frame. I tried to tell myself that the full moon rising thick, twined about by wisps of flog, over the great expanse of the ocean between us and the old country was a good thing. My father was not yet home, but with such a bright moon he’d hardly need a lamp to find his way.

My mother had just latched the door to the stairs and switched from her cleaning apron to the cooking apron and was putting on our dinner when we heard, thin against the cold air of the night, the voices of the wolves raised in fearful chorus, rising and lapping over each other like a braiding of fell songs. My heart knew fear. My father was out there. The wolves were hunting. And it was All Hallow’s Eve. My mother’s face in the lamplight looked pinched and scared as she raised her face to the one glass window whose shutters remained open, to look at the moonlight streaming past.

“I’m sure father will be home soon, mother” I comforted her. We sat at table, my father’s place laid but bare of food. I led us in grateful thanksgiving, letting the food cool a bit as I asked that my father return safely to us, when we heard the first stamping sound from the attic, as though of men’s boots. After a quick Amen, I turned to the window to see if it might be my returning father. It wasn’t. I sat back down, and started in on my porridge.

“Stamp, stamp”

The sound was clearer now. It was certainly not outside the house. It was inside. My littlest brother left his place at the table and climbed onto my mother’s frail lap. My younger brothers, the twins, exchanged guilty looks. Poor five year old Paul dove under the table and couldn’t be brought out.

“I must’ve stacked the pumpkins wrong. A pile must’ve knocked over. Maybe if I’d had a little help,” I shot a meaningful glance at the twins “They might’ve been piled better.” Wee Tommy began to wail “I tried to help but my legs is too smaaaaaallll” he bawled.” “Crying is for sissies, Tommy. Father will be wroth if he catches you at it. Besides,” I added – a little ashamed of my temper – “I didn’t mean it for you.”

Stamp. Stamp stamp.

There was far too long between those thumps to be a settling pile of pumpkins, and we all knew it. We waited in silence, holding our breaths, the lamplight flickering over uneaten porridge and fish still steaming on the table.

Stamp stamp stamp stamp.

“Dear God, it sounds like it’s on the last stair” said my stricken mother.

There was a knocking – a polite rap – on the door to the garret stairs, as if some stranger waited there requesting entry. I thought of my father, and of his bravery, and I called out “Who is it who goes there.” The only answer was the howl of the wolves.

We waited a few minutes. I looked at the porridge – my appetite vanished despite the labors of the day – and thought of what my father would do. I took up my spoon and begin to eat. After a few moments, my family did likewise. My sister Ruth had almost coaxed young Paul out from under the table, and the twins started arguing about who’d caught more fish, when the rapping came again from the door. This time, it came louder.

The spoons clattered to the table. I held mine in limp fingers. Paul fled under the table, and after a moment of quick reflection, Ruth went with him.

Over the next hour, the banging grew and increased in intensity, pounding on the door as though the very fist of the devil knocked and sought entry. Four great crashes it gave, quick against each other. The door shook and rattled with the battering from the darkness on the other side. I looked at the latch and wondered if it would hold. I took the splitting maul from the side of the door – my father had taken the axe with him when he went to the Holden’s, as there would be cutting to be done for the posts – and stood in front of the door in case it should break. My mother, sister and brothers all clung to each other – backs pressed against the far wall – porridge and fish alike uneaten. After the fourth crash, there was a smaller pounding, and then all fell silent.

When the door flung open, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Not the door to the garret, no. But the front door. And in strode my father, limping, carrying an axe covered in blood and brains and fur – as he himself was.

He stopped short when he saw me, pale as February, facing the door in fear.

“What’s happening lad?” he asked.

“Father,” I gulped. Here he was covered in blood, and I needed to explain that there had been knocking on the door, and we had been scared by it. I was saved from this when the door gave the most terrific crash.

“Ah, I see.” He said. It seemed like he did. He was totally unsurprised. He walked over to the door, raised the sturdy latch, and the moonlight through the yet-unbarred window streamed past the golden lamplight to reveal what had knocked.

There, at the landing to the door, were five pumpkins. Or rather, they had been five pumpkins. They were smashed to smithereens. Their pulp reached all the way up the walls in gory orange entrails – up to even the ceiling itself. It showed brilliant against the new whitewash. In the oozing pulp, you could see the tops of four pumpkins scattered amidst seeds. On the third stair up there stood a more whole pumpkin. It was cracked down the middle, and juice leaked down the stairs in a trickle, but it looked to my fevered mind as though it was escaping from the slaughter below.

My father raised his axe and smote the last pumpkin, smearing it on either side with red blood. The blade bit deep into the stairs, almost cleaving the broad board in two.

He turned back to us, staring white-faced and wide-eyed.

“I smell fish.” He said, “Is there enough for a hungry old man?”

I was a man grown, and my own eldest son was the age young Paul had been, when my father got news that he was needed and that he must go. In the few days given him to prepare, he found time to pull me aside.

“Elbridge” said he. “Do you remember the pumpkins?”

I’d always thought it remarkable that a man of such courage, a man who on that fateful All Hallows Eve had slain four wolves with a back against a tree, and then come home to cheerfully dispense with our fears before digging into my brothers’ ill-gotten-fish, had been very kind in not teasing us about our fears of that day. In fact, he’d never spoken of it, even as the legend of his battle with the wolves was the talk of every tongue, and the 16 pound bounty he’d claimed from their pelts had allowed my father to pull me from the fields and send me to Harvard, an act which would change my life. The only change was that we no longer planted pumpkins. Given that none of us could even stomach a pumpkin pie, this seemed no odd thing to me.

“I do father. Will you throw my fear and cowardice in my face now, when you have forborne to do so for so many years?”

“Nay” he said. “Before I go, I wanted to explain. You see, there was something great to fear that night. I never should have left under that cursed witches moon, on that cursed night, in the twilight. You know the story of how I set my back to a tree and faced those wolves. It was a mighty pack. I killed four and mortally wounded the fifth before the others fled. But what I never told anyone was that it was uncanny. I knew as they circled me in the dark, the full moon gleaming off their eyes, that I was already as good as dead. I prayed as hard and fast as I could. It’s possible that I forgot to be quite a good Christian man at the worst possible time, and I found myself praying for a bargain, to anyone who might be listening.

“It came to mind mind that someone was very curious what bargain I’d make. I said I’d pay later if I could come through this all right and make it home. I said that for each wolf I’d kill, I’d ask for a year years. It made no sense, even in my head, even as my axe spun around me.

“But it came to me that my bargain was granted, and that my family would be let to know too. That part didn’t seem quite… nice shall we say.

“So I laid about me with my axe. I killed two easy. The third I took a wound in my leg as I killed it. The fourth is the one that got me arm. And the fifth knocked me down to the ground and it’s teeth were bared to rip out my throat when I laid about with the axe and managed to knock it off me. It slunk away bleeding, and the rest of the pack went with it, but…”

He paused from oiling his old sword.

“Well, son.. it talked to me as it went, laughing. It said, “Four of us killed. Very good. That’s four years. And I’m wounded, you might call me almost a fifth. Not quite five. But when not quite five are come, it will be your time to make good on your bargain, Benjamin Gerry, and present your soul to the one you bargained with. You know old Jack. He makes a good pie, and a better bargain. Go home to your family. Jack o’ the lantern knocks on their door too. And think to that day when you will be called upon to keep your part.

“And then, son, he faded into the darkness. And I came home and found the four and a half pumpkins, and I knew.

“That was four and a half years, ago, Elbridge. And now I’m called – old though I am – to go fight with my former legion. I think that I shall not escape death again. But I wanted you to know. Never again plant those devilish gourds. And never make a bargain where your soul is at stake. Pray for me, for I will never see your face again nor know aught of heaven’s joys.”

That All Hallow’s Eve, I found on the front steps of my house a pumpkin, carved with a face like a wolf, gleaming in the light of a full moon.

Of my father, no word ever came again.

1) Silas Dean makes it clear that Benjamin Gerry was not actually the father in the pumpkin story – only that it was Benjamin Gerry’s father’s house prior to the incident.
2) Scotchman Hay did come off a boat and did work on Benjamin Gerry’s land, and there WAS a naked sailor who showed up naked in a barn, but it wasn’t Scotchman Hay, it was a man named Hadley. There are no fewer than three residents of Stoneham who got their start jumping overboard from unwelcomed stints in Boston harbor.
3) The story about Phillips is also in the book, and much of the language is exactly what Silas Dean used in telling the story. Nineteenth century authors were often very racist and one-sided. They omit to remember in their writing that they were conquerors who had stolen much of this land from the native folk they rightly feared.
4) I’m not sure exactly where Richard Holden’s land’s, or the Matthew’s place, are. We know that the wolf attack took place near the Almshouse – which is now the Senior Center and the soccer fields nearby. I often think of this when I watch my sons play soccer there, and wonder just where Benjamin stood in his fight for his life against the wolves.
5) Silas Dean says that Elbridge Gerry served in the Madison administration. There’s an localish Elbridge Gerry who signed both the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation, but did not sign the constitution. That Gerry doesn’t seem to have grown up in Stoneham. His father owned major mercantile resources, and was less likely to be out late at night taking on predatory carnivores. There was also a line of Elbridge Gerrys in Stoneham, but none of them were born to Benjamin. I think Silas may have gotten confused with the reoccurrence of such a rare name.

Appliance gremlins

When Adam and I got back from our vacation this summer, we discovered two rather unhappy facts. 1) Our microwave wouldn’t turn on at all. 2) Our dishwasher no longer worked. It was now more of a dishwetter. Kind of.

I went to Target and bought a new microwave. Adam called a repair company from the dishwasher’s paperwork to come fix it. In the way of such repair companies, they had no record of the first appointment we set. When they came for the second appointment, they didn’t have what they needed to fix the dishwasher. They finally fixed it on the third time.

I often wonder how service providers think people make the money they use to pay for service providers services. I mean, we can work from home with more flexibility than most. But still.

I also remembered sincere appreciation for having a dishwasher, and used more paper plates than we’ve ever used before.

The day after the dishwasher resumed working, Adam was finishing one of the final loads of laundry when the door locker thingy stopped door locking. It made sad sounds of not locking. It’s a side washer, so it just doesn’t work if it’s not locked. This time, I called 1-800-SAMSUNG. They have this rigamarole where you call person one (in this case, she gave her name as Hope Destiny) who passes your information through “a system” (which I can totally picture in my mind and I hate from afar) to a third party who actually schedules the service. So Hope Destiny says things like “You should get a call Friday about when you can schedule.” You spend a week picking up all the spam calls just in case, and then they call during the middle of an important meeting.

The dishwasher had set us back about $360 for a hermetically sealed motor. (It’s almost, but not quite, cheaper to buy a new one.) The wee plastic bit for the washing machine was $60 and the labor was nearly $200. I think I might go into appliance repair for my next job. But they fixed it in one trip and I was grateful for that small mercy.

That same day we noticed that all our beverages in our aged fridge (which we’ve never replaced because it would either need to be counter width or we’d need to renovate that wall, and renovating that wall is a better idea but it’s load bearing and we’ve never gotten around to it) were freezing solid. Like, you know, the milk. And eggs. Frozen eggs are no good. We read internet articles about load-balancing your fridge, and we vacuumed the coils and I pondered whether I could just call the frozen milk ice cream. And then we went online to buy a new ‘fridge (which is nearly the same size but admittedly much nicer). We scheduled the delivery date.

Those delivery dudes were great. But I had a 6 hour delivery window. And I was working from home. And somehow I thought it was a good idea to play a funeral that day because it was with my favorite funeral home and I was working from home anyway. So I called and asked them to shift the delivery time to avoid that window. I think that they may have written down that I specifically wanted it during that window, because just as I was pulling up to the funeral cortege, I got the note that they were on their way. I called my neighbor, fidgeted next to the piper, and played a very allegro taps (ok, not really, but I left immediately thereafter which I don’t usually do).

In a feat of over-scheduling, I also lined up the furnace service folks to come that morning to do the annual service. (I mean, I was already working from home… do you see a trend? Just FYI I often work about 2 hours longer when I work from home because I don’t commute, so my employer is truly not shortchanged by all this.) Well, the furnace guy called me down with this fancy camera he had. “Do you see all that?” He asked? “That’s rust. It’s ready to give at any moment.” On the service report he wrote optimistically “Unit operating at present time”. He gently asked if my carbon monoxide detectors were all up to date.

Not good news
Not good news

I’d known this day was long in coming. The furnace was 22 years old and had died on us at least once a year for the last three years. I knew when we did the home inspection that we had an older furnace. It was clearly time to replace it. And there was no way I was replacing the furnace without adding air conditioning, even though we’d need to add a cold air return to the second floor. It’s been very hot these last few summers. So I got two quotes. The first quote, the guy refused to quote me AC. So I went with the second quote.

I got a call last Thursday, right after I signed. “Hey, we had a cancellation for Friday. Would you like us to install then?” Well, I’d been planning on being home Friday anyway, to superintend Grey’s half-day sleepover birthday party. So what’s a little more fun? Thursday night Adam and I frantically clean out the basement and hall closet. Friday morning at 7 am a team of six burly guys arrives and begins taking hacksaws to various parts of my basement infrastructure. I hadn’t quite been warned that the high efficiency AC I ordered came with the world’s most ginormous compressor – thing takes up half the back yard! They ran tubes and wires and vents and gizmos throughout the house, competing for “most noisy” in the latter half of the day with four ten year old boys playing XBox. (Ten year olds won – the workmen were very respectful.)

Of course, I’m not quite done yet. I still need to run the electric for the AC (which is a rather expensive part of the whole project). I just tried to find another good day to work from home for that.

I can only hope that no additional appliances pick that day to shuffle off their mortal coil!

So anyway. It’s been fun.

In moderately related news, we ended up getting four bids for our attic project. One of them came in ridiculously low. Low as in “You don’t really understand this project do you” low. The other three were all right on. And they’re for a number that is just well beyond what I was planning for. We’ve saved for this for quite a while but it’s been an expensive summer (see above). I just can’t justify the cost and disruption and aggravation and stress of the project versus the benefit. So we’re going to shelve it for now. In another two years, we might have saved enough to handle the project price. Or if the housing/construction market slows, those bids might get significantly more aggressive. (Right now it’s definitely a contractor’s market.)

I don’t regret all the cleaning out we’ve done. I’m sad that I still have to share a bathroom with my sons. (Including one legit preteen!) But sometimes you just need to be the grownup who says you haven’t saved enough to do what you want to do.

New Furnace
New Furnace
Old Furnace
Old Furnace
Half the fleet
Half the fleet
Staging area
Staging area
My little backyard
My little backyard
New cold air return
New cold air return
New duct
New duct
Gigantic air conditioner
Gigantic air conditioner

Grey turns 11

Grey and me
Grey and me

Tonight Adam and I snuck in a run in the very last of the after-work light. About a mile in, my phone rang with an unknown number. It rang again. Then I saw a text. “Mom?” It said. I answered on the third ring. “Mom,” said a no-nonsense voice on the other end. “What oil do I use to grease a cake pan? Is it olive oil? I’m making you a cake for your birthday because I feel bad we didn’t do it earlier.”

I explained the wonders of Pam to him.

Half a mile later, I got a Google video call. “Mom” with the camera pointed to the mixer, “How do I hook up the beater to the mixer?”

When we got home, the batter was mixed (ok – he did use the bread hook instead of the beater). He followed the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook. All by himself. “I’m sorry for the mess. I am still learning how to do all this.” The best birthday gift a mom could ask for cools on the stove.

First day of middle school
First day of middle school

Tonight marks the last night when my son can answer the question “how old are you” with only his fingers. Of course, being a pre-teen, he’d be highly unlikely to answer that question using his fingers anyway. For us, this milestone birthday finds us starting Middle School. There’s homework (lots of it, and hard). There are after school clubs (Ultimate Frisbee and drama are his top two choices – with a conflict that means he can’t do extra band practice). There’s the independence that comes when your primary mode of transportation is your own two feet, and you’re on your own recognizance to get between all the places you go in a day. (I recently bought him a backpack cover, because he’s expected to walk in all weathers.) There is the beginning of making choices that are different than the ones your parents would make for you (see also: Ultimate Frisbee instead of band). We are entering a new stage of life together.

Family adventures
Family adventures

Grey is still incredibly fun to be a family with. He has a cunning wit, and keen sense of humor and wordplay. He reads comic books over and over compulsively (just like I did – he stole all of mine). He prefers realistic fiction in his reading materials, and is becoming entranced by manga. (I got a giant box of manga for him for his birthday. We might not see much of him this week.) Like so many boys of his generation his favorite things have screens on them (to my dismay). He loves watching these obnoxious Youtube videos, and playing those freemium games that are the bane of the internet. His birthday party includes a very small collection of friends – just enough to match the number of simultaneous Xbox players.

The real reason Adam wanted kids
The real reason Adam wanted kids

When forced to be away from his computer, Grey loves to be with people. He loves role playing games, both as a player at his father’s table and as a GM with his peers. There are wide-ranging neighborhood adventures, and a pack of children who move around together. He plays soccer (and is vastly improved), although he doesn’t love it. He’s a great lover of variety, in food and entertainment. Grey is a sucker for the cozy. He’s at his happiest curled up over the heating vent in PJs eating sunflower seeds (there are seeds EVERYWHERE in this house), listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song” and reading a comic book while the rain falls outside. Grey adores things that are cute. Like cats. He loves cats. And little kids. He’s really good with the younger set, which is a good thing because as one of the oldest kids in the set, there are lots of little kids.

Of course, Grey’s not perfect. But over the decade plus I’ve known him, I’ve watched his faults diminish and his gifts flourish. I can only hope that trend continues unabated through (gulp) puberty and beyond.

How old I still think Grey is
How old I still think Grey is

The changing of the seasons

I always get nostalgic around fall. If you search my archives, you’ll see many fall related posts. (Only about half of which reference Tolkien and how I wish I’d been born on the 22nd instead of the 23rd. I digress.) And these last few fall days have been glorious ones indeed. We went to King Richard’s Faire. The first of the drought-strained leaves are beginning to fall. After a squishy, humid summer the air is beginning to have a crisper bite to it.

But that’s not the season to which I refer.

Was he ever so little?
Was he ever so little?

For the last, um, seven or so years of my life, 8 am and 6 pm have found me at the old box factory between Gould and Pleasant Streets – the location of the Stoneham YMCA Child Care center. Daycare, then preschool, then summer camp, followed by afterschool. This awesome center has been a huge part of my life for years and years. They’ve always taken great care of my kids, and have loved them, even when they were perhaps not incredibly lovable. (See also: Thane at 4.) They took my kids to swimming lesson. They figured out a way to work in ski lessons (which was amazing). They got the kids outside every nice day, running off excess energy. I’ve always known my kids were safe and well taken care of.

But Grey is on the verge of aging out. He certainly doesn’t need the super high levels of supervision and rigor that the Y provides. And suddenly this year, the “pack” of kids has shifted from the Y to the very nice but much less hands-on other alternative in town. The kids really want to go where their friends go. And the fact that the other after school program is much less expensive is also nice.* So…. I finally worked out all the logistics to switch the kids. (Which, just putting out there, was not a simple thing to figure out.)

Grey is in middle school this year. He’s signed up for some afterschool clubs (Ultimate Frisbee & Drama – two clubs he’s excellently well suited for). He is beginning to own his own schedule after school. He walks to the afterschool, and walks home from the afterschool if he chooses to. This seems both natural and right, and absolutely astonishing.

It feels like there should be a ceremony. You should have to bake a cake for all the people who watched your children for so long. You should have to write a letter saying how much it’s meant to you. You should have another graduation, or something. It doesn’t quite seem right that one day they got on the bus like they have practically their whole life… and the next day they don’t. But there it is. I have expressed my extreme gratitude to the Y for their awesomeness. But it doesn’t seem quite enough.

I’ll miss the Y a ton. But I’m proud of the fine young men my sons are turning into!

*Being ambiguous for security reasons. If you want to know more about it, feel free to send me a message.

Running just as fast as we can, now

Spoiler - we just ran a 5k!
Spoiler – we just ran a 5k!

I am not a fitness guru. I’m not even a fitness padawan. I’m a “fitness happens to other people” kind of person. I just did a search of “running” on my blog, and in the first two pages of results, there are none that actually involve… you know… running.

But I also follow the latest research. It turns out that being a great cook and having a job where you sit for a living is not a recipe for happy longevity. I’ve noticed that over time, my mass has gradually crept up. I never lost the baby weight from Grey. Or Thane. And to be completely honest, it was cold water on my face when I stepped on a scale and saw that my weight was about as high as it had been when I was in my third trimester. Taken just on it’s own, that’s bad enough. But as a trend line it just had to be stopped. At some point – perhaps not that far from now – the extra weight would start affecting my mobility (if not my health). Like most people, I find it extremely difficult to lose weight once I’ve gained it. This makes not gaining weight of critical importance.

Tragically, the “easy” ways to lose weight don’t work. Heck, the hard ways to lose weight only work very grudgingly and with great pains. But this spring, I got back to carefully watching the calories in vs calories out.

Pretty typical lunch for me - I'm extremely lucky to have access to free, super high quality healthy food at work
Pretty typical lunch for me – I’m extremely lucky to have access to free, super high quality healthy food at work

If you’ve ever done that, you know that the calories in required to reduce your mass is a desperately small amount. A 1500 or even 1800 calorie diet means that every meal is super small and there are very few snacks. And wine or beer? Fuggedaboutit. But there’s this great tradeoff you can make. If you increase your calories OUT you can take more calories IN. Want a piece of cake? Desperate for some brie and crackers? Longing for lemonade? If you go for a run, you can have eat your cake, and make your goals too.

I picked running because my friend Julie mentioned how much she’d been enjoying it. Also, it was free and immediately available. Don’t underestimate free and immediately available as important criteria for your workout plans. I have access to a gym at work. (But no time.) I used to have a local gym membership (but hated the locale – it was the sort of place that has dire warnings in the locker room regarding the dangers of steroids). I’d run a bit before I blew out my knee, and I’d done track in high school (badly). So I had decent shoes, something to wear and enough training not to hurt myself. Although it’s worth noting that my orthopedic surgeon has said I should try for lower impact sports – I’ll never aim for a marathon because I don’t have enough cartilege in my left knee to support it.

Remarkably consistent with one run a week the last few weeks
Remarkably consistent with one run a week the last few weeks

I ran for about a mile, stopping to walk. The next time, I ran for a mile and didn’t stop to walk. Then I ran longer distances. Julie recommended I use RunKeeper to track my runs, since data is motivational. (She’s right, by the way.) Then Adam started joining me on my runs (Tragically, I slow him down. Men. It’s not fair how much more easily he gets in shape than I do!). Then, we ran in our town’s super low key 5K race. (Side note, the organizers at the Boys and Girls Club of Stoneham deserve all the credit in the world for putting together such a nice, safe, and well run race!)

Maybe next time I'll be in the top half of my age group....
Maybe next time I’ll be in the top half of my age group….

Julie asked me if I get the runner’s high that’s so talked about. For months now I’ve tragically lamented that I don’t seem to get that part. But I wonder if it’s sneaking up on me. It takes a lot of willpower to 75 miles. But somehow, it appears that I’ve done just that. How remarkable!

Let's go!
Let’s go!