MLK day at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Thane is skeptical about the red-sweater dress code
Thane is skeptical about the red-sweater dress code

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day we headed to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We have an embarrassment of riches in Boston, when it comes to great museums, which is my only excuse for never before having come to this particular museum. Also, there are no mummies. There was a time in my life where this meant a great deal. (See also: last year.) But finally the right moment came to take the trip to Cambridge and check it out!

The trip started, as most trips to Cambridge do, at Alewife. The kids still find the T to be an enjoyable and novel experience. Tragically, they do not have the cultural background to spend the entire T ride humming “Charlie on the MTA” the way I did for the first, oh, five years I lived in Boston.

On the T headed to Cambridge
On the T headed to Cambridge

Adam works in Cambridge, and I have been there pretty often. It was therefore quite surprising to realize neither one of us had ever been to Harvard Square. We walked through it – as the fastest way to get to the museum. I kept waiting to feel smarter. Instead, I mostly felt like a Japanese tourist.

The toe was shiny from rubbing
The toe was shiny from rubbing

The museum was a delight. It was 50% modern museum with excellent interpretations done by people with PhDs in interpretations designed to be interactive for the target demographic. Basically – a great modern museum. But the other 50% was the creepy, paper-noted, formaldehyde-ridden, dusty, wooden, ancient and slightly menacing type of museum right out of Lovecraft. The air smelled of ancient radiators and the banisters were worn from use and there were rooms with mysterious brass plaques on the front door. One of the volunteers admitted her entire motivation was to get into the back rooms – closed to the public – and see what was there. It was very cool.

Modern: photographic interpretation
Modern: photographic interpretation
Lovecraftian: evolution as shown through skulls.
Lovecraftian: evolution as shown through skulls.

There were also lots of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are really cool. Oh, and a coelecanth! (Not living, obviously. But, er, recentish?!)

Dinosaurs and bizarre creatures
Dinosaurs and bizarre creatures

After we did the “dead animals” side of the museum, we went over to the “interesting rocks” side. Bridging the gap between the two was an amazing room full of glass flowers. The crazy thing about these flowers is you would never ever ever believe they were glass. They were astonishingly realistic. Such a thing was a vast labor. It will never be done again – we have no need. We can photograph and freeze dry and sequence dna and do all manner of communicating and saving information on plants. But this tremendous artistry attempted to faithfully reproduce the ephemeral. It’s remarkable.

These are made from GLASS.

The minerals rooms was particularly fun since we’d just seen a very similar (much more modern) exhibit at the Tellus museum. Adam liked the natural fiberglass best. I liked this stunning piece. I’m pretty sure that my mother-in-law would turn it into a necklace if she could

This was my favorite piece

In the final room – about climate change – I actually learned something completely new. I had no idea that earth’s orbit was erratic over tens of thousands of years. I thought our orbit was pretty stable – other than annual variations.

We did wander a bit through the Peabody Museum (they flow into each other), but lunch beckoned. We found ourselves with two rather tired hungry kids at a local Cambridge landmark.

We had to explain who Johnny Cash was, because Thane was in his seat.
We had to explain who Johnny Cash was, because Thane was in his seat.

We ended the trip just sitting on these really cool old shoeshine booths in the Starbucks at Cambridge Square – just sitting together and talking and watching the world go by. I need more days like that in my life.

Zonked out at the shoeshine chairs at Starbucks

You can see all my pictures of the last, um, week here!

Great Thanksgiving Road Trip

I am a holiday traditionalist, I admit. My Christmas preparations involve a living tree, a medley of meaningful ornaments gathered over several decades and four straight weeks of non-strop Christmas music. I still think of myself as the kind of person who does Thanksgiving with the family and the pies and the sitting around telling stories about how Seattle used to be. There’s only one problem with this bit of identity… yeah. I have done that exactly once in the last, oh, sixteen years? (The year Grey was born I went home for Thanksgiving.)

You see, it’s like this. I don’t have any family in the area, nor does my husband. I don’t really want to travel on Thanksgiving. And I host 30+ people for Thanksgiving dinner a scant 10 days before Turkey Day itself, so I don’t want to make the meal and find people to come eat it because, well, I already did. The other day someone asked my son what we were doing for Thanksgiving and Grey responded, “We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.” Gah! We do! We just do so in a weird way! Now often I have gotten very gracious and lovely invitations to friends’ houses to celebrate. Heck, two years in a row I cadged invitations to one of my college friends’ parents’ houses. So we have suffered no lack of welcome or turkey. But the obligation of Thanksgiving, the feeling that there is a particular thing we have to do, that is entirely lacking.

And if you think about it for a moment, that is tremendously freeing. I have a four day period where there is no where we have be and nothing we have to do. Liberty!

A few weeks ago, one of my Scooby-addled children informed me that he wanted to see “a real live mummy”. This seemed like a reasonable request. At first I considered which museums in Boston might contain said Egyptian relic. Then I thought that the really good mummies were in New York. Except I hate New York. Then I thought that the really great museums are in Washington DC. And you know, I’ve been meaning to go to Washington DC for like five years now.

Then it dawned on me that I have four uncommitted days.


Sixty degrees on the Mall!
Sixty degrees on the Mall!

We left at about 11 am on Thanksgiving morning. I remember in college, when I had no where to go on Thanksgiving and all the placed to eat on campus were closed, I felt very very sorry for myself on Thanksgiving. However, I felt not a lick of remorse as we dined at McDonalds for lunch, or Denny’s for dinner. (What? I’m traveling with 3 and 6 year old boys on Thanksgiving. You think I’m going to stop anyplace that has cloth tablecloths?!?!) There was some nasty and tiring traffic on the Mass Pike, but after that we zooooomed! This was our first extended road trip – our previous adventures having topped out at two or three hours. The boys were complete troopers, and honestly did better than I expected. We came in late, lost and tired to DC at 10 pm that night.

Yesterday was a sublime day, weather wise, here in the District of Columbia. Although my intention had been to hie immediately to the Museum of Natural History (hellooo Mummies and Dinosaurs!) the lure of the Washington Monument was too strong and instead we hied ourselves the length of the Mall, explaining the various wars, conflicts and heroes in mostly age-appropriate ways as we wandered. Then we went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where Thane bounced like a pinball between mummy exhibits. By midafternoon, someone was in desperate need of a nap, and the kids seemed tired too, so we came back and had an all family snooze. Indeed, as I write I am surrounded on all sides by sleeping menfolk. We spent the evening dining with some friends in the area, our kids playing with theirs.

Today the morning was the Museum of Air and Space. It was pretty fun, but Thane is woefully underslept and it is starting to show. Also, he has no respect for barriers/fences/ribbons. Also, he plops down on the ground all the time and declares, “I’m not going to _____”. My cajoling muscles are weary beyond belief. But he was fascinated by the astronauts and costumes, and demanded that he be permitted to wear the moon gear. We all thoroughly enjoyed the planetarium before making good our escape.

Thane and the Astronaut Suit of Great Interest
Thane and the Astronaut Suit of Great Interest

By the way, since all of you are far more worldly and experienced than I am, you already know this. But were you aware that admission to all Smithsonian Museums is totally free? My Bostonian expectations included $20/head/museum. But with free… well heck. You can go in for 30 minutes and it’s awesome and you can leave and not worry about how much it cost! Parking, on the other hand, is $40 a day….

In half an hour I’ll wake everyone up, and we’ll go to the American Indian Museum. Thane is trying to figure out what his next obsession is. Mummies, astronauts and Native Americans are all strong candidates. Tonight, I think we’ll take the boys to see the Muppet Movie. Tomorrow, we do the 11 hour trip in reverse.

In my worse moments, I wonder what the heck I’m thinking and why didn’t I just stay at home and have the kids watch tv all weekend like a sane parent. But most of the time, I watch the wide-eyed wonder, insightful questions and bouncy kids and think that this was a fantastic idea.

Boys on pillars
Boys on pillars

Twenty bookes, clad in black or red

It’s been a while since I last gave you an update about what my boys were doing. Now that they’re both out of the “monthly” mode (and heck, my BLOG is practically at a monthly update level. I can’t tell you how much I miss writing more frequently!) it’s more challenging to highlight their growth.

With Grey, the big news is how big and capable he’s getting. I suppose there are a thousand steps on the road towards self-sufficiency, but each one is thrilling to a parent. For example, Grey has successfully:
– Gotten out bowls for he and his brother
– Gotten out cereal
– Poured the cereal in the bowls (without spilling)
– Gotten the milk out of the fridge
– Poured the milk on the cereal (without spilling)
– Gotten out spoons
– Brought spoons and cereal bowls over to the living room where the boys break their fast
If I could teach him to put the milk BACK, and combined with his terrifyingly acute control of the television apparatus, I might finally be able to sleep in on Saturday mornings!

The greatest new development for Grey, though, is around books. He had a great day today. He graduated levels in swimming class, ably making his way around the pool with limited bouyantical aid. He tested for his next belt in aikido, competently demonstrating Kata-tori Kokyu-nage, among other techniques. So I decided, while obtaining the requisite present for a birthday party tomorrow, I’d get him a new book. I hesitated, among the scant options in Target. The picture books all seemed a little simple. He’s been doing a great job reading lately. So instead, I picked up a simple chapter book The Magic Treehouse: Dinosaurs Before Dark. As we headed to the airport to drop grandma off (Bye grandma!), Grey set aside his DS in order to read.

An hour ago, sitting at my feet as I blogged, he finished the book, face flush with enjoyment and pride. He had read the last several chapters to himself, only the pace of page-turning a clue that every single word was getting its due. He really read it. Himself. It was his first full chapter book. I have a sneaking hunch that it will not be his last. (Possibly because he went to his room, pulled out about three other books, and read his favorite parts of them.)

A real reader! I have a real reader! We can read together! YAYAYAYAYAYAY!!!!!!

I fondly remember when my brother (who, by the way, will be graduating from Princeton Seminary this spring. If anyone’s looking for a nice Presbyterian Minister, let me know) began to read. I remember the conversation we older ones had, jealously laying out the wonderful books he would be able to read for the first time.

Grey, reading a Scooby Doo coloring book. It’s Dr. Jekyl, by the way!

My youngest son has been no slouch in the “fun” department either. He loves books deeply. Unlike his brother, he’s willing to sometimes be in a different room than we’re in. I’ve seen him spend a good 45 minutes alone in his room, going through all his books. (Which usually leads to a several inch deep carpet of books in his room… the prices you pay!) Thane’s absolute favorite books in the entire world are the “How Do Dinosaurs…” series. This particularly excellent set of books doesn’t have generic, badly researched dinosaurs like so many of kiddo dino books do. Nor does it happily stop with the oligarchy of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus like the rest of them do. No, there’s some new ones in these books…. Comsognathus, Pachycephalusaurus, Tapejara. And Thane, although not yet potty trained, has complete mastery over this entire pantheon.

I think he likes to categorize things — to know the names and be able to identify things. Or maybe he just likes dinosaurs. He has finally mastered his letters and numbers. But I’ll be honest: I think he got the dinosaurs first.

As he plops his bottom down onto my lap, beloved “How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You” in hand for the 9,234th time (demanding I identify each and every dinosaur on each and every page before reading the text – as if he doesn’t know), I admit that I’m caught between the desire for him to be an early reader too… and the desire to have many long year before me of “Mom, can you read this?”

Thane, reviewing his dinosaurs. Dilphosaurus, Protoceratops, Carnosaurus, Dilophosaurus, Velociraptor, Apatosaurus….

A full set of pictures

A morning of thanks

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday for me. For 11 years now, I’ve done a huge “feeding lots of people turkey” holiday at Mocksgiving. The result of this is that, despite my feeding-people, epicurian bent, I’ve never hosted the Family Thanksgiving. And now, of course, my inlaws are all pretty much in Atlanta and my brother considers Thanksgiving a weekend sacred to video games…. so. I don’t cook on Thanksgiving.

We’ve done a bunch of different things over the years. Back when I was young and judgmental, my husband’s family went out to dinner in a restaurant for Thanksgiving. The year Grey was born, we went back home. The first, only time I’ve been home for Thanksgiving since I left for college at 17. A few years we’ve done nothing. But I’m surrounded by awesome people, so when folks get wind of the fact we’re doing nothing, invitations appear. Several years, I went to the family Thanksgiving of a college friend. His mom is a fantastic cook, so I was sad when he moved out to California and it seemed… weird to invite ourselves without him. Last year and this year, friends from church have invited us. They have boys similar in age to ours, and are FANTASTIC cooks.

So Thanksgiving is a mellow, happy, friendly day. The last few years I’ve started a tradition of watching the Macy’s parade with the boys. I sleep in. Drink coffee. Don’t get dressed until noon. I rest. Relax. It might actually be the most relaxing day of my entire year.

Gratitude is an important part of not losing site of what’s important to you. I don’t do as great a job of it, but I’ve tried to teach my children to give thanks. Every night, as part of their going-to-bed, we have a prayer of gratitude. Grey usually just says that he’s thankful for “Everything in the universe”, although when pushed he’ll tell you he’s thankful for screens (DS, computer & TV).

But Thane has started this tradition now too, of gratitude. His favorite books are the How Do Dinosaurs books. He demands to know the names of all the dinosaurs. And of course, with the plasticity of a youthful brain, he remembers them. One of my ambitions this week is to get video of this. But at night, his litany of gratitude goes like this, Thane is thankful for … “Mommy, Daddy, Grey, Thane, Neovenator, Pachycephalasaurus, Protoceratops, Tapejara, Neovenator, Mommy, Daddy…” He can go on. It’s awesome!

One of the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving morning is that I have this venue to write down memories. Sometimes I look back at what was, and I’ve written down things I otherwise wouldn’t have remembered. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t know you would read this. I know this, since I tried for years pre-blogging. So thank you for being you, and reading what I have to say.