Sunday, February 15, 2009


Originally uploaded by 3Birds
My children love to go 'downtown' especially when we're heading toward the Inner Harbor or Ft. McHenry. There is an intersection that provides a sort of visual portal between ordinary city and downtown, and whenever we pass this spot, we get a little silly.

I'm not sure we'd be as enthusiastic if we didn't have the baby inspiring us to new heights of awe and dorkitude. As soon as he sees a crane, a ride-the-ducks, the U.S.S Constellation or the American Visionary Art Museum, he commands us all to 'LOOK! LOOK!' until we not only look but admire, out loud, whatever it is he's talking about.

Even worse, he usually demands that we sing 'Downtown' when we get to the light at Saratoga and St. Paul Place, just when the glorious vista of tall buildings, traffic cops, taxis, tourists, suits, and vagrants appears before him. We comply, mostly because he's such a tyrant when crossed, but also because we kinda like that song and we also enjoy the grand spectacle.

Lately, Ft. McHenry has been our favorite downtown destination. I enjoy seeing some waterfowl I don't often see: American Black Ducks, American Wigeons, Double-Crested Cormorants, Gadwalls, and Canvasbacks. The boys are mostly interested in watching the cargo ships and tugboats, sailboats, kayaks, and barges. They enjoy watching the cranes load and unload huge containers very much and Robin thinks he would like to be a stevedore or a tugboat captain. When the ships head out toward the Bay, they always look like they're far too tall to go under the Key Bridge, and it's only at the last moment that it becomes clear that they actually can. I think Robin secretly hopes a ship will get stuck one day.

After we've done a few laps around the Fort, we often play soccer. I'd like to fly the frisbee, but Justin thinks that a) someone's apt to throw it into the harbor and b) frisbee is more conspicuous than soccer and, therefore, inadvisable. No trip to the Fort is complete without a visit to Orpheus, father of song (built to honor Francis Scott Key) and a quiz about the War of 1812 for the kids. Well, really just the Battle of Baltimore. IWe're unschooling(ish) but sometimes, I just can't help myself.

Incidentally, there is (so I've read) a pylon marking the spot where HMS Tonnant was anchored while F.S.K. wrote his poem. I don't know exactly where it is and I always forget to look for it while we're there. It's supposed to be painted red, white, and blue and I'm guessing it's one of the supports for the bridge. I don't suppose I could even see it with my binoculars (they're only 10x40) from there. We've also never attended any of the fireworks displays or special celebrations, nor have the children ever been inside the actual fort. Which is shameful. But we often enjoy the martial melodies of the fife and drum corps as we walk and watch the birds and ships and people, and 'one of these days' we fully intend to do a proper tour.

dinner tonight: chicken noodle soup, buttery dinner rolls, and peanut butter cookies (I almost made dumplings, but chickened out. The rolls were heavenly though -- I made them cloverleaf-style, and poured about a tablespoon of butter over each one before baking!)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Beauty is twice beauty...*

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
Today I saw Hazel-the-Turtle: Queen-of-all-Turtles sunning herself on the living room rug. She'd taken advantage of one of the intermittent patches of sun that had been teasing us all afternoon. I grabbed my camera, quick as quick, because poor homely Hazel was almost beautiful in the golden glow and I thought it would be as well to record her moment of glory, but the sunlight faded too fast. Robin had been watching and said simply but with real sympathy (he's an unusually sensitive boy) "Well. That was discouraging."

It certainly was discouraging; January, February, and March are very trying months in Baltimore. I suppose they're trying throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere. When it's cold and gray outside, the smallest setbacks depress me, and I begin to suspect the Universe is deliberately targeting me for destruction. I begin to take things very personally and very seriously. Last week I hollered at the hapless drunk who told me it was too cold for my kids to be outside; today I nearly cried when I realized I was out of almond extract.

Normally I don't allow random strangers' criticisms of my parenting disturb me, especially when the criticisms have anything to do with the weather and how my children are dressed, and especially especially when it's a drunkard doing the criticizing. But last week's encounter lead to a lot of needless brooding about the relentless judgment and disapproval mom's absorb.

Which they do. I am, if society is any judge, both too lenient and too strict a disciplinarian; extremely selfish and pathetically self-sacrificing because I am a homemaker; the downfall and the pillar of civilization because I homeschool, and, above all, utterly incapable and in need of constant guidance and advice from pretty nearly everyone about pretty nearly all aspects of parenting.

Perhaps I am exaggerating just the tiniest bit.

But, if wintertime makes me melancholy, prone to brood, and capable of making mountains out of every molehill, it also makes me deeply appreciative of the small gifts and graces I receive every day.

Seeing a red-tailed hawk soaring high above us, or a flock of pigeons flapping just above the roof-line, or a long and straggling line of crows heading into the setting sun -- all of these can restore my sense of wonder. The smell of bread baking, the taste of wheat and yeast and butter and honey, the sight of my children's sticky, satisfied smiles -- these restore my sense of gratitude. The sound of the pipes clanking, the cats purring, and the wind rattling the window panes -- these restore my sense of comfort.

Today I served a simple but delicious chickpea stew with saffron and almonds for lunch, and as we ate and chatted about today's work and tomorrow's plans I felt supremely content. Tomorrow we will have our weekly playtime co-op. The kids will run around like wild things and the adults will talk and laugh and we'll all feast on sweet, gooey, cinnamon-y monkey bread, and life will be good.

*I stole this of course, from Pablo Neruda, as translated by, I believe, Robert Bly.

dinner tonight: Portuguese Kale Soup with Chorizo