The last two weeks have been drywall weeks. If you’ve ever lived through drywall construction or, heaven forfend, had to hang-mud-sand the stuff yourself, you know that this is one of the messy parts. Insulation was messy, too, and smelly, but didn’t last for two weeks. When I thought about the children having to vacate their room for five days, when I thought about the last remaining floor space in our pretend kitchen being entirely covered by their mattresses, I knew we could do it if we had to. But there was a more attractive option: head somewhere inviting, somewhere with doting grandparents and beautiful scenery and no sheetrock dust. So I packed up the kids and the dog and we went, leaving poor Mr. G to fend for himself since he couldn’t take the time off work. It was a good decision.

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Family walks are still something of a challenge, and I foolishly left the baby carrier at home. So in between piggybacks from me and his willing Granny, Jolyon studied bryology and learned to eat sheep sorrel and avoid the rabbit turds. Sometimes we opted to stay home while the others exercised the dogs, because Granddad’s mighty fine swing set needed attention.

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And we stayed indoors sometimes, too, playing the kids’ favorite board game. My grandfather devised it and painted the board when my mother was a child. It’s called “Hit the Hay,” or “Hippa Hay,” as it’s rendered by the under-fives. I’m no longer sure of the rules, having played so many simplified versions, but it’s always a good time.

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We came home to a handsome new ceiling in the kids’ room and a lot of plastic and dust and more dust everywhere else. I’m chipping away at the clean-up, wiping down one surface or another any time I glimpse the sponge lying idle. Flooring starts this week. It’s exciting to arrive home and view the progress every evening. I’m still enjoying this a lot. But oh, was it nice to have a shower and a kitchen sink for a few days! Thanks, Mum and Dad. It’s so good to be able to go home.


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When we’re up home, as I will always call my childhood island, the thing my kids are most excited to do isn’t to play at the beach or take the ferry. Apart from seeing their grandparents, they most want to go to Charly’s and ride horses. This is where I spent a staggering percentage of my youth: in these rolling fields, in this old orchard, up in those woods. It’s no fancy riding stable, only a simple corral and a rustic shed to house the tack—if the door is latched you simply scramble in by the glassless window—and a couple of shed roofs to tie the horses under for shelter while grooming them. The barn swallows loop in and out. The paddock is fenced with branches pruned from the fruit trees and dropped from some of the big maples over many years. Here I learned how to stick on a horse and also a great deal about kindness, empathy, awareness, and balance. Charly is mostly retired and doesn’t teach many young riders now, but she has open arms and bowls full of cherries and strawberries picked from her garden for any of her pupils who find their way back with fervent little starry-eyed equestrians in tow.

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I’m chuffed at my girl’s easy way on a horse. She’s timid, or at least cautious, about physical risks, but she can’t wait to get aboard a great tall horse and trot around, keeping her head up and her back supple. No hands? No problem. And she’s attentive rather than assertive, which I like to see in a young rider.

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Riding (2 of 7)

Jolyon was not to be left out. His face got a little scrumply when he learned he couldn’t ride Chocolate, the pony of my first adventures, or Koprina, the fiery half-Arab mare who figures in so many of the stories the kids clamor to hear again and again. But he reconciled himself to Not Chocolate and sat proudly and independently astride.

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Kisses to ask her to walk on… and one for Mama, too.

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It’s good to circle back and savor old pleasures through new experience.


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Credit for all the photos in this post to my father. Thanks, Dad!

The midwinter shore is one of my favorite landscapes. I wonder if coastal folk all over the world feel this — the summer people retreat, the weekend visitors trudge home to their elsewhere lives, and the beach is starkly itself again: no longer a strip of fire pits and driftwood forts and picnics luring yellow jackets to gorge on sandy watermelon rind and half-eaten hot dogs and warm beer, but an ecosystem once more. Of course the locals savor the warm days as much as the visitors and can be just as careless or careful of their footprint; the summer beach is everybody’s playground. But when the air and the sea are equally cold — and sometimes, it seems, equally damp — a visit to that shifting edge where the land plunges under is an act of desire not to enjoy ourselves but to enjoy the place.

Enjoy it we did. There were loons diving near shore and gulls relishing the rotting delights of the tidelands, and the thin sunlight was welcome, if not warming. I was sorry to have to keep the little ones out of the waves on this occasion; I didn’t think soaking in the winter ocean would aid their recovery from lingering coughs. Jolly was particularly indignant at my interference, but soon busied himself throwing pebbles into the water, investigating the textures of kelp and bladderwrack, and practicing locomotion over this challenging terrain. Ada devoted herself to throwing sticks for the dogs, braving the showers as they shook off the sea and soaking her mittens without regret. (This labrador does retrieve, but is mainly in it for the chance to paddle about and doesn’t attach much importance to the actual hand-off, so if you thought the child looked like the one fetching the stick in that first picture you weren’t far wrong.) Of course there was an inevitable mouthful of sand…

JacksonsBeach114 (3 of 6)… but a few swipes with the back of a woolen glove and all was well again. And the key to happy endings for winter beach outings? Dry pants and wool socks waiting in the car. Steamed milk and Felicity’s pumpkin bread at the bookstore afterward.