Massachusetts Whirlwind

Returning the car, catching an early morning flight to Boston, helping the taxi driver find our destination, and settling in to share Sally and Isaac’s apartment all combined to make the day feel a little over packed. It’s not particularly small for an inner suburban apartment and I reckon houses three quite nicely, but with seven it all felt a bit cramped to start with. Not to worry, we had a plan. But I shan’t proceed without a baby photo.

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Lucy is only a few months old and still a bit unpredictable with her sleep, so Sally and Isaac were very hospitable (bonkers?) to put us up for a week. I don’t remember much of those first couple of days, but it felt like a whirlwind. I was pleased to crash into a comfortable bed each night, and to chat with old friends in the morning – without leaving the house. We explored the lake across the road, swishing through leaves, collecting acorns and admiring geese, ducks and swans.

We started to get used to the T transit system, and got brave enough for Elise to go home one afternon with Isaac and the kids, while I went the other direction to pick up the hire car for our planned trip North. Yep, more driving, and through likely icy conditions so I ensured we got a fuel guzzling SUV. Isaac was a bit worried about their two wheel drive, though being a hybrid its consumption was down the other end of the scale. In the end through either Isaac’s driving or good enough road condition (let’s say both), they had no trouble.

As for the T, Isaac pointed out that it’s the oldest (running?) transit system in the USA, but sadly it’s not funded well enough to take advantage of that auspicious heritage. The whole system worked well for us with only a single breakdown in a week of travel, but some carriages did feel old and raggedy, and drivers sometimes complained about things being broken. That said, drivers were helpful, trains ran on time, safety was never a concern, and I reckon Boston would be a lot poorer without it. Quirky factoid: They have blacksmiths on staff to craft the replacement parts they need, because noone makes them any more.

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Oh Canada

It is over ten years since we have visited the fine country of Canada, and I was glad to be back. The schedule only allowed us a few days, but I reckon it was worth a long day of driving each way for even a taste.

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We visited St Jacobs to see how much had changed, and recapture some memories. While it all felt pretty similar, I don’t remember the bakery being so amazing: This was the best doughnut I’ve had, and I have sampled a few.

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Ryan walked with us to the school bus stop one afternoon to collect Navilyn and Kayleigh, bringing the sleds too. The run and sled home was great fun, as was the rest of our stay – the girls ran amuck throughout the house the whole time (with the occasional exhausted meltdown), and Eleanor particularly enjoyed the company.

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Alex and family came over to see us, and the house was filled with hubbub. Stories, memories, games and good food.

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Once again farewells came too soon, but it felt more like “see you next time” than the “goodbye, I wonder if we will see each other when we’re proper grown ups” from 2004. Alex came to see us in 2008, so I wonder who will be next.

Back on the road again, and all of the parent-survival tricks came out: Toys, packed snacks, eye spy, kids music (*only* for long drives), leg stretching stops, vague time estimates to help the journey seem like it will eventually end, and generally trying not to get snappy with each other. We were grateful that the border crossing – both ways – was completely painless. A few questions, briefly rolling down the windows to show we had actual children in the back seats, and away we went.

Long Lunch

Sorry for taking such a long lunch, but the snow has been so very much fun. We stayed with Andy and Kathryn, Adelaide and Willow in Traverse City MI, and a week flew by. They’ve recently had a ‘mud room’ built onto their house, and it proved particularly helpful with all of the boots, jackets and snow gear we piled up between us all. Eleanor and I were out in it the most, as she surprised me with her stamina, walking about the neighbourhood, following the natural creek which was half buried in snow, flinging the wonderful white snow about the place, and collecting icicles for good measure. Addy Mae is a little younger and didn’t last quite as long, but she and Eleanor spent a bit of time sledding and making snowmen, plus she and I played a little baseball and she has a pretty good swing. The others joined in for bouts of snow play, but Andy had to work a few days, and the others preferred to prepare the hot chocolates for us to sip once we retreated from the cold. Hannah loved the sled, but ran out of oomph pretty quickly.

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Traverse City has a strong boutique industry, ranging from cherries to cider to clothes to woodwork and other gifts. I suspect there’s a lot of local fruit and veg in the right season, but with winter coming it was being delivered from the South. For some reason we had no concerns buying Mexican produce even though I like to buy Australian when I’m in Australia. Am I simply Unamerican? Perhaps it’s the lack of ocean between the two countries. In any case we had a great time sampling all of the above, as well as the distillery which Andy dutifully pointed out. It turns out I not only like Scotch, but a range of whiskey options – just not when they’re mixed with maraschino cherries: yuck.

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Andy and Kathryn managed to play tour guide remarkably well, given their work and parenting schedules, and we managed to weave together an effective sort of cohabiting for a week. The girls shared baths, toys, meal and play times, and went separate ways at various nap and quiet times. Young Willow is a lovely kid, finding her feet and her confidence around strangers invading her house, and Addy Mae was right at home with us, showing us stories, toys, and even her dance class where Eleanor was able to join in.

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It all came to a close too quickly, and we were on the road again, a few hours of driving one night to Bay City MI, then a few more the next morning, over the border to Ontario. That night driving is best described in hindsight, since we arrived safely: The wind was blowing and the snow was falling heavily in parts, so we were driving quite slowly and copying the other drivers who had their hazard lights flashing to increase the chances of being seen! I was glad to have been upgraded to a SUV for free (after refusing to pay for it).

Garden Blitz: dirt, poo, paper and mulch

P1020150Weeds. The verge was covered in them, plus couch grass which never looked good, overgrown and tangled in winter, then patchy and dusty in summer. We could have put a bit of effort into making a lawn out there, but I don’t care much for lawn that we don’t really need, so couch destruction was imminent.

I joined in a Permablitz a couple of years ago with the Lockridge Community Garden crew where we tackled a lot of weeds with manure, newspaper and mulch so I thought I’d give that idea a whirl. After a bout of overanalysis, the plan unfurled:

  • Dial Before You Dig
  • Dig 200mm deep to get rid of the weeds and most of the couch roots
  • Add a layer of fresh chicken manure to burn the remaining roots and enrich the future growing medium
  • ‘Seal in’ the manure and roots with a layer of wet newspaper
  • Top up with plenty of mulch for more nutrients and keeping moisture in

So quick to say, not so easy to do. Call the cavalry. Neighbours collected newspaper for me over a few weeks; Nick and Ny helped me borrow Luke and Shelly’s Kanga digger; I ordered a six cubic metre skip and 50 bags of manure; and a half-dozen-strong gang of people joined in for some digging. There was plenty of food and playing children, which helped to enrich the day.

Despite having to drive 45km each way with a heavy horse float (or, you know, spend actual money hiring one), the digger paid itself off very quickly, both ripping up the grass and dirt, and particularly for lifting it high into the skip. It proved (as with Annora & Rodney’s place a few weeks ago) to be the bottleneck though, so Ken’s arrival with his mattock to break up the ground was timely. Star pickets protected the fire hydrant and power pole from any errant driving or tool swinging.

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The skip soon filled, we thought we were done with the lion’s share of the work. Lunch was served and I was a mighty happy man. Back to do the final work and cleanup…

P1020198A full three cubic metres of additional dirt came out while Ian and I tried to get it reasonably level. We were both fighting perfectionist urges, a worthwhile fight because kids needed afternoon naps, plus the tree roots made digging quite fiddly. In the end it only took a couple of hours, so we were done by mid afternoon, quite pleased with the hole we’d dug.

The manure was a simple job – line ’em, cut ’em open, kick ’em over, rake it out.

Fiddly and back breaking describes the paper layering, and I was thankful for large sheets of cardboard scavenged from various verge sides, and for Elise suggesting the paddling pool and sacrificing her back to the task as well. A thin layer of mulch on top (thanks to neighbours for sharing), and it looks a million bucks. All right I know it’s not that exciting to look at, but I’m very happy.

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I’ve just heard that a truck from MulchNet has dumped far too much mulch on our verge, so the neighbours will now get some in return!