25 January 2014

Final Things

Our last skate, Ruby sweetly teaching Lily  to keep her hands on her knees to get the right position. The day was minus 12 but the sun was shining.  

Our last lunch; bagels, ham, eggs, raspberries (a luxury in winter but cheaper here than in summer back home), it's been our standard lunch for 3 months now. 

Our last dinner at Dumpling Cafe;  xiao long bao, greens, steamed dumings, scallion pancakes. Chinatown is always a winner for our family. 

And finally the daunting task of packing. Extreme temperature changes make it tricky to figure out what to leave out and what to put in so we'll probably be cold on the trip to the airport and hot when we arrive. We'll cope. I'm trying to focus on the positives of returning. Mostly I've come up with loose leaf tea and my sewing machine! I've travelled before and missed people desperately, but with email and Instagram, I've barely had a chance. I travelled a lot on my own when I was younger and I think loneliness often leads to homesickness. But with five constant companions for the past three months I've had no opportunity for loneliness. It will be lovely to see family and friends again, and I'm going to make a real effort to ensure that the effects of this trip last a good long while. How I'll do that I'm not sure but I'm going to try.  Any tips?

23 January 2014

Great White

 We've made the girls keep a daily journal since we left Melbourne. Their entries vary in detail and length but I hope they'll appreciate being made to keep them years from now when much of the day to day has faded from memory. Grace starts nearly every entry with 'today was fun' and ends it with 'and then we had showers and went to bed'. Nina meticulously records her meals. Ruby writes hers like a letter to a friend. 
For me, this blog is the closest I've come to keeping a journal of our adventure. It took me a while to realise that it has become a journal or sorts  as I generally don't blog the day to day of our lives and never intended this to be a quasi diary. But I think I'll be grateful.
Today we went to the New England Aquarium. We'd avoided going til now as neither Craig nor I are huge fans of aquariums. I really don't like the overpriced and tastelessly decorated Melbourne Aquarium and couldn't bear the Sponge Bob theme in Sydney. But this one was beautifully done, with excellent penguin exhibits and a 23 foot central tank containing a coral reef and loads of fish, rays, turtles and even a couple of Moray eels.   We went to an IMAX film about great white sharks, somewhat bizarrely narrated by Bill Nighy, which had a conservation theme and largely avoided over dramatisation of their capabilities as predators, concentrating instead on their vulnerability to over-fishing.
The weather was so cold we elected to take two trains rather than walk the relatively short distance (about a mile or less) to Regina Pizzeria in the North end. Fortunately Boston's public transport system is so efficient that both trains were ready and waiting for us. The T is, like all public transport systems, somewhat maligned, and it's true that the stations and trains are not things of beauty. But, when it comes to public transport, give me substance over style every time. The ticketing system appears to work seamlessly, all stations are staffed which avoids the need for heavy handed inspectors and security, we've rarely waited more than 5 minutes for a train, even when the weather has been terrible, and when there are delays they are quickly resolved. The stations and carriages are clean, if a little run down. Melbourne could learn a lot. 
We love the North end. I'm sure locals would say it isn't a patch on what it once was and has lost all it's authentic character, but as outsiders, it is charming. Small winding streets, old buildings, intriguing glimpses into tucked away courtyards and alleys. Lots of small shops, mostly with an Italian heritage and plenty of restaurants including Regina Pizzeria which had been recommended to us by a hot dog vendor in Salem. We had a couple of huge and excellent pizzas in a great old wooden booth and then got take out dessert at Bova's bakery. We sampled chocolate mousse cannoli, pecan slice, vanilla cupcake and assorted cookies. In my view, not as good as Modern pastries, and I wasn't a huge fan of those. Perhaps I'm missing something or sampling the wrong things.
Another brisk walk home from the station in freezing conditions. It's impossible to stop the kids, especially Grace and Nina, from going out of their way to walk in snow drifts, run their hands along walls piled high with snow, stomp in slushy muddy puddles. All warnings that they might slip over fall on deaf ears, even though inevitably someone does end up in a heap on the footpath. We should probably just give up. I'm forever warning of the dangers of too much snow play leading to wet gloves leading to freezing hands all day. Perhaps I should just let them spend a day with cold hands but frostbite seems a high price to pay to learn the lesson 'listen to your mother'. So I pack spare mittens and repeat myself a hundred times in a frustrated mantra. But only for three more days. Sob.

22 January 2014


We are packing these last days in tight. Despite it being minus 12 with snow forecast, we dragged the kids to the Institute of Contemporary Art.  It is not conveniently located on our T line, which meant we had to get off and walk in icy conditions to the rather bizarre 'silver line' - a bus line that runs partly through underground tunnels. Not being familiar with it made it harder work than it needed to be and I seriously considered giving up and just taking the kids to Dunkin Donuts instead. But we persisted and,  in Ruby's words, were pleasantly surprised. We were mostly there to see the building itself, which Craig was interested in, but there was also a very moving exhibition of photographs by LaToya Ruby Frazier about, in part, the destitution of her home town of Braddock, which saw its population fall from 28,000 to about 4500 within a few years in the 1980's and had its hospital, the primary remaining local employer, close in 2010 despite a hard fought campaign to keep it open. The hospital had received significant amounts of state funding as recently as 2009, but closed when the board decided it was under-utilised and insufficiently profitable. The same contractor who tore down the hospital was awarded the contract to build a new hospital in a nearby, wealthier area. 
After this sobering exhibition we looked  through the floor to ceiling glass windows, over the waterfront, to the industrial smokestacks billowing white, the bricks and bridges across the water, the boats and the buoys. The Institute provided sketch books and pencils for the girls. I like that they each saw and documented something different of the same view.
When we left it had started to snow. It kept up the whole way home, paving the footpaths and roads (and us), in icing sugar. It's still exciting for the girls who run ahead to write notes in the snow to each other. Hot chocolate was the only appropriate antidote to the cold once we got home.

Last Days

Today is Martin Luther King day. Boston makes the most of its MLK connections (he did his PhD at BU) by putting on various events which mostly seem to be breakfasts. The Museum of Fine Arts has an open day with various arty activities for the family which you can see in the photos above.  It was also the last day of a big Sargeant watercolour exhibition which I'd been wanting to get to, but it was so crowded that I couldn't really get near the paintings. The Museum was full of people and kids and that was nice, but it wasn't especially relevant to MLK or what he stood for. I made the kids watch the 'I have a dream' speech on YouTube but to be honest I think their primary interest in it was because it is 'famous'. 
Yesterday we went souvenir shopping at Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market. The top picture is just a sample of the sweet treats on offer.  I loathe toffee apples. From childhood memory the apple is always disgustingly soft and tasteless after the super sweet toffee.  
The second photo is of a house we pass on our way to the station. I see it twice most days, but realise I won't see it, or any of the other fabulous houses in our street, again after this week.  They are all colours, blue, green, pink, yellow, brown and white, with different trims, some super ornate, some restrained, many three storeys and all wooden. I love them.
Third picture down is Grace's overalls. The only reason they are not on her is that she's in bed. These overalls have been a huge hit with the 3 younger girls, who have worn them pretty much daily since they arrived.
Fourth picture down is the icicles on the tree outside our bedroom. The weather reporter has just announced that it's a 'return to the big freeze'. Snow is forecast every day until we leave, with temperature highs ranging from -12 to -7. I feel it's only fitting. I'd feel almost robbed to leave Boston on a balmy note.

18 January 2014

Live Free or Die

It snowed all day yesterday but it wasn't cold, or at least, not cold by recent standards, and once again we had Black Mountain nearly to ourselves. The three older girls raced around, zipping up the chair lift and down the mountain. I managed to get myself up a slope on the pommel (or platter pull as they call it here) and down again three times, only once falling over in a graceless heap. Falling is hard when you're 40+, each bone, each tooth, each hair feels like it's jolted out of alignment. Also I absolutely could not get up and eventually had to take my skis off.  So for me the skiing remains elusive. I feel only vaguely in control and constantly at the precipice of losing it, which is not much fun. It reminded me of eating a very bony fish - so much work that you can barely enjoy the flesh when you finally get to it.  I don't mean to sound like a killjoy, it was still a lovely day in beautiful mountains and Ruby, Nina and Grace were so sweetly keen to help me out and show me the ropes, and patronisingly understanding of my lack of prowess that it was quite adorable. Grace assured me that she too had fallen over plenty of times and they all said 'you're doing really well' and 'you're only learning' in just that tone of voice I recognised from years of using myself.
We had a good dinner in the Shovel Handle Pub, a great old wooden pub so-called after early ski tows that attached a shovel handle to a pulley as a rudimentary way of dragging skiers up the mountain.
Today we are back in Boston after a lovely drive through the same picturesque country we couldn't see on the way up. We drove very close to the town I lived in more than 20 years ago as a teenager. We didn't detour in, which I sort of regret.     I'm never sure whether it is better to revisit the past or leave it to memory. I don't know anyone there any more and wasn't even sure I'd be able to find my way around. The school my father was teaching at has changed it's name and, I imagine, most of its staff.  We hurtled back to Boston where the sun was shining and teams of strapping young men were running in groups through Cambridge along the Charles like something out of a modern day 'Chariots of Fire'. The car rental place was in Harvard Square and we passed the visible endowments of the world's richest university; the stadiums and arenas and boat sheds that $30 billion can buy.  We caught the T home, crammed in with the weary folk looking forward to the long weekend (it's Martin Luther King day on Monday) who never fail to give up a seat for the kids. We are all feeling a little melancholy as our time here draws to a close. New Hampshire was definitely a highlight, though there have been so many it's hard to pick. I do feel that I could happily live in the mountains in one of those beautiful farm houses painted blue, with a red barn, and canoe in summer, skate the frozen ponds in winter and chop wood all fall. 

P.S. The title of this post is New Hampshire's state motto.

16 January 2014

New Hampshire Gorgeousness

We drove up on a wet bleak day from Boston. It rained all the way here and though I've read that drive to the White Mountains was one of the prettiest in New England, between the rain and the fog I really couldn't tell. With every drop that fell we imagined the snow melting away and wondered if there'd be enough left for skiing. We did stumble across a shop selling Amish quilts and drive over one of the famous covered bridges and there were a smattering of gorgeous barns set in snowy fields and iced rivers and ponds to give us a taste of rural New  Hampshire.
Our arrival at Black Mountain, somewhat confusingly in the White Mountains, lifted our spirits. The Inn we are staying in is everything you would imagine or hope for in a ski lodge, from the wood pile out the front and the sloped ceilings to the beds made from branches and the bear and moose theme throughout. The girls counted 71 representations of wildlife in our cottage including moose clasps for the shower curtain and the fine bear lamp you see above. These was a time when I would have found this type of decor somewhat tasteless. Oh how we change! I now find it utterly adorable and not even in an ironic way. Beware, I'll be sewing quilted potholders with appliqu├ęd fauna soon.  Our breakfast choices included Belgian waffles and bacon, pancakes and bacon, French toast and bacon and the more traditional (to me) accompaniment to bacon, eggs. It prompted a discussion about whether the Belgians have waffles like that, or whether French toast is recognised in France. There are no Boston buns in Boston we've discovered. 
After yesterday's unending rain we had the most gorgeously perfect day to ski. We booked all the kids in for a lesson and I also had one. I've tried twice before to ski with no luck. I never got beyond the fact that I was freezing cold and my feet hurt and my thighs were shaking with the effort of trying to get up all the time.  This time I managed a slow (and magestic) snow plough down the very gentlest of slopes. Lil flat out refused to participate in her paid lesson but was very happy to have her sisters and far less qualified mother impart what we had learned. Anyway it was such a spectacularly good day on the mountain and so unseasonably warm and the surroundings were so ridiculously story-book pretty, that it was a treat to be there, skiing or not. 

14 January 2014

Making Do

Rolling out pastry in the absence of a rolling pin. Soy sauce bottle worked pretty well.


'Graces note
To mummy and daddy and Ruby Nina and Lily to see. Love from Grace
Ps I did this puzzle when you all were asleep