Thursday, September 15, 2016


When we lived in Boston our family consisted of me, Ben, and our dog Selma.  We lived off of 40 dollars a week for groceries (and what we didn't spend we kept in a jar in dollar bills in our kitchen to use for eating out, which usually meant a cup of coffee).  We lived in a two bedroom apartment, which was beneath another two bedroom apartment in one of those classic Boston double or triple decker houses.  We would sometimes buy a single ingredient at the farmers market and then spend the afternoon finding a good way to prepare it.  Everyday we would go for a long long walk (even when it was really cold outside), and we would idle around the local park while the dogs ran around.  We spent a lot of time talking about the stuff of life (raising children and living well and justly) but had lived oh so very little of it.  We made some amazingly good friends, and it was no surprise to have someone drop by our place unexpectedly for dinner, which I am now realizing was probably a very small amount of food compared to what we prepare now.  We worked our way through the "More With Less" cookbook, and we made the Simple Granola every single week (without the coconut, because that didn't fit in our grocery budget).

It was a time of very simple living, the time that this blog was first started, and then the time that we had sweet baby Zosia, whose every cry was greeted with our huge smiles because were just so happy to have her with us.  We lived in Boston for three years.  Only three years, but it feels like such a special, mythic time for our family.   We love that city.  Like really really love it, love the way that it is this bustling, ever transforming city centered around the pursuit of knowledge, and love the way that even though the city is constantly renewed with new minds and new faces it stays exactly the same in so many other ways, and every single brick in the sidewalk remains just as it was nine years ago, and just as it will be a hundred years from now.  And we even didn't mind those long New England winters, the brown snow banks lining the streets, because the day of a blizzard felt so magical.

Our hearts were full to return now, having lived quite a bit of life, with five more children than when we have left (in all stages of childhood), and two new cities we have called home as a family.  I think during those nine years, we have done a good bit of sorting out what things really matter, not without growing pains and a good dose of heart ache.  We still cook out of the "More with Less Cookbook."  We have renewed our faith in the Church, lost sweet Selma, become students of the discipline of true selflessness, which we endeavor with great challenges to live every day.  Those amazing friends are still with us, and seeing their faces is such good food for the soul.  

And now that I have gone all nostalgic and sentimental on you, let me tell you a little about our visit!  We could not visit Boston without spending some time in Somerville and Cambridge, the old streets that we called home.  We visited our old apartment and were heartened to see that the street had not changed at all, complete with the secret cut through that used to lead to Johnny's Food Master and now leads to Whole Foods.  The sweet Bostonian family next door is still there, dogs and all.  We walked down to Harvard, stopped by the Biscuit for some coffee and treats, pointed out all of the restaurants that we never really ate at (Ha!  $40 a week for food!).  I showed the kids the classrooms where I was a student, and was delighted to see that everything is just as loveably stuffy as when I left, that the campus still has this vibrant hum and energy.

We were really in town to celebrate a friend's wedding in a beautiful ceremony at our old church right on the Boston Common, which gave us the chance to show the kids the Public Garden, which has featured in our family imagination every since the first time we read "Make Way for Ducklings."  It's one of the places that we somehow never visited when we actually lived close by, but it is beautiful, and I think our visit solidified Robert McCloskey's book into our Family Top 10 Children's Book list.

And then before we left town, we just had to get in the frog pond and stomp around until we were wet and desperately in need of a clothing change, because that seems to be an emerging theme of any trip we take!  And then we loaded up into our 12 passenger rental van (*loved* it!), and hit the road, driving towards some warm Atlantic water.

Next stop, Cape Cod!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Summer Travels and Natural Places

We are back home after what has felt like a very full summer of travel.  Over the past eight weeks we have slept in eight different cities (counting our home here in California, so that is kind of cheating :-).  And after that whirlwind of our whole family being together, we are back home and have jumped right into the school year, which means that five of our six kids are in some sort of school (!) and I have a couple of hours to myself here and there.  So as I sit here and type, Josephine is cruising around the sofa and making raspberries, and the whole house is quiet.  Totally weird.

There's no good way to start in on all our adventures, so I will just start at the beginning.  On a whim, Ben booked an airbnb at Lake Tahoe and he turned it into a sort of belated birthday/anniversary trip.  Lake Tahoe is about four hours from our house, and is a popular winter destination, because it has great skiing.  I think it's safe to say that we are not quiiiiite in the skiing stage of our family life, but we had heard that Tahoe is beautiful in the summertime, and let me tell you it did not disappoint!  The lake is huge and deep, cold like the Pacific, and surrounded by pine trees.  It has waves on the shore!  Isn't that crazy? It is one of the deepest lakes in America (second, I think), and has beautiful dramatic scenery that reminds me of Colorado.

Isn't it funny how the most simple, natural places can actually be the most blissfully entertaining for kids?  I feel like whenever I go to a place that was made "for kids" I spend most of my time trying to convince everyone they don't actually want the treats that everyone is trying to sell them, or calming over-stimulated kids.  But give me a beach or a trail or a natural lake, and everyone is happily entertained for hours.  So when we stumbled upon the most beautiful secluded beach on our second day, (aptly named "Hidden Beach," not to be confused with a nudist beach of the same name in Santa Cruz, unless you are Clara and Dorothy, in which case any beach is a nudist beach) I knew we had found our place.

Getting down to the beach entailed hiking down some sandy paths, then scaling across rocks, but that did not deter us!  No way!  Ben was riding his bike to meet us, so I must have been quite the spectacle encouraging five little kids to scamper over the large rocks, with little Josephine strapped to my front, but I feel like when we're on adventures like that we're in our element.  These Collins kids are a touch bunch.  Once we made it down to the beach, which truly is hidden beneath a big cliff that overlooks the lake, we practically had the beach to ourselves, save for a few groups of college kids.  It was fantastic, the kids scaled rocks and found caves, we could not have been happier.

As we were driving home from a weekend of mountain sun, Ben pointed out the large creek along the road.  We were in our church clothes and had many hours of driving ahead of us, but when Ben said that the creek looked great for playing, everyone lit up, and we knew how we would be spending our afternoon.  I am going to go ahead and add living next to a river or creek to my list of life goals, because I think that scampering over those rocks was our happy place.  Zosia and Lily found a little hidden inlet on the other side, and immediately turned it into their secret home away from home.  Every single person was wet and happy when we made it back to the car, and I once again learned the lesson that pulling over for an adventure is (almost) always worth it.

Out here on the West Coast it feels like we are really close to nature.  There are big open places everywhere.  I don't think I will ever get tired of that!  

And since this space serves as a sort of family scrapbook, please indulge me as I share a few more pictures and stores of our travels over the next few days!  Next stop, Boston!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Josephine at Six Months

Josephine is six months old, which feels kind of incomprehensible.  It feels incomprehensible, because how is she sitting up already?  How is she scooting like a little inch worm with her bottom high up in the air, and then her little legs thrusting her forward one little bit at a time?  But then it also feels incomprehensible, because how could we have not yet known her just a few months ago?  It feels like she's always been in this family, with her easy smile and bright eyes.  So let me tell you a little more about Josephine, this baby of ours.

The kids all call her "Jo Jo," and when you say it, she smiles and coos and knows exactly who you're talking about.  And when I come into the room with her (because I am usually carrying her with me when she's awake), all the kids gather around and eagerly say "Jo Jo! Jo Jo!" and it's a competition to see who she will look at.  The tactics have become somewhat extreme, with squeaky voices and growly voices, and even though I often hold her a little closer as if all of the commotion would upset her, she loves every bit of it.  She smiles bigger, and lets out a big laugh, because who am I kidding?  This is the sixth child in a lively and boisterous family.  Commotion is her middle name.

You would not be wrong to say she is a little spoiled.  She is always in someone's arms, or surrounded by many kids.  She is usually sleeping right next to me or close by, and she nurses often but doesn't eat solid foods yet.  Maybe I relish these opportunities because they came less naturally with the twins (co-sleeping with two babies was a puzzle I could never solve), or maybe it's Josephine's mellow and cheerful temperament, but at this rate I will seriously be that mom who is rocking an 18 year old to sleep, I am enjoying every single minutes of it that much.

She is also probably our most out and about baby, not only because she was born in a state across the country from home, but because we bring her with us everywhere.  She started spending days on the beach when she was just a few weeks old, and you are still likely to find her poolside, or out on a walk with us, or on a daytrip, weekend trip, or jog.  People say her skin looks olive, but it's just her California baby tan, and if you ask Ben about it, he will proudly pull apart the roll on her chubby little wrist and show you how white her skin is.  

I hate to go on and on about my baby, but you guys!  Baby smiles!  Chubby wrists!  Total sweetness, I could talk about it all day.  I will accept the eye rolls.  :-)

(And I'm still lobbying for her to be called Josie!  I may be outnumbered, I'll let you know how it goes.  And for those of you who are curious, here are a few of the other kids at six months.  I see both Lily and Hugo in her!)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Camp Out

The other week we went camping with some friends, and it was a reminder of how sometimes it's worth it to just block off a weekend for something out of the ordinary.  There were burgers, and bunny sightings, and children playing around in a lake, and even a little birthday celebration for our friend's sweet (now) three year old, and mandatory smores.

The single thing that was probably the most marked for me was the fact that open space is the most perfect natural habitat for children.  There were, let's see, fourteen children, and they were all off gathering sticks or chasing each other around, or making piles of the dry earth.  And, aside from keeping an eye on all of the little ones because of all of the mountain lions in these parts (!!!), everyone was very independent and happy.  

The nights are cool, drastically so (is it because of the dry air? The breeze from the ocean?), and by the time the sun was going down, everyone was in sweaters and socks, and covered from head to toe with dust and marshmallows.  If you lined our family up, we could have been cast as a family in the dust bowl, complete with bare feet, determined faces, and many little children.  Isn't it the craziest realization that children don't need a bath in the evening for their health and well being, they're just fine sleeping a little dusty.  It feels at once rebellious and totally natural.

We happened to be out camping during a heat wave, and that meant that the days were hot.  Up in the hills, it gets dry in the summer, the tall grass that was verdant with rain in the winter are yellow and parched, and during the summer the heat can be pronounced.  We went fishing in the little lake in the afternoon, and we left woozy with the heat, happy to cool off with cold water and fruit at home.

It was a pleasant little camping trip, and I hope we have more of them in our future (and now that we have a big old family tent, I'm feeling optimistic that it might be the case!).  

Do you have any favorite camping memories?  Or any tips for camping with kids?