Fifteen years


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Fifteen years ago today I woke up as Brenda Johnstone for the last time. It was a bright, clear August day in Washington State when I exchanged vows in a tiny white church with my beloved. The whole congregation was there. My family was in force. His family had a long way to travel, but came too. Some intrepid college friends made the transcontinental journey.

Man and wife.

I remember that a big beetle got caught in the lace of my mother’s wedding dress. My left knee shook through the whole service. Adam wouldn’t stop mouthing “I love you”. My brother forgot a verse of the Wedding Song (a faux pas he’ll never be allowed to forget). I insisted on Wagner’s version of Lohengrin’s Bridal March for the processional and Medelssohn’s proper recessional. But we did not have live music. We used the same version of the wedding vows my parents had used – and have claimed ever since that “I slipped Elden a $20 to add ____ to the vows.” (Usually “entertain me”) (Elden’s integrity and incorruptibility is what make that so funny.) At the buffet reception there was chocolate cake, Martinelli’s sparkling cider (it was a dry wedding) and an espresso van.

That night I fell asleep in a bug-ridden nearby bed and breakfast as Brenda Flynn, for the first time.

The college crowd

Fifteen years is a long time. If you’re thinking “I didn’t think Brenda was that old!” Well. I was 21 on that bright August day. Fifteen years, three homes, two children. Fifteen years also marks the length of time we’ve been playing once a week with the same gamers, and how long we’ve been members of our church. These are not coincidental numbers. That day fifteen years ago marks not only the beginning of my married life, but my adult life. It’s been a wonderful, joyful fifteen years.

If I had it all to do over again, I would joyfully do so.

Still newlyweds

Why I shouldn’t take vacations


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Adam and I were in the car on the long ride up to Canada. (As an aside, Thane is begging to go to Canada for his birthday “just like you and dad did”.) As so often happens when I finally relax and momentarily get off the hamster wheel of my daily life, I started to think. This is a mistake. Because given a good night’s sleep and no immediately pressing pending tasks, I start inventing things we’ll do when I get back. I have some sort of amnesia about how little time I have (especially during the fall).

For your entertainment, here are a few things that I came up with for us to do in that languid week on the Bay of Fundy:

1) Redo the living room
We spent a lot of time talking about what we’ll do with our house. It was built in 1898, and the last major renovation was in the 1970s. That ’70s renovation was… not good. These were not choices I’m glad they made (although it probably kept the house affordable for us). Specifically, almost every room in the first two floors has a drop ceiling and cheap wood paneling. We ripped it out of Thane’s room – a project that Adam took two full weeks (between jobs). We have a Google doc full of all the projects we’d LIKE to do. (The stupid windows. I can’t figure out what we should do. We got three contractors in and they each recommended something different, with estimates between 7k and 20k. So I’m doing the mature thing and ignoring it for another year. Also, I think next year we will put the second full bathroom in the attic and turn it into a master suite.)

But somehow we landed on the brilliant idea that we would renovate the dining room. (I think that is mostly because one of our gamers has a commitment that will make gaming hard for several weeks, so it’s an opportune time.) It sounds simple – we’ll pull down the drop ceiling and the wood paneling (which, in a brilliant design decision doesn’t run all the way to the real ceiling because it was put up the same time as the drop ceiling. We’ll re-drywall the ceiling (or a tin ceiling?! maybe with crown molding?) and walls (there’s likely horsehair plaster back there, and its unlikely to be in good condition). We’ll put the trim back on, prime and paint, and voila! Beautiful dining room! Of course, this involves moving all the furniture in the room, which includes the heaviest stuff in the whole house. (To … somewhere else….) And likely weeks of double shifts for Adam. And we’re not sure how we’ll handle the curves in the archways. But it’ll be great!

2) Invite my brother to come live with us for a while
My brother is wrapping up his current church contract in Denver. While he’s working on discerning his next call, we’re looking forward to having him here for a while. He’s wisely planned his schedule so he should be here shortly after we finish getting the dining room redone. I can’t wait to see him again!

3) Decide once and for all if my children need a piano
We inherited a piano from Adam’s grandmother. I play piano, poorly. But given a choice, I’d rather plan trumpet mediocrely, or guitar poorly. Heck, I might even prefer to play cornetto abysmally. For a long time we hung on to it in that fond hope that one of our sons might be musically inclined. Those sons are now 9 and 6 and it’s put up or play wind instruments time. So I’m thinking of trying a 4 week piano lesson for each of them. At the conclusion of those 4 weeks, we’ll either have a kid who seems actually interested in practicing music, or we’ll get rid of the piano.

4) Chair a church committee
OK, this wasn’t actually a vacation decision, but it did kick off this week. My church is getting ready to do our mission study in preparation for discerning who we are, what God is calling us to do, and who the neighbor is that we should be loving. I’ll be part of that discernment process. I’ve taken a few years off church committees, and this marks my dive back in.

There are a few more things, but those are the high points. I am looking ahead to fall – the busiest time of my year – and trying to figure out what I can do RIGHT NOW in order to save myself having to do it in September/October!

What brilliant ideas did you come up with on your vacation?

Camp Gramp: the journey home


Mom and dad finally made it to their own beloved bed last night!

It is a good 24 hours when you score 3 magnets! 3 of them!

Bad Lands — we have been there before, but never done the loop drive. Well worth the time. We then went to our hotel, got dinner, and went back to the park. I hiked a little bit, then we sat in the car and watched the stars come out. We think the howling was coyotes! It was awesome.

The hotel was not. I didn’t even know they still had smoking rooms. Tonight I put on my PJ tops and then took them off. They smell like smoke! It was in Wall, SD — the last week in July. For the unknowledgeable, don’t go there in the end of July or the beginning of August. Sturgis!

This morning was Mount Rushmore. My oh my! They have really done a good job of crowd management, but 20,000+ visitors a DAY. It was crowded. We saw the mountain, Watched the movie, visited the museum, they bought the magnet in the world’s largest tourist trap shop!

Then on to Wind Cave. It was the 7th national park and we hadn’t heard of it. I took the cave tour in front of a man from France. A fellow tourist was narrating the whole thing for him is great French. That was fun to listen to. When I grow up, I am not going to explore caves! Then, we bought the magnet!

It was an eye candy day. Wyoming is really beautiful. We had a lovely time.

We are in Billings. We hope to wander a little in Montana tomorrow, and make it home sometime Friday. I don’t know what the odds are that this is our last night out. You know, the horse to the stable syndrome! It has been a fabulous month!

The Bay of Fundy


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While my parents and children were off exploring colonial America (and being Very Hot in the process), Adam and I took an alternate track and went up North to the Bay of Fundy.

I struggled quite a bit with what to do this vacation. I knew it would be happening, as it’s a crying shame not to go on vacation with your spouse when your parents are taking your children for a week. For a while I dabbled with the South of France, but after a very lovely month off and tropical island vacation between jobs, that seemed a touch financially irresponsible. (Tragically. Still saving it for next time.) So then I figured we’d go camping in Canada. You know – like the White Mountains only with Tim Hortons. I did not very much research, no prebooking, and very little planning. I knew I wanted to see the Joggins Cliffs. I knew the Bay of Fundy was internationally renowned for have the world’s largest tidal differences. I knew it was a Dark Sky preserve. And I knew it was in Canada. On this vast wealth of knowledge we went on vacation.

On Friday we went to a very swank French restaurant in Boston (the meal there may have cost us as much as the rest of the week put together) and walked across a glowing Boston back to where my car was parked at my office in Cambridge. Then Saturday we packed and headed north. The first night we spent in Bangor (which might be the first time I’ve ever used rewards miles for anything). The second day, we listened to podcasts and hit the Bay of Fundy National Park. We went to the middle of nowhere, took a right, and drove for another hour on mosquito-ridden roads to get to Point Wolfe Campground. I’d picked it because it seemed rural, tent-focused, and was right near the bay we’d come so far to see.

It wasn't bad when we were by ourselves, but a bit crowded when four other families were there.

You are seeing four campsites in this picture.

It was also, it turns out, crammed cheek-to-jowl and lit with obnoxious street lights. (Which seriously – National Park in a dark sky reserve with street lights?!?! What are you thinking, people?!) The sites were also often too small for us to pitch our (granted – enormous) tent on. We picked the least bad site and thought dark thoughts about switching campgrounds, although we were too lazy.

We thought it looked like Venus, or some other planet.

We thought it looked like Venus, or some other planet.

That first night we came in was beyond foggy. We kept driving past these viewpoints that claimed to be veiwpoints that were really fog-points. It started raining almost as soon as we entered Canada, and not a day on vacation was without its precipitation. But that first night was the foggiest. We went down the trail in the dying light to the Wolfe Point beach. We walked and walked on slick rocks and red clay and never found the ocean – it was too far out. Our shoes and pants were covered nearly to the knee in the reddest of clay. It was otherworldly in the mist, as we could not even hear the sound of waves and mountains appeared and disappeared to our right and left. As we slept that night, raindrops fell on our head through the thin cover of our tent-sides.

Rocks in the fog

Rocks in the fog

On Monday we went to Cape Enrage. With the timing that evinced my careful preparation and thought, we were there at high tide (which meant we couldn’t see very much). We opted not to do the zip line or rappelling, but we spent a long time sorting through rocks finding all manner of 320 million year old fossils. We thoroughly enjoyed the treasure hunt of finding the fossils. In fact, so much of my photography of this journey was fossil-related I have an entire album of fossils from Cape Enrage and Joggins Cliffs (penultimate day) which you can see here. We also got some dulse. Gamers beware.

Adam examines the cliff faces at Cape Enrage

Adam examines the cliff faces at Cape Enrage

It should be noted that someone (who would that be?) quite literally did not think for a minute about the well known fact that our cell coverage does not extend to Canada. We grabbed 15 minutes of wifi a day by parking outside of the National Park headquarters, and once or twice dining in establishments that offered free wifi. We navigated with actual paper maps and brochures. How very odd it was!

I handed the camera to Adam

Me, sea kayaking in the Bay of Fundy

Tuesday we went sea kayaking. Given that we’d come so far to see these cliffs and tides, this seemed like the thing to do. Fun fact: sea kayaking is quite a workout! We didn’t turn over (there are hardly any waves that we witnessed in the Bay of Fundy, although we saw dolphins twice). We did manage to keep up with all the appallingly energetic Quebecois couples with their teeny French-speaking children who went on the tour with us. Mostly. It was a really lovely trip on what we were assured was a “beautiful warm” day on the Bay of Fundy. By which they mean light rain and mid-60s. Man, those are some muscles I don’t use often. But it was a lot of fun!

The tilted strata were so very clear. Apparently further down the coast than we could go with the tides stand 320 million year old trees where they first grew.

The tilted strata were so very clear. Apparently further down the coast than we could go with the tides stand 320 million year old trees where they first grew.

Wednesday I thought far enough ahead to plan for a day that involved a lot of sitting. It also involved thunder as we drove through Moncton. We arrived at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs after a long drive and several outlandish theories about Nova Scotia (supported by too few data points – eg “Nova Scotia is primarily inhabited by cows”).

So here’s the thing about your Bay of Fundy vacation.
1) Be prepared for it to be cold, even during a heat wave in Boston in mid summer.
2) Be prepared for it to be soggy. See also #1.
3) Plan your trip around the tides.

This was my favorite of the fossils we found, with shells embedded throughout it.

This was my favorite of the fossils we found, with shells embedded throughout it.

But in this case, I tragically did not calculate the tides. One great thing I got out of this was a clearer understanding of how tides world. They go low to high every 6 hours and 18 minutes – based on where the moon is as the earth turns plus the fact that the moon is also in motion (that’s the 18 minutes). We got to Joggins 2 hours before high tide, just as the water was getting high enough to prevent us from getting to the coolest stuff. And four hours before it would be any lower than it was that very moment (at 3 pm, a 3 hour drive from our tent). We hunted the shore for neat fossils and found very many indeed – but I was really sad that we’d come so far in order to NOT see the famed standing trees which have stood where they took root for well over 300 million years. Trees that helped Darwin understand evolution. And they remained past a spit of land that the high tide kept from us. So close!

That night, for the first time, we truly enjoyed the dark skies afforded us by being 100 miles from the nearest Starbucks. The Milky Way was as clear as though it was painted across the sky. The stars were close, glorious, beguiling, beloved. We stayed out, necks crooked, enjoying the brilliance of the archaic night sky.

It's quite literally a beach of priceless fossils, where at any moment a rock might fall and our understanding of early life on earth might change.

It’s quite literally a beach of priceless fossils, where at any moment a rock might fall and our understanding of early life on earth might change.

By this time, we’d pretty much exhausted the entertainment options within a 2 mile drive. I mean, there were hiking trails. And, um, er… the Hopewell Rocks. We didn’t see those. It was a beautiful, lovely, restful place. But the combination of an inhospitable campground and not much else to do encouraged us to go home a wee bit earlier than originally planned. On Thursday, we awoke to a novelty. Sunshine.

Point Wolfe, at near low tide

Point Wolfe, at near low tide

We grabbed the advantage to go on a hike. Now, Adam was nervous because the hike said “difficult”. When you take a “difficult” hike in the White Mountains (or even a “moderate”) you’re well advised to name your next-of-kin and carry a body brace in for the very likely event you break a leg falling off a cliff after being struck by lightening. I trusted this was more a “difficult” hike the way every other place I’ve been rated difficult and my confidence was rewarded. We hiked up these rain-forest hills along a bluff and to a spectacular lookout of the Bay. It looks almost cheery in the sunshine!

LOOK! We even vacationed together!

LOOK! We even vacationed together!

Then we crawled in the car and began the 10 hour drive home.

It was a good vacation. It was restful. It opened the clogged arteries of the soul. We had a really good time being together, as we so often do. I crossed off a few bucket list items: sea kayaking, Joggins Cliffs, dulse, dragging my husband to Canada. But it was not a transcendently wonderful vacation in the way the Wonderland Trail, Istanbul, or even Ashland have been.

Next time, I do more research.

I did take many pictures!

1) Pictures of us hitting the beach before Camp Gramp kicked off
2) Pictures of our time in New Brunswick (with narrative comments)
3) Many many pictures of the cool fossils we found (and left behind)

Camp Gramp: A farewell to moms

My folks pulled out of Boston early this morning, heading towards Minnesota. Once they get headed homeward, they find it harder and harder to stop!

Boston! Here is the Camp Gramp report.

I am no journalist. Pictures are few and far between. We were too busy having fun! I will use that excuse anyway. There will be a few to publish, when I get a cord for my camera. It is at home on my computer.

I lost two towels. Sorry Brenda. I think one of them is at the pool at Yogi Bear. The other, who knows.

Movie evening is Jurassic Park. No wonder everyone found that terrifying. It is the music, I am sure! Scary movies require much popcorn. Poor floor.

Brenda and Adam are tired of rain and cold (there is no justice), so they are coming home tonight! It will be good to see them.

This was a great Camp Gramp. The children were wonderful. We are looking forward to coming back sometime when it is not lobster season and spending a lot more time in history land! 

Camp Gramp: flashback to the summer of ’82


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I remember that roadtrip, but I don’t remember Jellystone! I do remember the profound disappointment in Chicago.

Summer of 1982, we left Georgia with all our worldly goods packed in a mid sized U-Haul trailer and our camping gear loaded in the unnamed blue station wagon. Heidi and Brenda were in the back. We bought them a ream of paper and crayons and decided to muck out the car when we got to Washington. It was a great trip. The girls were really looking forward to Chicago. They had spent the year watching cartoons and listening to “Kids in Chicago are having a good time, they’re all watching, Chanel 9.” Heidi and Brenda could hardly wait to get to Chicago and join the kids there — great time. Chicago was a monumental traffic jam. One the freeway, we were passed by a man on a bicycle! So much for that.

But in Wisconsin we stopped at the Yogi Bear Campground. I don’t remember much about it, just that the girls loved it. There was play equipment and stuff for kids to do! We pitched our tent a little early and let the girls play.

Perhaps that is why we pulled off a little early on Tuesday night, our last night to camp, at a Yogi Bear Campground. After the military’s $25 camp sites, it was a bit of a shock, but the stuff to do — my oh my. There was a water park style swimming area, goofy golf, gaga ball court, laser tag, and a campfire pit. Obviously families come there for the week and stay in camp. Daddy rented a golf cart so he was really mobile. It was a nice stop.

We had spent the middle of that day at Monticello. Lovely. What an amazing view! It used to take 3 hours by carriage to make it up there. What an amazing house. We thought the tour was one of the best we had. We would like to go back with more time.

Read here, we would like to go back to almost everything with more time. We think Yorktown alone is worth 2 days. They have amazing driving tours there, but it was getting dark and the rain was threatening. It bucketed on our way back. Williamsburg is worth a multi-day pass also. Sadly, it was so hot we didn’t even get a whole day.

Wednesday was a driving day. The kids were amazing. They did role playing activities for most of the time in the van. They read and talked and played on their DSs. They were cranky that they couldn’t have their computers out when we drove, but sometimes I needed to stop fast, and then things flew. Un-anchored computers seemed like a bad idea. What wonderful children. They were just awesome!

Tomorrow is muck out the RV day — and return it washed and starched. Then there is laundry, etc. Baz bought a Wii game which the children didn’t get to play due to a lack of a monitor and a power cable. We will try to remedy that problem. And there will be some vegging.

We are very lucky grandparents. We have awesome grandchildren!

Tonight, we are in the Flynn household. It looked to clean when we walked in, I am feeling a little guilty, but not a lot! I sent the kids up to bed about 10:15 — after a bedtime snack of grapes. When I went up about 10:55, Grey and Thane were both awake and reading.

And now, I think I may be able to go to sleep.

Camp Gramp – the beginning of the end


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In half an hour Adam and I will be kayaking in the high tides of the Bay of Fundy. Through sheer chance, here on my third day, I’ve come to realize we’re an hour ahead of my watch. This is good to find out BEFORE I’m late! It’s hard to believe mom and dad are so meltingly hot when we have yet to see temperatures above the mid 60s here.

It is a sad day when you don’t learn anything. Today we learned something. Do NOT come to Virginia in July! Oh the hotness. It was only 92, but the heat index was up on the 110 range.

Colonial Williamsburg is wonderful. The houses are amazing. The staff is such fun. They really so well with their roles. They have a spy challenge for all who want to be spies. Kay, Grey, and Thane joined me in the spy game. We had ciphers, clues, loyalists, secret passwords, the whole 9 yards. Unfortunately, we were all beet red with heat and didn’t get the whole thing finished. I was really pleased with how the kids worked on it.

It was also a comedy of errors with uncharged cell phones, etc. Papapa just couldn’t handle the heat and I was thankful to be out of the heat. I think even the intrepid children had had it. They didn’t complain when we had to bail. We came back to the camp and booted up the air conditioner. We had dessert first (you can do that at Camp Gramp) ice cream, then waited until about 8:00 p.m. when I was willing to go out and grill the hamburgers. They were really good. Everyone went to take a shower. Whether everyone took a shower or not remains a topic for debate. Let’s just say that one of the towels came back dry. (We tried, didn’t we).

Now the crew is supposed to be settling down. We will see. We have decided to go home on 81. It is a little ways out of the way, but has the advantage of mostly ruralness. I do aspire to get this thing home in one piece. It is possible we will be in Thursday night. I hope the Flynns won’t mind if we park at their house. Then the Wii game can get its outing. According to Google, we are only just over 9 hours from home. We don’t believe it! Why did it take us three days to get here?

The kids have done an extraordinary job so far. We had our first little melt down tonight and it was so well handled. They are learning to take care of themselves.

I am sitting on the floor of the RV waiting for Don to return so I can take my shower. I can hardly wait. The showers rooms are really cool!

Ah, the patter of little feet. “Gramama, somewhere in the middle of my chest there is a needle and it is exploding.” Editor’s note: That’s Grey’s latest thing. I wonder what’s up with it?! I think we need to sleep!

What a lucky grandmother I am!

Camp Gramp Sunday



We have found wifi in a local little cafe, after a visit to 325 million years ago in the fossil cliffs near Cape Enrage. With that access, I bring you the latest missive from Camp Gramp!

Sunday. We did our own Sunday school. The church down the road was quarter something Baptist and we were not appropriately dressed. Don didn’t bring his black suit, shoes, and tie. About 1 p.m., we did the brave thing. We went to water world.

First, 3/4 of the world was there. Maybe 10,000 people. It was soooo crowded! I consider it a victory worthy of the vicinity of Yorktown. We arrived and left with 4 children, and they were the same ones! Baz likes the wave pool, and the water slides. Kay does not like the wave pool, or the water slides. Grey likes everything. Thane double likes everything that isn’t too baby for him. Actually, the three younger ones spent 90 minutes or so in the lazy river. They had a great time. They don’t look too red — except for Thane’s eyes. He loves to put his head under water and leap up. Clearly, he doesn’t close them.

When we got finished, we headed to Red Robin (thanks, Baz, for navigating). It is so quiet in the RV now, you wouldn’t believe it. Tiredest of the campers is Papapa.

Now we just have to decide which of the children to sell to pay off the debt. Thanks to the military for lovely discounts, in addition to a great place to stay.

This camp has huge shower/restrooms. They air condition them to truly cold.

Tomorrow, Colonial Williamsburg. We are excited. Then we turn our heads home! The kids are doing an amazing job of getting along. Grey and Kay are especially enjoying make believe games. 

Camp Gramp: the hot days


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Here’s the latest update from my mom Camp Gramp!

(exclamation inappropriate to a pastor) it is hot. Hot! Hot! Hot! Even the locals are complaining. I gave a lady my place in line at the grocery store just to stay in the cool longer.

This morning was Jamestown — at one end of the Colonial Parkway. We are about a mile from the entrance, so no problem, except perhaps the vast quantity of low arch bridges which are not marked — to mention the 300′ long tunnel which I drove in the middle of and prayed for no oncoming traffic.

We went to the the visitor’s center, then out across the intriguingly named tar swamp bridge to the site of the original fort. Did I mention it was hot? We sat in the shade and fanned ourselves, discussing the wisdom of going to Yorktown, at the other end of the Colonial Parkway (see the bridges) in the heat of the afternoon. We ate lunch in the parking lot, thanking the wisdom of the Cruise America people who make it possible to boot the generator and use the air conditioner. Then we made the wise choice. Don and the children went to Minions and I went grocery shopping. Is Grey growing or something? He is hungry all the time. He was hungry 45 minutes after dinner tonight.

The evening was devoted to Yorktown. They have a lovely driving tour — did I mention the 33′ vehicle? As we started the tour the storm was about 30 miles away. As we finished, it broke over our little heads. What an interesting noise the rain makes on the roof of the RV. Carolyn says it keeps her awake.

FUNNIEST MOMENT OF THE DAY. We were driving on the Colonial Parkway and the newly literate Thane shouted, “Grandmama, it says No Passing!” Well, yes, it does say “No Passing.” But it doesn’t exactly mean we can’t pass the sign right now. He read the road signs most of the trip tonight. He also did an excellent job on one of the interpretive signs. That boy is a reader.

The children are enjoying playing imagination games together. Don and I are lost in the midst of imaginary animals and shields, but the cousins are really enjoying themselves!

I am currently suffering the fate of women everywhere, I am doing the laundry. I have been here about 90 minutes and not a single man has darkened the door. Hmmm..

Tomorrow that fine historical landmark, the water park. Wish us luck


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