Camp Gramp 2018: Getting Started

As is traditional during Camp Gramp, I repurpose my mother’s updates on how the four cousins are doing as content while I vacation. I used to actually write often enough that this saved me some writing. But now I know there are ardent Camp Gramp fans out there who I swear just read my blog to get the goods from my mom!

Day 1:

Camp Gramp has officially started. It had an unusual start. People have been here for 4 days, but Brenda and Adam left for Ashland today, so it is just the two generations. We decided to go to the Morton Loggers’ Jubilee. We saw the toppers climb 80 ft in the air with the axe hanging from their belt. Then they topped the log. We saw the Hot shot chain saws, and hopefully prevented hearing damage. The two person buck saws were fast and we watched people use their axes standing on a buckboard. Parents, you will be pleased to know that each family now has a souvenir. (Editor’s Note: I’m hoping to get Adam to turn our souvenir into a table.) Let me know how you want me to ship it to you! There was a competitor from Golden Valley, MN, and one from Australia!

This evening we hope to watch “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and do the crossword puzzle. We are enjoying the new projector and the screen which is larger than it ought to be!

Thanks to the kids for joining us. It is great fun!

Day 2:
Today was the tour of the Boeing plant in Everett, Pike Place Market, and the play area at the Center, plus a short visit to Del. The kids were GREAT! Cooperative and enjoyable.

Clearly, I am failing in my picture taking. For the Boeing plant, I have an excuse. The allow no phones, even turned off and in your pocket, on the tour. That place is amazing. Largest building in the world, by volume. We were in the tunnels running the width of the building (1/3 mile wide), and on the 4th floor looking down at everything. We didn’t see many workers, but our tour guide assured us that they were there.

The rest, I was too busy enjoying to take pictures. Kay bought a poster at the market and Baz some tea. They are on per diem, so of course we ate at McDonalds. We were going to do the Space Needle, but it was so hazy that you can’t see anything. We will take them when it clears up, if it clears up.

Here are a few that I did take.

Backpacking: the Next Generation

Ready to hit the trail

As we flew into Seattle, the tip of Mt. Baker to the right pierced snowy and pristine through a sludge of atmosphere – a few pristine looking glacier piercing through air that was brown and grimy and disgusting. I’d left Boston weather in the 90s looking forward to the break the Northwest would surely give me, only to land in 95 degree dry heat in Seatac. Wednesday was a blur as all the Camp Grampers arrived, we fed everyone, we stopped to pick up some gear, and then the minute I’d finished the 8 hour journey to Mineral I hopped back in my mom’s car to head up the mountain to Longmire.

Longmire in the heat

It’s a remarkable feeling, to have woken up in Boston and yet found yourself staring up the great rift of Longmire Valley, past Rampart Ridges to the Tahoma glacier. When I walked into the ranger station to get my permit, apparently my face transmitted my depth of feeling. “Are you ok?” asked the ranger?

Back in January, I came up with this scheme. For the first time in what feels like ever, I have a little more vacation than Adam does – 3.5 weeks this year and headed to a full 4 weeks next year. Woooo! And every summer there are three main vacation options: go international (like last year), go to my folks’ house and head down to Ashland, or go to my folk’s house and go backpacking. It’s been many long years since that last option was selected. This year, Adam really wanted to go to Ashland again. But I wanted to go backpacking. Then I had a genius idea – I’d go ahead of time without Adam and go backpacking without him. So I reached out to a guide group and signed up for a guided tour – since backpacking alone is dumb and not ok. Bliss!

In June, I got word from the company that no one else signed up for the tour. Cancelled. AAAAAGH! I came up with plans B, C & D, none of which panned out. So here I was, weeks before the trip, with no plan E. My gaze strayed over at my preternaturally tall 12 year old son. You know, the one who was the right size to carry a pack. And who was the same age I was when I first went backpacking. Hmmm…. I carefully felt him out on the topic “Man, I bet you wish you were a big strong adult who could go backpacking like me!” And … he bit! He said he’d be willing to come with me! Usually willingness to hike with me is a sure sign you’ve never hiked with me before (ask Erin) but then and there we arrived at plan E. Ha!

I was careful selecting my route. My natural inclination is to pick my favorite campsites that are available and hike between them, elevation and distance be darned. Many’s the deathmarch I’ve planned for myself. But I wanted to lure Grey in more slowly – maybe even get him to like this without the use of post-hike hypnotic techniques. So colluding with the Ranger, we picked a very scenic, very satisfying, pretty short trip. We’d spend two nights (so the plan went) at Upper Crystal Lake Campground – a pretty, alpine spot only 3 miles off the road – a dead end with two campsites. Then on the second day, we’d day hike out, and hike out the third day.

My way back I meandered – using the last light of the preternaturally long day to walk the trail of shadows and breathe the fragrance of firs. I noted with some unease just how haze-obscured Mt. Rainier was, even from the depths of the park, by the smoke. But hey, it beat the heck out of rain, right?

The next morning Grey and I set out at the crack of noon from the trailhead. His first discovery was how amazing water tastes when pulled fresh from a mountain stream, as we refreshed the water we’d brought with us. And oh, it does taste so very good.

Traditional trailhead photo

We were about a mile up the trail (and by up I mean *UP*) when I realized that my carefully procured, conscientiously updated permit was, uh, back down in the car. I ditched my kid and my backpack and headed back down. And then back up again. Did I mention it was 95 degrees? There was a little bit of observational despair when my son learned that we were taking switchbacks ALL the way up the mountain (I’ve gotten smarter in my old age and no longer point out the distant high peak where I suspect we’ll be stopping), but we got past that and the conversation flowed.

And my, Upper Crystal Lake is a beautiful, beautiful place.

Near where we got our water

We set up camp. We napped. We read our books. We made dinner. (Hiking with a 12 year old sure changes how much food you go through a day!) He taught me how to play spit and Texas Hold’em. I proceeded to get two straight royal flushes and completely wipe him out of hard candy not once, but twice. We fell asleep that night, rain fly off our tent, gazing up at the stars. Before I took my glasses off and roll over, I got to see our tent overflown by the long, silent wings of an owl.

The second morning dawned just as hot. It had cooled off somewhat over night, but we hadn’t slept so much well as long and by the time the sun cleared the mountain walls, the temperature was rising again. There was little shade in the valley, and much bugs. I’d cultivated a blister. And the news from the boots making their way up the valley was that while the mountain – not 20 miles away from us – was currently entirely covered by haze, a cooling, cleansing rain was on its way to the mountains the next day. I prefer to experience my cooling, cleansing rains from indoors, when possible.

It looked like an infinity lake

We took a walk around the lake proper, stopping as is traditional every five minutes to take another picture.

I saw no fish to eat the plentiful bugs

Then we broke up camp and headed back down. And as we got to the bottom, Grey insisted we fill up from that self-same delicious stream to take the water home with us – a precious commodity. And I knew that I’d hooked him.

Backpacking buddy – getting the coldest, fastest water from a mountain stream

You can see all my pictures here!

Teenage Angst at Parties: A How-To Guide run by the Son

We entertain and are entertained pretty often. Grey has had a lot of experience at parties where he is not the primary focus of attention. Following a few parties in which Grey behaved impeccably and carried on some very reputable conversations with adults, he asked to do a guest-blog on my post. The following is his advice to his peers about how to survive social situations “elderly guardians” such as myself inflict upon suffering teens.

Parents/Guardians, call your teens over to read this then vacate the area.

We know what happens. A baby-shower, a office party, a retirement, it’s time for a get together. You go, and you stand around sipping your soda while trying to seem interested in the conversation, after the pause in it you try and add a few words. You get some head nods from condescending adults trying to be nice, and you slowly walk away. You sit down, back-rigid, and pick at your health food while eavesdropping on what’s happening with so-and-so, and who-and-who is having a fight with this-and-this. Some elderly (aka anyone over 30) come over and squeal the typical, “Do you remember me? From that office party like a insert years equal to infinity in teen-time years”, “I remember when you were this tall! *levels hand about waist height*” and the ever so common, “Oh you’ve grown so tall!”.

You. Are. Bored. This is how to fix it, or just barely pacify it.

1. Grab your phone/Ipod/Mp3/etc and listen to music.
This is pretty obvious, but if you grab your music player and make it very obvious that you are listening to music, people will often come over to inquire what you are listening to (Very Important! Make sure it is not rap! Elderly and sometimes even younger couples will not understand or not care!). When you are asked, make sure you gush about it and ask them what music they like. The conversation will probably progress from there.

2. Stick near your guardian.
I know, I know. This sounds terrible, and not very fun, but it has it’s upsides. If you are cynical, sarcastic, or just plain witty, you can usually crack a few jokes and make yourself entertained with whomever your guardian is speaking to. Remember, keep the topic on whatever you are terrible at or amazing at if you are talking about yourself. This will usually open up a few dad jokes, and then progress on. Yes, you will get the elderly woman treatment, but at least you can keep talking about yourself.
Example topics about yourself: Your height, your grades, your skill in ______ sport/s, etc.

3. Bring gags.
Disclosure, not recommended if you are going to a formal party, or if your guardian thinks it’ll be inappropriate.
Bringing gags livens up a party, makes it more casual, and people will usually congratulate you and make it less conformist for you if you do it right. Do not bring any old age gags, inappropriate gags, or gen-z/millennial gags, because these gags will not appeal to a wide audience and could possibly get you in trouble. Remember, everything is key. The performance, the tone, and the audience. For example, I can do a decent Batman voice, so I can bring a Batman mask. This fits in the three categories: Performance: Decent; Tone: Funny and cool; and Audience: Batman has been around since 1939 and has been featured in America, which fits Baby Boomers, Millennial, and Gen-Z Kids. Example of what not to bring: A “Hi, Welcome to Chili’s” vine T-Shirt (They exist, trust me). Performance: Sly (Not great); Tone: Giggly but stupid; Audience: Gen-Z kids, and very late Millennials. This couldn’t appeal to Baby Boomers because they think a vine is something grapes grow on and in an office party, Baby Boomers are most of the people you’ll find. This fits into only one category, tone, and just barely. Not great to bring.

4. Be nice.
It’s annoying and tiring, I get it. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. People will like you better, you’ll leave a good (first, second, third) impression, and you will have more leeway if you do.

So finally, If I’ve missed anything, yell at me on Instagram (@cynicalgrey) or at school next school year. Goodbye, farewell, and amen that I don’t have to go to any parent parties anytime soon.

We Come Back Changed

Camp Wilmot was awesome for the kids. I picked them up too early on Saturday morning, and got great big hugs. They missed me (after two and three weeks, one would hope so), but they loved where they were and who they were there with. As we headed towards home, Grey said he didn’t know what he wanted more: to stay or to return home. Alas for him, there was no choice. It was time to go home.

Our communication with our kids while they were gone was… sparse. We got one dictated email and two letters. The letters arrived on the same day and spoke to the inability to find stamps. (Headdesk) Thane’s were loving, but low on news not related to the inability to find his stamps. Grey’s said he missed us, gave us a laundry list of stuff he wanted, and then told us he was experimenting with vegetarianism during camp. Given that the camp chef (Anthony) has a version of BBQ chicken that causes both children to wax rhapsodic, this seemed like a short-lived but great idea in the first week of camp. But when I picked him up at the end of week 3, he very politely and cooperatively let me know that he’d like to continue eating vegetarian (pescatarian, actually).

He said it was pretty easy, at camp. There was always a vegetarian option, and he ate that one. He said that sometimes he didn’t like it very well but he ate it anyway because he was hungry and it was food. That amazing concept is one greatly needed in our world!

Adam made bacon today, and Grey didn’t eat any. This is serious.

I’m fully supportive. At a few months shy of 13, this is a great age to experiment with different way of being. It’s an excellent time to explore intersections of identity, sacrifice, values & choices. I’ve let him know that he’s not allowed to become a pastatarian (a version of vegetarianism I saw often in college where the vegetarian in question ate few vegetables and many carbs). But he’s been eating salads lately. When you cut out one whole food group, you need to be open minded towards the others. I’d love for him to discover the many great foods available in our modern world which do not hinge upon meat. This is an experiment for all of us – no shame if he lets it run it’s course or decides it’s not the right road or the forever road for him.

That’s the most of the visible of the changes, but there are others as well. Both kids seem more thoughtful about what matters, and careful with the thoughts and feelings of others. They’ve slowed down, detoxed from screens, gotten great base tans and made new friends. They’ve exercised their moral muscles. They are changed, grown, matured. They are a step closer to being the people they will become, and I’m really impressed and pleased with who they are. And even though the house stayed really clean while they were gone, I’m glad to have them back.

Now that Grey’s on this health food kick, he’s gotten serious in the kitchen too. He and a friend fantasized about this cake for days, and then they got together and made it happen. This is a quad layer cake with vanilla frosting AND icing. It’s got crushed pop-tarts and chocolate bars. But it has strawberries, which makes it healthy, right? Right? And heck – it’s vegetarian.

Diabetes on a plate

A lethal serving is about 1/2 in wide slice…

The chefs

All around the mulberry bush

A few years ago, I took a walk in my neighborhood and found this strange tree. It was growing what looked like blackberries – only a bit skinnier and thornless. I, of course, did not eat a strange plant randomly growing by the side of the road. But not too much later, I got my copy of my much-thumbed, much-beloved foraging book. Reading through my book, in the cold winter nights, and contemplating how I could possibly make up flash cards to teach myself the identifications, one of the entries flashed past my eyes with recognition. “If I hear someone say they found a blackberry tree, I know it’s a mulberry”.

Huh. A mulberry.

Like so many people, my full experience of mulberries involves a monkey and weasel, engaged in not-too-good-natured athletics. But that had led me to expect a bush. This was a tree, half crowded over with invasive vines and taller trees. But half in and half out of the shade, it drops its bounty onto the sidewalk.

I had a hunch that it was about ripe, this time of year. And so I walked down with Thane to check it out. And lo, there were mulberries. I tasted one. It was delicious. I shared one with Thane. He liked it too. We came back with a sheet and two big paper bags.

The foragers
Mulberries don’t all ripen at the same time
Not all the mulberries were easy to reach
Berry stained hands
The bounty
Next generation of jam makers

Thane and I had a lovely time gathering the berries. There was a bit of climbing involved. I tried the recommended trick of shaking onto a sheet, but it didn’t work. We had very hard rains last night – I wonder if they knocked all the ripest ones down ahead of time.

Once Thane and I got (most) of them home. They’re pretty tasty. There wasn’t really enough for a pie, or a batch of jam. But I decided the opportunity was too critical to let pass, and I decided to make *half* a batch of jam, using a “berry” recipe from one of my books. It worked. Thane now filled with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and the new but fervent belief that his favorite berries are mulberries.

To the victor, the spoils

Leaving behind the rough

This weekend, we got kicked out of our house. Something about it being a formaldehyde-filled death trap. We have finally gotten to the phase of the attic project where the windows are in, the wiring is done, the plumbing is roughed and the walls are where the walls are going to be. So it was time to insulate the attic for the first time in its 120 year old life. As long as you have the walls and ceiling down to studs, it’s a great opportunity to do it right – floorboards to roofline. But you can’t be in the house for 24 hours after they finish (the off gassing can be dangerous). And it took them two *full* days to do our attic – they still need to clean up & do the fireproof spray paint, despite working from 7 – 6 for two days.

During this period, I’d been planning on getting hotel. It’s a bit annoying to get a hotel in your neighborhood (and expensive when that neighborhood happens to be Boston!) Plus with my folks here, I’d definitely need to get two rooms. But when I was complaining to a neighbor, she generously offered us the use of her house while they were on vacation! It was fantastic, although super weird to come home to your street, park your car in your driveway, and then not go home.

We’re three months into the project. It started in early April, and now it’s nearly July. Despite pretty consistent work, I feel like we’re about halfway there. But perhaps we’re at the beginning of the end? And maybe someday soon my bathtub will no longer be on my front porch? That seems like an impossibility. I really do miss my quiet spaces – both the attic as it was and the porch as it was. I’m also tired of my house being a constant mess. I blame that less on construction than kids. When they leave for summer camp, Imma gonna clean this place thoroughly and enjoy the rare sensation of having it stay – mostly – clean.

MJ Clothing in Lowell

We had a lovely weekend. I loved having my mom and dad here. They took the kids off to Great Wolf Lodge for one of the days of this weekend, letting Adam and I have a lovely evening full of a run & a dinner at the Stones. We watched a lot of World Cup, both with and without the kids. I wish I could take a day off and just watch all the matches! Alas, work is very busy. My mom and I went to an African clothing shop run by a friend of mine (MJ Clothing) and I got to help her pick out an African outfit that is going to be tailored for her. When the new shipment of fabrics comes in, I think I’ll get an outfit for me too!

We finished off that fantastic day at a friends house celebrating the start of summer with a BBQ that somehow ended up with Rock Band – the way the best of parties do.

One of my favorite pictures of our pastor emeritus

Today was a pretty special day, too. It was the Pastor Emeritus service for our beloved pastor of 36 years. I really enjoyed getting to sing in the choir today for the celebration. And it was such a joy to get to show off all our progress to the folks who helped set us on the path.

So what’s up with you?