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!

Destroying your house for fun and profit

So the attic project has begun in earnest. It’s a very strange feeling when you leave the house with your attic entirely habitable – the way it was when I first started writing the offer in my head as I walked up those attic stairs for the first time. Then when you come back, the dumpster is half full and the rooms are, in fact, no longer habitable.

Every week night since April 5th we’ve gone up to our attic to watch the progress of the demolition. Walls have come down. Ceilings. Floors have been uncovered and removed. New doors, hidden behind drywall and paint, have been exposed halfway through narrow crawl-spaces. The weird & alien corpse of a HAM radio antenna peaked out from between eaves. Long-hidden girlie mags from the ’50s have seen the light of day for the first time in sixty years. Mysteriously, an abandoned nest was found shocking far into the infrastucture of the house – next to the only inadequate heat vent on the floor.

Having the work done on the third floor has been nice in that it’s not too disruptive to daily life. Other than the gigantic dumpster in the driveway (the envy of the neighborhood), there’s little impact on the rest of the house. The poor cats are getting to spend quality time in the basement during the day. (I feel heartless, moving them from their optimally warm and cushy day time nap locations to the cold cold basement.)

Adam and I have done much of the work to prepare. The selection of tiles feels like a great personal accomplishment. I am granted many gifts in life – taste is not primary among them.

I’m extremely proud of myself that for ONCE I did a good job of taking “before” pictures of the project – possibly due to the 3 or so months that it would be starting “soon”. If you’d like to follow the photographic progress of the project, keep your eyes on this album!

Parenting without kids

Ready to go!

On Saturday, I drove the familiar route to Logan airport. I go there all the time. I pick up visitors. I travel for work, or for fun. It’s a rare month that I don’t mentally try to figure out whether I want arrivals or departures. (Well, I’m arriving at the airport, but departing later, and oh I’m parking and is it Terminal B?) This time, though, I had Thane with me. And only one suitcase. We did all the line-standing together, and all too soon he was heading down the gangway with a veritable pack of unaccompanied minors. I sat in the warm sun with a collection of other parents sending their kids to Seattle for the April vacation week, talking about parenting, the difference between Seattle & Boston, and the independence of our children.

My gigantic eldest son

I did not leave the airport after the last glint of wing had fled the glooming sky. I stood unmoored in the center of the vast high ceilings of Concourse D – eyes on the escalators. Not much later, Adam and Grey showed up. Grey is getting so old and tall and big. He was not much for sentimentality in the eyes of the watching public, so a quick hug later I went to retrieve my car. I came home to an empty house and strapped on my shoes for a run before the weather turned bitter. (Good news – I ran the whole way. Bad news – my pace is terrible. Unsurprising news – my legs are SO SORE today!)

Adam came home not long after, and we cleaned the house, marveling that it might actually _stay clean_ for a WHOLE WEEK! The kids are off with different grandparents (Thane is with my folks, Grey is with Adam’s mom) for the April vacation week, and we are… on our own.

I write great blog posts in my head while I run. The success rate of actually getting them down on paper is rather less than 100% though. During that run, I thought about how hard it is to know whether you’re doing a good job parenting. So much of who and how your kids are is up to them. That gets even more true the older they grow. I found myself wishing that we were as thoughtful and organized about setting goals and seeing if we were meeting them in parenting as we are in, say, work. What would my objectives for parenting look like right now? Long term? How would my performance be rated?

One of my greatest objectives as a parent is to raise children who do not need me (but hopefully will still want me around). I want children fitted to earn their livings, of good integrity, with wide skills and self-sufficiency. I want to raise children who see clearly what it is that needs to be done, and have the insight, strength and knowledge to do it. Tragically, the way to accomplish this as a parent is not to “try harder” but to be wiser about what you say and do. I’m working on that. It made me feel hopeful, watching my sons courageously venture off alone, that a good start has been made.

Lucky to be married to this handsome guy!

There are many advantages to this April break scheme, but one of the excellent ones is that it gives Adam and I time to be together. You know, like a pair of people who married each other because they dig spending time together! Last night, we celebrated by going out to a “fancy fancy” restaurant – the Meritage in Boston. We got ready in a leisurely and unhurried way. We didn’t worry about what time to get home. It was crazy!

This was food. It was delicious.

Today, I confess to playing hookie from church. Sorry! Adam brought me coffee & the paper in bed, and we looked through all the things that were happening to see what we wanted to do. We began with brunch at a local diner. (Named, inventively, “My Diner“.) It played a lovely contrast to our fancy dinner last night. (Don’t judge all the eating out this week – it’s effectively “half priced restaurant week” for us.)

Possibly my favorite of the Eschers, showing none of his trademarks

Then we drove in to Boston to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the MC Escher exhibit and Phantasmorgia display. We read every word on every display piece in three different exhibits (we also checked out the revival jewelry exhibit). We LOVE going to museums together, but it’s a hard thing to do while contending with different attention spans. This lingering was a great pleasure.

Almost as great as watching Adam eat a pickled grape, which was a study in expressions.

He made this face every time he ate one
I got video for another grape
Profile pic, right here
Despite this face, he ate them all

We have similar plans for the rest of the week. Maybe some board games with friends. Checking out the new restaurant in town. Staying in Cambridge. Craziness!

I am coming to think, though, that as nice as this is as a vacation I already miss my little boys and the energy and vibrance they bring to our lives. We are all the better for practicing our independence. But I’m so glad that there are years yet before they leave me. I miss my sons!

My boys

Running towards danger

I rarely repost old posts, but as we come up to Marathon weekend again, I can’t help but think of that day five years ago. Sometimes you may not guess who around you is a hero. Caitlin is to me, many times over.

My Truant Pen

During Monday’s Marathon bombings, my friend Caitlin Rivet was working as a volunteer EMT at the Boston Marathon. I’ve known Caitlin since she was about 12. I taught her and her churchmates in Sunday School, youth group and confirmation. We’ve been close ever since, even as she moved into adulthood.

At church this morning, Caitlin was there. Her face has a strip of abrasions from shattered glass from the explosion, and she shies away from talking about her Monday. It’s too close, and too hard to put in words. But she wrote this narrative about her day, and gave me permission to share it.

When the marathon was just a fun sports event. When the marathon was just a fun sports event.

4.15.13 – A Reflection

The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s premier sporting events. This year it was marred by two bombs that were detonated close to the finish line. During a time when most marathoners…

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The one productive day of the year

The paint is now drying

This is it. This is the day when we’re feeling rested and relaxed. We’ve done most of the pressing chores that need doing. Quality time has been spent with loved ones, family and friends. Planning has been done for the coming year. Movies have been watched. And today, we were full of energy and verve and without commitments.

So it was time to start a big messy project we won’t have time to finish.

Messy before

As I mentioned, we’re readying for the attic project in the new year. Part of that includes clearing the stuff that’s currently in the attic out. Our plan there is to move Grey’s bunk beds to Thane’s room with both twin mattresses. (Right now there’s only one mattress and the bottom is open.) Then the guest bed – a very nice queen bed – will move to Grey’s room. He’ll have to go to his brother’s room if we have company, but that’s the deal. This requires quite a bit of jigsaw-puzzle like furniture moving. Along the way, we painted a wall on Thane’s room that had been rather poorly maintained by the incumbent kid. I replaced the trashy looking particle board thing in the kitchen that always looked messy with papers spilling out with one Adam painted for me. And Grey used his brand new tool kit (a Christmas present) to help his father disassemble his bed.

Much neater after

The day went fast! Now it’s a matter of energy – can we actually finish the tasks to a sufficiently completed state before we run out of energy?

I’m a little sad to be going back to work tomorrow, but this has been a fantastic, restful and productive break. Also, very very cold.

Saying Goodbye to Christmas

Today is the day we break down the tree and put away the Christmas ornaments. It’s the bittersweet counterpoint to the day after Thanksgiving. Well, honestly, this year it’s the bittercold counterpoint. This Christmas break period is one of the coldest stretches I ever remember. Twenty degrees seems warm by comparison.

So cold!

My sons were 9 and 12 this Christmas. That’s a little past Santa age. But it’s the beginning of great gifts age. Both of my sons gave me thoughtful and kind gifts. Grey gave me a Starbucks Christmas ornament. Thane got me some sparkly dice. I love watching people learn the joy of finding a great gift for a friend! When I was a kid, my folks used to wrap in my mom and dad’s bedroom. My mom would finish wrapping a present, open her door with a bang, put the present down, and slam the door shut. We kids would race at full speed to pick up the package, shake it, contemplate it, smell it, and place it under the tree. We’d arrange and rearrange the packages under the tree constantly. But historically, my kids just didn’t want it to work that way. Grey doesn’t actually like anticipation. He’d rather have a surprise and no waiting. This year, though, they were in for it! Bonus – it was great exercise from the attic to the tree.

Cutting the tree

We’ve developed our own set of Christmas traditions. There’s the getting of the tree. We like to go to Beverly Tree Farm (which sells out Thanksgiving weekend every year). There’s the hanging of the ornaments and lighting of the tree. This year we did an Advent candle liturgy, where we talked about the week of advent (Peace, Hope, Love, Joy) and lit the candles together.

Advent candles – it was a really lovely moment every week

Christmas Eve Eve, after the rehearsal, Adam and I went to a Blue Heron concert (one of my presents!). It was magical. I’d forgotten just how much I love early music. It made me feel so happy. (He even sprung for front row seats – which are rather more obtainable at medieval music concerts than at rock ones.) In the dark church we shared a moment with our ancestors six hundred year ago. It was an incredibly icy day, and afterwards we carefully picked our way across Cambridge to get cookies at Insomnia Cookies. Best date ever!! (Best of all, he got me all their CDs and a really cool book about the creation of western music notation!)

Blue Heron Concert

Christmas Eve is all tableaux. This is the third year I’ve taken the helm of the Christmas show. I’m wondering how many years it will take until I feel like I am creating instead of remembering how it should go! I was super lucky this year to get some extremely capable help with the costumes. I’m TERRIBLE at costumes and my dear friend who helped me is awesome at them. Next year – we need new angels and maybe a new Mary. This year’s service was pretty magical. There was a medical emergency just as we were getting started (thankfully nothing that ended up being too serious!). Blue and red flashing lights are pretty, but not quite the festive we were looking for.

Christmas miracles

But after that, the old, old story carried its majesty. Mary was teeny tiny. The angel Gabriel was glorious. Joseph was solicitous to his bride (half his height!). The shepherds were appropriately amazed. In perhaps the greatest Christmas miracle of all, the Herald Angel kept his face serious while angeling to the shepherds. And baby Eddie as Jesus looked very sweet indeed. Our youth soloist sounded amazing. Better yet, with the new candles we ordered, no wax got on Christmas costumes. #miracles You can see it here if you’d like. I got to do some trumpeting afterwards, and by 8 pm on Christmas eve I was breathless and full of hope and joy in the season. Thane stayed with me until 9, when we’d gotten things mostly cleaned up, and we left the quiet dark church together to go home to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

This is the year Grey finally got a phone. He’s SO THRILLED.

Thane’s favorite gift was probably Heart Puppy, seen here snuggling Data.

Our Christmas mornings, we open up our stockings together first. (There was the memorable year where the kids didn’t wake us up and started opening presents on their own – a tale which will be told in our house for the rest of their lives…) Then breakfast, and presents! Yay presents! This year, we went to a neighbors for brunch and then the snow shoveling. The Christmas snow that was falling so beautifully needed to be shoveled. It needed to be shoveled VERY WELL because the forecast showed not a hint of melting. (It still doesn’t – the 10 day forecast doesn’t have a single temperature above freezing. It’s January 9 before we get UP to 32 degrees.) But it was a peaceful feeling to dig out on a Christmas day. We helped dig out a neighbor’s house too, which felt very virtuous and in the Christmas spirit.

We had friends over for dinner on Christmas night. It was lovely way to close a lovely day, with friends and conversation!

Christmas dinner

It was, all told, a fantastic Christmas season. I’m sad to say farewell to it! Until next year!