Screen free camping

For the eight year in a row, as Memorial Day has come around, we turned the car northward to New Hampshire to go camping. I marvel every year that Thane has done this literally every year of his entire life.

The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.
The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.

Usually, the kids play on their screens on the car rides while we’re camping. Well, and in the mornings while mommy sleeps in. (Let’s talk about things I’m really, really bad at: mornings.) As their screen tastes have trended less towards DS games and more towards top 10 Youtube lists, Vines and those gawdawful addictive freemium games, the whining about the fact there’s no wifi in camping has ramped up a notch. In fact, I’ve been increasingly unimpressed with what they use their screenful time for. At least video games are problem solving. Watching other people play video games? Mmmmm…. And those freemium games are just click click click “Mom can I buy some gems with my allowance?” (Ugh. No.)

My children like to read, but it’s not their first choice activity. Their first choice activity is screen time. They only read when they don’t get to do screens. I wrestle with this. I love reading. Adam loves reading. The kids apparently read voraciously at school. But they don’t lose themselves in their rooms for hours working their way through novels. This makes me sad. I really don’t think watching other people play video games is as rich an experience as, say, reading Lord of the Rings was for me. (Which I read when I was Grey’s age.)

Ice Cream & Book
Ice Cream & Book

After a particularly whiny session in which the kids argued about who got which iPad and complained about the lack of wifi, I told the kids I was thinking about a screen free camping trip (I heretofore unheard of concept). And then we decided to do it. Better yet, our camp site was out of cell coverage, so Adam and I also put away our screens. And we all spent four days doing other things.

I prepared for this by making sure everyone had lots of books. A heavy stock-up trip to The Book Oasis was the bulk of the material, with a top-up trip to White Birch Books mid-trip. We also stopped at Toys-R-Us with an amount that the kids were to spend on toys that didn’t require screens. Thane got a Lego set. Grey got a Nerf Gun. Adam got a Nerf Gun with which to pelt Grey. I got a mocha at Starbucks.

I also prepared myself for the massive amounts of whining I expected. “I’m bored!” “There’s nothing to do!” “I hate this – I wish I had screens.” I practiced my lines in the mirror “Being bored builds character.” “Go read a book.” “If you don’t have anything to do, the dishes need doing.” “How can you be bored when you have this beautiful camp site to play at?”

You know what? I hardly needed those lines at all. Grey spent then weekend nose-deep in The Mysterious Benedict Society which is on the Stoneham Fifth Grade Reading List (which in an awesome small town moment was sent to me by the owner of the Book Oasis). I read it after him, and I have to admit it’s a very enjoyable read.

He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.
He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.

Thane dove into Tashi. I keep overestimating Thane’s reading level, and it’s been hard to find just the right books for him since he finished The Magic Treehouse series. He tried a few others, and did a great job of keeping count of the words he didn’t know to identify his just right reading level. But he loved Tashi, and I loved the fact that when he’s reading, he can hardly hear you talk.

I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That's it. (I'm not afraid of heights, but I didn't love the torsion on my knee.)
I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That’s it. (I’m not afraid of heights, but I didn’t love the torsion on my knee.)

In addition to time spent reading, we did a bunch of fun adventures. We did a great ropes course that Thane is now just tall enough to fully participate in. (I am also tall enough, but between my knee and my lack of upper body strength, I had less fun than the boys did.) The boys rode their bikes around the campground. We rented innertubes and as the mercury cracked 97 degrees we floated our way down the Saco, splashing together and really enjoying each other’s company. And yes, we did the rope swing pictured in the link above, but I didn’t bring a camera since I don’t (yet) have a waterproof one. We hiked to the top of a granite cliff (the course of the biggest screen free meltdown as Grey opined that we were completely wasting a day by hiking). The boys biked around the campground, and built a fort in the boulders behind us.

Grey had exactly 0 fear
Grey had exactly 0 fear

It was idyllic. I feel like the children grew a lot even in so brief a time.

Of course, now I’m caught on the horns of a dilemma. I never want to bring screens again – this was perfect. But I also don’t want to punish the kids for their great behavior. And they do see screen free time as a penury. So now I have to figure out how to talk them into doing it again for the 4th of July!

Looking over Echo Lake
Looking over Echo Lake

Winter Sports

This is why we don't wait for good weather to get outside
This is why we don’t wait for good weather to get outside

Last year, for a period of about two months, we could not take a walk. Every week we got pounded by another storm. Every week we’d laboriously clear the new fallen snow – moving it on top of the shoulder-high piles of snow that had already fallen. We struggled to make it to work. By the time the last foot fell, I was pretty sure that if another storm came it would be physically impossible to dig ourselves out – there was no where left to put snow. Everywhere we walked, we walked in narrow channels between vast and dirty snow banks. My awesome neighbors had a rotating potluck on storm nights so we could get out of our own walls, but eventually the entire world felt constrained and constricted. The walls seemed to compress under the weight of the frigid winter, as though it might finally crush us.

Family snow portrait
Family snow portrait

But some people seemed less claustrophobic. The skiers were ecstatic at the powder. The cross country folks went places they’d never gone before. The snow-shoers had the Fells to themselves. In the heart of this winter vice, we rented snow shoes to see if we’d like it. It was like taking the first deep breath for weeks, to get out into those woods again. My mother must have heard us gushing, because for Christmas this year we got the great gift of four sets of snow shoes, so we can break down those walls again.


2015 was also the first year that the Y offered ski lessons for the boys after school. They got picked up from the Y and taken to Nashoba Valley, where they were learning to ski like proper New Englanders. We signed them up again this year (with a ski group that doubled in size since last year!).

Then, this summer, came word that Stoneham Town Common would host a free, open to the public ice skating rink. For the price of a pair of skates, we could all glide around the common whenever we wanted, with our friends and families. Plus, Grey has started getting invited to open time at the Stoneham Arena (ice rink) on Fridays by one of his friends. When the local used sporting goods store announced they were going out of business, we quickly procured four pairs of ice skates.

So in the course of one year, we went from people with no winter sport proclivities to folks with snow shoes, ice skates and kids who know how to ski. (That’s what last winter did to us!) And now we find ourselves in our summer stomping grounds in the White Mountains. We have switched our regular tent for an unexpectedly swanky White Mountain Resort. I do not ski. I actually cringe if I start thinking too much about skiing, due to major knee injuries from the first and only time I went skiing. But Adam likes snowboarding, and the kids enjoy the slopes too. (Even if they do seem to be geniuses at losing ski gear.) So I’m enjoying hanging out in the resort and working on my book while the guys are skiing. (Edited: here are a few pictures I took!)

Well, at least that was the concept. In reality, it’s difficult to manage two not-strong-yet skiers simultaneously. Right now I have on my left a sweet little Thane-boy narrating the creation of Lego elements telling the story of Lloyd Alexander’s “Book of Three”, which he’s reading at the moment. Adam and Grey are skiing together. They’ll switch off in a little bit.

Brunch was tasty AND scenic
Brunch was tasty AND scenic

I’m enjoying the hygge of a mountain lodge. The scenery here is downright spectacular. The food is unexpectedly excellent. Last night, all the boys were asleep by 8:30. If the time spent skiing hadn’t gotten them to bed early, the hour the kids spent in the heated-to-99-degree pool while having a snowball fight would’ve helped them nod off. I wasn’t tired, though, so I got to spend two hours in front of the roaring fireplace working on my novel and listening to the guy behind me hold court for two hours. (I’m not sure anyone else in his party got a single word in that entire time.)

Of course, the hilarious thing is that this winter has so far been record-shatteringly warm. That ice rink on the common will open nearly a month after it was scheduled to. There hasn’t been enough snow to snow shoe on yet this year. In a Murphy’s Law moment, some of the heaviest snow of the year so far fell JUST as we were driving up here. I had an hour of white-knuckle driving of the highest degree. We haven’t gotten to try the rink yet. A repeat of last year is statistically unlikely, but it’s possible that this winter will be the inverse of last year’s unusual weather. (Of course, we’ll all remind you that the snow started after the Superbowl last year – it hadn’t kicked off by now.)

But when the snow comes, if the snow comes, we’ll be ready to enjoy it!

PS – Here’s a video Adam took of just how white-knuckle the driving was!

The Golden Summer weekends

You know, it’s hard to find a time that is a good time to write a post. By definition, times that I’m free and don’t have something else I should be doing are times that I’m completely exhausted by the living of life. Case in point: now.

But the weekends have been lovely lately, and this one was no exception. Friday we demolished our living room. I surprised some people on Facebook by demolishing the living room without announcing ahead of time what we planned. It’s a simple project on paper: take down the drop ceiling and cheap wooden paneling. Drywall the walls and ceiling. Replace trim and paint. For a pair of softwarey types doing the work themselves, this is no easy task. (And let’s be clear – Adam is doing 99.5% of the work. I’m “project managing”.) I anticipate it should be done before Mocksgiving.

This weekend we managed to turn our lovely dining room:

Lovely, functional dining room
Lovely, functional dining room

Into a disaster area:

Disaster in progress
Disaster in progress

What is it about improving things that so often makes them worse before they get better? We’ve completely finished the demo, and are ready to order drywall. Adam got the furring strips (firring strips?) for the ceiling today. Then he twisted his ankle bringing the heavy stuff in. This may slow things down somewhat. While he was doing that, I was visiting a friend after surgery. It seems like half the church is emerging from the surgeon’s knives, but all of them successfully so far!

The littlest carpenter
The littlest carpenter

The weather this weekend has been outrageously glorious. It’s a bit too cool to drive a person to the beach (the Atlantic remains quite cool even in August). But yesterday we FINALLY after YEARS of thinking we should probably do that some day, went boating on Spot Pond. It was ludicrously easy for us to obtain three boats: two single kayaks and a double. We spent a glorious hour or so lounging around a place I’ve driven past a thousand times, but feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere. The boys particularly enjoyed looking for buried treasure on some of the islands.

Spot Ponding
Spot Ponding
Looking for buried treasure
Looking for buried treasure

Today started with church, as Sundays so often do. Church is taking up a lot of extra thought-cycles with me right now. I’m chairing the Mission Study Taskforce, and feeling very much pulled to ask some really big questions about what it means to be a church, and where The Church (not just my little congregation) will be in 50 years. It’s clear that we won’t be doing what we’re doing now (which is more or less what we were doing 50 years ago, and very reminiscent of what we were doing 200 years ago). I’m feeling really excited about rethinking how we can serve the core needs of God and people (I’ve narrowed it down to three: sacraments, worship/teaching and community – and none of these require a big fancy building).

When I got home, I was oppressed by the number of things I have to do. I swear, the dirty dishes breed when my back is turned. I dealt with this oppression by wandering the neighborhood. You see, I have a long-neglected project to drum up support (by which I mean money) for a historical marker for the Nobility Hill Historic District (which my house abuts). So I figured I’d go take pictures of the coolest houses. At the very first one, I met the brand new owner and spent half an hour chit chatting about the house and the neighborhood. She seems very cool. Then at the next house I stopped to chat with the owner for a while as well. I couldn’t help but think what a neat neighborhood it is I live in.

My new friend watering her garden
My new friend watering her garden

I was on call this weekend, and will be next as well. That makes it hard to do a big adventure, since I need to be in cell range and within 1/2 hour of an internet connected computer. But these small, glorious adventures in the fractally-rich spaces around my home and community, well…. I was just called upstairs to comfort a disconsolate child who tearfully opined that he didn’t want to grow up and leave this home. (See also: massively overtired) I comforted, but I feel the pang too. This stage is so sweet, this life so golden, that I wish I could slow down the falling sands of time. I told him what I do in the face of such urgent sweetness. I take pictures, and I write down the stories of those times, and store them up against whatever may come next.

I want to ride my bicycle

New bike
New bike

I rode my bike a lot as a kid. This was back in another era, where a 2nd grader’s primary form of transportation was not “mom” but “myself”. I had the most beautiful wine-red Schwinn – with gears! I loved that thing dearly. I remember registering it with the police, somberly. (I mean, who wouldn’t want to steal that glorious machine?!)

That bike and I went all over town – to the roller rink, the swimming pool (often), Bonanza 88 (home to things I could actually afford on my allowance). We went to friends houses and parks. All this while I was younger than Grey is now. I remember once when Heidi and I went to the Tri-Cities for a ride on a bike path. There was a key issue which resurfaced several times in my childhood regarding my sister’s complete lack of navigational skills. (Ask me about the time we went to Tumwater when we were attempting to go to Tukwila.) The upshot was that 9 year old Brenda and 11 year old Heidi were massively lost miles and miles from home on our bikes in a pre-cellphone era. I remember being very thirsty and hot. You’ll be glad to hear that we did finally reconnect with our parents at some point.

It got harder when we moved to Mineral. NOTHING was a block away from our first house – it was over a mile to Dick’s store. And once you did that mile there was… Dick’s Store. It’s more like 6 – on steep hills with no shoulders and logging trucks – to the next interesting thing to do. Which was Elbe – not high on the list of interesting. My interest in my wine-red Schwinn waned as my interest in the dark, loamy forest paths waxed.

When I was maybe 13 my sister got in a near-fatal bike accident. I failed to understand the gravity, and made fun of her mummy-like bandages. She would likely have died without a helmet. As it was, I permanently lost my “stitches” competition with her, as she had scars across her face. (Happily, they are not -much- there now.) And that was pretty much the last time I rode a bike. I didn’t really realize it. There wasn’t a moment where I looked at my bike and thought “I’m never getting on THAT death-trap again!” I just didn’t have cause to ride. And so I didn’t.

At my college graduation, my parents offered to buy me an espresso machine. This was a brilliant idea, as I’ve never met a more caffeinated person than myself. Being eminently practical, I asked for a bike instead. I had two months that summer at the college with no transport, working on the college website. And summer at college is entirely different than college at college. I did ride my bike to get groceries, but uneasily. Nervously. Since that summer, it has sat unused in a variety of basements. (I actually got it all tuned and ready to go days before I busted my knee!)

Practice circles
Practice circles

But now my sons are nine and six. Next spring they break ground on the bikeway. Grey already has a small measure of independence but longs for more. In 15 months he’ll be going to middle school – and I have no intention of driving him there. On a bike, a kid from Stoneham can get to a pool, a forest, parks galore, a lake, the soccer fields, golf courses … the world within 5 miles of our house is wide and varied and wondrous. Even if they never take advantage of that liberty, I can’t quite imagine sending a young adult into the world who doesn’t know how to ride a bike, even if they don’t choose to do so. So the last few weeks I’ve been sneaking into parking lots with the kids, attempting to teach them.

Thane doesn’t have training wheels, and is still crashing and burning all the time. (Which is not fun.) Therefore I am spending a lot of time running behind him holding on to him. (Also not fun.) He’s gone two or three pedal strokes, but is not there yet.

But Grey… this last week Grey got it. He’s been able to kind of go 20 feet without falling down for a year or so. But he couldn’t get himself started, or turn, or you know… ride. But this weekend, he figured out how to start from a stop. He’s gone in circles and circles around the buildings. He can stop gracefully. My heart sang at the pride in his face, and enjoyment. “Mom, can we go bike riding tonight?”

On Saturday, Grey and I will go to the Breakheart Reservation and try out the bike trails there. I’m not sure who I’m more nervous for – him or me. But I am sure it’s going to be awesome!

Meme teaching Thane
Meme teaching Thane

Becoming a family

There are two socially sanctioned ways to increase the size of your family: babies and weddings. Adding babies is a lot of fun, but it’s not really a team activity. At most of the key stages, there’s two or a few people there. Also, pictures of the precise events are not, shall we say, to be encouraged.

Weddings, on the other hand, involve a team. Heck, they involve a tribe! And the moment where two people create one family is one of the most public, most photographed and most iconic in our culture.

New family!

My family just grew, this past Christmas. I thought it was growing by one – my sister-in-law Andrea. But then I met Harvey, and it became clear that it was growing by two.

We had almost a week together – my parents, my siblings and my new sibling and puppy-in-law – before we had to kick into wedding mode. The first activity was the traditional Johnstone Christmas, with the uncles and cousins and grandpa’s famous chip dip. I finally got my uncle to tell his war stories, and there were the age old arguments about which Seattle street had housed which relatives. These are the brothers and sisters by marriage in the prior generation whose relationships have lasted for over forty years. It was my oldest family – the family at whose feet I wandered when I was a kid and didn’t think much about what made a family. It was the first time I’ve been together with them in several years, and it was lovely.

Spinning yarns around the Christmas tree.

Then, the team turned to decorating cupcakes to be planets. It’s possible that way too much frosting was consumed. WAAAAAY too much frosting. It’s possible we stayed up a little too late giggling. We siblings by marriage started to get to know each other, under the influence. Also, the cupcakes and cake were delicious and way cooler than anything we could’ve bought.

Decorating. Not all that frosting made it onto the cupcakes.

Over the next few days we added in adventures – we went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and wandered through a submarine. We watched animation techniques, had dinner together, poked through Powell’s books for an hour and made commando raids to find a better wireless router for the home castle. We talked Space Law & Insurance and then somehow gravitated to book recommendations on the long dark ride home. The week went on and Harvey went on walks, we went on hikes, puzzles got half-started, sewing and banners were created, children hid themselves in the basement and created imaginary worlds inhabited by Warrior Cats. By the time we rang in the new year, we were starting to feel gelled and connected, family-like.

The extended team

As they year ticked over to 2015, the rest of the team arrived. I’d quickly met Bobbi before, but not Joe or Susan. The wedding crew was in place, and we delved into the work with a passion. Fingernails were painted. Flowers (which were ordered but did not arrive) were purchased and crafted. Tuxes were obtained (with much angst – the flowers and the tux were the angst moments of this wedding). We were on the slopes, getting closer and closer together as we went, to the final moments of the wedding.

Group pedicures

The very best moment was the night before the wedding. None of us who had grown up in Mineral had EVER been to the Headquarters Tavern there. Given that Mineral has two churches, a general store, a bar and a post office… this seemed a lapse. We decided to cut apart an hour to go rectify said lapse the night before the wedding. It was fantastic. It’s possible there was head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody. Some people might have reported that the dulcet tones of Sweet Caroline (so good! the bride is from Saugus) reverberated for the first time in the crawdad traps in the ceiling. It was, generally, phenomenal.

Such a sight the tavern hadn’t seen since fishing season ended

The wedding was beautiful. It was small, but lovely. I played trumpet. My mom performed the ceremony. The bride was lovely. The groom was smitten. The children (and dogs) were adorable. The two people became one family in a kiss.

Practice kiss

It was lovely. We took pictures at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and dined in the Melting Pot in Tacoma. From there, we all fragmented back to our packing and our regular lives. (Funny story about the rv we were staying in and the broken door latch… which wasn’t really all that funny until we found an unlocked window.) Our Kindles as thoroughly mixed up as any French farce could devise we parted – as a family. A new family. A larger, more joyful family, connected by frosting, puppies, submarines, Staples-runs, pedicures, Arbys, ice-crystals, Kindle-swaps and lipstick-color-arguments. Welcome to the family, Andrea & Harvey. Thanks for inviting us into yours. Welcome, Joe & Bobbie & Susan. I’m so glad we are together in this!

Team wedding

The lines between Christmas and wedding are blurry. I have two sets of pictures – the first half are here, and the second half you can find here!

An adventure of 12,000 steps

The last line of the love-note reads, “PS. Cats are already eating flowers. Disaster may ensue. Mea culpa.”

My husband left us for a weekend of gaming, leaving behind a clean kitchen and bouquet of flowers. The boys and I have consoled ourselves with his absence by watching “Back to the Future” last night. This morning, cold and gray but bearable, I hatched a plan.

Tragically, the super cool headband was lost on our sojourn.

It started by winding our way through familiar streets and over long-used routes to Oak Grove – starting point for many a foray and adventure. I held Thane on my lap to keep myself warm (I underestimated the temperature by a layer for myself) and quizzed Grey on Boston’s history. Once on the Orange Line, we whirred past miles of new construction and gleaming buildings rising out of graffiti-strewn rubble, and on to North Station. I know the North Station area very poorly. I’ve spent hardly any time there. So we carefully picked our way across streets, swimming up-current from a horde of Bruins fans come to see them play the Flyers (Phlyers?). I found the Starbucks that was a necessary first stop, and then we discovered the soaring, twirling pathway across Storrow Drive to the Esplanade.

A gray day, but above freezing means it’s worth playing!

Now, I’ve lived in the greater Boston area nearly 14 years, in three different places. As any Bostonian must, I have many times traveled the storied route up the Charles from the Zakim to Brookline, passing past the hallowed markers of the Hatch Shell and Citgo sign. Since my first son took his first steps, I’ve passed the parkingless playground and thought to myself “That looks fun! I should bring my progeny here!” On beautiful days where the sky was blue and the Charles was sparkling with waves and white sails and yellow-sculled boats, and the grass between the road and the water was hopelessly green… I’ve thought how pleasant it would be to stroll up the river.

The zipline was awesome. The kids didn’t need us to tell them to take turns, but lots of parents hovered by the line anyway.

And I’ve never once, in that twice-seven-years, set foot on the Esplanade. So harsh has this winter been that 45 degrees seemed like a downright invitation to make today that day.

I pondered “right or left?” at the bottom of the stairs, finally trusting that there was far more Esplanade to the left and I’d hit something fun if I went that way. My youngest son danced errantly up the path in front of me shouting out numbers that represented the score of some sidewalk game whose rules only he knows (but which apparently involve not stepping on cracks and stepping on anything interesting that is not a crack). My serious-minded eldest took long strides with wide eyes. We saw the very cold boaters on the water. We noticed the pile of their brightly colorful shoes like a spiral on the gangway. We dodged runners and bikers and inline skaters – all faster than we were. And then we finally came to that playground I’ve eyed for years and my sons broke into flat out runs to get there as soon as possible.

Both boys fell on this contraption, but it was designed in such a way that the falls were minor.

And it was WONDERFUL. I recently read a story which has influenced me greatly about Adventure Playgrounds and the disservice we do by trying to make even play risk-free for our children. (Which, yes. I got a call from the Stoneham police a few weeks ago because I let my 8 year old walk two blocks to a used book store by himself. I asked the officer if my son was behaving appropriately and he said he was. Which left me sorely wondering why he thought I needed to be called. I digress.)

So here, in this marvelous playground with soft, bone-friendly falls and risky-feeling fun and other children, I found a spot sheltered from harsh April winds and watched my sons be boys.

The swing did required someone else to push, but the boys just loved it.

For two hours they played. The scaled heights, and fell. They rode the zip line and struggled to return it to the next kid in line. (It was really interesting to watch just how many of the parents “handled” this difficult task for the kids. I watched Thane struggle to pull it back. And I watched him succeed. And I watched him stand a little taller at having done a difficult thing, a right thing, and having done it himself.) At a break in the play, I pushed the boys on this fantastic dish-shaped swing. Grey slung his arm around his brother and they both lay in a sunbeam swinging together – eyes closed. Thane sang a little song to the rhythm of the swing.

There were many paths to the top – some easier and more obvious than others.

A game of hide and seek broke out among the bigger boys, and Grey disappeared behind a wall. I watched his small hand snake out to draw pictures in the dirt as he waited to be found. Thane became fascinated with a wooden climbing structure – color so warm to a winter palette. He was frightened of a particular gap, and drew back afraid. I heard him cheer himself, “I’ll see if the drop hurts.” He took a big breath, swung out again, and dropped. Dusting himself off, “It didn’t hurt at all!” The next time, he crossed the chasm. Moving further around the perimeter, he came to a really high part he could not swing across. He gathered his courage and belly-crawled across a log so very high that my breath caught in my throat. I had to stop myself from singing out “Be careful!” He inched, so scared, across the great gap. He got to the other side. “Mommy, come get me down!” “Thane, you can get yourself down.” And he did. And once his feet were rooted in solid wood chips once more, he immediately went to go do it again, and again, and again. He never got blase, but he did get better.

The section to the left is the high chasm upon which Thane tested his courage and found it strong.

Finally, we got hungry & cold. I struck a path in towards the Common where I knew we could find sustenance. At the end of our blood sugar rope, we found a bistro and had noodles and orange juice and laughed in a lit window of a corner building, hundreds of years old. I showed them the Starbucks my father and I had visited some 19 years ago when I came out in the middle of a blizzard for my college tour. The august establishment was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and I realized that I had been there so very long ago.

I was here 19 years ago with my father, before I decided on the college where I met the father of these two fine young boys.

We wandered the common (wondering if any historical cow dung was still to be found there) until we chanced upon one more playground. There was much less playing before disaster struck in the symptom of a torn thumb nail – truly a painful injury.

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a nail.

A cold quick journey to Downtown Crossing, then home again, 12,000 steps later.

I was thinking, on our journey, of this same time a year ago. Last April I took the boys to the Circus on a Saturday that Adam was aikidoing. It was, not to sell it short, one of the worst times I’ve had. Thane threw an epic fit, refused to watch half the circus and at the end I carried him a mile over my back kicking and screaming to the T. I despaired of ever adventuring again with him. But over the course of this year, my four year old has grown to a much more mature five year old who was indefatigable and cheerful the whole time (Two-hundred niney-two! Two-hundred-ninety-three! He counted his points the entire trip.) My eldest, sorely injured as he was, was a solid and cheerful companion.

How lucky I am to get to have adventures with these children as they grow!

My sweet sons

Hiking the Appalachian Trail (or 13 years of marriage)

Camp Grampers
Camp Grampers

Camp Gramp time is usually a week when Adam and I slip away, and remind ourselves joyously of why we chose to marry each other in the first place. It is appropriate, then, that Camp Gramp week almost always falls on our anniversary. On August 5th of this year, Adam and I marked thirteen years of joyful marriage together. Thirteen has always been a lucky number in my family, as my parents married each other on a Friday the 13th. I’m feeling 13 years lucky myself, these days.

Anyway, the rhythm of Camp Gramp was shifted a bit because my brother had obligations into the second week of August, and this year Camp Gramp was to be held at my brother’s manse* in New York. This had the effect of moving Camp Gramp week into Gencon week – two sacred obligations colliding. Since I could schedule time with my husband another time, I am sending him with goodwill to Gencon where – I am reliably informed – he has the best schedule he has yet gotten (possibly due to some algorithmic javascript software he wrote to help him rejigger his schedule on the fly.) So this year, there was no Istanbul, Austria or Ashland for us.

Still, there was the weekend. We left Friday night – after a full day’s work. This was – of course – the Friday night where the beer truck dangled off the side of the freeway. (An incident only amusing because I ended up making it home in good time due to some excellent and thoughtful reaction by MBTA employees, and because no one was hurt.) I fetched our farm share, prepared that which would not keep, schlepped the rest of it in the ‘fridge and consigned the three watermelons and two vast cantaloupe to Camp Gramp consumption. We packed full the back of the car and cossetted our sons with pillows and blankets.

Come and sit by my side if you love me

The last pink traces of sunset found the Flynn family singing “Red River Valley” in the car, with certain young voices picking up the refrain. I thought as I sang “Come and sit by my side if you love me” about Michael. I remember him crying when I crooned the old words to an infant grandson of his, remembering his lost brother Jimmy. And now those small voices from the back seat may someday fondly remember the same strains, and their beloved brothers. One of those small voices begged anonymity, as though I would ever find a love of singing something to be ashamed of, so you will never ever know who sang so sweetly back there.

Through construction, leaving the Red Sox broadcast area, crossing the mighty Hudson and late into a starlight night we went. Only I was awake when we finally got to Middletown. My mother was waiting for me on the steps – waiting up for me to pull in to the driveway, like she has done so many times. Small bodies were carried upstairs – perilously close to the last time that will be possible. Cantaloupe were unloaded. Blessed flat, soft surfaces were revealed.

How silly is that Unka Matt in the window?
How silly is that Unka Matt in the window?

We left not too late the following morning. It’s funny how little time is required to fall into the cadence of your family. For me this is a blessing – I’m very fond of my family. I ate breakfast, kibbitzed with my brother, brushed my niece’s hair, took a picture of the four of them – Thane clinging to his Kay, Grey with a comradely arm around his Baz – and we were on our way. We only forgot four things, and we hadn’t even left town by the time my mom called to tell me of it.

It was 11 on a Saturday morning, and my husband and I were at LIBERTY. We went shopping. We ate at Denny’s. We pointed the car northward in search of an elusive hike on the Appalachian trail. By the way, in case it ever comes up, I highly recommend searching for a particular unmarked trailhead on the Appalachian Trail as an excellent way of discovering and becoming intimate with the rural ways of Connecticut. We sought for signal to update our directions in the high places of grassy, half-forgotten graveyards. We went round and round main square intersections looking for signs. We accosted random hikers. We went on one-lane, washboard gravel roads thickly papered with no-trespassing signs. We did u-turns. We drove past horses and pastures and woods and rivers. We went past shoulder-high corn, dappled streams, private schools and mansions in Salisbury.

The author, on the Appalachian
The author, on the Appalachian

We finally gave up, and hiked a different section before turning around to Kent for our night’s repose in a fancy inn. Any implication that I picked the Starbuck Inn because of my coffee leanings is purely hypothetical, mind. We had a lovely dinner at the Fife and Drum, right next to the pianist. We laid out in the dewing air and watched the Milky Way stretch itself luxuriously across the country sky, hardly blemished at all by any falling Perseids.

The next day we got a good start on the morning, up in time for the breakfast part of bed and breakfast. Our host, calloused feet clad in sandals, regaled us with tales of what we’d missed the prior afternoon. The portraits and maps adorning the walls of the well-kept colonial attested to the fact that Starbucks had been in New England a very long time. I wondered if he was the hippy scion of a long and proud lineage. Anyway, two blocks to town for a cup of coffee! But look! The bookstore is open! I consider it a moral duty to stop at small local bookstores and find things I desperately need (even if you can get them cheaper at Amazon). So we found the new Arthur translation by Tolkien, and books for the boys. But hardly had we gone a block before we discovered the library was having a book sale! Tables and tables of trade paperbacks, clothbound books, best sellers and all manner of odd books were laid out. Well, that set us back long enough that I had to get a refill of my coffee before we left (happily, four times as many books cost a tenth as much as the bookstore). Finally, we were awa’.

Actual Appalachian Train - I have proof!
Actual Appalachian Train – I have proof!

This time, we did find the Appalachian Trail. We walked our way up the gold and green Connecticut hillsides, punctuated by old stone walls and periodic views. Adam was nursing a hamstring injury (a parting gift of aikido) and a nasty cold, and I was still trying out my new knee, so we didn’t go to far. But we talked and laughed and ate pretzels and talked through the latest developments in Season III of Downton Abby. We noted various interesting bugs and talked about how astronomy and atomic theory seemed on the point of convergence, like a fractal. We missed our children in the cheerfully satisfied way parents miss their children when those parents are perfectly satisfied that the children are having a blast and not missing them at all. Finally, we turned back (the path racing below our feet as we returned). We wound our way north over 7 and returned with abrupt reality to bad traffic on I90 – two days and a vast refreshing distance since we had traversed it Westbound.

And here I am now – at over 10,000 feet – on yet another business trip (missing my husband of 13 years, and my still-satisfied-to-be-gone children). It’s remarkable that although the days seems to blur together in an endless March of sameness, when I cast my memory back I find so many joyfully memorable moments popping up.

Business travel is losing what allure it once had by novelty, but yet I am content. Thirteen years I’ve had with my husband, and two bonny bright children. A thousand joyful memories we’ve made together, along with a home and a life strong enough to endure. I hope for thirty and thirteen more. Maybe then we’ll do the whole length of the Appalachian Trail together!

Housatonic River Valley
Housatonic River Valley

*I discovered later in life that manse actually has two meanings. In a New England context, it’s synonymous with mansion and means a fancy house. In a Presbyterian sense, however, the manse is the house that the pastor lives in. It usually specifically means a home provided for the pastor by the church. It is in this second sense I use it – since it is a classical manse, so close to the church as to almost be touching and built in a similar style. We actually lived in The Manse (a double-wide trailer) for two years when I was a young girl.