The Summer of their Years

As we close the book on the summer, I can’t help but think that this will be The Summer. I’m sure you had a summer like that – a summer you look back to in your childhood. It stands out golden and long and joyful, and is the marker for what summer should be. My Summer was when I was 9, and it included a pond and a raft, waves of grasshoppers that would explode from every footstep I took and journeys through the wild woods behind my house.

This summer, Grey was 11 and Thane was 8. And if this summer wasn’t peak-childhood-summer, I don’t know what could be.

We did a bit of pre-season summering with our first camping trip of the year, to the Waterville Valley Campground. It was a superbly relaxing weekend. We didn’t go very far or do very much, and were contented to hang out in hammocks and read books and be together. It was a superb camping trip, and we resolved in the future to carefully plan more nothing for our camping trips.

The summit of our one hike

The summer started a bit quietly. School ended in mid June. We spent the last few weeks of June saying goodbye to our dear and beloved friends, as they prepared to move. We spent absolutely as much time together as possible, including heading up to New Hampshire together to celebrate about five of the kids’ birthdays. I armed them all with NERF for some epic neighborhood battles.

Last hurrahs

It was a strangely empty neighborhood we left for our longest camping trip of the year, the 4th of July trip, to our ancestral camping grounds at White Lake State Park. We’ve been there every summer since Thane was a 9 month old, and it never ceases to be a favorite of all of ours. You can take a hike, hang in a hammock, go down to the beach, ride bikes or forage for the sweet fern which grows nearby. In keeping with the traditions of our camping trip, there was extreme weather. In this case, we upped our game to include tornado warning, which sent us to a favorite local watering hole. In this case, the correlation between the soccer game we wanted to watch and the necessity to shelter in place was very serendipitous. We returned to a campsite that hadn’t been evacuated, but which had been clearly flash-flooded. Since we include moderate flooding in all our camping plans, this was accepted as nothing more than expected excitement.

Waiting out the storm
After the rains left

We’d only be home a few days from the camping trip when the second annual Flynn’s Fiery Feast came up. It was a particularly peripatetic adventure, since the weather was gorgeous… between storm cells. So we kept moving the people and the stuff in and out, and in and out. Everyone was remarkably good sports about the whole thing.

The very next day, it was time to drive to New Hampshire again (a theme in my summer) to drop an extremely confident eldest son off at his third (or fourth?) year at Camp Wilmot. We spent a special week at home with our littlest one, and got exactly one letter from our eldest telling us what we’d forgotten to pack him. The next Sunday found me driving that oh-so-familiar stretch of 93 to drop Thane off for his first year. He sent three letters in six days, earning the “Mailman” award at camp. When Erin and I picked up our collected progeny, Thane told me that as much as Grey loved Camp Wilmot, he (Thane) loved it more.

Week one Wilmotters
The week 2 Camp Wilmotters, minus M. whom we couldn’t find

We picked the kids up from New Hampshire on Saturday. On Sunday, we drove up to New Hampshire for a tubing trip on the Saco (rescheduled from the 4th weekend when the river was at flood stage). We had a great time throwing frisbees and floating, with the exception of the section where Thane and I managed to get totally tangled up, lose our tubes and I permanently lost my favorite hair thingy. Woe! Thane is not a huge fan of tubing after that, sadly.

How can you not love this?

They had a whole five days between that tubing trip to recover before it was time for my company summer outing at Six Flags. It rained, but that just meant that there were ZERO lines for the biggest baddest rides. Thane is now tall enough for Superman (the biggest of the Six Flags roller coasters, and a legitimately big one). They have no fear, those children. It was neat to be able to do it with friends, as well!

The rain was our friend

The day after our Six Flags adventure, we flew to Barcelona and spent a totally jetlagged day there, as well as most of a second, walking the green and joyful espalandes of Las Ramblas. Thane chased the pigeons, we ate ice cream and caught Pokemon and lost ourselves in the rambling alleys of the Gothic Quarter.

Thane and the pigeons had a special relationship
The Gothic Quarter

The next day we went up to Montjuic on the Funicular, and spent time going deep on the history of that grim fortress – first built to protect the city and then used to terrorize it. We walked in the gulleys where hundreds were executed, and watched the flags flying with philosophical questions.

Thought provoking art installation
Montjuic parapets

The next day we took the train from Barcelona to Carcassonne. As we sped through the Mediterranean countryside, the boys opened their dice bags and continued the role-playing games that have threaded through all the fun times of our journey. Carcassonne city was glorious. We stayed in the newer section (you know, like 1600) in this Roaring 20s era hotel near the train station. We’d walk through the high end shops and cross the bridge to go up to the medieval city itself. It was truly remarkable, even knowing that it had been restored a mere shmere 130 or so years ago. You could lay your hands against stones that had been placed there by the Romans as they spread across Europe. But there was this whole lack of self-consciousness of the weight of history that only the Europeans can really pull off. Even the medieval city felt lived in, as though it was home to real people.

Also, the cassoulet was unbelievable.

The city had walls connecting it to the river
The keep
The small well in the city

Our greatest highlight of the Carcassonne portion of our visit was the day we spent with James MacDonald visiting Lastour and Minerve, and coming to come to intimately know the Cathars and the Crusaders who persecuted them. Climbing up to the remarkable towers at Lastours was unbelievable. It looked like a Byronic play backdrop. Minerve seemed barely changed at all from the siege of 1220, except for the Victorian bridge that now spanned the chasms. Between them we visited a neolithic tomb. There are some days where you can feel yourself accruing the value of your life. Days where you find the very meaning that you have longed and yearned for. This day was all that – to gaze on these places and walk their worn steps. It was remarkable.

How could this possibly be real?
High above the modern era
Thousands of years ago, this was wrought by human hands
Long imagined city, visited

Adam and I passed our 17th anniversary in the warmth of Barcelona, before we headed back to the states from a truly remarkable week in the 13th century. (And a scant week before terrorists plowed through the crowds we’d just been part of in Las Ramblas.)

Barcelona cathedral

Once again, we gave the boys a gracious allowance of a week before the next thing. Although this particular week, we sent them to boating camp on Spot Pond where they spent six or so hours a day on the water honing their sailing and kayaking skills. I counted, and the children kayaked on three distinct bodies of water this summer, in three different states. I kayaked in zero bodies of water. I think this shows that my children are living more wisely than I am.

My folks departed Boston ASAP on Friday night after they finished boating camp for parts west, racing the sun across the country to be in Idaho Falls in totality to witness the complete eclipse. On the way they passed through Niagara Falls, Minnesota with their cousins, Wall Drug, the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, the Hiawatha Trail (where they went on a 17 mile bike ride) and Yellowstone. They also kayaked on Mineral Lake at the end of their journey.

Niagara
Wall Drug
Mt. Rushmore
Eclipse
Hiawatha Trail
Kayaking on Mineral Lake

They got back from this adventure about 3 days before school started. (Meanwhile, I was hiking Chocorua.)

We were supposed to go camping Labor Day weekend. I regret that we didn’t. It is not restful to be home, I swear. But we were so worn out from all our wanderings that we just stayed at home and took a deep breath in preparation for our busiest season, the fall.

But truly, if that doesn’t count as the best summer of your childhood (maybe your life?) then, well, I’m not really sure what it is you are hoping for. It was a glimmering, golden, busy, joy-filled, friend-filled, nature-filled, history-filled, ice-cream-filled summer, and I will treasure it forever.

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This is Camp Gramp 2016

There comes a point where you just shut down your computer on a Friday, and don’t open it up for a week. I hit that point. Man, did I need a vacation. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten it! Meanwhile, Camp Gramp is in full swing. Instead of the typical email updates, my mom has been posting Facebook updates. I can’t blame her for it, but in the interests of stealing her writing and using it as my own (hey, it’s not a vacation if I have to work, right?) I’m reposting here for your delectation!

Camp Gramp Day 1 – Saturday
We are here! The tents are up! The sleeping bags are out! The children are happily playing. They are old enough now for some self-determination, so they have decided our destination in Canada will be Vancouver. The criteria is — a good science museum! Parents are raising these kids right!

Two kids have outgrown their tents, and a third tent is on its last legs. We have two new tents and will need to replace a third.

The Camp Grampground
The Camp Grampground

Camp Gramp – Day 3
Today started with a bang. A flat tire. The van has a spare, but it is under the front seat and really hard to get to. We played old people and used our AAA. The nice young man had bad things to say about getting the spare out.

I needed to go to town to get the tire fixed and visit the Group Health lab, so we gave the children a choice. Go to town and chase Pokeman Go or stay home. They chose stay home! They have been upstairs playing together much of the day. When they weren’t doing that, they were playing outside. This sounds like the MOST BORING Camp Gramp. But they are enjoying themselves. I think it is a sign of maturity. First, they can make choices themselves. Second, they can entertain themselves!

It is like a Lan party for Matthew. Feed them and stay out of the way!

Camp Gramp Day 4 — Tuesday
Today is Gramama’s birthday. We spent a while at the lake with the boats. The children did a great job, no one got wet by accident. We did have an incident of a nest of bugs in the canoe, but otherwise, it was great fun. Swimming too. The cake was the work of the W. children!

Hot enough to swim in Mineral Lake!
Hot enough to swim in Mineral Lake!
I love this picture - time for Thane to learn how to paddle his own canoe
I love this picture – time for Thane to learn how to paddle his own canoe
Good think I sent this kid to three weeks of camp that included kayaking!
Good think I sent this kid to three weeks of camp that included kayaking!

Camp Gramp – Wednesday
Today was organic farm day. A colleague of mine has a new farm in Ashford and the kids spent a couple hours there. They met Otis the dog, and the chickens. They came home with some eggs they collected. The met the llamas and the alpacas. There was also hay climbing and chicken chasing.

Then the evening was spent on Mt. Rainier at a Star Party. Sebastian was a helper, keeping the moon in the telescope. It was great, but very late when we got home. Fortunately, they all woke up enough to get out of the car and go to bed.

Strong candidate for official camp gramp picture
Strong candidate for official camp gramp picture
Turkey in the straw
Turkey in the straw

Camp Gramp – the beginning of the end

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

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

Camp Gramp 2015: The first days

Many of you are familiar with Camp Gramp – a beloved annual institution where my folks take all four of their grandchildren for a week of hijinks and adventures. My mom usually emails us updates on what they’re up to, and I often pass those along to the myriad Camp Gramp fans out there! This year’s adventure is an RV tour down the East Coast, focused on Colonial history and codes. Here’s my mom’s first update!


A keyboard! Of course, the hazard is that everyone can see this since it is a public network. Guess I better not mention the NSA!

Day one — Camp Gramp — was hectic. We couldn’t get the RV until 1 p.m., then we drove it back to the house and tossed in the collection from the porch. Hit the road, Jack, for West Point. They have the most beautiful camp ground there. Finding it only involved turning around one time — a task with the 33′ RV. (Did I mention 10′ wide — 10′? And 12.5′ tall which cost us an extra 100 miles today. The campground was very primitive — electricity and water, but it was carved out of the hillside around a beautiful little lake. I would like to go back there and sit for a week. Of course, we didn’t get there until about 10 p.m. so finding a spot was a challenge, but we parked and slept, and marveled at the lake the next morning.

And, we discovered our first forget — sleeping bags for the Flynn kids. It was a cold night for Papapa and I! It is true! It was really cold.

Day two — after organizing the RV, we spent a little time enjoying the lake. Then we took off for Annapolis. I have to say, I am admiring the truck drivers. It is scary to do the freeways with all those people buzzing around us. And the traffic jams, oh my! Also, the East coast has more than its share of freeways. We were late in at Annapolis. We would have been in time if it were for the two turn around we had to do. Did I mention 33′? I thought I did.

The historical adventure of the day was Valley Forge. We thought it was a little self—— well I don’t know what the word is I want, but everyone was a little too enamored of the site. Obviously we are in Washington territory! Every other place is Washington’s birthplace, headquarters, crossing, etc.

All this time, the kids have been doing an excellent job. They have used many more screens than their parents would like, but they have played happily in the back of the RV. They like the variety of seating arrangements. Kay and Thane sleep above the cab, the boys on the couch and table beds. We have a palatial queen sized bed in the back.

Today was the SPY MUSEUM. It was awesome. Actually a Museum of Cryptology. The kids got a treasure hunt when they came in. They had to use a spinner to decode messages. All but Thane got it done and they all received cool prizes. Kay a cool pen. Thane and Baz a puzzle, and Grey a collapsible Frisbee which they promptly threw on top of the RV. I had to drive around the parking lot faster than I liked until it flew off! Grey was intrigued with the Enigma machines you actually got to use! He has several translated messages. We ate in our air conditioned palace — Mac and Cheese made in the microwave. I can turn on the generator.

Then we headed across Virginia to a Naval supply facility. They collect and redistribute supplies for ships. They have a very modern camping facility. Rows of cement pads with full hook-ups. It will be great for what we are doing, but it is not the most beautiful facility. There is a game the kids like. It is hard to explain — it is a circle of oval pods which you have to touch in different order. They got quite a workout! We are in a triangle with Yorktown, Jamestown, and Colonial Williamsburg. We will do Yorktown and Jamestown tomorrow, Sunday will be the waterpark. Monday will be Williamsburg. We stay here Tuesday night, for a record 4 nights, then off home.

I am sorry, Brenda and Heidi, the children, possibly accepting Thane, have fallen in love with the RV. Grey has decided to live in one. I, on the other hand, am not in love with the RV. Too unforgiving in the area of navigation. A missed turn is a disaster. And huge to put down the road. My brother-in-law, Ray, who is a truck driver, said you get used to it. when I asked him how long it takes, he said 12 years of so. I don’t have 12 years — my heart won’t last that long.

And now for the confessions. Today we were in the commissary — these are hungry children. Grey said, “We should get some mints! We haven’t brushed our teeth.” “You haven’t what?” Not a single one of them had brushed their teeth. Tonight was showers and teeth brushing! We forget how much reminding needs to happen.

Well, I think I will take a walk. The evening is beautiful, just a little cool breeze.

Brenda, you would have loved it. There were two bugle calls tonight at sunset. I don’t know if they were live or canned, but they were really nice.

Goodnight all. We are still safe!

The Living is Easy

Decoding the Camp Gramp welcome letter, with Feline Oversight.

As the sparks from the fire ran high to the trees, bathing my beloved and I in a warm glow, and the loons called mournfully from the lake, I declared, “I’m not sure life gets much better than this.”

I’ve felt that way a lot, lately. Thane is about to lose his two front teeth. He’s sweet and loving and full of the wonder of childhood (and fart jokes, since nothing can be too perfect without being sickly sweet). Grey is growing every day in the places I most yearn for him to grow, showing grit and determination and resilience I’d once despaired of ever seeing from him. My beloved husband is kind and funny and loving, and I’m going to get to spend 10 whole days with him alone, focused on him.

My parents have just arrived to kick off Camp Gramp. My evenings and weekends are filled with friends and adventures. I even have time to read.

All this happiness is bad for blogging, I tell you. I spent the time I should’ve spent writing this post this weekend reading fantasy novels in the back yard. It’s hard to regret! But no time needs more loving documentation than the happy times you will look back on when the road grows rougher.

So … I’m going to try to get a bunch of posts up in the next two weeks. Those of you who know Camp Gramp of old know I usually post my mom’s updates. She has quite a curriculum developed for the campers this year! I also have no fewer than three blog ideas lurking and ready to go. I’ll try to execute, instead of reading more novels, but… no promises.

Soon to be toothless