With all the other kids at our house Mondays and Thursdays for day camp, life can feel kind of squeezed and stressful for our own boys. So we try and make sure they have quiet time to decompress, and also that we have time to do fun things together just as a family. On Monday evenings, that often means Springs Brook Park.
We're members there now (and without Leah even having to sell an organ!) so we feel like we can stop by whenever. Leah swam laps while the boys and I played in the pond and the spray park; only the latter is pictured since I was having too much fun with them in the pond for photography.
We brought a picnic supper to have on the grass, but no desert—so we were forced to treat ourselves to popsicles from the concession stand. Happy summer everyone!
One of the reasons we wanted to live in this house was because of the porch. It runs the whole width of the front of the house and half of one side, and it's just the place to hang out in the shade on a hot day or under cover during a thunderstorm. It also serves as storage for some of the bikes and car seats—less ideal but maybe even more necessary. All is wonderful, but for one thing: it's falling apart.
Specifically, the pillars that hold up the porch roof, put up maybe sometime in the early '90s, are rotting where they meet the porch floor. In some cases the rot has spread to the toe rails, causing the railings themselves to lean crazily. When two sections of railing by the side door—where the kids like to play—came loose completely, we knew it was time to start fixing the problem.
Luckily, when the previous owners of our house put in the new pillars they tucked the old ones under the porch. I don't know why, but as it happens four of the five stored columns made it through their 25 years of time off as good as new, and are ready to be pressed back into service.
Along with just swapping the pillars I also have to replace all the railings, which takes some new lumber; and the renovations of the '90s added three more columns, so I'll need to buy four new ones to finish the job; but it sure is nice to have a head start!
When I'm not working, I can do a lot in a day. As an example, here's a report on what we did yesterday.
I got up at 5:30 when I heard Lijah waking up. Leah was about to start exercising, so I took him outside to play so she could go ahead with that. We fed the chickens and chased them around for a while, then we decided to go for a bike ride. We headed down to the river again, where Lijah played in the water; he wanted to jump off the end of the dock, so I held his hands and dipped them in. We saw some ducks, which Lijah was excited about and correctly identified ("duh! duh!") and then some geese ("duh! duh!").
Strangely, it seemed to be getting darker rather than lighter; when we heard thunder I knew why! I quickly got Lijah dressed and we headed home. When we got back the other boys were up cuddling with Mama, so Lijah joined them while I made breakfast (bagel with cream cheese and scrambled eggs). As we ate the skies opened for a brief downpour, and I was glad to be safe at home.
After the rain stopped the boys and I went out to clean the car. It was a great way to let them play outside without getting soaked in the puddles, but also totally necessary: kids can really dirty up a car, and a minivan holds an impressive volume of trash! Eventually we got it cleared out and vacuumed, then packed up food (bb&j, blueberries, and cookies) and spare clothes and headed out to Acton to pick up more chicken food and visit the Discovery Museum.
As per the plan, Lijah fell asleep on the first leg of the trip and slept through the feed store part of the outing and our arrival at the museum. I had my book and was happy to wait with him in the car while Leah took the other boys in. When he woke up we made our slow way through the little forest path on the grounds, taking in the sights.
The museum was as fun as always. It was Lijah's first time there as a walker—maybe his first as a sentient being—and he enjoyed it fully (though there were a few tears when we came off the forest path and into the crowded museum lobby). We did all the stuff in the children's part of the museum (ages 0-6), then went back outside to have lunch and play on the nautical playground and with the bikes. Then home, sadly (for Zion at least) without visiting the Science Discovery building.
At home we declared a rest time and the boys played quietly while Leah put Lijah down for another nap and I wrote a blog post. Another storm blew through, with some impressive thunder and high winds but not much rain. It did lower the temperature a whole lot, so after the light rian stopped we went outside. Our friend Jim just gave us a compound bow (along with all sorts of other fun toys!) but we didn't have anything for it to fire, so with the boys watching and fetching supplies I set to work making an arrow. Even without anything weighting the tip it worked impressively well.
The neighbor kids came over as I was finishing it up, and they stuck around and played for a while until the sky darkened once again; as the thunder got nearer and nearer we decided it might be better to go inside. Lijah was still sleeping so they went home. We were waiting for him to wake up so we could go to the farmers market, but as it hit 4:00 I realized we'd never be able to go and still make it home at dinner time, so I declared a big snack (corn, cucumber, cheese, and crackers). We ate out on the front porch until a particularly close lightning bolt frightened us inside—or at least, frightened me enough that I ordered the kids inside.
Lijah woke up around the same time the rain stopped, so with the bigger boys in raincoats and boots (but not me or Lijah—he doesn't have either, and I just wanted to get out the door!) we hopped in the car for our trip to the market. Usually we bike, but both Lijah and Zion have been wanting to walk more than they get to, so I figured we'd park a ways away from the market and make our own way there. With the stroller along, just in case. Which we did, though in the event I tried to keep Lijah in the stroller as much as possible, to keep him out of the puddles.
The market was mostly washed away—no more bacon, alas—but we got the vegetables we needed and enjoyed talking to the hardy farmers who stuck out the deluge. There were some big puddles on the market lawn; you can guess what happened right after I took this picture.
Even though he was wet halfway up his shirt—that was a big puddle—and I didn't have any dry clothes for him, I decided to honor the boys' strongly-felt desire to visit the Lexington library. I called Leah to let her know and said I'd told the kids 10 minutes, which in library time means like half hour or more. I think we were there closer to an hour, when all was said and done. We left with two more books.
When we got home the kids all needed some Mama time, and I got to work making mac-and-cheese to go with the chicken and roasted vegetables Leah had already prepared. Zion fell asleep before supper, which is fair: it was at least two hours past our usual supper hour. After the remaining four of us ate I played with Lijah while Leah read with Harvey and put him to bed, then Leah and Lijah went to bed. I did a little reading and writing before finally turning in at around 10:00.
A moment from the week.
We have been running a free summer camp at our home this summer. It is lovely. The children are doing great. They are learning new skills, testing their physical limits, and improving their hand-eye-coordination. They are growing in bravery, growing their friendships, and problem solving all sorts of mechanical and social situations. The adults who stay and sit on our lawn drinking while I serve them coffee and try to entertain their babies? They get an informal support group twice a week. They feel immediately understood when they share about just how all-encompasingly difficult this time of life is.
For me this is the closest to "living out a calling" that I've ever experienced. People come to my house, and I find a way to fulfill a deep need that's been eating them up inside. In this case, the need for free childcare that doesn't make them feel like they're betraying their hippy morals. Plus I get to make coffee, lots and lots of coffee, and if someone forgets their lunch my Jewish nature is fulfilled by finding something in the kitchen that I think they might like to eat.
We are living the panacea — giving ourselves to others and seeing positive results.
Also, quite often I'm really miserable.
The moment a child smiles at me because something clicked in her brain and she finally "got" basket weaving? That's followed by a moment in the kitchen handwashing a stack of dishes and cups. And let's be honest, the breakfast dishes and the muffin tin too, especially if some campers showed up an hour early and I didn't have time to bus the morning table. My bathroom? It smells like a camp bathroom. Wet bathing suits leave marks on every conceivable surface in my living room. Sometimes kids cry and I am default mama to them. Sometimes my own kids cry because they are over-extended and they just want everyone to leave their house.
What happens when you find yourself living the life you wanted and it kind of sucks?
I have been thinking about this question for a while, as I see other friends finally "making it" to their callings, not just 'good jobs' but the thing they always imagined they wanted to do with their lives. Smart do-gooder friends finally work for the government. Missionary friends go overseas and find their unwashed masses. Friends who always wanted a baby finally adopt the perfect child God prepared for them from the foster care system.
These people, they tell me that they are sooooo incredibly blessed at this moment. God has come through and given them everything! Everything he put on their hearts to desire! And then they tell me their complaints. The first is how God-awful TIRED they are right now. Oh my goodness, I would LOVE some coffee, yes, I've just switched from two cups a day to three. Also, money is a little bit of a stressor right now. I just had no idea how much I'd need to spend on parking / bribes / advocate services / dinners out. And I cannot even tell you about the paperwork. Reams and reams of paperwork. Just when you think you are finished with one round, there's another email in your inbox / letter in the mail / lawyer at your door with a dozen forms you have to fill out EXACTLY PERFECTLY.
And it's not that God didn't come through. He sure came through fo rus - he gave us what we wanted. He just didn't change the entire world underneath us while he was at it. He gave us our dreams and made them reality. It's just that we now have to live our dreams in the context of reality. And reality tends to be chaotic and frustrating. Other people make difficulties of us. Not to mention the weather.
Also, he didn't magically give us new selves either. I was a little tired and frustrated before, when I was stuck inside a cubicle making money at a job I hated. Now I'm living my calling as someone who's (who'd have guessed it?) a little tired and frustrated. My friends and I, perhaps we thought that living the life we dreamed would magically make us the people we dreamed of being. We saw another missionary and he looked happy, and we thought it was the mud hut and all that time in the sunshine. We didn't think that probably he was the type of person who was happy to begin with.
I am not knocking dreaming. Life takes dreaming. I am just saying some of us put a lot of eggs in a single basket.
So what are my dreams now? Now that life is wonderful and I still remain stubbornly human? I dunno, different ones. Bigger ones. I'll never learn. But I also have small dreams too, now. Sandwich sized-dreams. Literal dreams of sandwiches. To give me practice getting what I want and not taking it so disappointed.
We have summer squashes in the garden after an absence of a year or two. Five types, because I was using up the ends of a few different seed packets (and then bought one more when I had bad germination on some old zucchini seeds). They're growing fine—not at the amazingly productive level that gives rise to jokes, but respectably—but I do have one problem: I can't tell how big they are.
The thing with summer squash is, you want to pick them fairly small; wait too long and the seeds mature and harden up. But the plants are in the midst of our new section of garden, cheek-by-jowl with winter squash, corn, and beans, and it's hard to get in there and really check how big they are. Even worse, they all grow at the same rate. It's like with kids: your own kids never get any bigger, but when you have a toddler babies get smaller; and I imagine when your youngest hits college age high-school students are looking pretty young to you. With all the squashes growing at the same rate, I keep checking them and thinking, "yup, almost ready".
I picked a few today (pictured above) and they were a bit too big. They were tasty enough cooked in lots of butter along with salt, pepper, and parmesan (if only I could get my big kids to eat them). But I'll try and pay more attention and get the next batch smaller. Maybe keep a ruler outside?
It's been sunny here for weeks and weeks—first hot and sunny, then pleasant and sunny. Sure, there were some thunderstorms, but they traded off with heat and humidity. Today was a real rainy day. So what did we do?
The library first, while Lijah took his morning nap; then home to pick up him and Mama for an outing to the grocery store and the mall. I hadn't been to the mall for years, so I was pretty excited. So were lots of other people: pretty much the whole world was there. I saw one family who had left the Bedford library just before we did. The boys and I played in the play space and ate some food court samples while Leah bought us a new vacuum cleaner (goodbye $250...).
In the afternoon the rain trailed off, so the younger two boys and I biked up to the farmers market. Like last week, there were some serious puddles there—so much so that they reconfigured the vendor booths. All the other parents steered their kids away from them with varying degrees of panic, but we like to set a bad example. Lijah didn't fall down this time.
We got in dinner outside before the rain started again, then Harvey and Zion played a board game while I did the dishes.
And the best part: the heavy overcast made it dark enough for everyone to be asleep before 7:30! Everyone but me, that is. So what am I doing still up?!
A moment from the week.
A moment from the week.
A "friend" of ours recently posted a facebook comment—in response to an article—that facebook helpfully highlighted for me. In it she said many things, including:
I get that people want to live off the grid and off the land but for heaven's sake stop blogging about it and just do it and live your life and not rub it in the faces of the masses if that's what you want.
I'm not sure if that part was meant to be about us or about the article's subjects (who were, according to the headline, planning to retire at 33) but either way I took note. We don't really want to live off the grid or off the land, unless it should become necessary, and we certainly don't want to rub anything in anyone's face. I write because I like looking back on what I did years ago; blogging works much better than trusting in my suspect memory. I also try and be a little funny. If you enjoy some of these words, I'm glad; but you don't have to read them. If they're causing you distress, please close the tab right now, and godspeed!
We went camping. With the big car everything fit in wonderfully, and with the big kids the drive up was a (relative) snap! Here you can see the boys singing along with the Frozen soundtrack.
We got off to a much better start than last year when we didn't hit the neighbor's car backing out of the driveway, but our departure was still a little frantic and I forgot the folding chairs, the gallons of water, and any recorded music beyond the Frozen soundtrack. But we were on the road before 10:00, and as Lijah napped we made good time all the way up to our first stop, at the Maine Roasters coffee shop off 295 in Yarmouth. We recommend it: there are toys for the kids and coffee, air conditioning, and wifi for the grownups. We stayed half an hour.
Back in the car we soon left the freeway to take to the single lane of US Route 1. That's how we always go, and we love it... but I'm not going to suggest anyone else follow our example, because of all the horror stories I've heard from friends and strangers alike. We seem to do fine; this time we just hit about five minutes of backup getting into Wiscasset.
The rest was smooth sailing, and we sailed right on up to the beach in Lincolnville, totally worth any potential traffic delays.
We hung out there for about an hour playing in the water and collecting shells.
The whole way up we could see towering clouds on the horizon all around us, but the sky never darkened over our heads.
We rolled into the campground at 5:00, just seven-and-a-quarter hours after we left home (with two stops of an hour and a half total—Rt 1 works for us!). We did get a scare when one storm got close enough for us to hear thunder as we set up the tent; just the thing to keep us from lingering over the work. In the event no rain fell, and we sat down to enjoy a lovely dinner of skillet lasagna prepared by Becca and Andrew—well, me and the bigger boys sat down; Leah and Lijah were already in bed. Camping travel is tiring!
For our first full day on the island we scheduled a family hike. Of course, with four families to mobilize—eight adults and six kids—it took us a little while to get going. Not that anyone slept late the first night in the tents; though I did get up early enough ahead of other members of my family to get a lovely picture.
With sandwiches, snacks, and sunscreen packed up we headed to the cafe for breakfast (lovely as always, though we did have to wait a bit for a table for all of us!). Harvey and Zion were delighted to show Nathan the toys.
Then followed a period of deep discussion, which led ultimately to a decision to keep our cars in town and take the bus to the trailhead. It was a good choice for many reasons, not least because it turns out Lijah absolutely loves riding the bus.
Off the bus we took a minute to get organized, then slipped the kids' leashes (metaphorically speaking) and they were off!
We did our best to keep up over the half-mile from the parking lot to the top of North Bubble (with 400 feet of elevation gain!), but we could never get ahead of our fearless leaders. We'd gotten such a late start it was easily lunch time by the time we hit the summit, so we stopped a bit to eat. And, you know, get a family photo.
With lunch over there was time to admire the views (see also this picture). The mountain isn't very tall, but it's well situated for views!
The boys had done so well we figured we'd press on, and once again they were off and running—this time calling out every blaze and cairn along the way.
With energy to spare at the bottom of the first mountain we thought we'd try another, smaller yet but much steeper. It was fun!
I awarded lollipops to all hands when we reached the top.
Going back down the way we came was even harder than going up, so it was a relief to take to the carriage road for a bit. Only problem was, without the challenge of climbing the four-year-olds finally started to falter, and needed a little bit of carrying. When we turned back onto the real trail they revived, and finished out the third mile of the hike in fine spirits.
The bus back to town was so crowded we Becca, Andrew, and Henry didn't make it on, but while we were worried about them—we were all short of cell service and phone batteries—we were happy enough to laze around the park while we waiting the half-hour for the next bus to roll in. Then it was back to the campground, where, with the sun setting, the bigger boys went for a swim in the pool with Leah while Kyle and Margaret worked on dinner. I was watching Lijah—except when I wasn't.
The campfire pizzas were more spectacular than ever, but I'm only allowed one food picture per camping post, and I absolutely have to use it for the smore—if that humble name can even do it justice—that Tim created using a brownie in addition to the traditional ingredients.
The giant marshmallows Kyle supplied helped too. Truly a fitting climax to a spectacular day of hiking!
On Monday of our vacation we went to the beach. After breakfast, of course. Leah got an ocean preview: while we were eating breakfast she ran to Compass Harbor and back, with a stop for a dip. Nothing like Maine ocean water to get you going in the morning! In her absence I was in charge of Lijah, and I happened upon the bright idea of ordering blueberries for him just as we sat down at the cafe. It worked! (just that once, but I was still proud of myself).
We got going quicker than the day before, but there we still packed enough into the morning that, when we finally made it onto the bus, Lijah didn't get to take in too much of the trip.
The bus to Sand Beach passes by the Precipice trail up Champlain Mountain, and some of us couldn't resist: Kyle, Andrew, and I hopped out, and—with admonitions from loved ones to be careful—headed up the ladders.
Unlike last time, the view was fine.
On the down side, it was astonishingly hot, and when we reached the top the murky waters of the summit pond/puddle were a little tempting...
After a relaxing lunch, we headed down. Our original plan was to continue over the top of Champlain back to the Nature Center, where we could get back on the bus; looking at the map Andrew suggested that it would be better to just follow the South Ridge trail right to the beach. He was right! On our way down we had occasional views of our goal.
On the way we passed a real inviting mountain pond, and it was hard to limit myself to dunking my head and splashing my face. But as hot as we were, we were actually disappointed when we got to within a couple hundred yards of the shore and felt the temperature drop maybe 15 degrees: we wanted to be able to really enjoy that cold water! Never mind, the delight of my children playing in the waves pulled me right in.
It wasn't all joy for the beach party—the sun was beating down there too, and three-plus hours is a long time to sit exposed—but Leah has all the pictures of that part of the day. My beach time was short but intense—the bigger waves were breaking about at my shoulder height—then we packed up for the bus ride home. (That was also a little intense, but the boys were awesome about helping and waiting patiently.)
Off the bus the kids ran around a bit more, but not too much: we had to get back to the site where it was my turn to make dinner!
While the boys washed the salt water off in the chlorine of the pool I turned out a passable chili and cornbread, which was ready just as soon as they straggled back, tired from cumulative hours of swimming. But while Zion and Nathan dropped right off to sleep after dinner, Harvey took a moment to enjoy his camping evening to the fullest with a flashlight and a book.
I need to pause from my series on our recent camping vacation to acknowledge another kind of camp: our day camp just finished up for the summer, with a bike ride up to the ice cream store to celebrate.
We did a lot of cycling over the course of the summer—more than most of the kids had ever done before. Sometimes they didn't like it and wished that it was over, but I made sure that in the end it always felt fun and worthwhile (that's what careful route planning will do: I put all the hard parts first!). And as the kids were stretched, so were the parents: some of them were nervous about sending their kids out on the roads (or at least the sidewalks) but everyone did great—I'm happy to report that we didn't lose a single one all summer. And at the end, I think both kids and parents ended camp today with an expanded view of what they and their kids could do on bikes—and maybe in general!
The kids also ended it covered in ice cream...
... and happy to be cycling together!
It was fun; maybe we'll do it again next year!
A moment from the week.
No, we didn't take a boat trip. One day we will, but this year it was all we could do to find time for the hiking. But we saw that boat!
On our third full day in Maine we woke up knowing that half of our group (going by number of adults, anyways) was going to be leaving us in time to get back to Massachusetts before bedtime, so we hurried off to the cafe to get the day started. By this point we had things figured out vis-a-vis parking, and I tucked the car in an all-day spot just around the corner from the restaurant and bus stop.
After breakfast we said goodbye to Becca and Andrew—or in my case, failed to say goodbye, since I was somewhere else trying to keep the kids busy—and hopped on the bus for a short trip to Sieur de Monts Nature Center and the many trails that originate there. After visiting the dead animals—and hearing from the Park Ranger about the ozone warning—we headed out for a reprise of our family hike from last year... just with one more family. Harvey remembered the stairs fondly. There were stairs up:
And stairs down:
Harvey took em all like a champ, without a word of complaint; Zion did better than last year in that he walked some—most of the way up—but digestive issues slowed him down before even the halfway point, and as on Monadnock last fall, he needed an unplanned carry. This time it was Mama's turn, since I had a sleeping Lijah in the backpack. She is a strong Mama.
But we made it—and even better, we made it right as the bus back to town was pulling in. The timing was important because Leah and Tim were planning a trail run with Kyle, who wanted one more adventure before he hit the road. Since we finished our entire hike in the time it took he and Margaret to pack up their things, we didn't feel bad about holding him up. As the athletic three synchronized their watches and took off to run to the top of a mountain (ask Leah for more information), Katie, Margaret, and I led the boys on a more sedate expedition.
Wandering through town, we soon made it down to Agamont Park, which was a great spot to have lunch and run around a bit.
From there we made our way slowly down the shore path, stopping eventually to experience the ocean up close.
The runners found us there, but they didn't feel as relaxed as we were; Tim and Leah wanted to change and Kyle needed to hit the road. As happy as we felt to be by the shore, we let them draw us away with a promise of ice cream. Zion was delighted to find seesaw camel at Mt Desert Island Ice Cream, and Harvey insisted he loved the London fog he chose (it was a delightful, but unsweetened, Earl Gray with vanilla).
Back at the campground by early afternoon, there was finally time for me to visit the pool too! While there we chatted with another homeschooling family, and all three boys had fun immersing themselves more fully than they could in the ocean (or fountains).
As we started to get dinner together we realized that we'd said goodbye to four adults but only one kid, tipping the balance in favor of the young people, who now outnumbered us five to four. That didn't seem right, but with the kids doing a great job entertaining each other we though we might survive. I made a wonderful fire for Tim to cook hamburgers and hotdogs on.
After dinner we went for a walk—up at the pool we'd heard that there was a tent suspended from trees somewhere by the shore, but once we got down there we forgot to look for it, so distracted were we by the shore itself.
When we made it back to our site there was enough energy in the banked fire for Harvey to make a very impressive torch, but none of us had enough even for smores, and after a hasty cleanup we were all in bed well before 9:00. Vacationing is exhausting!
Not quite September yet, but we couldn't wait any longer; and Monday does seem the best day to start something new.
Not that it makes that much of a difference, since we were doing school stuff all through the summer—as much as we ever do, that is. Harvey finished three or four worksheets dated the 28th, for example, that we corrected together today. But it felt different, and not only because we made the sign—we were more focused throughout the morning on doing school things together than we've been for a while. Not completely focused, mind you, because we were also trying to come to terms with finding at breakfast that our fridge had stopped working, but still.
We had to have the sign; it's apparently a thing for homeschoolers. Harvey designed and wrote out all by himself (with my directions for what it needed to say: grade 1 and his name). He only asked me about what colors are in the rainbow. Zion made a sign too ("pre-K") but he wasn't as into it, and was otherwise occupied when I took Harvey's picture.
After the signs I had Harvey tell the story from a wordless book (Wonder Bear, by Tao Nyeu). We also played soccer, and practiced counting patterns and adding to make 10, and took a walk and a bike ride, and drew pictures. And talked about kindness and responsibility and being a good listener. It was a pretty full day!
And don't worry about the other two boys who aren't in "school" yet: they had a fun time too!