We went camping. Besides the usual hiking, we also did some bouldering, swam in several bodies of water, saw a magic show, ate lots of snack food, and stayed up late. Vacation is tiring!
We'll write words again one day, I promise. For now, here are some moments from the past week.
Camping is exhausting, and most years our annual Bar Harbor trip is the most exhausting thing we do all year. This year, though, we topped it. Less than two weeks after we got back from Mt Desert Island—and before I had any time to write about camping, or about anything at all—we packed the car again and headed to Washington DC for Harvey to compete in the Pokemon World Championship. He did not win, but it was still a fantastic—and overwhelmingly tiring—trip.
We left home at 4:15 in the morning on a Thursday. Our friends who go to Washington more than once in a lifetime told us an early-morning departure is the way to go, traffic-wise; they also said their kids fall back to sleep as soon as they get going and sleep for the first third of the trip. That didn't happen for us. Everyone was too excited! Never mind, they're great travelers. And we did appreciate the traffic-free roads we encountered almost the whole way down (I guess it's impossible to involve yourself with New York City without running into some traffic).
Once we got through Hartford every moment brought the boys farther south than they had ever been; and soon, farther west as well. We eagerly took in the sights, especially the bridges. The boys are bridge fans, and the Bay Bridge in Maryland was easily the most impressive one we've ever crossed!
Once we were over it, it was only a little ways farther to Washington. Our route to the hotel took us by the convention hall where the Pokemon event was being held; in fact, it went right under a pedestrian walkway where hung a gigantic inflatable Pikachu! We had arrived.
Harvey's friend Jack came over today before nine in the morning, and he didn't leave to go home until 8:30pm. Well, he did stop by his own house briefly in order to pick up his bike and pack a picnic lunch, so he could join us on the day's summer camp outing. We just went up to the center of town today, where we played on the playground and the skate park and visited the library. And ate lunch. Besides that outing, the kids also played Pokemon and baseball, jumped on the neighbors' trampoline, and created a role-playing game based on the Percy Jackson series. Oh, and ran around in the dark (that game is called "shadow ninjas" around here). We're really enjoying the last little bit of summer vacation!
School starts September 3rd here, for those folks that go to school. Jack is going into 6th grade, so he'll have more freedom after he gets out in the afternoon. We hope to see him around lots more!
The question we've been answering the most over the last week has been, "how was Washington?" My answer? Hot. We get some hot weather here but it's got nothing on the unremitting heat and humidity of August in Washington, which was almost too much for us. Plus in turns out that it's hard to get good drinking water when you're staying in a hotel. So we were perpetually thirsty. But that may be universal in Washington, judging by the number of folks selling bottled water and gatorade on the streets around the Mall. It seems like a fine gig, if you don't mind shouting the same thing over and over again for hours.
Our hotel room, home for four long days, was very nice. We had two big beds, a table or bar sort of thing, and a L-shaped couch. Two TVs. The most important feature was the tiny refrigerator, which we needed so we wouldn't have to go out to eat for every single meal. The only downside to the place was the ridiculous bathroom sink—the only sink. It was a shallow box-shaped thing set on the countertop with a faucet that sprayed a flat sheet of water, maybe an inch and a half wide, out at a 45° angle. It made me think of hostile architecture—how cities install uncomfortable benches to keep folks from sleeping on them. Though in this case I think it was just bad design. Hard enough to wash hands in, never mind cleaning dishes.
We spent most of our time in Pokemon world—the main hall at the Convention Center. At least, Harvey, Zion, and I did; Lijah was having none of that (none of anything, actually) so he and Leah swam in the pool, walked the neighborhood around the hotel, and enjoyed the AC in the hotel room. Harvey and I played lots of Pokemon, and Zion played lots of Let's Go Pikachu on the game systems they had set up for him.
After the competition finished up Sunday at lunchtime, the bigger boys and I were free to be tourists. We walked down to the mall and through the Sculpture Garden, which is full of beautiful artwork. Also a giant fountain, by which we stopped for a picnic lunch. There was very definitely no wading allowed, but we could still enjoy dipping our tired feet in the luke-warm water.
Next we visited the Natural History Museum. We stayed for about three hours, and we would have been happy with twice that, but I had hopes of catching a glimpse of some more Washington-specific attractions (I mean, lots of towns have Natural History Museums). Unfortunately we were defeated by heat, distance, and the construction fence around the Washington Monument—but we did see it, at least. Then we got yelled at near the White House, without seeing that at all. That meant it was time to go home.
On Monday we finally got to do something all together: go to the zoo! After we got all packed up and checked out of the hotel, that is. Liberated our car from its underground storage where we had left it five days previously, I found that I had lost the parking slip—that meant we had to pay the daily maximum of $30. I'll take it! The zoo was wonderful, and we were entranced not only by the elephants and lions and gorillas, but but the otters and tamarinds as well. Plus the tamarinds were inside in air conditioned comfort! Did I mention it was really hot there?
We finally tore ourselves away from the zoo in the early afternoon and headed towards home. There was more traffic on the return trip but that was fine; we had a good book to listen too and lots to talk about—and we were happy to be sitting still. There were some adventures on the way: we went over the Bay Bridge again, we saw some more broken-down trucks, and we stopped in a little town in Eastern Maryland for gas. There we visited what was instantly my favorite convenience store in the world: not only did they have like 12 different varieties of pork rinds, but for once I didn't have to worry about the boys not having their shoes—there were barefoot adults in there too!
Did I mention that Zion didn't actually bring shoes on the trip? Traveling is fun. I'm also glad to be back home.
We had the police called on us for the second time today (the first was just about two years ago). This time it was Lijah who was running around on the street by himself—our little dead-end street here, the one with five houses on it. Then he went inside. This apparently aroused some concern in a passer-by, who... called the cops? The officer who came by was completely unconcerned; I'm actually not sure he managed to keep from rolling his eyes as he described the reason for his visit. I did feel a little bad that, when he arrived, Harvey and Zion were screaming at each other in frustration after trying to work together to put the hens in. Oh well.
Interestingly, earlier today all three boys had been riding their bikes around the block with a couple friends. But nobody complained about that.
Our first impression of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History was a good one: it was cool in there! Also the stuffed elephant they have standing proudly in the lobby is very impressive. The bag inspection at the door felt a little less good—we could wish the checkers could have shown a little more patience and kindness, but then I understand that they're dealing with a lot, so I can give them a pass.
On a Sunday afternoon the place was a little crowded, which explains our error of doing everything backwards: just inside the door we headed straight for the closest cool thing we saw, some giant fossil animals. But it turns out they were mammal fossils, and as we proceeded through the exhibit we passed into dinosaurs, then eventually to the origins of life. The boys enjoyed some very well-made film presentations, and the big skeletons were interspersed with small, but very detailed, dioramas showing the animals as they looked with skin, which we appreciated.
We also went backwards on the second floor. As soon as we got up the stairs I rushed us over to look at the Hope Diamond, then we moved on to a few rooms of cut gems alongside the minerals they're made from. Through the other side of that we entered a wonderful space made to look like the inside of a mine—it was so realistic it was hard to believe we weren't deep in the bowels of the earth. Then the next section was on volcanism and plate tectonics. The Hope Diamond is actually kind of underwhelming—though I did enjoy learning about its history—but the other gems were very arresting. So was the world's largest flawless crystal sphere.
There was tons more that we would have loved to see—we were there for three hours and could easily have enjoyed a visit twice as long. As it was we were trying to leave for maybe fifteen minutes, but kept getting distracted by "one more thing!" Maybe we'll go back some day. How about in ten years?
Some of the time I put a lot of energy into gardening. It would be better maybe to put a consistent amount of energy in, but this is where we are now. And besides garlic probably my favorite this to grow is tomatoes. There's nothing like a sandwich made with a tomato fresh from the garden, a little salt, and plenty of mayonnaise... (this time of year I regret our picnic lunch days because you just can't pack up a tomato sandwich). When everything goes well, life as a tomato farmer is just amazing.
But sometimes—often—things don't go as well. Lots of things can go wrong. Gardeners everywhere live in fear of the fungal blights that can devastate a previously healthy crop in just a couple days; and then there's less dramatic afflictions like blossom-end rot and tomato hornworm. Besides all those we have another challenge: our chickens. They like nothing better than to get in to the garden and peck bites out of every single one of the almost-ripe tomatoes in the row. It's brought me close to tears before. Today I finally just went and put a fence around the tomato bed. I should have done it a couple weeks ago but it makes it a pain to weed, and to pick tomatoes ourselves. But it was either that or kill and eat all the chickens.
We've still been able to pick plenty of unpecked tomatoes. And even the ones they got too still have food on them, if you're not too picky. Which I'm not. After all, these are home-grown tomatoes we're talking about!