bonus travel

Grandma Judy with her sisters

three grandmas

We took a short trip to Ithaca this past weekend for a Greig family reunion, which gathered all the children and grandchildren of Grandma Judy and her sisters: the three daughters of Betty and Douglas Greig.

Zion and Mama on the riverside

drawn to water

It was a long trip on Friday, but the boys were great in the car. We only made one significant stop, in Greene, NY, where we visited two of our favorite things: a library and a riverbank.

When we finally got there we made ourselves at home with the Ithaca Archibalds and did our best to adapt ourselves to their wild college schedule. Staying up past 10:00 wasn't too hard for the boys thanks to the long nap they both took in the car.

Harvey, Zion, and Nisia on the footbridge looking down at the river

ooh, more water

The next day we headed out to the reunion, which was at a state park. The centerpiece of the park was a creek, which was naturally fascinating to the boys and cousin Nisia—and even more than usual because this creek had cars driving through it at frequent intervals.

a car driving through the creek at the ford

a car in the water!

There was also a swimming area, but it was closed due to recent heavy rains. We did check it out, though, and made several trips to the restrooms located in the changing area. Harvey told me, "it's a bathroom but it looks like a castle."

the changing rooms at the state park, built imposingly of stone

castle bathroom

Of course, there was also lots of good food there. Grandma Judy organized and saw to it that there'd be lots of cold cuts, but everyone who came brought something delicious. I did my best to try some of everything.

some of the food at the reunion

a fraction of the spread

The day also saw a brief celebration of a couple birthdays: Uncle Tom and my cousin Doug each got to pretend to blow out the candles on a fair-sized carrot cake (we all brought food; nobody brought matches).

Uncle Tom holding cousin Nisia

birthday boy and almost birthday girl

The party might well have been over then, but nobody could resist the allure of the open field and playground adjacent to the wooded picnic area.

a view of the playground accross the parking lot

paradise in the distance

The young kids enjoyed the impressive play structure while athletic young adults (aged 12 to 50) played some ultimate frisbee, observed by those with more sense and dignity.

Zion snuggling in Mama's arms

running out of steam

The very young were pretty worn out by this point, but anyone who wanted to leave had a tough argument to make when there was still so much fun going on.

Harvey and Grandpa Dave on the swingset

still going strong

Of course, all good things must come to an end and eventually we headed home—for another oh-so-late night, this one enhanced by a game of Scrabble and sports on the big-screen TV.

Sunday we enjoyed a terrific morning at the Ithaca Vineyard church—any service that concludes with a pot-luck brunch is fine by me! But after a few more precious minutes playing with Nisia in the kids church room we had to hit the road and bring our tired boys home to a place where they'd be able to sleep. Of course, they got a head start in the car—in Zion's case within five minutes of our leaving and continuing for the next four hours or so.

low visibility on the Castleton-on-Hudson bridge

with the wipers at full speed

The drive was a little more eventful than we might have hoped thanks to a fierce thunderstorm just past Albany. The downpour was so bad that we actually pulled over for a couple minutes, until we got bored of standing still and ventured back out into the maelstrom.

The boys were a little more discontented going home than they were on the way out, but were mollified somewhat when we stopped at a rest stop on the Turnpike; when Leah and I, also pretty worn out, suggested that McDonalds fries might be a possibility Zion perked right up with an, "and chicken?!". So we did that. He liked it.

Zion smiling

better now

Of course that wasn't the end of the whining, but we did make it home eventually. It was still light so the boys jumped right on their bikes and took a few laps around the street before even going inside. Travel is great, but it sure is nice to be home.

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"I can't!"

Zion is a very capable child. He can do many things, and he tries gamely to do many things for himself that he can't actually manage. Despite that, one of the phrases we hear most often from him is "I can't!". I wish I had audio to give you the full effect; it's kind of a whine, in that the vowel sound is drawn out, but given the context it's generally not annoying, because mostly it's true. He is very small, after all. It's often rather endearing, actually.

Even better than the plain version are some recent extensions. Food he prefers not to eat? "I can't like it!" Would rather not have sunblock on? "I can't want it!" I'm not sure if he's aware of any semantic distinction between his speech patterns and a more traditional formulation—using "don't", probably—but it does make me wonder if there's any psychological insight to be gained from analysis of his unique syntax.

Fourth of July

our picnic spread and grandparents

fun, food, and family

Like we do, we celebrated the 4th of July this afternoon by attending Concord's Picnic in the Park. This time some grandparents met us there, so it was extra special. They brought chips!

the Concord hook and ladded truck parked on the field

that's where we were

We rode our bikes there; I think this is the first time we've been able to get there under our own power in consecutive years. What happened to our baby-production schedule?! Leah had the boys in the big bike, and I hooked up the trailer to bring our considerable pile of possessions. Chairs? Sure, why not!

It was very hot—it still is very hot as I compose this post—but the boys had a great time and didn't complain at all. Helped by a tantrum-induced nap an hour before we left (really! he two-year-olded himself to sleep!), Zion was able to keep going strong the whole time.

Zion's sweaty face

sweet and sweaty

Harvey, of course, is always a trooper; at least when he's out of the house, that is. They enjoyed the music and watching a very entertaining juggler (who performed in air-condition comfort) but I their favorite part was playing with the sand toys at the playground

Harvey and Zion pushing sand toys at the Emerson Park playground

this activity was in the shade

Although an all you can eat buffet enjoyed while sitting on Mama's lap isn't anything to be sneezed at!

Zion on Leah's lap, enjoying his picnic

everything he ever wanted

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

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late nights

This time last year we were totally in tune with nature's rhythms, going to bed with sun and feeling very wholesome. Not so much lately. Partly because it's been so hot the last few days, the later part of the evening—when it finally cools down—feels too nice to waste on sleeping. After putting the boys to bed this evening (at around 9:00) I made scones and Leah made a batch of cookies, as well as finishing up her latest basket. It's so wonderful to have it cool enough that we feel like we can light the oven without dying!—77°F at 10:15 as I type these words.

We also have a house-guest staying with us, which contributes to our disinclination to be done with any particular day. Got to stay up and be social! It's all very nice, as long as my body holds out—too many 6-hour nights in a row is not good for us. But so far so good.

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unplanned beauty

a close-up of a pink hollyhock blossom

who wouldn't want this in their garden?!

Among the many plants in our gardens this year we have a pair of beautiful pink hollyhocks. Aside from enjoying them because they're quite pretty on their own terms, I also appreciate their old-fashioned look. The only problem is, they both self-seeded and they're perhaps not in the most convenient locations. The one next to the driveway is fine, but the other one...

the whole hollyhock plant in amongst the tomatoes

maybe not the best spot

It's right on the edge of the bed where I put many of the tomato plants, and the only positive is that it's alongside the determinate varieties—the ones I'm growing in cages and mostly leaving alone, from a pruning point of view. But still, it'll be in the way soon, if it isn't already. I may have to take it out some time soon, but what a shame that would be!

Oh well, at least it isn't as bad as the year I left one to grow out of a crack in the walkway right in the middle of back steps.

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our hive

No, not the bees, though they're doing well. I'm thinking about our house, which, while often a haven a rest and repose, has been somewhat otherwise lately. It's just what we get for starting that Bible study, all those years ago. Not that I'm complaining: it's really wonderful to be at the center of so many exciting social whirls. But also tiring.

What have we been up to lately? I can only think back as far as Wednesday; everything before then is obscured by the fog of time. On Wednesday we continued to have a houseguest, as we've had (almost) every day since we came back from Ithaca at the end of June. So he's hanging out, and sometimes his baby and less frequently his wife are here. His dog too. Also Wednesday saw Grandma Judy visit for a couple hours in the afternoon, then we hosted the Bible study crew in the evening. Thursday Bridget and her kids stopped by for a few hours at the house and then one or two more at the playground and library. Friday we had Nathan over much of the day, then hung out with his Mama when she came to get him, then hosted Small Group for three other adults and five other kids. Then there's the conversations we have with neighbors as the pack of kids ride their bikes up and down the street. It's all a lot for a couple of introverts.

As I say, though, I don't mind it at all, though I would be happier if I were getting more sleep (a mostly unrelated problem). It's kind of fun to have the house buzzing with so much activity—appropriate to the summer, somehow. Especially since I know that our life won't always be this crazy.

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back online with a few updates

I was without the internet for a few days while Dan took my computer into work to teach some awesome iMovie summer camp. I didn't miss much in my time away from connectivity: one email from a friend, 145 spam emails, 8 blog posts in the RSS. I feel like it's a very peaceful time in my life right now, where no one relies on me to be online and I don't rely on the line so much for stimulation. Though I did freak out that Dan was taking away my calorie counter. I've been using the MyPlate app on livestrong.com to a degree that borders on idolatry. But after I told Dan, "It's fine; I'll just get fat," he pointed out that I could log into my account from Harvey's iPad. I don't know if that counts as recreational internet use or not. At any rate, the ice cream I inhaled today did not go unrecorded.

Speaking of livestrong.com and their calorie and fitness counter, I've noticed they associate a much higher number of calories burned with biking than with swimming, which is funny because biking is easy for me and makes me lose my apetite, whereas swimming is excruciating and makes me immediately want to eat 1000 calories of McDonalds.

Speaking of biking, I have a guest blog post over at Momentary Delight today. It's about sustainability and faith, and also about biking in the rain. You should check out the whole series over there, because there are more thoughtful authors to come. Though I doubt any of them can claim as high of a calorie burn from transportation. Well, if Dan writes something maybe, Mr. biking to work while carrying my computer.

Speaking of iMovie, here are some clips of my kids singing. Their third song should answer the question once and for all: Who is the king of the jungle?

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essential camping preparations

Typically, I'm up late the night before camping cooking something or other. Tonight isn't even the night before this year's expedition (that'd be tomorrow night) but I still delayed bedtime for some very important food production: I had to get the marshmallows made, so we can have our home-made s'mores! I've been planning to bring a batch camping ever since I made that first one back in the winter, and while I did fail to make a single batch in between—despite best intentions to the contrary—I was determined to delay no longer.

So now they're done, and it turned out there was a bit of delay; from the first plan to do the thing on Tuesday (foiled by a lack of vanilla extract in the house) all the way up until 8:30 or so, when Harvey finally went to sleep (in my bed; it was a tough day in some respects so I don't begrudge him the chance to finally relax in comfort).

Now all I have to do to be ready to go Saturday morning is pack, do some grocery shopping, and cook all the other food we're going to need for the trip. Good thing I'm working this week, or I'd spend all day tomorrow running around in a panic. This way my panic will be confined to six or seven short hours!

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the night before

I don't remember how much packing we managed to get done the night before we left last year, but I feel like this year we're in pretty good shape. The bread and cookies got made, the car-top carrier is mostly packed, and many things are already crossed off the packing list. Plus I prepped the boys: I showed them, once again, all our camping pictures from years past, and also we kept them up kind of late so they can nap in the car tomorrow—but not too late, so they won't be cranky. I think we hit the sweet spot.

I'm trying for something similar for myself: it's good to be a little tired the day before car camping, because otherwise after a full day of driving it can be hard to get to sleep on that not-always-the-most-comfortable bed setup we have in the tent. Of course, I don't want to fall asleep at the wheel, so...

As well as the bread and cookies I had also hoped to bake oatcakes, but I didn't get around to it; instead I chatted with our houseguest for a while. It's important to be prepared for a big trip, but it's also nice to be relaxed about it.

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home and garden

Zion running on the beach in Lincolnville, with lobsterboats in the background

we went to Maine

We had a great time up north (and east), and only regret coming back earlier than we wanted to as a result of the weather. We should have stuck it out; it ended up not being as bad as forecast. Oh well, it just means we could have all sorts of fun at home today—plus do some painting and laundry. Good times!

While I wished our trip could have been longer, I was unreservedly happy to get back to the garden. We didn't miss the first tomato—a couple more days for that, I think—but even still there's enough coming ripe that our supper this evening was nearly all local to our backyard: cucumbers, purslane, licorice basil, lacinato kale, and red onion went together to make a pretty tasty salad.

I took a number of pictures in Maine—215, to be exact—but not all of them are good. I'll post some more of them tomorrow, if I can find room in my busy schedule.

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camping 2013, day 0: hooray for the road

Rascal lying in the water

he was ready to cool down

Just like last year, the drive up to Bar Harbor was pretty easy, after some pretty frantic preparations. But we got everything in the car, and since everybody knew we were in for a long ride all three back-seat (and trunk) passengers settled right down. Zion even went to sleep before we got out of Massachusetts, which was pretty remarkable as it wasn't much past 10:00. Harvey is all grown up now and, even though he was bored, he's great at not whining. In this context at least.

So we drove and drove, making our first stop in Bath for—appropriately—a bathroom break (and a top-off of the gas tank). Then it was on to Lincolnville for our favorite beach. Rascal enjoyed it as pictured above; the rest of us played in the waves.

Leah and Zion playing in the (tiny) waves

little waves in the big ocean

Mama even swam a bit, which was tough thanks to the low tide that exposed acres of beach and several crabs. Then we boys dried off and checked out the sights while Mama went to find some food.

Zion with his towel hood on in front of a dory planted with flowers

drying off by a boat like Burt Dow's

Our 16-year-old car does noble duty all the time, but never so much as on vacation.

towels and fried food on the hood of the car

our beach car

Eventually we resumed our journey, and we didn't need to stop again until we reached the campground. That's even better than last time, which is nice from a getting-there point of view... but I kind of miss our on-the-road adventures too. We'll have to work on that for next year. Of course, the campground was awful nice too, especially since our friends had come prepared to do some serious experimental campfire cookery.

a terra-cotta pot inverted above the campfire

food science

While a few kinks in the procedure might still need to be worked out, a pizza stone and that pot let Kyle and Margaret cook us a respectable—and very tasty—pizza. It went nicely with the burgers they also made. A brief shower as we were setting up the camp made us scurry a bit, but the timing was fine: tents were up by then and we were able to get everything nicely under cover. The subsequent rainbow was a nice omen and a fine dinner-time display!

a rainbow over our tents at dusk

looks like the gold is right about downtown Bar Harbor

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I made a quiche today, oh boy

We have a lot of vegetables in the refrigerator these days, as well as a lot of eggs, so when Leah evinced a desire for an "egg pie"—something in a crust with eggs and veggies, as she described it—I knew right away that she was on to something. But before I got started I wanted to make sure I wasn't accidentally going to create an omelet in a pie dish, so I did a little research. Joy of Cooking, my default go-to-source, startled me a little with talk of custards and water-baths, and the internet went too far in the other direction with store-bought pie dough and just throw everything in there. So I kind of split the difference and made up my own recipe.

Of course, I owe a debt to both sources for leading me in the right direction. I didn't realize until I read the recipes in Joy how much of the egg filling in a quiche is actually milk or cream, so I made sure to add a fair amount (though not so much as they suggest: I did 3/4 cup for four eggs). Internet recipes reassured me that I could just toss in whatever vegetables and grated cheese I wanted and it would come out fine, despite Joy's warnings about negatively affecting the moisture level of the cooking eggs.

In the end I put in caramelized onions, swiss chard, and cheddar cheese, because onions seemed like a good idea, we had lots of chard, and we didn't have any other types of cheese. Goat cheese might have been better, but it came out fine anyways. Just one more thing that I never thought to make, and always kind of assumed it must be difficult... but it isn't at all. So hooray!

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a brief story about a bird followed by a dramatic account of lifesaving at Walden Pond

When I took out the trash this morning I noticed a bird sleeping on our front walk. Sleeping is not something birds typically do past 7am, there's a saying about it and all. When I stepped closer it looked like the bird was trying to nestle its head into its neck, then hop one step, then try to get comfy and nestle its head again.

"I think there's a bird dying at the bottom of our stairs," I said when I came in.

"Do you want me to do anything?" asked Dan.

"No, I just wanted to share."

The children came out on the porch to look at the bird. I told them they had to stay on the top step to give it some space, and they watched for a few minutes while the bird went through some death throughs. I said it's sometimes sad to see a bird die, but the bible says explicitly that not one bird will fall to the ground without God knowing. That means (I extrapolated for them) that God who created the bird is present with with the bird in its death. Then we prayed together asking God to take the bird to heaven.

After breakfast Harvey reflected a bit and came up with a rather mature statement:

"Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't like watching a bird die."

I'd hate to say that I try to expose my children to death; what an awful ambition. But when death presents itself naturally in the world around us, I like to engage my children truthfully. I hope to teach them that death is a part of life, that it needn't always be sad or tragic. In the case of the bird, it was sad to watch it die, but it was beautiful too and a sacred moment to witness. So when Harvey said he sometimes did and sometimes didn't like watching the bird die, I could understand where he was coming from.

My sanguine approach to death only applies to very small animals, though.

Because some shit went down at Walden pond this afternoon that was no discovery channel infotainment.

We had headed to Walden pond to cool off. We just set down our beach blanket when a near-tragic event unfolded down the beach from us. A large man came running out of the water holding a limp child over his head. "Help, Help!" he yelled in the most commanding way a 200lb man can yell for help. A lifeguard came running into the water and grabbed the child from his arms. Another met her on the beach and several more followed. We could not see the boy from where we were sitting, but we saw a male lifeguards start chest compressions. Several lifeguards shouted at the same time to call 911.

I saw them lift a little blue arm and I saw it fall back down.

At this moment death did not seem like a beautiful sacred mystery. While I rubbed sunscreen on the same place on Zion's arm over and over again, I was commanding all heaven to move in favor of this child. Breath come now in Jesus' name. Lungs work now in Jesus' name. Heart beat now in Jesus' name. On earth as it is in heaven.

What I did not see but what a friend sitting close by told me later was that the boy spit up some water and let out a cry. The news reports say that he was breathing and conscious by the time they put him in the ambulance, but when I saw a large man carry him into the truck he did not look that responsive from my angle. He looked absolutely blue and motionless, so much so that Dan and I exchanged worried looks. But then I heard a ranger say over the radio that he was breathing. The blueness could have been due to his extra-light skin color too; his hair was absolutely white.

Throughout the rescue the rest of us on the beach sat silently. We looked like seagulls in a storm, heads all pointed in the same direction. The professionals on the scene, lifeguards followed by EMTs, all performed their duties with expert speed and determination. There were no sobbing parents to heighten the drama. The boy was part of a camp group who had left for a hike around the lake, presumably without counting heads.

The good news is that the boy is okay, though it is a very bad day for some camp director. And probably for a mother who got a terrifying call at work.

I don't have anything profound to add, and it's probably insensitive of me to start my little bit of eye-witness reporting with that story of a dead bird. It's only that they happened in the same day, I feel compelled (perhaps wrongly) to draw some connection, that God can be totally present in both death and resurrection.

Though for each today I was only a lame bystander, now with less assurance of how to make it all "make sense" for my children.

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vacation recap video

I shot more video of our vacation this year than I took pictures. There's a part of me that wants to remember what they're like at this age, how they move and how they talk, apart from just recording their sweet blond cherub faces. While cutting this public video, I had a mind to include a five-minute shot of Harvey and Zion playing in a fountain, just to give everyone the idea of how simultaneously magical and boring it is sitting around watching children all day. But Dan asked me to cut it to the good parts. Here it is, highlights of our vacation: