This time of year seems way too busy. Fun things, burdensome things, routine things—between working and starting homeschooling and never-ending chores in the house and garden there hasn't been much time for peace and reflection lately. So a quick overnight trip to the ocean was just what we needed.
Of course, we had to come back; and the stress and fighting started right up when we walked in the door. But there's fun times to look forward to this week, and maybe we can look at the photos and rocks we brought back with us to recapture a little of that wonderful vacation feeling!
I took maybe 150 pictures, and some of them aren't bad. I hope to write about our recent adventure, and lots more less recent, when I have a minute to think. Someday.
When I look back at my photos from the last month and a bit I despair—so many adventures un-written-about! But then I look at the dirty dishes and adjust my priorities: an unusable kitchen is more serious than a blogging deficit any day, even if it does mean that Zion's "first day" of "school" has to wait to be described until we have a little more time—to say nothing of a terrific last full day of our August camping adventure and our lovely mini-vacation this past weekend.
But all hope isn't lost! Yesterday was the first day of the school year program at church, and I managed to make it all happen the way it was supposed to—a big load off my mind. Even better, Lijah went to his own Kids Church class happily (reasonably happily) and made it through the whole hour-and-a-half without needing us to rescue him! Actually, it seems like he loved it; it may be that he's been waiting his whole life for a chance to play with toys by himself, without his brothers bothering him. Sure, I wouldn't be surprised if we have to deal with some tricky drop-offs over the weeks and months to come—Harvey is in second grade and sometimes has tricky drop-offs, for goodness sake!—but it does feel like we're starting to turn a corner back towards being real humans who can have interests beyond surviving. I'm even working on building a third kid bed!
Maybe I overstate our difficulties: Leah is in the midst of painting the interior trim downstairs (not right this second, but generally) and I'm learning to play guitar, among other useful amusements. But those are only in spare moments amongst piles of laundry and kids' toys and assorted detritus. Just think what things'll be like when we don't need to read to Lijah for two hours every day! We'll be unstopable. And you'll get to read about that camping trip.
Over a month ago we were camping, and the third full day of our trip was just the most delightful time. We started it off with breakfast in the campsite.
I had put together some pancake mix at home, so it was easy to just add eggs and milk and turn out a dozen perfectly presentable pancakes. We also had eggs, toasted bagels, and cereal—and Leah figured out that a paper towel could stand in for a filter in the aeropress, so she could enjoy her morning cup of coffee. Then we said goodbye to Becca, Andrew, and Henry—who were scheduled to head home even before medical issues made an early departure doubly necessary—and to Tim, Katie, Nathan, and Liam, who were going to spend the day with other friends. Our reduced group enjoyed a few relaxing moments before splitting up: Leah and the younger boys were looking forward to spending some quiet time at the campground, and Harvey and I wanted to climb another mountain!
With Kyle and Margaret accompanying us it didn't take long to get up the north ridge of Champlain. We were so quick we weren't really hungry for lunch at the top; but of course we ate it anyway. The way down was even more interesting, with plenty of steep pitches, narrow paths alongside precipitous drop-offs, and picturesque overlooks (such as seen in the last photo of this post).
Watching Harvey soldier along it occurred to me that he actually hiked the most miles of anyone on the trip: he was the only one to go on every hike on offer. But even all that hiking wasn't enough for him, and he was delighted to be able to turn his hand to some spelunking too.
There was a pretty nice cave among the tumbled-down boulders beside the trail; he went in the bigger entrance lower on the trail, then back-tracked 20 feet or so to emerge higher up through the little hole there. I found rocks to climb on, but you don't need more pictures of me.
The long descent left us a little footsore, so we were very happy to reach the Sieur de Monts nature center and, following Harvey's example, dip our feet in the eponymous spring. It was cold. We had a contest to see who could keep their feet in longest, and Harvey won easily.
The only disappointing thing as Sieur de Monts was finding that the dead animals are no more. Well, I suppose they still exist, but they've been moved off the island to the part of the park no one visits to make room for an updated space and exhibits about climate change. Which I suppose is worthwhile. It was also a little disappointing to miss the bus by mere seconds when we first reached the center... but on the other hand, if we had caught it we wouldn't have been able to chill our feet! And another bus came along soon enough.
Back in town we reconnected with Leah, Zion, and Lijah, and went looking for ice cream. Zion was especially excited about getting something at the Big Lobster store: ice cream, fudge, or preferably both.
As it happened, while we had no theoretical objection to that plan, the store turned out to be a madhouse of crowds, confusion, and overpriced cones. So we retreated to the much calmer Bar Harbor creamery, where I was very happy with my kid-sized cone of blackstrap banana. The kids were fine with their flavors too—maybe they'll remember em if you ask.
With energy waning, we thought about heading back to camp but decided we needed just a little more time by the shore. It was a good call. For the next hour or so we hung out by the water; Harvey changed into his swimsuit and threw giant rocks into the ocean, and Zion and Lijah played imaginative games with stones. Separately, of course.
As for me, I tried and failed to get to the top of the boulder. I've done it before, as recently as six years ago, so I attributed my inability this time to old age. But after seeing some younger people manage it Leah suggested it might rather be a question of technique, and sure enough with a little less climbing a more jumping I made it—and even less bloodied than last time!
Eventually we made our slow way back to the van, pausing briefly to discipline the children when their fighting led Harvey to push Zion in front of a (slowly) moving car. Having fun all the time is hard work! But spirits quickly revived when we reached the campsite and a delicious feast of burgers prepared by Kyle and Margaret.
As the final cooks of the trip they bought all the ingredients at the supermarket just before dinner time. When they started cooking they wondered if three and a half pounds of ground beef was excessive for four adults and three small kids. It was not. When there's ketchup and mustard and pickles and lettuce and tomato and two kinds of cheese and delicious campfire-roasted red onion, it's impossible to stop at one burger. It was about the best food I've ever had.
As we say at Passover, that would have been enough. But driving past the mini golf course at least twice a day all vacation had awakened in at least Harvey and me a fierce desire to play the game again (we did, once before). So we made that happen.
It was great. Harvey and Zion loved the golf, and Lijah loved the pirates—the only tears came when we had to drag them away, back to the tent to sleep. But until then we enjoyed a beautiful cool evening, a perfect end to a perfect day.
I got hit by a car this morning—in the best possible way. As I mentioned on Facebook, I was in a painted bike line passing a line of cars stuck in traffic when one driver turned into a side street. Well, she meant to turn into a side street, but actually she turned into my bicycle. She couldn't have been looking at all, since most of the bike was past her when she started to turn—thank goodness!—so her front bumper just hit me on the back wheel. It was a very narrow-angle collision—she more merged into me than hit me—and since I have a pannier bag on that side, the impact was reduced even more. I didn't go down; in fact, I didn't even stop. In retrospect I maybe should have taken a moment to ask her to be more careful in the future, but I was more concerned about getting to work.
But it does make me wonder about how much attention people pay when they're in their cars. After all, they're operating heavy machinery that could easily kill someone—including quite possibly themselves, in many circumstances. But I guess since we spend so much time behind the wheel it becomes routine. On the way home I saw a young man in a pickup truck blow through a red light at a crosswalk, so late that the walk light was already on. Why did he do that? Did he make an assessment that no one would be walking or cycling out from the tree-lined bike path to his left? Or did he somehow not see the light?
Of course, it doesn't make me want to stop walking or cycling... that would be letting the terrorists win! This evening the boys and I had a lovely ride home from the library in the dark, under the nearly-full moon, and I didn't worry a bit. What it does do is make me a more careful driver myself. Cars are dangerous!
Finishing this story. We wrapped up our 2016 camping experience with breakfast at the Cafe followed by a quick trip to Compass Harbor, a hidden Acadia gem right outside of town. It has everything you want in a Maine coastal location: rocks, trees, a little bit of sand, and cold cold water. Of course that didn't stop Leah from going for a serious swim; can you see her in the picture?
Like I said, we might be getting good at this camping business—and by day five we were settled in and comfortable. I think any of us Archibalds would have been happy to stay another couple days, if circumstances had allowed. (And having decided to leave we made a great job of packing up: Harvey did a great job entertaining the little ones, and our carefully stowed load took up even less room in the car than it had on the trip up.)
Certainly all the hiking and exploring left the boys feeling independent and adventurous, and as soon as we reached the shore—just a few minutes' easy hiking from the cars—they changed into swimsuits and headed out to explore.
Certain mothers were a little nervous, so I tried to relieve minds: what could possibly happen?! Besides deadly falls, drowning, and seagull attacks, that is... Everyone was happy that some children at least were content to stay close by.
Of course, as awesome as we are at camping, it takes a lot out of us—between the exercise and the fresh air and the not really sleeping our four days of adventure left us all a little tired.
So there wasn't too much protest when we turned our backs on the ocean and headed back to civilization. The first sign of civilization was pillows in the car.
But vacation doesn't end when the drive home begins, and we made sure to time our trip so that we could stop for supper in Wiscasset. It was a special request of the boys, who so enjoyed our emergency stop there last year. Just like on the drive up we had some rain going home, but it stopped in time for an outdoor meal; and with the car packed so well I knew just where to find towels to dry off the seats.
Wiscasset is the prettiest little village in Maine, officially, but I confess that by the time we got there I was too tired to do more than get a few snaps with my terrible phone camera; but it's good enough for documentary purposes. And we still had hours to go, hours of driving into more and more traffic and hotter and steamier weather. On the other hand, our dog, chickens, and beds awaited us at home, and we were happy to get there and go to bed, ready to wake up and start the next adventure!
So I guess we've started the "school" year; call it a soft launch. We did have an official first day a couple weeks ago and took pictures, so that's something!
Harvey made his own sign, and Zion decorated his. Unfortunately the colored-pencil details don't show up so well, but you can be assured Harvey took at least ten minutes on his work!
We're getting into our schedules and routines—mainly trying to find time to learn along with working, playing, cleaning, gardening, and keeping the house from falling down—and at habituating the boys to maybe just a little bit of coerced schoolwork. Happily we found someone else willing to do farm-school with us, and we've had a couple good days of learning together already. And there are plans afoot for stories and sword-making and math games, so I think we'll do alright this year!
We celebrated the fall equinox today in quiet style with a day at home. The bigger boys and I took in the sunset outside, enjoying the beautiful crisp fall air (Leah was inside trying to put Lijah to sleep—the first attempt of several for a boy who took a two-hour-plus nap this afternoon). The reason we didn't much leave home is that we're having a big party tomorrow evening.
Pretty much the same as last time, but we're not so organized this year, so things are a little more haphazard than in years past. It doesn't look like we'll get a bounce house. But the lawn is (mostly) mowed, the lights are (mostly) up, and we've sort of planned with some people to have some music. Plus we've made and obtained lots of food: pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, cake, veggies, chips, 56 hot dogs, and some other things I can't remember. Pretty good for an event that's supposed to be a potluck...
Our organizational failures may also have led us to forget to invite you. Sorry! If you're free tomorrow evening—that may be today, it depends when you get around to reading this!—do stop by between 5:00 and 9:00. You don't even have to bring a dish to share.. we've got plenty!
Fall's looking pretty good so far.
We threw our party last night—never mind the rain and thunderstorms promised by the forecast and the morning's red sky. And it was great!
In a departure from our usual practice, we were just about ready as the last half-hour before the 5:00 start ticked by. Parents and friends who came early to help set up were able to relax and chat as the other guests arrived; the kids hanging around were able to join in the piano sound-check and warmup. The flowers on the table were picked and arranged by Harvey at 4:35.
It was an all-grandpa musical performance this year. After last year's bravura effort Ira and Leah have their act down pat, and barely needed any rehearsal this time. They put on an early set for one friend who could only stop by for a minute at the beginning of the affair.
Then it was the turn of Grandpa David and the Disney Movie Singalong. He did a great job fending off the eager hands that wanted to touch the piano, and the kids sang along with spirit to tunes from our three most recent animated favorites: Frozen, Aladdin, and Lion King. What a kind grandfather our boys have, willing to subject himself to that sort of experience, and on his birthday too! I have all the songs pretty well memorized to I did my bit to keep the vocalists roughly together.
Harvey and Zion actually practiced their parts quite a bit this year. Zion was too shy to stand up at the mic, but Harvey had no such resistance and sang up loud and proud. Megan is always happy to see a microphone.
Of course, it wasn't all music. We didn't manage a bounce-house this year, but the boys and I set up the badminton net and the kids had great fun with our seven rackets and three birdies (at least until a darkness-related accident made it seem more prudent to take down the net). The hammock was also very popular, as was the ride-on tractor. And of course there was lots to eat.
The lights are always a key ingredient of this party, and this year I was very proud of myself for including two clip-on desk lamps in the setup: one to light the food, and the other behind the stage so the musicians could see their papers. Because of course the music went on long into the night.
Despite some initial demurrals, Ira put on a great show. Besides several songs with Leah (and Lijah), he also treated us to some Beatles numbers (and other hits of the 60s and 70s), and even played backup for Jack's spirited rendition of the alphabet song.
Just before 9:00 the rain finally came on, just in time to encourage the guests to help clean up and then hit the road.. perfect timing! It was great seeing so many friends and neighbors; I feel grateful for each person who came to spend time with us. And none more so than my parents, especially my dad on his birthday.
Maybe we'll do it again next year.
I said I was waiting until I had time to think, but that may never happen; so on a day when the temperature started out in the mid-30s it feels like a great time to revisit our last big beach trip of the summer.
Leah's cousins(ish) Marcy and Joel live in Sandwich on Cape Cod, and a couple weeks ago they invited us down for an overnight. We've been before, but not for a while and never for more than an afternoon. So when we had an opening in our busy schedule, we went for it! Aside from getting to spend some time with lovely people, we do like visiting the sea. Or, you know, whatever's handy.
Sandwich is closer than we thought, and we got there well quicker than we expected, leaving us time to explore before our hosts expected us. It turns out that the town is the historic center of the Cape, and plenty of that history has been preserved. Like the gristmill, which was too expensive for us to visit; luckily we could see pretty much all we needed from beyond the fence.
Just as interesting to all of us was a big tree on a little town green, which looked eminently climbable.
By the time we got done amusing ourselves there, the time specified in our invitation had arrived, so we piled back in the car and got to our hosts' home just in time to enjoy an enormous lunch. As we digested they offered us a list of entertainment options, but we had ears for just one: the beach!
It had been raining as we packed up in the morning, and clouds still lingered in half the sky as we made our way to the water—which meant that the afternoon light was just beautiful. I took about fifty pictures right there.
Of course, we also enjoyed the beach in more direct ways. Leah swam, and the bigger boys an I played in the waves which, while smallish, were enough to entertain.
Lijah is really not feeling the sea-bathing this year—"I don't like the ocean," he'll tell you whenever the subject is even mentioned—but he enjoyed digging in the sand. And even he eventually figured out a way to get into the water.
After about 17 hours on the beach we headed back to the house for dinner. While Joel was doing the grilling we hung out by, and in, the pool.
Zion eventually went in the water, but he needed to rest up a bit first. Just after I took that picture I asked him if this was the life. "It would be if there were some food here," he answered. Luckily in that house lots of good food is never far away, and mere minutes later we were treated to a delicious dinner of "something from the sea", as per Harvey's request.
Harvey's other request was to go mini-golfing, and after a tough night (in which Zion fell off the bed onto Harvey's head, among other disruptions) and an abundant breakfast, we we went to Pirates Cove Hyannis to reprise our delightful experience in Bar Harbor. For some reason I didn't take any pictures, but I have to note for the record that Leah won this time, convincingly.
Then we went to the beach again—well, a different beach. We shared a tremendous picnic—you sense a theme here—then took to the water. It was a hotter day and we were all pretty tired, so mostly we just lounged in the water or under the umbrellas. That and picked up rocks.
The blue bucket came along again, so of course Lijah went in it again (if you're interested, Marcy and I probably have about 200 photos of him). As we were getting ready to go Zion got in on the act too.
It looked like so much fun we all would have loved to have a go... sadly, from Harvey on up we'd need a bigger bucket. Still, when that's the only thing that could be improved you know it's a pretty good time! Thanks Marcy and Joel for inviting us for one last wonderful weekend of summer—now to remind us of warmer days as we head into winter we've got these pictures, and our rocks. Lots and lots of rocks.
I had a bad day, so it's a pleasant diversion to look back on some accomplishments from the past couple days—cooking ones. Like this cake.
We had folks over yesterday evening and I realized I hadn't thought about a desert. There wasn't time to make a pumpkin pie (or at least not to let one cool enough to eat) but a pumpkin cake seemed reasonable. I searched the internet and printed a likely-looking recipe, but on reflection it wasn't quite likely enough—I wasn't prepared to make a cake entirely with vegetable oil. So I triangulated between that recipe, our family pumpkin bread, and what I know about making cakes. The result came out pretty good, with cream cheese frosting between the layers (sadly not to Harvey's taste) and powdered sugar on top. Here's the recipe, for future reference:
In a large bowl whisk together
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
In a stand mixer, beat on medium-high for five minutes
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Add one at a time, scraping the bowl and beating between additions
Add the dry ingredients in three even bunches, alternating with two even glops of
1 can canned pumpkin
Divide the batter between two buttered and floured 8-inch cake pans and bake at 350° for... um... until they're done. Maybe it was like 40 minutes? Let them cool.
For the frosting, combine 4 ounces (half a package) cream cheese, 2 tablespoons butter, and 1 cup powdered sugar in the food processor and pulse until combined. Or if you ask Harvey, leave out the cream cheese and make a proper butter frosting. After I had already started making the frosting I realized we were out of powdered sugar. Heading across the street to borrow some I passed the boys playing with the neighborhood kids—it all felt pretty old-fashioned!
The day before I was totally out of ideas for supper—out of ideas and out of ingredients. But even though we're getting into pumpkin season we still have lots of zucchinis. So why not zucchini quesadillas? I grated some zucchini and onion, salted it for a bit to get out some of the water, then cooked it in bacon fat with cumin and garlic powder. Then I made the quesadillas with the cooked zucchini and cheddar. Every new quesadilla I make is my favorite, and this was no exception. Zion wasn't a fan, of course, but you can never please everyone. With cake and quesadillas at least I managed to please myself!