camping 2014: hiking, family and otherwise

Leah, Elijah in the ergo, holding Harvey's hand as they come up the foggy trail

family hiking

The weather forecast for our second full day of camping (way back a month ago—I'm recapping here) was poor, with predictions of rain and heavy wind, especially later in the day and overnight, so our friends—camping for the first time with kids—made a prudent decision to head home early. The Archibalds decided to go hiking. But first, of course, we had to get some breakfast.

Zion at the breakfast table with food and toys

attractions of the cafe

Zion was much happier than he had been the day before, and both boys were excited for hiking. Skipping our usual in-town stroll in order to get as much time out in the National Park before the rain started falling, we headed out to Sieur de Monts Nature Center, where the boys were quite interested in the range of dead animals on display.

Leah and the boys looking at taxidermy in the nature center

nature under glass

Then it was on to the mountain climbing. We started up the flanks of Dorr Mountain on the Emery Path, and Harvey went at it with considerable energy. I didn't tell him the trail was labeled as "strenuous" in the guide—mostly because I hadn't paid enough attention to know that myself.

Harvey climbing up the granite steps of the Emery Path

big steps for a little hiker

It was pretty much stairs like that all the way up, which was actually not too bad: Harvey certainly had a better chance on the steps than he would have on boulders or sloping granite. And even though our hopes for ocean views were stymied by the dense fog, there were a few nice visual distractions to liven the climbing.

a sculpturesque tangle of uprooted tree roots in the mist


Of course, the boys naturally got tired before too long; Harvey of all the climbing—carrying his own lunch and raincoat too!—and Zion of bumping around in the backpack. We paused for a snack and tried to get the camera to take a picture of us all by itself.

all of us posing for a picture, sitting along the trail

the timer didn't know Zion's face was behind that bush

Unfortunately, the combination of a slightly dented lens body and the hard-to-focus-on foggy conditions put my camera out of commission for the second half of the hike, so there's no photographic evidence of our trip down a separate set of granite steps, this time spiced up with roots and muddy puddles. There was some complaining, but on the whole everyone did great and we were proud of ourselves when we made it back to the bottom of the mountain (after, of course, getting nowhere near the actual top).

While I enjoyed the family time, I wanted just a bit more hiking, and Leah wanted some relaxing time with the boys, so we split up to do two things that were only possible on a Rascal-free camping trip: she to visit the shops in town, and me to take the bus to the Precipice trailhead and attempt that famous climb. (By the way, it had been years since I'd taken the free Island Explorer bus, and I rediscovered that it is totally the way to get around the park. How much time and effort we would have saved if we'd taken it to the beach instead of trying to drive!)

I don't know how Precipice is usually, but with the fog and threat of rain I had the trail pretty much to myself. I actually enjoyed the lack of distant views, since it made me pay more attention to the amazing immediate ones.

a wooden bridge and cliff face on the Precipice trail

looks positively tropical from this angle

For those of you who aren't familiar with the trail, it's pretty fun: it takes you up almost 1,000 feet in a little under a mile, which is pretty good for a "non-technical" hike. There are lots of ladders (mostly metal bars anchored into the rock), but what impressed me the most was the one spot where the trail takes you through an actual cave. But mostly ladders.

a series of ladders (metal staples in the cliff) rising into the mist

the trail goes that way

I made it to the top, and the self-timer was pressed into service again for documentary evidence. It was chilly up there, thus the raincoat; there wasn't any rain yet, thank goodness.

Dan sitting at the foggy top of Champlain mountain

I made it

The only disappointment of the climb was that, at the top, I still wasn't hungry enough to eat the lunch I'd prepared. After eating some snacks for form's sake I headed down the other side of the mountain, into even thicker fog.

a foggy trail along the side of the mountain

just the place for mountain goats

Or maybe it was cloud, because as I got lower things farther than a couple dozen feet away started to become visible.

a view of The Tarn through the fog from the lower slopes of Champlain

below the clouds

Back once again at Sieur de Monts station, I took a look at the bus schedule, and decided that I'd be better off walking all the way back into town. The beginning of this second, flatter, part of my hike was very pleasant.

a long straight boardwalk through the woods

much easier going

The hiking maps for the island have trails indicated all the way into town; it turns out those don't really exist. For a good stretch I was walking along a road, without so much as a sidewalk. But after a nice long wet stroll I made it into town to find my family... but what I found instead was pirates!

Harvey in full pirate gear and Zion with a sword, with the harbor behind them


In the course of shopping for a present for our neighbor's 5th birthday, Leah and the boys had happened upon some great pirate gear, and naturally they bought it and put it on right away. It was awesome. There are always lots of people walking around Bar Harbor, but if you're a five-year-old dressed as a pirate you'll be noticed by all of them, and most of them will smile. This is as true at restaurants as it is on the street.

pirate Harvey sitting at an outdoor restaurant table, with a cup of lemonade clutched in his hook

is it grog?

That was at a burrito place, where I finally got hungry again; thank goodness, since I got a big burrito.

my half-eaten food

food picture

The boys got hot-dog burritos, but they mostly ate the hot dog part, so in addition to my tremendous meal I finished off their tortillas; also their lemonade, since one of the after-effect of the sickness which had brought Zion low the day before (and Harvey before we left) was painful mouth sores. So eating wasn't always easy. But of course ice cream always goes down well, especially fancy flavors like callebaut chocolate and butter mint.

Harvey, still a pirate, and Zion eating ice cream on a park bench

sweet finish

If the day could have ended there all would have been perfection, but we still had to get ourselves back to the car—parked too far away for our tired pirate captain—and then to the distant campsite for bed. But we made it—and just in time too, since as we settled into bed the wind started picking up ominously.


changing seasons

It turned cool here the last week or so, and I find myself wanting to make muffins. It's a noticeable switch, after three warm months of no particular baking desires; in the last three days I've already made two batches (pumpkin chocolate-chip and applesauce). I don't know exactly what's driving my muffin desires, but my enjoyment of the warm oven and the smell of cloves and allspice are probably big factors.

The only problem—besides that I don't have all the time in the world to bake—is that since muffin season is a fall phenomenon it hits at the same time our hens stop laying. It feels like the dropoff in egg production was a little earlier and steeper than last year, so we naturally wonder if our wonderful barred rocks might be reaching the end of their laying career. Good thing we have some understudies in the wings! In any case, we're out of eggs today for the first time since late February; I used the last one for the applesauce muffins. I guess it'll have to be bread baking tomorrow.


Settlement versus Settling

On Wednesday when the Early Intervention specialists were over, I sat on the floor of my living room literally swatting flies away from my baby. To prevent the nurse from phoning DSS over the filth in my house, I explained that there was a brooder of baby chicks in our kitchen. (This sounds more lovely than the equally true explanation: "The flies are attracted to the large box of chicken shit on our counter.")

"Oh!" said the nutritionist in awe, "It's like you're a pioneer woman!"

Pioneer woman? I thought about our pantry stocked with as many boxes of pasta as jars of preserves and I thought: "Pioneer woman? I feel more like a housewife with a hobby."

On Friday we went to Plimoth Plantation to see some REAL pioneers.

homeschoolers doin what they do: playing in dirt in interesting places

In many ways Plimoth Plantation is a crafty homeschooler's paradise. I wandered from hut to hut analyzing what fibers the Pilgrims used for their baskets, or what stitches they used for their knit stockings. When a Pilgrim rein-actor put a poppet in my friend's daughter's hand, it was all I could do to let her hold it for a minute before I snatched it away to reverse-engineer the pattern.

On the other hand, Pilgrim life was hardly driven by DIY daydreams. Most of their thought and energy went into surviving. Farming and construction (my least favorite homesteading hobbies) came first. For clothes and other sundries they preferred to import things from England. They didn't even knit their own stockings.

Of course, this was an economic calculation too. The more corn they sewed the more they could trade with the tribes up north, the more furs they could send to England to become hard currency and "proper made" clothing. They didn't come to the New World for self-sufficient austerity. They came to the New World for this:

A Scholastical Discourse Against Symbolizing with Antichrist in Ceremonies: Especially in the Sign of the Cross.

The came to do their weird religion.

When they weren't reaping and trading and doing carpentry, the settlers were reading tomes like this one, a book of several hundred annotated pages about how the Church of England was into Antichrist shiz. I tried to skim the argument myself, but half the "s" letters were written like "f," and also there were a lot of extra "e"s thrown in there. I sounded out the first paragraph, but a Pilgrim actor interrupted me when he walked in to check whether our kids were breaking ye olde broome.

This field trip made me think that there is no homesteading panacea. There is no group or period or commune we can look at and say triumphantly, "There! That's the way to do socially-conscious, sustainable, happiness." Every life is worked or enjoyed in context. Financial context, geographical context, and in the context of our understanding of God.

If I look into someone else's life, whether they're Pilgrims or Indians or a neighbor down the street who drinks lots of soda and refuses to recycle, I am nothing more than a visitor their human museum. I can only see things as an outsider.

Harvey and Zion spying on the indian camp.

Harvey and Zion spying on the indian camp.

After several hours spent in sunny 1624 my nerves and the children's' nerves were shot. So we stopped at the visitor center concession stand on the way out, and I demanded the largest iced coffee they had. "In this cup?" The server asked me incredulously, holding up a big-gulp used for soda.
"Yes," I answered, "I want the biggest cup of coffee you have."
"Did you say you wanted decaf?" she asked.
"No, I did not say I wanted decaf." I said. "Why would I say such a thing? I have to drive home two hours in Friday afternoon traffic with a fussy baby and two cranky kids. I want that big big cup filled with caffeinated coffee, and also want this granola bar for my three year old and this bag of chips for my five year old and we are gonna suck down these carcinogenic treats like we're hungry Pilgrims and this is the first Thanksgiving."

I don't know what makes a beautiful sustainable life. I love knitting and weaving, I love the idea of work, but I also love ready-made clothes as much as the next Pilgrims, and I love driving places in my big minivan and going home with a BIG coffee for the ride.

If this is not sustainable then maybe at least it's okay for now. I have a feeling my level of discourse is too "scholastical." I'd hate to put an ocean of misunderstanding between me and others making the sign of the cross.


growing up too fast and not fast enough

Harvey lost his first tooth last night. This morning he asked me to help him sew a little bag to keep it with him always. (The tooth fairy is not a thing in our household because I believe in removing all the magic from childhood.) Harvey pressed the pedal of the sewing machine and guided the fabric himself. Here he is pressing the reverse button to make a knot.

those chubby hands atop my machine make me swoon

And here he is 15 minutes later with the finished project. His baby tooth is inside the bag and no longer at the bottom of his mouth.

triumphant big boy and seamster Harvey

Meanwhile, Zion is reliably potty trained within our house. He received a big plastic pirate ship as his present for using the potty. Both the ship and Zion's swift mastery of toileting are pretty epic.

no pants makes the whole process easier

In every way my babies are growing up so fast.

Well... maybe not all my babies. Elijah is still mostly doing the same stuff. Smiling, being carried around. Nursing.

happy as long as he being held

For several weeks I've been complaining that Elijah seems behind in his fine motor development. At six months both Harvey and Zion could sit up and play intentionally with a toy. They'd shake a rattle, bang it on something, and bring it to their mouthes. Elijah is able to hold a toy and gnaw it, but that's the extent. He doesn't seem to be able to get the "right" part in his mouth, and to my mind he's frustrated by his lack of coordination. Also he refuses to sit, though he's pretty happy about EVERYTHING ELSE. That could be the reason he's not progressed as quickly as his brothers. He's just so jolly content to be a baby, why would he try to do anything else?

I'm a cutie, love me.

I decided to get Elijah evaluated by Early Intervention to see if the experts agree with me that he's a month behind. Early Intervention is a government-mandated program that provides free specialist services to any child who falls below the 30th percentile in an area of development. Evaluation is paid for by insurance and completely free to end users. To qualify for services a child has to be significantly delayed in one specific area, either gross motor, fine motor, communication, or social. You can't have a child who's a little bit of a loser across the board... I mean you can but you won't get help for it.

The baby evaluation team came out to my house yesterday - a nurse, a nutritionist and an OT. They asked me a lot of questions and ran Elijah through a series of tests, all while filling in the little circles in a standardized test workbook. "SI A is a 2" the nutritionist would say to the nurse taking notes, and I would think to myself "Two is good? Which is to say, it's bad?"

At the end of an hour they tallied up all Elijah's scores. Vindication, he IS about a month behind in his fine motor development. His ability to grasp a toy and vaguely put it to his mouth (but not reach for a rasin or transfer one hand to the other) puts him squarely at a 5-month level. This is not enough to qualify him for services, however. He's in 35th percentile for fine motor which just isn't bad enough.

"But he did qualify for services," the nurse told me, "just not in any area you were worried about. He qualified for his communication."

Oh. Apparently my child is supposed to be making sounds or something.

Maybe I never noticed before because there's so much other noise in the house, but he's supposed to be linking consonants and vowels in a stream of babbel. Or at least copying the noises I make when I repeat his sounds back to him. He doesn't do any of that yet. Instead he's just smiles back happily, glad for the attention.

I never noticed it before; to me he communicates just fine. He silently whispers, "I'm the baby; love me." And I comply. What else is there to know?

The good news is that qualifying for Early Intervention in this area gives him access to all services for all the areas where he's behind. This means he'll get help for sitting and for playing, as well as the areas I was neglecting. Even though I feel like a bit of a boob, I'd call that a win all around.

Having three children is harder than having two, to say something stunningly obvious. I hate to admit that each of my children get less of me, because that's an argument against my decision making and religious family planning and everything else. But practically, it's true; each of my children gets a little less Mama because there are two others vying for my attention. I don't know what this means for the future. For the time being I'm just grateful for a little bit of extra help.


WIC: Wellness in Industrialized Consumption

On Saturday while Dan filled the kitchen with steaming pickles I worked on my own food gathering project: organizing our WIC checks into a coherent shopping list. I've known for years that I'd qualify for this free food program, but I hadn't yet taken the government up on its offer because I'd heard it was a pain in the ass. Then Dan made a comment about me spending a lot on food, and I figured it was time to swallow my pride and apply. This week I did my first full shop with WIC. Long story short, it was a mega pain in the ass.

that's right, 95 bottles of baby food. I don't know why.

I'll explain for those who are unfamiliar with the program.

WIC stands for "Women Infants and Children" and it refers not to who should exit first from a sinking vessel but to who should receive free nutritious food from the federal government. This program exists separately from SNAP/Food Stamps. It provides checks for specific "healthy" food items to pregnant women, nursing women, and children under 5. Unlike SNAP dollars which pay for any food at the supermarket bar prepared items and supplements, WIC checks can only be used for VERY SPECIFIC things. The items approved by the USDA are published in a little booklet which I hear changes frequently.

i could not be bothered to take a better photo, apparently

As compared to other government services, applying for WIC was relatively easy. I didn't need to provide income verification because we already qualify for SNAP, nor did I need to bring any bills. But in terms of time spent applying, WIC takes the vitamin-fortified cake. When I called to schedule my intake I spent at least a half hour on the phone giving dates of birth, social and insurance numbers, medical history and demographic data on all of us. Them the in-person appointment for which I had to bring all my children took a whopping TWO HOURS. We had to all get weighed and measured, and there were so many questions to answer. It's hard to remember each child's exact gestational age when they're in the room beating on each other. My tip for anyone applying for WIC the first time is DON'T TRY TO DEMONSTRATE NUTRITIONAL NEED; BRING YOUR KIDS A BOAT-LOAD OF SNACKS.

After my intake appointment I got a wallet filled with WIC checks. These checks are what makes the WIC shop rather intense.

Each check has a list of food items typed on it. You must buy everything on the check at one time or forfeit the other items.

the card does nothing, it's just for signature verification

So to go shopping with these things you have to figure out in advance exactly what you're buying. For each month I have something like 20 checks, each listing several unconnected items. One gallon of milk, 36oz of cereal, 16oz peanut butter, 16oz canned beans for example. Then another check with a different amount of milk, a different amount of cereal, another can of beans and something random like oatmeal. So I add up all the checks to figure out what to grab in each aisle (hence the spread sheet) and then reconstitute it check-by-check at the point of sale. From the Dairy case I grab three galons of milk, but when I go to pay I put a check down on the belt and say, "Okay, here's one gallon of milk, here's one can of beans... where the fuck is that oatmeal? Under all these baby foods?"

Check out averages a half an hour, on top of the hour it takes to shop. I kept having to tell the people behind me, "Sorry, I'm paying with WIC checks, you may want to choose a shorter line."

A half hour is assuming you managed to pick the right items and the manager doesn't need to be called over to dispute brands of peanut butter. Within each category there are only a few specific brands and sizes that qualify for the program. These are the things the government nutritionists have decided provide the right intersection of health affordability. But I'm not exactly sure what signifies health to them... micronutrients? Vitamins? Why do Frosted Mini Spooners or Go Diego Go cereal count as "healthy" but Rasin Bran is barred from the list? Sure, Dan calls that personal weakness "sugar bran cereal" and he's pretty much right, but his favorite Honey Bunches of Oats is no less sugary and that's on the list. Good thing I don't like the almond clusters, because we now have two boxes in our pantry.

Which brings up an odd suspicion I have with this program. It's not making us any healthier. Quite the reverse, actually. We didn't eat cereal in the past, except for Cheerios as a snack in a pinch. Now we have four boxes in our pantry (Cheerios, Honey Bunches and Rice Krispies ready to transform into their preferable 'treat' form) and they all stand ready to replace our healthier breakfast options like homemade bread and jam, or toast and eggs, or oatmeal. Would we be better off as a family without the free cereal? Without Langers apple juice or frozen OJ? With expensive local milk instead of the store brand kind, albeit much less of it?

Our WIC allotment includes some money for produce, but it's a small portion of the total shop. $18 separated into a check for $10 and a check for $8. That means I need a group of vegetables that costs no more than eight dollars, and another group of vegetables that costs no more than ten. On Monday the Market Basket was so crowded that I couldn't get to the scale to weigh everything, so I only chose $6 of bananas and apples before giving up. Then I went to the frozen vegetable section to find $10 of things where the prices were easier to see. In the end I made a mistake on all my vegetable calculations, and I left about $5 of government money on the table. Dan suggests next time I do the vegetables first when I have the most energy. I suggested next time not doing it at Market Basket. Stop&Shop is closer and open after the kids go to bed.

Harvey doing something unsafe in front of our carriage of free groceries

When I added up the pile of reciepts (each check gives a separate receipt, sorry environment) we ended up with $125 worth of free groceries out of this month's shop. That's with choosing to forgo several gallons of milk and dozens of eggs. As well as 26 more bottles of baby food I just couldn't deal with. He doesn't even eat baby food yet, and now our basement looks like we're stockpiling against Armageddon.

I have an internal tension about my relationship to WIC. On one hand I am a stay-home-mother, and therefore a free-stuff-gatherer, and there is nothing I like better than delighting my children with something that cost no money. On the other hand I am a food hippy and a processed grains nazi and packaging-a-phobic, and a little part of me feels the need to repent when I serve my kids Honey Bunches of Oats with ultra pasteurized 1% milk.

The tension should not only be internal, this should be a collective discussion. Who defines "health" for the must vulnerable members of society? Kellogs? The US Dairy industry? I mean come on, eight gallons a milk per month to one tub of peanut butter? Those peanut farmers need to hire better lobbyists!

I am also aware that this is a very small program in a vast portfolio of government spending, and the conversation about our national diet should neither start nor end here. It's fair that the environmentally catastrophically price distortions which exist everywhere in the food supply chain also exist in the subsidized food chain. These problems will not be solved by me making fun of Go Diego Go.

Also, I'll keep you posted if the shopping ever gets easier with this thing. In two months I have to attend a state-mandated nutrition class. I can't wait!!!