posts tagged with 'advent'
There's been lots of rain lately, but the clear days we have had have been wonderful examples of the best fall has to offer. Back at the end of October Saturday dawned so beautiful that we needed to get out and experience it more fully, so we roped in some friends for a walk at Great Brook Farm State Park.
I knew it was a good decision as soon as we turned onto the road to the farm: it was such a perfect image of a fall country lane. Of course, being out of the car is even better. We splashed in the little pond by the barns, watched the end of a college cross-country meet, and walked around a much larger pond to our favorite spot, the bridge at the head of the pond. Sometime in the last month a white pine growing right at the edge of the stream there fell, so of course the boys needed to climb on it. Surprisingly, the most daring of them was Lijah. I was a little nervous, I confess!
Zion might have climbed more had he not been so occupied in shadowing Natalie, who, freed from the backpack, had more energy for running around than all the other kids combined. She still doesn't run very fast though.
We climbed some rocks on the return leg of our loop, then finished the outing by watching chickens while we shared a dish of ice cream. Pretty good. All the best of the season!
The last week in July we took our annual Bar Harbor camping vacation. It went well. We climbed some mountains.
We headed out on a Saturday morning—a little later than we have in years past because Leah had a meeting to go to before we left. That was fine, since it meant we had plenty of time for the best packing job ever; but we did have to deal with a little bit of traffic before we even left Massachusetts. Strangely, then it wasn't so bad through New Hampshire and southern Maine. With big kids in the car and an audiobook running we didn't need to stop hardly at all: just once at a rest stop for a bathroom break and then at our favorite beach in Lincolnville, which we reached at around four. It wasn't too hot out that far north, and though the kids put on swimsuits they didn't jump right in the water this year.
We were almost the last ones to reach the campsite, but that didn't matter since we're pros at getting set up and also we weren't cooking dinner. As always, the boys were delighted to be camping with their friends and jumped right in to enjoying the outdoor lifestyle. Did they go to the pool before dinner? I can't remember. They certainly may have!
The next morning we were up bright and early to play Pokemon—Harvey needed to get some testing in for Worlds!—and start a fire for breakfast. I made bacon and eggs. When everyone was fed and lunches had been made we headed into town, from whence we planned to catch the bus to the hiking. One small hitch in the plan: the Town of Bar Harbor really stepped up parking enforcement since last summer, putting up meters on all the main roads and "no parking" signs on the side streets where we used to park all day. We found a broken meter where we could safely leave the car, but it was a little while before our friends got theirs stowed away. Never mind, the bus is a joy and well worth the wait.
Our goal for the day was Dorr Mountain. As soon as we hit the trail Lijah, who had been doing a good bit of climbing prep, expressed his disappointment that the hiking was "just walking". And this on a trail that was going up at at least a 30° angle! Luckily I had picked the most interesting path available, so pretty soon there was plenty to distract his easily-tired feet.
While I moved along slowly to encourage him, Leah was racing ahead with the big kids. It was hard work! When they saw a signpost on a rocky ledge they figured it was summit-like enough to stop at for lunch, and when we caught up—at least 15 minutes later!—we agreed, even though we soon learned the summit was actually a little ways away.
With the benefit of rest and food, we made it there not too long afterwards and posed for the usual celebratory photos.
The way down was at least as challenging as the ascent, if not more so. It was pretty steep with plenty of rolly stones that made every step an adventure. Everybody was tired when we reached the bottom (and some were pretty grumpy!).
Luckily it wasn't far to the icy cold spring-fed pool at Sieur de Monts, just the thing to sooth tired feet; then it wasn't much wait til we got on the bus; then there was the pool to swim in and the dinner I cooked on the fire with chicken, mac & cheese, and—I was so excited to do this—hand cut french fries.
And then after supper, the kids got to take in a magic show. It happens every week at the campground, and it's been happening every week for years, so we could have watched it before... but we were never interested. It took Andrew having a 5-year-old to galvanize anyone to go. I think he regretted it, but the kids had a fun time. Katie came in towards the end, just in time to get volunteered to be sawed in half with a power saw.
And that was only just the beginning of the vacation!
One of our homeschool coop friends has just started a new enterprise running a woodsy adventure program, under the Timbernook brand, and yesterday we were lucky enough to be able to take part in a drop-in day she hosted. Well, the kids were lucky; as well as drop-in it was also drop-off, so I had stay away. The best I could do was watch and envy from afar.
I totally understand why I wasn't welcome. The whole point of the program is to let kids explore on their own—to see what they can do when nobody is there to tell them what to do or not to do. There were three adults on site, but their job was to provide the ingredients for adventure—building materials, tools, and a story to spark imagination at the start of the morning—and then step back and let the kids do their thing. If it weren't for those pesky insurance regulations they could have all gone to have a coffee or something.
So what did the kids do for four hours in the woods? Well, they report that it went by pretty quick, and I couldn't help but notice that Harvey and Lijah barely ate any of their lunches, so they must have been having fun! (they made up for the lack on the car ride home). They built some things out of pallets and cardboard boxes, they climbed on some rocks and trees, and they caught a lot of frogs (possibly the same few frogs lots of times; I'm not sure). They also did some painting, of their shelters and of themselves.
There were only a couple problems with their time there. Three of the nine kids who signed up didn't show—maybe the threat of slight drizzle deterred them. That meant that five of the six who were there already knew each other, which was rough for the one other boy, and also probably limited the range of activities a bit. Also the Archibald boys misunderstood the instruction to stay in sight of an adult—one of the program's two rules—and didn't know that by exploring further into the woods they could compel an adult to follow them. So they felt a little constrained.
But that just means we want to try it again, to do it right the next time! Watching the kids at play—from a distance—I was convinced that every kid should have at least one day a week in an environment just like this one. Unfortunately, our hope for taking part is complicated by the fact that the weekly program runs on Mondays, which is the one day I can't drive out that way, and also is a little expensive. But even if we don't solve those problems there are other drop-in days coming up, and we're looking forward to them for sure! If you want to check out the program for yourself, you can find out more at the Timbernook of Central Massachusetts website or their Facebook page.
For the past three years our church has run a retreat at the end of October on Cape Cod. This year we got priced out of the fancy hotel there, and shifted the event to a hotel and conference center in Sturbridge. We also changed the time to mid-September. It's funny: mid-September would be a tremendous time to visit the Cape, unlike the edge of winter when we're usually there. And October is probably pretty nice in Sturbridge. It's always off-peak for us. Never mind, Sturbridge in September was lovely as well!
The hotel certainly suited us a lot better than the previous one. Besides my own kids I also spend most of the time on the retreat in charge of everyone else's elementary schoolers too, so the elegant atmosphere of the Cape Cod Sea Crest was lost on me—more, I was terrified the whole time that the kids would break something. At the Sturdbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center there was no such worry: so many things were already broken! But that doesn't mean it wasn't lovely. The interior decor is impossible to describe; suffice it to say that it combines colonial elements, Wild West detailing, and the indoor-outdoor feeling like you have in a big garden center greenhouse. There are balconies on the inside walls of the courtyard. The pool has an island!
The kids spent most of their free time in the pool. Despite its tropical appearance it was actually pretty cold, so they also took full advantage of the hot tub, despite signs forbidding anyone under 16. The hotel employees were pretty gentle when they kicked them out, all six or seven times they had to. Besides the swimming, they also got to be part of the kids program I ran. On Friday night we watched a movie.
The kids there are about a quarter of the total; we had some other options going on too. There were 28 elementary kids, if I recall correctly. On Saturday I took them to a playground in the morning (some of them almost didn't survive the third-of-a-mile walk there) and in the afternoon we played board games, made paper airplanes and costumes, and had sack races. I think I showed them all a pretty good time! Lijah wasn't with my group; the kindergartners were with the preschoolers, and I was so proud of how uncomplainingly he went off with the rest of them. I think he sometimes enjoys the chance to be one of the biggest kids in a room! Of course, it was even harder work for him than it was for the rest of us, and as soon as he was back in my charge he was done with it all!
As I said in my summing-up last year: it wasn't really a vacation, but it was sure a fun adventure!
Today was the beginning of fall, and more importantly it was my dad's birthday! We celebrated together at my parents' house with a cookout—but we didn't get to eat outside. The weather was perfect, but as soon as we put the first bit of food out it was discovered by wasps. Not a ton of wasps, but enough to make some of us nervous. So we went inside. And now that I think about it, the nervousness might have been a little bit justified, because we've had some intense wasp experiences over the past few weeks!
Most notable was our last outing of summer camp back at the end of August. With a good group of kids we rode to Fawn Lake and set out to walk around it. Less then halfway into the walk the leading kids moved off the main trail to explore a peninsula. I was near the back of the group, and as I neared the spot where the path reached the water I heard Sam say, "I think something is stinging me..." Next came the screams.
Sam had stepped on a wasps nest, and the wasps were streaming out and stinging everyone in sight. So we ran! (actually, the kids didn't run until I yelled at them to). Unfortunately, the peninsula we were on is kind of swampy and the path is vague, so in our hurry to get away we went the wrong way, which I realized when we came to a stream that the littler kids couldn't get over. I picking them up to basically throw them across I dropped my backpack and Zion's shoes. Then we ran some more. After a few hundred yards we stopped to catch our breath, and immediately noticed that the wasps were still with us: a few in the air around us and lots more on—or in a few cases under—our clothes. So we ran some more, with a few breaks to kill the wasps clinging to the kids. Half way around the pond from the nest we finally felt safe to stop.
With all that, we weren't absolutely destroyed. Nathan, who hates bugs the most, got the most stings—maybe six. Nobody else got more than two or three, and a few of us—me included—escaped without a single one. But everyone was a little shaken up. Needless to say, we didn't linger long at the pond; and one of the five-year-olds was heard to announce that he's never going hiking again (don't worry, he already has). To recover we all went out for ice cream.
It seems like there are more wasps around this year than usual. Lots of them are interested in our compost, which means they're also interested in our food when we eat on the back porch. Even with the stings they got at the pond the kids aren't particularly worried about wasps attacking them, but it's still disconcerting to have five or six of them buzzing around your head when you're trying to eat and, often, landing on your food. They might not want to sting us, but I bet they would if we bit one by accident. So we haven't been eating outside as much here, either.
But now that it's fall we'll be free of them soon. I'm ready!
A little while after we got back from Washington I was talking to someone about our visit to the zoo there, and she explained that she's not really a fan of zoos because she's not sure about animals in captivity. I can understand that. But if I were an animal and had to be in one, I think the National Zoo is the place to pick. Even the elephants had plenty of room to roam; given that, we really appreciated that a couple of them chose to hang out right by the fence where we came in.
The landscaping and design of the zoo is wonderful for visitors and animals alike, and I'm so glad we had time to hang out there on the last day of our visit to Washington. We stayed for over three hours, and we could have been even longer. There were the charismatic mega-fauna like elephants and lions:
There were cute little mammals like the fennec fox and... this other thing:
And there were playground and activities for the kids as they walked between the enclosures. One pathway let the kids experience a cheetah's stalking and pursuit of an antelope; here is Zion at the successful conclusion of the hunt:
Of course, not everything was perfect. Like everything else in Washington, it was super hot—too hot for us. There was a great bee-themed playground that we were excited to hang out in—we saved for the end of our visit—but when we finally went to play there the heat coming off the rubber matting was just unbearable. So we sat in the shade instead. And we were sad not to see the pandas, who are kind of a main draw; one of them was working on having a baby and, rare as panda babies are in captivity, could not be disturbed.
But those downsides can't spoil what was overall a great experience. My favorite part was the sea lion exhibit, where I took this picture. Before we went friends who have been to the zoo before told us to bring a bottle, which we could use to attract the sea lions' attention, but we didn't even need it; one in particular seemed to be completely fascinated by his adoring public, and happy to pose for photos. And they had quite an audience!
One final note, if you're considering a visit. The zoo is built on a pretty significant slope (that's part of what makes the landscaping so interesting) and there are parking lots at the top, where the main gate is, and at the bottom. Not knowing what we were doing we parked at the D lot on the bottom, and that was absolutely the right choice, because it meant we walked up to the top of the zoo first and then back down to the car. If we'd done it the other way we actually might not have made it back, and I'd never be able to write these words. As it was we survived, and left the zoo in time to make it home to Bedford by 11:30 at night. What a trip!
The best thing about homeschooling is that, by Wednesday, when you're ready for a change of scenery... it's yours to go find!
After just a little bit of work this morning, we headed up towards Gloucester and Rockport for an adventure. I had no firm plans beyond wanting an outing, and knowing we needed a bit more lumber for the new deck we're working on—and there's a Home Depot that direction too, so why not?! It's been a while since we visited the ocean in the northern part of Massachusetts.
There was some temptation to head to the same spot we spent so much time at on that last trip, since our memories of it were so positive. But I thought I'd check out the street parking situation at Good Harbor beach; and when I saw that it had opened up on September 15th we just had to stay. Our first try at exploring the beach was cut short by everyone needing to use the bathroom. On our second attempt we got down to the water, which was warm enough that we all had to go back to the car one more time to change into swimsuits. It was a lot of walking... but totally worth it!
For three of us, at least. Unfortunately, Lijah somehow got a nasty cut on his big toe yesterday, and crossing the bridge for the fifth time he stubbed it and it started bleeding again pretty good. So he wasn't as excited about getting wet. Instead he rested on our giant pile of gear.
While the water was warm—for the ocean in New England—the air most certainly was not. I don't think it got much above 60°F today, and at the shore there was a stiff breeze blowing the whole time. After a little while I headed back to cuddle with Lijah, so I was ready when the bigger boys were finally done in the water and needed some warming and drying (Lijah's towel was for warming purposes only, but he didn't want to be left out!).
We had lunches packed, but we couldn't eat on the beach: besides threatening to blow away all our food and containers, the wind also kept a constant spray of sand in the air to a height of about a foot. So we instead we went into Rockport to explore the rocks opposite the harbor from the breakwater, where we'd never been. It was just as windy there but there was no sand to blow around, and we were able to find a sheltered spot for lunch. Then we climbed all over the rocks and tried to take pictures of the breaking waves, which were quite impressive. Neither Zion or I—the two main photographers—managed anything especially good... but you get the idea.
Then it was time to go home. We were back by 2:30, with plenty of time to do the rest of the day's work and play with friends. Not a bad schedule!
On Friday we had big plans to go swimming at Walden Pond with lots of friends. Even when the day dawned gray and chilly with rain threatening we weren't deterred. However, we were absolutely deterred when we reached the pond and found it closed. With five kids in the car and another three planning to meet us in a couple minutes, we had to find something else fun to do! Luckily Concord's Hapgood-Wright town forest, featuring Fairyland Pond, was just down the hill. So we went there instead.
Not, actually, to swim. Besides the cold weather and cold water, it was also pretty muddy and weedy. It would have been enough to walk around and explore, but as it happened there was even more fun to be had: the woods was the site of an "Art Ramble" organized by the Concord Umbrella Community Arts Center.
I love art, and I love it even more when it's integrated into the natural environment (like at the wonderful Old Frog Pond Orchard sculpture walk). And when you can play with it! Here are the kids climbing on a giant hand, and obeying my instructions for the picture: "give me the finger!".
We spent the most time at the Clootie Tree, a metal tree-like sculpture where the artist invited people to hang strips of cloth on which they had written their hopes and wishes. It was just about filled up already, though the younger kids found some space to add their own cloths. I enjoyed reading some of the wishes already up there. My least favorite was the guy who wished for a job where he could make "boatloads" of money doing something people would respect him for, and my most favorite was, "I wish I had a different snack." I guess I like realistic wishes. Lijah's was not realistic: he wished that he was the bunny from Sing.
Besides the art, we also did some fun hiking. The woods is small but very hilly, so even though we didn't go far we got to feel like we were climbing mountains. And some of the kids felt like we had gone far enough that we were lost, which is always exciting. Also there was deep mud to play in. And of course, at the end of the walk, the kids who hadn't changed out of their swimsuits after the disappointment of Walden went in the pond. All in all, I think we were quite satisfied with the alternate activity.
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.
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.