posts tagged with 'advent'

adventures in Pokemon and beyond

It's hard to believe that it was only a year ago now that I made my first forays into buying Pokemon singles online, in an effort to surprise Harvey and Zion with some good cards for Christmas. Looking back, I realize that the cards I picked out weren't really that good: I had no idea at all what I was doing. From that humble beginning we've seen the game of Pokemon insinuate its way ever-deeper into our lives, to the extent that the whole family spent this past Saturday on an outing to a comic store an hour and a half away in order to play cards for four hours. At least we also took a side trip to the ocean.

Harvey and Zion walking along a lawn towards the rocks at the water's edge

winter water

The purpose of our jaunt up north to Rochester, NH, was to let Harvey—and me and Zion too—play in a League Cup. League Cups are the second rank of tournaments in the world of competitive Pokemon, and Harvey was looking for some points to continue along his road towards the World Championship in August. He got em: his second-place finish was good for 40, giving him 122 so far for the season, out of the 350 he needs to qualify for Worlds. I dropped out of the Masters division competition after the Juniors finished up so we could do something else, so I didn't get any more points (and Zion finished fourth to catch up with me in the points table!) but never mind, I've also secured my first gig as a judge, at an event coming up at the end of the month. And also doing other things is sometimes good.

Since Rochester is kind of near the ocean—it's in the "Inland Coast" region of New Hampshire, though I'm not totally sure how that's a thing—we figured we could probably go find some water. Without any real plan in mind my memory for long-ago adventures and my unerring instinct for interesting places led us to the tip of New Castle Island in Portsmouth, where there's a beach, some rocks, and an old fort to explore. What could be finer?

the  boys checking out an observation tower in the fort

why didn't they leave any guns?

The part of the fort we were allowed to explore was mostly an early-19th century structure, with thick walls, mysterious passageways, and cannon-ports looking out to sea. We could easily have imagined ourselves defending the approaches to Portsmouth Harbor from the British, except that it was exceedingly, all-consumingly cold. So mostly we ran around from one fascinating corner of the fort to another or climbed around on the walls. As long as we were moving we weren't freezing to death. Unfortunately some of the most interesting-looking passageways were blocked off, which was disappointing; at least the stairway to the more modern tower pictured above was only half blocked off, the caution tape having blown away a little bit. It was cold up there too. The only place where we were comfortable enough to pretend was the dungeon.

Lijah behind a rusty iron jail door

prisoner!

Had I been there in the fort in 1812 or whatever I wouldn't have minded a stay in that lock-up; much better than freezing up on the walls! In 2018 our car was pretty warm too, and we were happy after a little while to retreat there for our long drive home (almost long enough to finish our latest audiobook). Adventure successful.

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the weekend's seaside adventure

This past weekend we took... not a vacation, entirely, but a trip at least to Cape Cod. Like we've done in the past, our church ran a retreat at a hotel in Falmouth; as a staff member, it was my privilege to help run the child care. Which was complicated slightly by Saturday's nor'easter. Never mind, it's always fun to be at the seaside! With full knowledge of the forecast we made the best of Friday's sunny weather with a stop at our second-favorite beachside playground on the way down.

the boys on the merry-go-round at the beachside playground in Falmouth

feels like vacation already

Our next stop was Woods Hole, where we met our best homeschool buddies at the aquarium. Last year the kids dashed through the exhibits in record time, but this time everybody was in the mood to really take things in, and we lingered for a while at each tank.

looking at a fish tank at the aquarium

engrossing

While in Woods Hole we also took in the museum where you can play in the replica Alvin's cockpit, and played on the little beach in the center of town. The mamas got coffee.

Then we all went to the hotel to check in. While the freshly caffeinated mamas took care of that, the kids and I explored the beach. It wasn't too cold to put our feet in the water—it never is, for us—but it was very cold. Numbingly cold. Luckily there was a tropically warm indoor pool nearby where we could warm up.

Zion, fully dressed, wading in the indoor baby pool

wading pool

In past years the retreat has included dinner, but we cut that this year to save on costs. So we went out to eat instead. It was wonderful; besides the quantities of fried seafood and french fries the kids were delighted by the touch-screen drink dispenser, and took in a startling quantity of pink lemonade with lemon, cherry, and strawberry flavor shots. "Mixing is fun!" they said.

the boys eating at Seafood Sam's

mmm, fish dinners!

We woke up the next day to howling wind and spitting rain. Leah laughs at bad weather, and took off before dawn to run a half marathon. That left me to see to packing up, but the kids are big now: they did a fantastic job of loading backpacks with everything they would need for the day and cramming everything else in the duffels, all in plenty of time to get down to breakfast before almost everyone else. That meant we could get a prime seat by the window, for the first time in the three years we've been visiting this hotel. We enjoyed watching the wind and the light-ship on the horizon for a while; and also the buffet.

Zion pouring ketchup onto his plate of sausages, bacon, and danishes

elegant ketchup

I kind of wondered breakfast by the window would be the closest we'd get to the ocean that day, it was that stormy out. Plus I was in charge of 32 elementary school kids. But while we did spend about six hours playing (very happily) in a windowless conference room, I did take a few brave souls out into the tempest to explore the beach and the secret pond. The pictures don't do the wild weather justice: the wind was blowing something fierce, but it was blowing directly out to see so it flattened the waves right out. They were probably something to see by the time they reached Connecticut...

kids walking along the windblown beach

adventurous

Oh, and we swam in the pool too. But I was having too much fun to photograph that. All that, and we were still home by 7:00. Maybe not a vacation, but a delightful adventure.

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a family vacation story

Harvey and Zion running from big waves

late september seas

At the end of September we took another trip down to Truro to stay at Grandma and Grandpa's beach house. This time it was just us; the Bernsteins were otherwise engaged and the friends we invited couldn't make it. So we had the house, and the vacation, to ourselves. Which was novel! We realized, as we sat down to supper the first night there, that it was the first purely family vacation we'd taken since Harvey was a tiny baby, nine years ago. I think we earned it!

Because it was well past Labor Day it wasn't only the house we had to ourselves, but pretty much the whole place. As soon as we arrived we headed right down to the beach, where we knew there'd be no trouble finding a place to set up our stuff.

Zion and Lijah wrapped up in towels on the windy beach

our private beach

One reason we were interested in hitting the beach right away was the forecast: the Wednesday we drove down was mild, but there was cold weather predicted for Thursday and rain for Friday. So we had to seize our one beachy chance! Of course, while the air was mild the water was not; it took some effort to get in, even for Mama in her wetsuit. The waves also made it a little challenging, at least for the kids. This beach is on the bay side and is usually as calm as a pond, so the two-foot breaking waves felt pretty big. Most of us did make it in at last, and Harvey and I at least spent a good hour or so playing in the water. Pretty good for September 26!

We needed some supplies for supper so after we dried off we drove into Welfleet to visit the wonderful grocery store there, with wood floors and shelves and a not terrible selection of things to eat. After stocking up we drove down to the harbor to take a walk. The evening light was beautiful, thanks to the gathering clouds.

the setting sun turns the air over Welfleet Harbor dusty yellow

peaceful evening

The clouds had settled in to stay when we woke up the next morning, which is why I told the boys not to pack swimsuits for our trip to Provincetown. I thought that made sense; besides the clouds it was windy and cold. We wanted to go visit Race Point Beach, where I assumed we'd walk a little, be impressed by the giant waves, and then look for somewhere warm to visit. I should have known better.

Harvey and Zion getting wet in the waves

waves are too much fun

You know how it is: they thought they were just getting their feet wet. It really was cold and windy, though, so we couldn't exactly swim, even leaving aside the fact that the waves probably would have killed us. Good thing swimming isn't the only fun thing to do at a beach!

Harvey jumping off a sand bank

yahoo!

(I really wanted to do a flip off that bank, but it turns out that at 41 I don't have it in me any more.) So we jumped and walked and collected crab shells until the roaring wind—which made any non-shouted conversation impossible—drove us crazy and away. Done with the wind but not yet with the ocean, we drove a couple minutes to another beach on the other side of the point, which presented a completely different aspect: calm, quiet, and mild. With no waves to speak of we watched the tide not creep but race up the beach, and the boys had fun playing real-life Forbidden Island (while I forbade them to get their second suit of clothes wet).

Next we visited Provincetown proper. The boys and I had a great time walking on the long long breakwater (pictured here) while Leah cuddled up with her book in the car to have a break from the wind. Then we tried to find somewhere to park to let us check out downtown, but even at the end of September the place was hopping. I don't go on vacation to battle for parking, so to the moans of the boys who had seen a plush Pikachu in a store window I pointed the car out of town. They were mollified when we found a quiet skate park to play in.

Then we turned for home, but I wasn't totally done exploring and asked the family if they would mind checking out just one more beach. And they were glad they said yes, because Head of the Meadows was the best one yet. The sun had come out by then (as may be seen in the picture that tops this post), and though the wind was still at full force there was a big dip in the beach that blocked some of its force. And even better, the dip held a considerable pond. Which spelled the end for the second suit of dry clothes.

the boys getting wet

going in

I wasn't tempted by the pond, but while the boys frolicked I was watching the waves, and finally I couldn't resist. Fear of sharks kept me from really swimming, but I did go in enough to get my clothes—my only clothes, since I didn't think to bring spares—soaking wet. It was worth it. Then we headed home.

Friday we woke up to steady rain. Leah wanted to get the house clean for a prospective renter who was coming to look at it, so I took the boys over to Welfleet to go to the library there. We'd wanted to visit it ever since we first noticed it last year, but who has time for libraries when there are beaches to visit! Except in the rain, of course. I'm glad it rained, because the library trip wasn't just a passable consolation prize, it was one of the best parts of the vacation. There was a giant collection of comic books, including the long-sought-out Hilo book 4, which absorbed Harvey and Zion; Lijah was delighted by the toys. An assortment of old cooking gear was his favorite, and he and I enjoyed imaginary play with the various strange objects. It was very cozy with the rain pouring down on the skylights.

But we hadn't brought anything to eat, so at maybe 1:00 I dragged them away for lunch. Leah had packed everything up, so after lunch we said goodby to the house and headed home for real; stopping on the way, of course, for some ice cream. It's not a vacation without ice cream! Even Rascal got some.

the boys licking cones

like you do

It was a good time. Family vacations are nice; let's do one again some day!

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tour of Lexington

This past Thursday we continued our summer camp adventuring. We had one additional taker for our outing, Zion's friend Nathan, who signed on despite not having any advance notice about what he would be doing. Because we didn't know either! But by 8:00 Thursday morning I had a plan: to finally explore ACROSS Lexington trail system. Lexington has some good trails, and over the last ten years they've been stringing them together into walking loops of four to six miles each, connecting stretches of conservation land hiking and bike paths with well-signed routes along mostly back streets. We don't walk much, so we planned to bike the whole way. And there was some good cycling!

Zion riding down a narrow path in a field, Harvey well ahead of him

fine singletrack!

Since it was our first trip on the system, we aimed to follow Trail A (so far they go up to H). But first we had to get there; conveniently, Trail A includes a little section of the bike path that starts right by our house. Of course, we're not so single-minded that the ACROSS trail was the only thing on our minds: I was happy to stop on the way up to explore other interesting bits of Lexington.

the boys wading in a small stream

exploring upriver

The trail itself took us 5.4 miles on walking trails through woods and by streams and ponds; along a paved walking path along a narrow strip of wooded land along Lower Vine Brook; and through leafy suburban streets and one sterile new subdivision of McMansions—a subdivision that preserved one tiny memory of the farm-turned-nursery that preceded it.

Lijah in the cargo bike looking at a wildflower garden and farmy shed

Lexington scenery

There were also two little flights of stairs... and one big hill, on a soft path through the woods, that about finished Zion. We were probably about five miles in—plus the three and a half on the bike path to get to the trail—and he was cooked. Pushing his little bike up the hill with bugs buzzing all around him he yelled up to me, "I hate Trail A!" But when he made it to the top of the hill it was just one long downhill into Lexington Center; as soon as he recognized where he was, all was forgiven and he and Trail A were reconciled once again. Lunch on the Buckman Tavern lawn helped too.

I lived in Lexington for over 20 years, but lots of what we rode was surprising to me—delightfully so. There's lots more of the town to explore; even Zion, by lunch, was wondering when we could take a shot at Trail B...

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we can adventure by ourselves

In past years we've done this summer camp thing. When I asked the boys if they wanted to try it again this year they were all for it, and at least one family who participated in the past told me they were interested, so I emailed a few other folks to invite them. But so far, nobody has wanted to join us. Never mind, last Thursday the boys and I went on an adventure all by ourselves, and gosh-darnit, we had a great time!

the boys looking out at Fawn Lake

on the adventure trail

We didn't go anywhere new; just old Fawn Lake, where we've been lots of times before. It was Zion's first time biking there, at least! There was some grumpiness here and there as we walked around the pond, but nobody can be in a bad mood for long in the presence of such lovely natural beauty, and by the time we made it to the lunch cliff spirits were high. Zion made his higher still by climbing up the hardest way.

Zion bouldering, viewed from above

on his way up

After lunch we played hide-and-seek and tag in the field for about an hour, then we took to the streets for the ride home. I was a little nervous about Zion experiencing 45 mph traffic beside him for the first time, but he did great. The reason for our detour away from the lovely bike path that would have led us straight back to our house was that the bike path doesn't have an ice cream shop. And we needed ice cream.

the boys licking ice cream cones

treat

And even that wasn't the end of the fun; next we stopped at the library for an hour of relaxing reading. Then we finally went home, to have dinner.

After dinner we went on another adventure, to outdoor concert back up by the library, where Harvey and Lijah got stung by several wasps each. But that's another story, and friends did join us for that outing, so we didn't feel as much like brave and solitary explorers.

We're doing some more exploring tomorrow. We'll see if anyone feels like coming along.

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who says we never do anything?!

Yesterday we at a picnic lunch and a picnic dinner, in two separate state parks. That wasn’t the plan for the day; I had thought to have a pretty quiet day at home, working and playing here like we’ve been doing a lot of the time lately. We did have an early-morning trip to to the grocery store planned, and I expected that that would be all the excitement I could handle. Only then friends invited us to join them for a walk at Great Brook Farm state park. On such a beautiful day, how could we resist?!

Harvey and Zion playing by a pond

out and enjoying life

It was indeed lovely; we played around the pond, looked at the livestock, and took a walk through the woods and fields. Then to top it all off we got ice cream—one small dish per family, to share. Hey, we're not made of money! Everyone was worn out and satisfied as we headed home.

But we didn't stay there for long. Harvey just got new swim goggles the other day, and he's been trying to arrange our first summertime trip to Walden Pond. I mentioned in passing that we might be able to head that way at dinner time—some day, when we hadn’t already spent nearly four hours exploring the great outdoors. But no, he was determined. So not much more than an hour after getting home from Great Brook we’d packed another meal and took to the road again. I was worried, with everyone but Harvey—me very much included—showing signs of dangerous tiredness, but the nearly empty beach was just what we needed and the boys ran, swam, and played for a solid hour and a half. Me, I lay on the beach and tried not to fall all the way asleep when they were in the water.

the three boys playing in the water

peaceful evening swim

Besides all the fresh air and exercise over the two excursions, we also got to see all kinds of amazing wildlife. At Great Brook the pond was full of tiny frogs, bullfrogs, and fish—including a catfish that came up to strike a cheerio one of the kids through in. We also saw lots of chipmunks and observed ants and dragonflies; Zion found a snakeskin to bring home. Walden Pond had less variety, but more excitement when a bald eagle flew across the pond to land in a pine tree down the beach. (“I didn’t see it!” Lijah tells me. He has a hard time seeing his shoes when I point them out to him, never mind a bird moving fast several hundred yards away.)

a frog in the pond

ribbet

It was all super fun. And exhausting. It took til this evening to finish washing all the tupperwares. But as we loaded the things into the car in the beautiful cool of the evening, I reflected that, some days at least, following the moment wherever it leads can be pretty nice too.

Harvey, Zion, and Havana walking in the woods

getting away from it all

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on the water

the boys and I paddling on the smooth water of the river

going places in style

After a few practice runs taking our new canoe out on ponds, we felt ready to take on the Concord River. The trial run on Zion's birthday was a little rough, but Tuesday we mobilized the whole family for another go—with rather more success. You can see from the picture above that we've made some improvements to our fine vessel, the Green Gecko; the tent is essential to keep the sun off the cargo on these bright spring days.

Leah borrowed a kayak from friends so she could join us (and also took the morning off from work). Her boat goes faster than ours, but she was kind enough to wait up when we got too far behind.

Leah paddling a kayak on the wide Concord River

Mama leading the way

In Bedford the river feels hugely wide, but upriver into Concord it narrows significantly, and it felt more like river boating as we navigated the twists and turns. The current was much more noticeable in the confines space too, and navigating around all the fallen trees in the water was exciting!

the canoe in the smaller part of the river

into the heart of darkness

Our goal was the Old North Bridge, but as we made our creeping way upstream it became clear we weren't going to make it—especially since we needed to be back home for the next scheduled event safely before 3:00. Still, we couldn't go all that way without finding somewhere to go to. The Great Meadows bird sanctuary was a great consolation prize, and we had a pleasant picnic lunch on a bench by the riverbank. Then we explored a little. Just like last time we were there, the highlight was playing in the fords.

the boys splashing through the ford

shore leave excitement

After lunch we went a little further upstream before we hit our cut-off time, and turned around. It's a good thing the current was helping us along on the homeward trip, because we wouldn't have made it otherwise: our arms were about ready to fall off! The kids didn't work quite as hard, but after over three hours in the boat they well earned their riverside playtime back at the boat launch.

the boys playing in the river at the boat launch

journey's end

Since we were disappointed of the bridge Tuesday, Thursday the boys and I put in upstream on the Sudbury River and paddled down to it, with a brief excursion a little ways up the Assabet River. We were excited to make it to what felt like a fabled destination, though sadly my camera ran out of batteries so I wasn't able to capture our triumph. Even sadder because the light was beautiful as the morning's sunshine gave way to threatening overcast; overcast that threatened us right back upriver after just a few minutes play at the bridge (since we've been to the bridge by car and bicycle hundreds of times, the exciting part about this visit was tying up to a real dock at the Old Manse boathouse).

Both wind and current were against us as we headed back to the car. The wind was so strong we had to take down the tent, but that was fine since it was about as dark as night anyways. Harvey and I were a little concerned. Lijah, on the other hand, is now totally used to being in the boat, and lurched happily from side to side to lean over and put his hand in the water. It was easier when he was terrified! He even put in a good long stretch of "helping" with a paddle of his own (Harvey was very kind and patient to not throw him overboard).

I thought the whole trip was pretty quick, but when we got back to the car I found that it had been well over two hours. Oops! Time flies when you're on the water. It was great fun, but after all that work I think we all deserve a quiet, boating-free weekend.

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experiencing winter's ice

With the snow mostly melted and some stings of warm days, sometimes it's hard to remember that it's still winter around here. But so deep was December's chill that all the ponds are still well-covered with thick ice, so when Friday dawned cold and clear we thought it would be the perfect day for an icy expedition.

Harvey and Zion on the ice of Fawn Lake, Lijah looking on

icecapades

Since we wanted to expunge the memory of the last time any of us were out on the ice, we made sure to prepare properly. That meant that the bicycle was well full of anything we might need. Including a blanket, of course!

Zion the full cargo bike bucket

Lijah is there too, under the blanket

The crushed stone bike path was in good shape as we started out, but closer to the pond conditions really deteriorated, and for the last mile we spent half the time pushing the bikes over long stretches where the slush had frozen into a solid—and lumpy!—covering. Not the kind of ice we were looking for!

Harvey walking his bike over the icy icy path

ice road biker

But we persevered, and eventually made it to Fawn Lake, which was covered in just the right sort of beautifully smooth ice. (The thaws do an amazing job of melting all the snow without really touching the depth of ice coverage—this year is the first time I've ever seen that happen, and it's happened twice already.) We set off to cross right away, but some disturbing cracking noises sent us scurrying back before we made it a third of the way. Never mind, there was lots of fun to be had climbing on rocks and running around the field.

Lijah in hat and mittens

keeping cozy

After lunch we recovered our bravery enough to venture a little way onto the ice to investigate a trio of ice blocks some previous explorers had cut out and set on end. The holes they had come from were long frozen over, so we didn't worry about falling in; and they made fine, if chilly seats. Not that we sat for long, since the warm sun shining on the ice made it wonderfully slick. I found I could run and slide on my front for, oh, ten feet or so. Of course, then everyone else had to try it.

the boys sliding on the ice on their stomachs

playing penguins

Even Lijah overcame most of his nervousness about the curious noises that the ice produced from time to time to be able to take some good slides. Yes, we love ice! Not the kind on the path, though—we went home on the road to avoid that nonsense.

Zion sitting on an ice block

cool on the ice

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a story which must be told

A bit over a week ago, at the tail end of the previous thaw (we're in another one now) the boys and I were on a walk with Rascal. When we found ourselves close to Bedford's newest pond* the bigger boys naturally wanted to check out the ice.

Harvey and Zion inching across the ice on the pond

carefully now...

Even after 5 days of mild weather it still took their weight without a problem—that's what comes of the thaw following two solid weeks of well below freezing. Unfortunately, we find that frozen mud thaws faster than frozen water, and when they reached the far bank and foolishly stepped off the ice they sank ankle deep in oozing quicksand. Harvey managed to escape, but in trying to turn around Zion tripped and fell onto his hand and knees. It took lots of help from Harvey to get him up, and then more help to get his boot out of the mire—his foot had come up without it and it was pretty much submerged. Then, because his love for his brother leads him to provide support emotional as well as practical, Harvey took off one of his own boots to make Zion feel better as they crossed back to me and Elijah. Better, but not completely happy.

Zion crying, covered with mud

oops.

After we dumped maybe a pint of water out of the boot I told Zion to put it back on: the thaw was coming to a dramatic end even as we walked, and with temperatures dipping below freezing I figured a wet boot would be lots better than no boot for our nearly mile-long walk home. Zion's hands were also giving trouble: there was no way we could wipe that mud off them, and we didn't want to ruin his coat sticking all that muck through the sleeves. But he was in danger of freezing to death. So I had him wrap his hands up in the front of his shirt, and then I zipped his coat up around him.

Which I suppose would have been fine if he could walk, but he couldn't; and with the state his boots (and feet) were in I couldn't blame him. I was pushing Lijah in the stroller, so I had Zion stand on his scooter and pushed that along too (Harvey took the dog). That was fine until the little scooter wheels hit a stick and Zion fell on his face. At that point Lijah was evicted so Zion could be brought home alive (though he did take a brief ride on Zion's lap; a mile is a long way for his little legs, especially when someone else is riding).

By the time we got home Zion had recovered a bit, but of course when we saw Mama just getting home as we turned onto the street he had to cry a little for her too. Luckily she knows how to take care of cold boys, and also where the boot dryer is, because we sure needed it. It turns out that pond mud dries as hard as the finest clay!

Harvey and Zion's snow boots completely encased in mud

thaw: the aftermath

*I call it "Bedford's newest pond" because it is: DPW folks dug it in the summer when to replace another area of wetland lost to ball fields. So far, apparently, no one but me has used that phrase in the history of Google, which is something.

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summery outing

Zion feeling the water

down to the water

Yesterday the weather turned warm and summery, so we headed out on the bikes for a summery outing to Fawn Lake. I made sure the boys packed changes of clothes.

Surprisingly, no one needed them; we had some wet feet, but nobody was inspired to take any great risks (or to straight up jump in the water). Maybe we were having too much fun hiking together and seeing what was around the next bend. Lijah can't always keep up with his brothers, but when he does manage it he's delighted.

three boys walking together around the pond

hiking together

We saw some wildlife: there were geese and swans on the pond, and I spotted four turtles basking on a log.

a pair of turtles basking on a log

the braver two

We didn't see any beavers, but there were plenty of signs of their presence. Here's one of maybe 50 downed or partially chewed-through trees we saw.

Lijah considering a large tree cut almost all the way through by beavers

impressive work, beavers

We were particularly delighted at the new outflow at the north end of the pond: it now runs through a two-foot diameter plastic pipe under a wood bridge, and the boys loved putting their hands in the icy water as it burbled out the lower side. (If you ask me the whole thing looked a little tenuous; if the pond bursts its banks next spring and washes away a segment of Springs Road just there I'm going to say I called it.)

Zion atop a rocky ledge

victory!

Besides the water, there were also other amusements. Zion was very proud of himself for climbing this rock—twice—and then we made it our pirate ship and spent 20 minutes attacking the swans. But the water was the main draw. That's what happens when it feels like summer!

the boys lying on a walkway looking down into the water

close examination

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