posts tagged with 'advent'

going out

We've actually been leaving our house a fair amount over the last few days. Harvey and I, and sometimes Zion, have been enjoying early-morning bike rides a few times a week, and mid day rides a few times a week when we're not out early. Off-road, because we don't need to be masked deep in the woods. The other day we even put the bikes in the car to try out some new trails that wouldn't otherwise have been reachable in the hour and a half we had available.

But car trips still aren't easy. I had to go to the store the other day, and it was a major production. First I had to try and jump the minivan because the battery was dead, and then when that didn't work I had to go buy a new battery and put it in. But before I could do that I needed to find my wallet, which I hadn't used in at least a week, and my mask. Locating those two things only took ten minutes, but it was a desperate and frustrating ten minutes that almost removed from me all will to live. Certainly all will to drive away from home.

But it was worth it, because with a working car I could visit some real bike trails with Harvey. And then since that went so well, today all four of us boys took our first automotive outing in a long time. I'll write more about that tomorrow; for now, suffice it to say that finding four masks—plus water bottles, shoes, and whatever else we needed—was more than four times harder than finding my one had been. We've never been really good at getting out the door in any smoothly organized fashion, and I think any skills we did manage to develop evaporated completely in the 2+ months since we've driven anywhere together.

Two months?! Yes, March 30th to June 4. I had to count three times before I believed that number, but there it is. Ok, I guess it's fair that we'd be a little rusty. The boys had fun; we're looking to do it again soon. Maybe next time the engine will only be running for ten minutes while everyone is running around trying to find their stuff. I don't dare turn the car off after I start it because I no longer trust batteries. But don't worry, we could idle for a very long time indeed and still not offset all the driving we didn't do in April and May!

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a ride (and walk)

In pandemic days we get to do a lot at home, but not as many adventures. I want to try and fix that, so yesterday we went out for a bike ride. It had good parts and bad part.

I wish I had taken more video of the part where we died, but we were a little busy trying to find a path that kept getting smaller and wetter, and also trying to convince ourselves that we would be able to get through if we just kept moving forward. Well, two of us were doing that: Zion knew from the beginning that we should have just turned back. Eventually we did, after getting soaked up to our knees and scratched with thorns and bitten by mosquitoes and ticks and maybe poisoned by poison ivy. It was a little dispiriting retracing our steps through all that horror.

But the riding part was great, and we're excited to go out again soon. On the big paths.

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a fall outing

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.

walking along a farm field in fall

sparkling fall

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!

Lijah sitting on a fallen white pine way out in a pond

adventurous at five

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.

Zion and Natalie walking over a bridge

questioning his life choices?

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!

Lijah in a leaf pile tossing up some leaves

hooray fall!

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July's camping adventure part 1

the boys posing atop Dorr Mountain in Acadia National Park

mountains!

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.

Zion and Lijah considering the water at the beach in Lincolnville

just toes in

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.

Lijah sitting next to Mama on the bus and looking out the window

bus!

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.

Lijah going up stairs between two slabs of rock

the interesting way up

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.

the crew scattered about rocks eating lunch

fine for lunch anyway

With the benefit of rest and food, we made it there not too long afterwards and posed for the usual celebratory photos.

all the Archibalds smiling atop Dorr

all of us

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!).

Zion, Lijah, Nathan, and Liam lying on their backs on the gravel path

wored out

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.

Zion at the picnic table looking at his plate with chicken, mac & cheese and french fries

and plenty of ketchup!

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.

the magic show audience watching Katie recline on stage

what's going to happen next?!

And that was only just the beginning of the vacation!

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out in the woods to play

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.

the boys with a few other kids catching frogs in a woodsy stream

timbernook gang

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.

Zion and Lijah painting some pallets and their hands green

hand painted

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.

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retreating to Sturbridge

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!

Harvey and Zion looking at the lake by the hotel

on foreign shores

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!

Lijah, the hotel pool, and its plants

indoor oasis

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.

kids watching Shaun the Sheep in a conference room

late-night entertainment

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!

Lijah sleeping on the floor among bags

zzz

As I said in my summing-up last year: it wasn't really a vacation, but it was sure a fun adventure!

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wasp season

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!

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at the National Zoo

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.

an elephant

look at the elephant!

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:

a lion snarling

an aloof monarch

There were cute little mammals like the fennec fox and... this other thing:

a fennec fox sleeping

cuddly

an animal of some sort in the small mammal house

photogenic, whatever it is

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:

Zion pretending to eat the leg of a wooden antelope

chomp

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!

lots of kids looking at the sea lion through the glass

see the sea lion!

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!

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on Wednesday

The best thing about homeschooling is that, by Wednesday, when you're ready for a change of scenery... it's yours to go find!

the boys crossing the bridge to Good Harbor Beach

to the beach!

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!

Harvey and Zion playing in the waves

yay ocean!

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.

Lijah lying on towels and backpacks

relatively comfy

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!).

the boys in towels and coats, looking cold

brrr!

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.

Zion and Lijah on the rocks looking at the rough sea

on the rocks

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!

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alternate art hike

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.

Zion wading in Fairyland Pond

any fairies in sight?

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.

the kids looking at a birdhouse-like structure with animals peeking out from the doors

art!

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!".

kids climbing on a big hand sculpture holding up fingers

all the fingers

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.

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