Thursday, October 16, 2014

Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain

"While it can be maddening to hike with a small child who stops to examine every bug and begs to be carried only to run circles around all of the adults who have collapsed after the end of a long hike, it can also be eye-opening to put away the binoculars and get out a magnifying glass. That is, forget about goals and destinations and get down on the kid’s level, slow down, and take in the world one pebble and caterpillar at a time. So it takes all afternoon to travel a hundred yards of trail, so what? The important thing is that you and your child are enjoying the world together and, while you’re at it, you are learning (or relearning) a whole new way of seeing the world."

I'm thrilled to have my essay/article, "Skinny Big Hill Hard Mountain: The Labor and Love of Hiking with Children," in this month's issue of TrailGroove magazine. You can click here to read more.

A Trip to the Bog

Last week, I joined E and Z's class on a field trip to Hidden Valley Nature Center.
As we trooped down the trail to our forest study site, they kept angling for detours:

"Let's see what's down this trail!"

"Let's go to the bog."

It told them they had to stay with their class, but that we could return to the Nature Center over the weekend and go anywhere they wanted to go.

Meanwhile, thinking to myself, "A-ha, a chance to get these grumpy homebodies out of the house!"

By Sunday morning, of course they had changed their minds.

But I insisted that we were going anyway.

And they said, "Fine. But we're only going to the bog."

Which is what we did, with a small detour to check out their study site and the progress on the under-construction timber-frame classroom.

The bog was beautiful in October--everything's gone red, with a few ripe cranberries here and there (and a few raisin-like leftover huckleberries) and little plugs of ice in the throats of the pitcher plants. It's a place that seems like it belongs in some remote wilderness, not just a few miles from our house. I kept waiting for a moose to wander into the scene. There are miles of trails left to explore. I'll have to think of ways to get those boys out and hiking with me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


The leaves are turning fast these days.

Everything's golden and orange and red and bronze.

It's that time of year when time seems to be going by extra-fast.

Like if you don't hurry up and enjoy it, life will just pass you by.

We learned recently (from a Ranger Rick magazine) that if you put your ear to an aspen tree, you can hear a sound like a cross between wind chimes and water running through rusty old pipes in a vacant building (I can't believe I grew up in Colorado and never knew this).

We were almost too late to try it out, before the leaves fell off the aspen trees, but now we can't stop putting our ear to every tree we pass. It works best with trees about four to six inches in diameter, with plenty of leaves, in a good wind. We've found that birch and maple make a sound too (but with a different timbre), but oak not so much.

Meanwhile, Z sits under maple trees and waits for a leaf to fall so he can catch it before it hits the ground.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A New Hiking Trail

Saturday afternoon, the boys, their friend, and I braved the mist and gray skies and hit the trail at a new hiking spot not too far from home. Early on, the trail comes across this Stonehenge-type edifice, which made for a great source of entertainment (and bickering).

The four-mile loop was the perfect length for an afternoon, and just enough to tire the boys out so they quit the bickering. And it was the perfect time of year to enjoy the maple-dominant forest--beautiful changing leaves and even a small stand of flowering witch-hazel, which I forgot to photograph. I wondered to myself why we hadn't hiked more over the summer, and then at one point we passed a swampy area and I remembered--oh, yeah, that's what's so nice about hiking in the fall--no bugs.

The glowering skies never let loose rain, and we finished the hike with dry shoes and topped it off with a trip to the apple orchard for a jug of cider and a bag of apples before heading home.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A New Housecleaning Protocol

I was getting kind of tired of devoting half of my weekends to housework (okay, I've never NOT been tired of devoting half my weekends to housework) while everyone else in the family was outside having fun.

And then I thought, Isn't the whole point of having kids for the free labor? I mean look at family farms. And family restaurants. And Cinderella's family.

So about a month ago, I started putting them to work. First thing after breakfast, everyone cleans up all their crap that has accumulated around the kitchen and living room and mudroom and sunroom and bottom three stairs over the last week. And no, picking things up off the floor and piling them on the couch/table/chair does not count as "cleaning."

M gets sent up to his room to clean up an entire week's worth of dirty clothes that he drops on the floor. Four feet from the laundry basket.

E and Z divide up the downstairs tasks: vacuum the mudroom, living room, kitchen, and sunroom, and mop the kitchen floor. When they finish with the vacuum, M does the stairs and the upstairs rooms.

This does not happen without a great deal of whining, fussing, cries of "why do I have to?" and sneaking outside to ride bikes. But it does happen. As with everything in the household, E and Z trade off being the Helpful Twin and the Difficult Twin. The Helpful Twin sometimes even takes on extra tasks (like spraying the windows with vinegar/water and wiping them down with an old rag; of course, I don't know any kid who doesn't like spraying liquid out of a squirt bottle).

This also does not happen without a great deal of guidance and correction from me: You have to get into the corners with the vacuum. You have to get under the furniture with the vacuum. If something is on the floor, pick it up; don't just vacuum around it. If something is stuck to the floor scrub at it with the mop; don't just go over it once and call it good.

It pretty much takes as much time to supervise them doing the work as it would if I just did it myself (though I manage to do work as well, like clearing off my desk dusting, while they're at it), but in the long-run I think they will thank me for giving them a grounding in how to clean a house. And I know their future roommates and domestic partners will thank me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Summer Takes a Curtain Call

We had a short, sweet return to 80-degree temperatures this past weekend. On Saturday, M and I went to see one of his favorite musicians, spending a long, fruitless hour driving confusedly around southern Maine in an attempt to find a destination I wanted to hit to make our trip more worthwhile (but got a brief stop at a nice beach and saw lots of fancy coastal houses we'll buy when we become rock stars/blockbuster novelists. Hopefully that will happen before the sea level rises too much and sinks all our dreams) on our way down. Fortunately, we left early and our musician started late. It was a great show, despite being located in a hot, unattractive industrial parking lot, and M got to meet Samuel James briefly, before he had to go and get water to stave off heat stroke from performing onstage in the direct sunlight.

Sunday, the whole family went to Reid State Park, accompanied by much grumbling by the two boys who have decided they HATE the beach. And just to prove it, they stayed in the sand all day, not going anywhere near the water. Until just before we left, when I said, "Before we go, I want you to come down to the water with me just for a second."

And then they dipped their toes in the surf. And ran away from a few waves. And then ran into a few more waves. Until pretty soon they were completely soaked (because of course they didn't put on their swimming suits, because they HATE the beach and weren't going to go anywhere near the water). And still they jumped the waves and fell in the waves and played in the waves. After they got good and shivery and blue in the lips, we wrapped them up in towels and took them home, away from the beach they HATE so much. We stopped for an ice cream on the way--the last day it was open, and they needed to finish spending the gift certificates they got for their birthdays last May--you know, as compensation for making them go to the beach on a beautiful warm day in September.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hitting The Trail

Today I'm over at Mud Puddles to Meteors with a few words about one of our favorite local hiking destinations.

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