Monday, July 29, 2019

Home Stretch

A few months ago I signed James and Wes both up for guitar camp that began this week.  Nearly every single day since that time Wes has asked me if he can somehow get out of it, send Mary instead, quit, move to Holland, enroll in summer school, or otherwise skip guitar camp.  Finally he told me that if I took him for ice cream on Sunday afternoon he would cheerfully get in the car on Monday morning.  We went for ice cream and still he couldn't get through dinner without so much complaining that I sent him off to bed.

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Yesterday at church in all his finery

I was dreading this morning, but Wes was chipper and agreeable when he got out of bed.  When I circled back around the parking lot after dropoff he had stopped sulking and was flipping through his music folder with interest.

Every afternoon a local musician comes to do a short concert and the families are invited to come so Charley and Mary and I went and sat in the back for the ACCORDION concert, which was really, really cool, and when it was over James literally leaped over a pew to tell me how much he loved camp. Wes walked up smiling and told me "It was actually really fun" then showed me his new guitar and then got it out in the car to practice on the way home. IT'S A SOLSTICE(ish) MIRACLE.

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In other news, we continue to make our way towards the rapidly approaching start of school by swinging sinusoidally between wanting it to be here already (for several reasons, kids need something to DO and also I'd like to rip off the anticipatory anxiety 7th grade bandaid) and feeling like we could just keep on keeping on indefinitely. Today after camp (and the accordion concert)I took them to Sonic for a round of Happy Hour slushes and then to Target to buy alarm clocks and they were cute and hilarious the whole time. When we got home they all scurried upstairs because they COULD NOT WAIT to plug those puppies in and bask in the glory of playing their OWN MUSIC IN THEIR OWN ROOM. James started on NPR but switched to Tejano after I asked him to stop yelling random Tr*mp factoids down the stairs. Mary listened to a contemporary Christian station. Wes listened to classical music.

And then while I made dinner (this was DELICIOUS) they watched "James and the Giant Peach" and then we had a cozy dinner and bedtime and then guitar music streamed down the stairs and we wondered how many melatonins is safe to give a child.

Last week they made me so crazy one day that Ryan arrived at the pool for a magical happy pool pizza picnic to find the kids in the pool and me crying on a lawn chair.  He sent me straight to my sewing ladies where I passed a lovely evening crocheting, complaining, and drinking wine.  Since then the kids have been cracking me up a million different ways every day.  It's a nice end to the summer.

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Making serious progress on the global climate change blanket of dread

James joined year round swim with Charley and is SUPER DUPER EXCITED ABOUT IT. Tomorrow he is squeezing in thirty minutes of practice before camp.

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I've been enforcing literacy. A small sample of the books I rounded up from the living room one afternoon.

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Charley and James went to a lecture on nutrition and fitness for swim and Charley came home talking about how he's going to start getting lots of sleep, drinking lots of water, and eating lots of "small, colorful meals." James reported that the guy who talked to them "looked like God and smelled nice." It's been a fun challenge to make lots of "small, colorful meals" but we have been eating much more healthy than we did in vacation mode. It also helps that we have hours every day to goof around making dinner. To wit: spring rolls!

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James wanted to know why we "put all the food in little bags?"

Some friends invited Mary and James and me to the summer musical in the park. It was beautiful chaos.

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And I've been rowing like a crazy person (strong possibility this is the reason for the lack of narrative coherency present here, since I got up at 4:30, rowed for ninety minutes, and was then shot out of a cannon for camp dropoff and grocery shopping and all the things upon arriving home, thank goodness there was accordion music).

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Attempting to keep one hand in my work email alongside all this magical family togetherness has been super exciting, as you can imagine, and I keep getting deadlines mixed up in my mind. For instance, do I need to buy a pinata by August 1 and submit two abstracts to the annual meeting by August 3? Or is it the other way around (it definitely is the other way around). One of them is written and one is drafted, so I need to just knock that out before I miss it. School starts on August 8 and then I will need to GET DOWN TO IT.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Maine Wrapup. End of Summer countdown begins.

We've been back from Maine for a few days now and aside from re-aclimating to the situation where you still feel sweaty all the time, even inside of buildings, I will say things are going well.  Charley had his first year-round swim practice Tuesday morning and even more exciting than that JAMES finally after a year of waiting was allowed to be evaluated for year-round swim.  He swam an hour-long practice with a handful of other kids his age and listened carefully to the coach's instructions the whole time.  I chatted quietly with the coach while he stood by, wrapped in a towel, looking angelic for the verdict.  When I turned around and told him "You're in!  Nice job!" he screeched "YES!!!!" along with what would be called a fist bump if it was your entire body.  Afterward he kept talking about how tired and happy and hungry he is.  I'm so excited for him.

Ryan declared this weekend "easy weekend," which was nice and necessary after awakening at one o'clock in the AM (Central) on Saturday to catch our flight.  Charley took a four hour nap on Sunday afternoon while the rest of us met up with friends at the splash pad downtown.  Because it was easy weekend we also bought everyone ice cream and then took eight kids to get pizza (Charley had woken up by this point).  Easy weekend is the best.


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And now for a randomly assembled sample of the hundred or so pictures I took in Maine this year. Some milestones: The kids all went back to sea and science camp again, Charley and Wes did two weeks and James and Mary did one. They did the usual learning to sail (or practicing sailing in the boys' case) and also this year because we went to a different session, they learned all about Maine fisheries. Mary came home referring to every floating paper cup as "marine debris" and cautioned us against attempting to sail in the "No Go Zone," or directly into the wind. Charley and Wes got lots more experience sailing boats themselves and I'm just so amazed by their confidence and ability. They also went on field trips to the Coast Guard station and the aquarium. Whenever I muse that maybe they would like to take a week off one year they look at me like I have three heads, so this is definitely a Thing now. James, Charley, Wes, and my niece S all did the swim test, in which they swim all the way across the harbor and back. It used to be that if you completed the swim test you didn't have to wear a life jacket in the boat, but now it just means you get the customary cup of hot cocoa and five bucks and you don't have to wear a life jacket on the dock if an adult is with you because 2019.

The rest of us who were not at camp spent a lot of time lounging around, going on beach trips, checking out the Maine Maritime Museum (which is AWESOME), eating inappropriately, reading good books, and hiking. Due to the warmer than normal water temperature (hmmm, I wonder what is causing that) the jellyfish population exploded this year and for the first week of our trip we could usually find at least ten of them around the area where the kids usually swim. At first we just helped them avoid running straight into them but after some stings we realized James has an unusual reaction that includes headaches and swollen neck lymph nodes (because of course) and we finally had to ban him from the water when it seemed like the reaction was escalating each time.  The way he tells it, the second time he was stung the jellyfish "Was hiding on the bottom and then looked up and said 'Oooh!  It's a CHILD!' and then swam up and grabbed me by the arm.'"  He also said that jellyfish "feel like the softest towel you could ever imagine but then when you let go YOU FEEL THE PAIN!"

I am wondering if I now need to write "jellyfish allergy" on all school paperwork now because that is super normal. 

We went on a long sweaty hike in the woods and then, as a consolation for not being allowed into the ocean, snuck him into a nearby resort that has a pool and let him swim there one afternoon. This was nice for all of us because it is beautiful and you can order a local craft beer and basket of fries while you watch your kid.

We did some tubing.

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And ate some enormous cinnamon rolls to cheer ourselves up when Ryan went back to Texas.

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Spent some time exploring a century old schooner (The "Mary E"!) at the Maine Maritime Museum.

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Made sand forts with Maine friends.  Not pictured: James used dead jellyfish as decoration for his moat.  My sister asked him later if the jellyfish who wrapped itself around his arm was mad because James "made a sand castle with its friends."  Shortly after this picture was taken lightning struck something very close by, so close that I barely had time to think "Hmm, that looked close" before the enormous BOOM shook everything around us.  I've never seen kids move so fast.  It was more like levitation than running.

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Ryan and James spent a bunch of time sailing.  The day Ryan left I found James crying in bed because he wanted to go sailing with Ryan.  James managed the boat all by himself, by the way.  Little awesome scrappy little kid.

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Wes made a model boat with my dad and then we all went to the dock to watch him christen and launch it.

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He literally christened it.

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We were all delighted to discover that Mary is finally tall enough to go up in the Pemaquid Point lighthouse.

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And spent a bunch of time exploring the rocks there.

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The pirates came and left buried treasure!

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A storm came and blew all the jellyfish out to sea so James and Mary spent an afternoon back in the water.

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The kids explored this confusing device at the museum.  You could call a list of numbers and hear someone tell you about historic lighthouse keepers.  It was a great exhibit, but once they'd called all the numbers they started dialing 911 and cackling merrily when the operator came on and said "the number you have dialed has been disconnected."  If you let it sit long enough "Charlie from the Coast Guard" would call you and warn you about a big storm on the way.  It was the highlight of their lives.

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Mary and her schooner.

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Ryan and I walked over to spy on the kids sailing and I guess we weren't so inconspicuous because Wes started waving when he saw us.  That's him with the tiller!

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James read this entire Junie B Jones book in one sitting and was SO PROUD.

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I just want to eat this one sometimes.

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In the almost week we've been back we've already had music lessons, doctor's appointments, church meetings, pool days, and driveway parties.  Yesterday was RIDICULOUS hard and I finally texted a friend, picked up a fancy prosciutto and goat cheese pizza for the grown ups, ordered a few cheese pizzas for the kids, and hung out at the pool for a few hours.  We returned home to find our neighbors and Ryan all set up in the driveway with a pack of kids milling around on bikes.   Two weeks from today is our first of four back to school nights and school will start right after that.  I am NOT ready.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sea Kayaking Family Wilderness Adventure: Part 2

On the first morning on Little Chebeague I was awakened by James.  "Mom.  Mom.  Mom.  MOM.  Mom!!"  When I opened my eyes I was looking at six wiggling legs sticking out on either side of James's thumb and forefinger, which were about three inches from my eyeballs.  "Mom.  I scratched my back and I felt THIS little guy!"  It was a tick.  Not a deer tick, thank goodness.  We opened the tent flap and threw him out into the grass.

Everyone was already awake and making coffee and oatmeal at the fire pit.  Joe told us the day's plan was to leave our campground set up and row all the way around an adjacent island (Long Island) then stop at the ferry terminal so we could run to the store for s'more ingredients.  This meant we would save a ton of time not packing and unpacking and also that we would be rowing empty kayaks around, which would be easier.

Continuing the theme of the military history of New England (1859-1945) we crossed over to the end of Long Island directly across from our campsite to check out a wooden ship that had been sunk intentionally in a channel to block access to the port of Portland by German U boats during World War Two.  We could see it the night before, the ribs of the boat sticking up eerily at low tide as the sun set.  Apparently the channel separating Little Chebeague, Long Island, and some other islands, was used by the US Navy to house an armada of ships all ready to go.  Portland is not a large city, but it was a strategic one during the war because it was the closest point to Europe.  It was a little hard to not get bogged down in how awful people can be to other people when you're looking at all of the creative ways to shoot at each other.  The kids just thought it was awesome and loved running around pretending to shoot things.

On the ocean side of Long Island, Joe showed us how to paddle through narrow gaps in the rocks as the waves came through, which made for a fun little obstacle course he called "Rock Gardening".  It went like this: he paddled his lightweight single kayak gracefully through a narrow gap, then we would follow in our giant tandems, get stuck, then laugh hysterically waiting for a wave.  Eventually we got the hang of it.  The kids started begging for lunch around 10 AM, so Joe took us to a sandy beach to stretch our legs and have a granola bar from the large dry bag full of them he kept in his kayak.

Mary spent much of this break carrying a dead horseshoe crab around like a teddy bear.  This is not a normal experience for a suburban female child in the south, in case you were wondering.

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After our break we paddled the rest of the way to the ferry landing, which was exciting for me because it featured both portapotties AND a convenience store whose sign advertised one of our favorite Maine breweries.  It was big enough to see from the water and when we passed it on the first day the kids all considerately shrieked "MOM!  They have SHIPYARD!!!  MOM!!  BEER!!"

I took lots of pictures of James and Mary because their proportions with their life jackets and hats were extra adorable.

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We ate lunch at the ferry terminal dock and then went for a walk to look for some more World War Two fortifications.  The trail across the island went through a marshy area next to a beaver dam, which was pretty, except that once we were too far in to turn back we were swarmed by hundreds of flies.  Not like normal house flies, but these huge, meaty, buzzy biting flies.  We had no choice but to trudge forward swatting them away with our hats.  It was like that scene from Harry Potter with the Cornish pixies.  Joe and the big kids and I emerged on the other side and stood on the road listening to Ryan trying to coax a screaming Mary to keep walking.

We found a five story tall submarine observation tower in someone's front yard and then found a school with a water fountain and a playground and JUST IN TIME because Mary was DONE.  The kids were rejuvinated by the monkey bars and were able to walk back to the ferry landing.  James joined some local kids jumping off the pier at high tide.

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And then it was a quick paddle back across the channel to the campsite where bum bum buh bum!

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We thought the kids should get a treat too because we're not total monsters.

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Charley followed Joe around a little bit slash a LOT.

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Wes invited James and Mary to go swimming with him (!!!).

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Ryan made us a yummy dinner.  Mashed potatoes with stew (Amy's vegetarian for Charley and Dinty More mystery meat for everyone else).

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Mary asked me sincerely what we were going to have for dinner after this "little snack."

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Joe made a fire out of wood he harvested from other islands and carried back on the kayaks and then we finally got out the s'mores stuff for the traditional making s'mores barefoot in your bathing suit activity.  The chocolate bars melted in the kayak so Charley figured out to put them in a ziplock bag and submerge them in the freezing ocean water to "freeze" them again.

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It looks so peaceful.  And it was.  As peaceful as anywhere with four kids is.

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When things got restless and squirrely I attempted to get everyone to go to bed but James and Mary were WILD in our tent and I could hear a continuous string of loud nonsense from Charley and Wes's tent.  Ryan and Joe hung out by the fire talking into the night and then either it was the exhaustion of paddling all day or the Benadryl but they finally all fell asleep.  I could see the moon out of my tent window!

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Monday morning we woke up and broke camp after breakfast (Charley made this inviting oatmeal platter for us), cramming all seven sleeping bags and pads, two tents, clothes, remaining food and water, and other associated equipment back into the boats and set off for Peaks Island for some bunker fun. 

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Either Joe felt sorry for me because I had been paddling Mary around without any help the whole time or he was concerned about my abilities because he let me use his single kayak and jumped in my boat with Mary for the last day of paddling.  There was also no wind and no waves, so the last day was a super easy for me.  The kids were flat out DONE, but good sports, and Charley and Wes at least made an attempt to keep up with us until Ryan finally tethered their kayak to his.  That means for the last half of the last day Ryan was pulling three kids and two boats around with his arms.  This is probably why he responded with less patience than usual when Charley and Wes had a paddle fight in the middle of the ocean.

A highlight of the first crossing (the same crossing that had been so hard for Mary and me on the first day) was a seal that swam straight toward us and several dolphins that we could see breaching in the water.

Our first stop for the day was Battery Steele, a concrete bunker the size of a large strip mall that is tucked into a hillside on Peaks Island.  The tide was low and it was really choppy, but Joe said the complicated (scary) landing would be worth it.  He had us come in one by one and stood in the water ready to grab each boat.  We had to pick our way up a long, slippery hill to get to the road and both Mary and I ate it a couple of times.  Joe handed us a headlamp and a bottle of water and pointed us in the direction of the trailhead.  I had no idea what we were looking for, but was picturing the small bunkers I saw on the beach in Normandy.

Battery Steele is absolutely enormous, with a three hundred foot long dark tunnel connecting open areas where two huge cannons were once located.  We picked our way down the dark tunnel and poked our heads into the side rooms.  The kids were SO GROUCHY you guys, but Ryan and I were transfixed and no one wanted to turn back.  Fights are more fun when it is pitch black and everyone's voice echoes.

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Made them pose for a tense picture at the end of the tunnel.  The tiny rectangle above Wes and Mary is the other end of the tunnel.  It was insane.

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After some lunch, it was time for a quick paddle back to Portland.  The wind and tide were both in our favor and it was easy work to get back to the beach.  We entered the harbor with a half dozen beautiful old schooners, working fishing boats, modern sailboats, and kids' sailing camps out for the day.  It was beautiful and sunny with a perfect breeze.

It was a strange feeling when we approached the beach where we had started out two days prior.  I remembered feeling so nervous and sort of ridiculous when we started, just hoping I could keep up and not embarrass myself.  I worried that the kids would freak out or be uncooperative and I didn't know what to expect from our guide.  As cheesy as it sounds, going back to that beach we were like different people.  As I told Ryan, "We keep telling the kids what a great job they're doing because they're doing this big hard thing, but I think we need to give ourselves, middle aged weekend warriors with desk jobs, some credit too."

The worry and preparation were all worth it.  In an interview posted on the outfitter's website, Joe says he likes to push beginners a little bit to help them grow.  There were moments even during the trip when I wondered if we could really do all these hard things he was asking us to do, but we did them anyway.  It was exhilarating to get back to that beach where we started and realize that we had done it ALL.  The huge waves, the wind, a giant thunderstorm, two nights of primitive camping with four kids, beach landings, rough rocky cliff landings, upwind, downwind, against the tide, crossing near giant ferries and working fishing boats and speeding motorboats--I even got swamped by a breaking wave that crashed right over my kayak.  I was proud of us.

And also it always cracks me up when we've been in the wilderness for three days and we roll back into civilization stinky and unkempt, while everyone is lying freshly showered on their clean beach towels and enjoying the sunshine.  I waited patiently in the water, sitting in my salt-encrusted shorts and absolutely filthy shirt while a mom in a chic black one piece led an adorable and clean little toddler out of the way by the hand.

In important news, the kids were most ecstatic to have their lovies back.

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Joe told us he hopes we will do this again next year and that we should definitely ask for him.  Saying goodbye was awkward and effusive because we all enjoyed the trip so much and wanted to stay in touch.  I stopped short of looking intensely into his eyes and telling him "You are Uncle Joe now."  But I wanted to.  Because Joe is awesome.

I'm not sure how we can swing another two nighter next year, but I'm already scheming.  As usual my scheme involves relocating to the east coast where our lives will surely be just as exciting and fun as they are in the summer all year round when we try to layer mittens and snow shovels and work and school on top of everything else (not really).  It's extra hilarious because I am typing this on the porch and had to go get my fleece because it's a chilly sixty-eight degrees with a light breeze.

I cannot wait to go again.