Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Another Six Weeks of Glorious Winter

(image borrowed from the World Wide Interwebs)

In the timeless spirit of making a big deal out of nothing, we are commencing a family tradition of celebrating the fairly unremarkable calendar event known as: Groundhog Day. It is our intention to break up the monotony of a "long" winter, with frivolity, randomness, song and hoopla.

For many years the boys have inquired about this second day of February and the rumored observation of the behaviors of a certain Marmota monax, aka Punxsutawney Phil. Ironically we have consistently marked the occasion by realizing on the third day of February that we had forgotten to tune in and join in the celebration-observance-calendar event. The realization is generally followed by a discussion about the injustice of this not being a real holiday, and school break.

No more. We are taking charge and from this day forward Groundhog Day is real. It will mark the time when we look to the ground and think of the whistle-pig, the tree climbing, able swimmer, burrowing sciurid. We intend to write songs and sing them aloud, preferably around a campfire on Groundhog Eve. We will develop decorations and finalize what will henceforth be traditional Groundhog Day foods.

Ground hog has been suggested as a tasty, if somewhat insensitive, offering. We did have a vegetarian option this morning: Groundcakes: Groundhog shaped pancakes. While they did tend to resemble gophers, cats, bears and rats, we are certain that over time the form and flavor of Groundcakes will become distinctly Groundhoglicious.

I thought I might have to resort to Groundhog initials if my Groundcakes were going to look like bears.

This won't work.

Holidays don't just happen. It takes thought and effort.

So, while I was whipping up a steaming, golden platter of Groundcakes, the boys were waking up in the tent. They spent the night camping in the backyard, a few feet away from where we spent the evening before gathered around a campfire. Smiley and Junie were over for a visit and joined us roasting marshmallows and counting stars.

Real campers, winter campers, deserve Groundcakes for breakfast. And I think this groundhog profile really captures the tasty beauty of the whistle-pig.

A herd?
Flock, covey, posse?
What do they call a pack of groundhogs?
"The collective name for groundhogs is "repetition". The easiest way to remember that is to think of the movie Groundhog Day :)" This came from Jill of "Because the Alternative is Unthinkable."
Awesome, Jill. Thank you.

Yes, we have a lot to learn, a lot to work out in terms of our theme and purpose.

Or do we?

Seriously. I think we are going to accept Groundhog Day as our very own sanctioned yet uniquely personalized unserious calendar event. We have six more weeks of winter, so there may be rain in our future and there may be mornings when we cannot sit on the lawn eating our breakfast. We will bear this as best we can. Do not pity us, please. And we have a whole year ahead of us in which to anticipate the next observation of Groundhog Day... we are very excited about this. Will there be costumes, a band? Maybe just top hats... Should we always pitch a tent, no matter what, and be super obsessive and formal? Is prognostication and weather lore the emphasis, or are we all about enjoying any weather, any season? The possibilities are limitless and so is our humor. I foresee a bright and absurd calendar-event future for us to enjoy.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

*Single and Loving It*
or Betty La Soltera

This is part two, the true story of raising hens in a suburban rental palace. When last we visited our feathered fowl there was mutiny and blood, feathers were flying and the farmer (that's me) was losing too much sleep. A story can be told many ways, and I am electing to take this tragedy and shine a humorous light on it. Nobody wants to read about me crying over my pitiful farming circumstances. If you do laugh, do so with a tender heart, with sympathy. We are not wholly unfeeling.

Maria and I took the brothers to school and then we came home and procrastinated. She thought we were just watching Oswald and Weenie navigate their whimsical world, but really I was coming to terms with my predicament: 2 bad hens, 1 henpecked chica, a very small yard and suspicious neighbors. What to do. What to do. I am not ready to take my farming experience to the "next level" and the Bantam Sisters, Fantam and Frida, were not taking my empty KFC threats seriously. I knew what had to be done, but I did not get up and do it until the threat of seeing "Lazy Town" got me on my feet and down to business.

As I look back on those early days when we brought Buttercup (later renamed, Peanutbuttercup, then Frida) and Fantam the Bantam home, I recall that they were never easy girls. In fact their distinct personalities and appearances were noted from the onset. We loved them. We welcomed them in to the fold. We met their needs, nurturing their talents, instilling them with our unconditional admiration. We talked about college and keeping respectful Face Book pages... oh wait we're talking about the chickens. Never mind. Scratch that last part. They ate organic.

Do you remember English class and suspension of disbelief? "It might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises."

We made the long drive to our favorite feed store. They know me well there, and they still like me. At the back of the shop, in their yard, they keep their own chickens, fresh hatched and hens and roosters and molters... nothing more humiliated than a molting chicken, except maybe a wet cat. We brought Pip here when we finally accepted that he was not a she. I miss Pip. I miss him, but I am comforted knowing that he went to one of the happiest places on earth, a place where chickens live long, idyllic lives, embraced and safe. Sigh. (Insert "suspension of disbelief, aka denial, here.) And later, when Amelia Amelio started crowing, I was so relieved to know that Betty's best friend would be in a good place, where he could fulfill his highest aspirations. What a comfort.

At the feed store I waited for our hens to look over their shoulders, to glance back wistfully and nod. I hoped they would hesitate just a bit before bolting from their cage, to acknowledge that they love me too, that our year together was the best of their lives and that they will never forget our devotion and caring. Maria determined to get one last hug.

"Come on chicas! Chick-chick-chick. Come here."
Let's snuggle.

"Don't be sad chicas. You'll be alright. I'll miss you."

They were too emotional. Later they'll write. It's okay. I understand.

Betty is a single hen. She has our undivided attention and the entire picnic table to chicken-coop conversion to herself. She is happy. There is peace in the gardens of Garage Mahal. She laid her first egg in the nest box and she stayed close by as we worked in the garden. She lets Maria catch and hug her. She comes running for tomato bits and cracked corn.

The grass seed I planted has already sprouted and the lawn is looking fuzzy and green. We had to move Joe's bunny hutch around towards the front of the yard, so we will not disturb the new growth. Then I decided Betty's new situation called for a move too. Once again, an area of Garage Mahal intended to be formal and dignified, has succumbed to my practical sensibilities. The fancy little courtyard with the mean and overgrown cycads has been reclaimed for our farm. We brought in Joe, and another barrel. We moved the coop. We planted pumpkin seeds! We set up a wash tub, so I can rinse stuff and collect the water in a pail to re-use in the garden. Alex bought a feijoa, pineapple guava. We love pineapple guava.

As the sun began to set, we were still lingering, still enjoying the new corner of our suburban farm. Max was ready to continue his evening ritual of reading aloud, Maria was getting tired. William took Chango inside, but came back out to see what was next...

Things we love... being farmers, reading aloud, and camping. We cannot always get them in the ways you would expect, but we make do. We adjust and improvise.

We joked that Betty should not spend her first night in this part of the garden alone. We lit candles and brought out the larger pillows, the thicker sleeping bags. We listened to Max read, then Alex. We listened to the crickets and to the sleepy rumbles coming from the nest box. We dared it to rain, and the very next day it did rain and has rained everyday since! We imagined our pumpkins growing and we told Maria that pineapple guavas have pink petals and that we can eat the soft, plump, sweet petals. Pink is her favorite.

Don't you love happy endings?
We do.

Betty too.
*> *> *> *> *> *> *> *> *>

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Friday, February 20, 2009

We Are 5 for 5: Big Finish

A couple of days ago I was enjoying a TED link put up by Turkey Feathers... it was a great talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Talk, Pray fame, which reminded me that I still haven't read the book my mom sent me, but happily I found it in my sewing room, and then it reminded me that I really do love TED, which is why I have their link in my sidebar; they have such brilliant and succinct speakers, none of whom would write a sentence like this. One thing led to another and I discovered Gever Tulley and 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do. I fancied myself a brilliant Mother, because I can roughly claim that I am letting my children do all 5 dangerous things. Don't Panic: Gever Tulley uses a provocative title to illustrate a point about safety. Denying that danger exists or fearfully avoiding it, does not protect us or our children.

Gever Tulley wants to remind us that we are safer when we learn how to handle sharp objects and responsibly explore the elements, tools and heavy machinery that exist in our world. Knowledge is power, yeah? I think so, and I've written about fire and then I covered sharp things.

To illustrate my story I went through lots of photo archives looking for examples of us playing with fire, knives, and throwing things, and I tried to find good examples of us taking stuff apart and handling heavy machinery, and I have to say it's been kind of hard to find pictures. The 3 boys have knives and they use them, but I haven't taken pictures. We did have campfire pictures...cool.

4. Deconstruct Appliances

The children are welcome to take things apart. We haven't handed over any large appliances, yet, because we repair them or trade them in, but there are several VCRs and toasters that have been disassembled in their hands. Last year Geoff and William took apart 2 broken laptops swapped parts, added new ones and then gave my mom and Geoff's grandma functioning laptops. And there was the built from the ground up computer that the boys built with their dad in early 2004. But I don't have pictures of any of this. I love to capture "everyday" life, but somehow these activities seemed so blandly everyday I missed documenting them. One of Tulley's points is that children should be encouraged to explore, and with a hands on approach learn how things work, how they are made and perhaps they will discover how to make them work better.

I decided to include the picture of Maria stringing beads... very tiny, choking hazard, hard to manipulate beads. She sat on her daddy's lap and spent 2 hours patiently and deftly slipping beads over the string and marveling at how they stacked up. Discovery and perseverance, these experiences are super valuable, and I know this because of that look. I know, it's not exactly a scientific statement, but the look is valid, it's good. When children solve problems, unravel mysteries, accomplish new tasks... they enjoy a sense of self and an awareness of their own abilities. Maria was keenly aware that she was doing a big girl activity and she was devoted to meeting the challenge and responsibility.

I love the look. I just know there are serious neuron-synapse-muscle memory-motor function-eye-hand coordination, joy things going on, and that thrills me.

And I think the outdoors can provide a similar opportunity... taking things apart and figuring-out doesn't have to be limited to manufactured, material things. When Max asked to cross the creek and climb a fallen tree, I was aware that we were trying uncharted territory, that we were risking a fall, wet clothes, mud, maybe some scrapes; I considered the weather, the depth of the creek, the current, the height of the tree, and in 3 seconds I said, "Go for it!" We ought to spend more time taking nature apart, getting dirty, sweating on a trail and crossing creeks. I am a long way from hiking the backcountry with a compass and a stick, but I am willing to get wet at low tide, try a new trail, and discover new ways of relating to the world, and finding new bridges to cross.

5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car

Years ago, again in Mexico, I let my boys drive our Big Blue Whale. No takers. I repeated the offer when we returned in 2003, and they were still not interested. Our family land in Mexico is ideal for underage driving... most days there is zero traffic and there are plenty of wide open, even cow-free, spaces. My boys have internalized values and a strong sense of right from wrong. They keep me honest and sometimes they say, "No." I love it when they say no, when they show their own resolve and willingness to express their internalized values. They have driven tractors and Alex tried his Grandpa Corm's riding mower, but they declined underage driving. Maybe this is why I am so comfortable about letting them do the 5 Dangerous Things... maybe it's because they instinctually want to be careful and safe, and I agree with Jennifer, that when we take away the mystery, then the allure-the unknown attraction is diminished.

Eva left an interesting comment on the first post, and she asks, "but do you think there (are) things in life everyone would be wise to be afraid of? like drugs, for one. or is fear inappropriate even here?" Yes, we are wise to be fearful or aware, respectful. Bungee jumping, driving under the influence of alcohol, sexu@l promiscuity, feeding bears, texting while driving... there are a lot of things that people choose to do that can have very dangerous consequences, that have risks not just to the one trying a behavior, but to others as well. Drunk driving and bear feeding are not included in my list of dangerous things I let my children try. The risks are too great. I find that often times risky behaviors that are not worth pursuing have a natural way of weeding themselves out... let the bears feed themselves and never operate anything when your senses are impaired, because it is a foolish thing to do. Period. Other things are tempting or alluring when they are not understood. I am not afraid of drugs, but I have no interest in using drugs. I know they have good and bad effects, but on careful consideration, I believe the risks far outweigh the benefits. I could not limit myself to, "Just say no," when discussing drugs with my children, not as they mature and have an ability to reason, to be curious. Neither will I act as though they are free to experiment or imply that I am cool with whatever. I will not hesitate to show them what happens to cr@ck addicts, or calculate for them the cost of a smoking habit. At some point they will have to make choices and when that time comes, I hope they are educated, informed, and sure enough of their own beliefs and convictions that they will say No to those risks that jeopardize their dignity, health and intelligence. I agree, Eva, we can learn respect without fear, and I hope you can find a safe, comfortable opportunity to learn to start a fire...

This has been fun and interesting to ponder, and it has all been especially meaningful and interesting because of your comments. So, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Maybe the 6th dangerous thing would be "Saying what you think, out loud."

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

We Are 5 for 5: Part 2

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.
I wondered where we would stand, how our list of dangerous things would compare with Gever Tulley's list of dangerous things and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. My first post on this topic covered fire. I really feel like I put myself in the line of fire, so to speak, by admitting that I let very young children hold hot sticks and burn leaves, but I think it's important to create an environment for safe danger, for careful risks. We learn when we go outside of our comfort zone, by experiencing physical actions and objects, so we know hot from cold, sharp from dull. I am not trying to preach... it's more like being defensive, because I believe in my methods, but I know some people will think I am nuts. I really cannot fathom parenting without carefully, rationally, attentively providing real life experiences for my children, and real life can be dangerous.

2. Own a Pocketknife

Knives are sharp. Good knives are very sharp. I have never met a single person who has not cut themselves. Young, old, expert, novice... who has not cut themselves? Even just a little bit. Hopefully not fatally. I worked in a bakery and cut myself at least twice when slicing bagels. Geoff worked in fast food and did nasty things while prepping food and cooking burgers... you don't even want to know. But before he was injuring himself in a professional setting he was a kid with knives and Exacto tools and he cut himself then too.

Hold on. Funny story: When my brothers and I were little squirts, we got to buy pocket knives in Mexico and they were mostly a novelty because they were ridiculously small. Closed, the knives were not bigger than 1"... they were seriously tiny and really kind of cute and we loved them. One day we were visiting the mall and the knife cutlery store was advertising free sharpening for all pocket knives. Cool! We stepped in to the very professional boutique, with the samurai swords, katana and coats of arms on the walls and presented the clerk with our pocketknives. He scoffed. He ridiculed and scoffed some more. He was so mocking and dismissive about our knives that he refused to sharpen them, but we insisted. He said they could not be sharpened, because they were 'just toys' and as he was saying this he opened one up and to demonstrate their toyness he dragged his thumb across the 1/2" blade. He would have done less damage if he had not dragged so much of his thumb, so vigorously, but he was evidently not that clever. He slit his thumb wide open and sent us away with one duller, bloody little knife. Incidentally, we never hurt ourselves with those knives.

So what to do? Banish all sharp things? No scissors, no pins? With some possible exceptions, I think children can be trusted to learn that sharp things must be used with care and respect. I think adults can take the time to instruct and observe, and facilitate opportunities to teach children how to use all kinds of tools, including knives and scissors. Maria has been sitting beside me and cutting fabric since she was 3 years old... no cuts. She has been loading and unloading the pincushion since she was 2 years old... not more than 2 pokes. And when we were camping at El Capitan State Beach 2 years ago, I let her help chop the veggies. When Max was 3, and showed an interest I taught him how to hold a knife and sat with him while he worked. He loved peeling and chopping garlic. LOVED it. I taught William. I taught Alex. They keep their fingers out of the way. They know to be attentive and patient. They know to use the right tool for the job. A dull dinner knife can do a lot more damage than a sharp paring knife; if the knife cannot slice efficiently it will slip and do damage. Sharp knives work.

I have to admit, this one, owning pocketknives got me in to trouble. It was 4 years ago when Alex says, "I was walking down the street when all of a sudden a bunch of Ninjas flipped out and tried to kill me, but then we realized that we were equally matched and we went our separate ways" and in the melee he cut something, a little bit. We cannot remember what he cut (finger?) I vividly recall how mad the doctor was, at me. Alex needed a tetanus shot, but no stitches or butterfly bandages. And apparently I needed a parenting lecture from the peds doctor about children and pocketknives. She told me to 'take the knife from him and to never let children play with knives and that if I didn't take it away he was sure to get cut again or worse.' She was very mad at me, very finger wagging-incredulous, you bad mother mad. He was almost 11 years old, extremely responsible and well-behaved, not in the least bit stupid, reckless, blind, ignorant, or self destructive. I imagined this small cut, the memory of it and all it entailed would make a suitable and instructive impression, so that I need not ever worry about his next cut. And, there will be a next cut, because we use tools.

3. Throw A Spear

I am claiming this on a technicality. We do not have spears, but if we did, we would totally throw them. We do have bows and arrows and I think the danger/learning opportunity is comparable to spear throwing. When we were Jolly Green Rancheros, living on our 2 acres of El Rancho goodness, I bought the boys a bow and arrows. 3 boys: 1 bow... a safe ratio, when the only target will be a straw bale. Hand-eye coordination... when I Googled this I mostly found articles on improving the connection between what we see and how we can physically control and guide our movements. I recall from university courses and reading about child development, language acquisition, and fine motor development... hand-eye coordination is important. Gever Tulley goes in to some of the specifics about how throwing things strengthens coordination, improves 3-D and structural problem solving. Brain stuff working in conjunction with body stuff... it's good stuff!

We never once had a single bad incident with the bow and arrows. Alex took great interest in the activity and it led to a deeper appreciation for Medieval history, a subject he is very well read on, and it greatly improved his coordination and visual acuity. I wonder if target practice with the bow and arrows is what gave him such remarkable skills in rendering his ideas into elaborate and detailed designs and illustrations... yeah, I think so. Max also embraced the activity and he spent hours a day practicing when we moved to the Treehouse. He had to develop strength and coordination to manage the sizable bow. He had to overcome the frustration of not being as skilled as his brothers, and he worked very hard to successfully close the gap. Somewhere in our garage is a book that Max made, papers stapled together, and it is full of numbers... hundreds and hundreds of numbers and tallies, reflecting Max's scorekeeping. He's a numbers guy. He logged every score made on their homemade targets, so that bow and arrow time was physical and academic for Max.

We miss having a yard big and safe enough for the bow and arrow. We look forward to being some place where we can take aim at a bulls-eye or straw bale, pull back on the string and hit the spot we aim for. I know from personal experience that hitting what we aim for is deeply satisfying. And, now that I have thought about it, I think we might see about making some spears.

Coming up:

4. Deconstruct Appliances
5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We Are 5 for 5

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.
Is this alarming? I wondered where we would stand, how our list of dangerous things would compare with Gever Tulley's list of dangerous things and I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. It's not that I relish the idea of implicating myself as a careless, reckless, negligent parent. On the contrary, incorporating these 5 dangerous things in to our lives, I believe, demonstrates our careful, rational, attentive parenting skills.

1. Play With Fire
It's primal. It's the gathering place. It's practical. Fire is good. As a grown-up I have never hesitated to build a backyard campfire... in a sandpit, in a tin can. I remember when I was about 10 years old my mother observed that I could not light a match and she made me learn. She really had to make me do it, because I had a fear of fire and heat and getting burned and I would not light a match. I think I was crying and protesting, but she broke through my fear and gave me a skill. It was a beautiful exchange of ignorance and anxiety, for knowledge and ability. I offer that same opportunity to my children as soon as they seek it. I do not withhold fire and they do not glorify it or fear it. They understand its virtues and its risks.

And they understand that I will let them experiment with fire and test it, under supervision. So, when we went camping Maria could not resist cooking the onions she chopped (see Dangerous thing #2) in the candle. She could feel the heat, and she observed that she needed a tool to extend her reach and she learned that candles have a weak flame, easily snuffed out by too many onions. The worst result of this experiment was a delayed dinner, because I was by her side and ready to intervene.

Fire takes patience. It takes practice and fire needs our full attention. Patience, practice, and full attention are also very helpful in raising children. I keep my expectations high and my patience higher. I accept that there will be injuries and there will be messes. Lots and lots of messes. I consider messes a certain indicator of intelligence and creativity. I consider cleaning messes a certain indicator of training, intelligence and maturity. I tend to value creativity more than training, but there is room for practice in all areas.

I wish I had photographs of the first trip I made with the boys to El Valle, Mexico. It was in February of 2001... so, William was almost 10, Alex was 6 and Max was 2. It was on this adventure to the remotest corner of Sonora that the boys fell in love with fire. We cooked with fire, we warmed the house and water with fire. We played with fire. Yes. I know "play" sounds so irresponsible and wrong. Playing with fire rocks. Too often we think that play is trivial and that it minimizes responsibility. Play is the work of explorers, of learners, and work is the play of the inspired, the motivated. We can play and work and it can be both responsible and fun.

They observed the open fire where we were cooking meals, they watched their bisabuelo keep the fire lit for the water heater, and they became aware of this element as a tool and a resource, and a source of something to do in a place where there was no television, bookstore, theme parks, toy chests, or playgrounds. So they gathered wood and kindling to help keep the cooking fire going. Then they burned sticks and observed the transference of heat from wood to sticks, from coals to leaves, from stones to fingertips... and they learned about burns to skin... sufficiently to avoid serious injury.

An element of danger is present everywhere and I cannot see the point of avoiding experiences for the sake of avoiding pain, confusion or disorder. They learned, not from a book or cartoons, about what fire is and what it can do and why it matters and how it can behave. There is sufficient evidence that this kind of learning is hugely beneficial and lasting. Also, they learned that I trust them... I trust their intelligence and ability to gather information, I trust their judgement and sense of responsibility and fairness, I trust their intuition to act in accordance with sound principles... these are not experiences to be acquired from any book or video.

Coming up:

2. Own A Pocketknife
3. Throw A Spear
4. Deconstruct Appliances
5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car

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Friday, July 06, 2007

I Heart Camping

No. I am not saying I buy all of my equipment at REI, that I slept in a mummy bag on the side of a cliff or ate only what I hunted. I didn't make a 7 mile trek to a remote corner of a National Park, or start a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

I made advance reservations. The first night our tent was pitched for us... also in advance. We did cook over open flames and hike through actual wilderness. I heated water to wash our pie pan plates. We read by lantern light. We encountered wild animals. We had a wonderful time and we can't wait to camp again, this time with Geoff, so he too can know the thrill of sleeping beneath the stars and nylon, and eating nitrate free hot dogs from Trader Joe's.

Maybe we aren't ready for the hardcore camping that purists insist on, but we had a ton of fun, roughing it in our own fashion. Our first night was at a sort of Yuppy camping paradise, called El Capitan Canyon, where the camp store stocks wine, s'mores kits and they make gourmet pizzas to order. I am glad we got in before the summer rates went up. We recommend it for convenience in nature. Real mattresses are an undeniable pleasure.

It's beautiful there and we enjoyed our long walks, swimming, running in the sprinklers and meeting the squirrels. This one actually freaked me out. I never would have considered myself squirrelphobic, until this little guy came around. He kept circling our legs as we sat at the picnic table. He was... Squirrely. He was after chip crumbs, and true we were in his neighborhood, so he was entitled. I just felt vulnerable and skittish with him scampering around our feet and eyeing us with his hungry, beady rodent eyes. I was laughing and shuddering at the same time.

We were powerless under his gaze!

We also stayed at El Cap on the way home, which is a sensible way to finish a long trip. We were able to relax, take hot showers, reorganize the gear and take in more of the sights. By this time, Maria was really into camping and helping out with things, like cooking. She washed onions in the spigot water and chopped bell peppers... it was her idea to add oak leaves to her rustic stew.

Camping has an inherent element of danger, what with the wild animals, and open flames. Maria kept returning to our table candle to cook her peppers and onions.

It's hard to admonish a cook that can improvise.

This is Max's tree. He sat in it for days long enough that we'd wonder where he'd gone. He was very happy perched in this amazing spot, where he could watch the world walk by, eat his grapes and reflect on the bliss of summer.

The woodpeckers seemed to prefer our picnic table.

Our favorite place is further north on the Coast Highway, at Limekiln State Park. Don't tell anyone. We want to keep it our secret. Shh!

I should not mention that this spot is on the beach, where a creek that begins in the redwoods meets the ocean. I shouldn't write about the Rivendalesque forest where campers and nature meet in a harmonious scene that is profoundly soothing and affirming.

We so want to go back there and stay for many days, so we can take the second trail; the one we skipped in favor of the falls trail. We want to camp there again so we can lose track of the days and make believe we know the homes of fairies and elves, so we can learn the names of wild flowers and take naps on the banks of the creek.

This is the place and time where and when we became unschooled. We stepped off the path and threw caution to the wind. We dared to cross the creek, hop rocks, touch trees, find bugs, listen to birds, follow the flow of the hillsides and water, let the dappled light hold our thoughts. It's possible to fall if you climb. It's possible to get wet near water. It's possible to fall behind, if you don't watch the time. It's possible to get dirty if you sit on the ground, or climb a fallen tree. We did everything possible and enjoyed all the consequences and discoveries. It was delightful.

We got lost, in our thoughts.

We laughed and tested our confidence. We found new truths about what's safe, right, good, normal, fun.

We slowed down long enough to remember how very little we need to make life meaningful and worthwhile.

We want to go back and sleep in our tent and wake-up with bedhead. We want to watch day turn into night and back again, and not care what we are missing in the other world.

I really do love camping. It's messy and sometimes too cold, or too far from the bathrooms. Hey, at least I didn't have to deal with my landlord dropping by unannounced... ugh!

I like surprising the kids with natural wonders, like crayfish in the creek, meadows of clover, the blue moon dipping in to the Pacific. I like amusing them with Camping Only treats, like a bowl of Lucky Charms and making s'mores.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Over the years Geoff and I have taken the opportunity to rent small boats. I think we rented twice in Newport and toured around the small bay in OC. Twice we've rented faster boats and sped around the harbor in San Diego, where you can get a close-up look at carriers and cruise ships. I remember many years ago when my mom, bravely, took us on a sailing lesson at our local bay. She gets seasick fairly easily, so I don't think we took more than one lesson. When I was ten our family took an overnight ferry from Cabo to Puerto Vallarta, which was quite memorable. I was on a cruise to Hawaii; 100% delightful. I've been whale watching a number of times, and on harbor cruises. Geoff's prom was on a harbor cruise. I think by the time Dominic is two years old, maybe sooner, he will have logged more boating hours than my entire boating history.

Doesn't he look right at home?

The boat belongs to several families, so the responsibility and expenses are shared... good idea. I've never given any thought to what boat responsibilities might include. I do know the saying: "Buying a boat is the second happiest day of your life, and selling it is the first." I took it to mean that boat ownership is ponderous and burdensome. I suppose a larger boat would mean more work and headache, but Bill and Alison make it look manageable. They have taken such good care of the boat I assumed it had not touched water, but in truth this is the beginning of its third summer.

How many times have I seen a boat towed around and never tried to comprehend how it went from the trailer to the water? Driving backwards is the answer and slowly slipping it down the boat ramp... er... launch? We were riding in the boat from the parking lot, down the steep ramp, as Bill deftly maneuvered the lot of us in to the deep lake. (Um, if this is "Like, so obvious," please scroll down. I am sharing my learning process and it may become dull for the more experienced boaters.) Bill released the thingie that holds the boat to the trailer and then Alison began operating the boat. Gee, I never thought to ask if the boat has a name. Don't all boats have a name? Bill returned the truck to the parking lot and we picked him up from the dock.

Maria was napping and Geoff stayed with her. Wasn't he a honey to let me take first shift at playing? Actually, it was probably pretty nice to enjoy quiet, private, peaceful alone time with his book and the beautiful views. Maria cooperated by taking a very long and much needed nap.

Okay. So, after the careful backwards driving and gentle entry in to the water, comes speed. Alison eased us in to a thrilling dash across the lake. Soon we were miles from the docks and launch. Max and I sat together in front of the boat, so that our view was of our extended legs and out to the lake and the oak dotted hills, the big blue sky. We rode under two bridges that cross the lake. It was not a busy day and so we didn't pass too many other boats. By the end of the month it will be quite full of boats and revelers with coolers of beer. I'm glad we had this quiet introduction, with the pleasure of making our own waves.

Are you impressionable? I am. When I read a novel that talks about camping, I want to go camping. If I hear a discussion about ripe summer peaches, fragrant and sweet, then I will want to find those peaches and bite into them. Look at all that water. Moving water. Gallons and gallons of water. Imagine the pressure of it, the physical command of it to flow. After hours and hours of riding across the deep lake, feeling the spray of the boat's wake, possibly swimming and splashing in the endless body of free flowing water, one begins to feel a natural calling.

Did you know that lakes have porta-potties? Uh-huh, they do. So, when nature calls, there is a place, almost private, not quite secluded, where a person can answer the call. Good to know.

Bill and Alison were regaling us with tales of house-boating, and by this time we were totally sold on the whole package. We would love to spend a full week living, eating, sleeping, playing, reading, lounging, swimming, dipping, slipping, and exploring in, around and all over a house-boat. Doesn't it sound like fun? When Bill and Alison go with lots of their extended family, they explore huge lakes, which is hard to imagine, because I assumed we were on a huge lake. There are huger lakes and they can take weeks to explore and chart. And so the days of house-boating are full of expeditions, hikes, wake-boarding, tubing, laughter, naps and general water fun.

Look who woke from her nap. We picked-up Geoff and Maria and they joined the fun, watching us tube and enjoying the mild sun, the cool breeze from speeding boat. Bill had his camera out too I see. I hope he shares highlights.

How long were we out there? I didn't much think about the passing of time. My mind was content to enjoy the scenery, to absorb the pleasure of laughing and playing and sharing. I would like to go out for a week, and see the transition of the day into night, and have the luxury of slipping into the water anytime, on a whim. Swim on a whim... I like that.

Then, with more time to take it all in, I could enjoy the quiet of the lake, as much as the play and wild abandon. I could lose count of the days, reflect on the immensity of night, and begin to count stars instead of minutes.

I would pack board shorts and a rash guard, some water shoes and a hat. I would bring lots of memory for the camera, a good book and a brain-candy book, sun-block and a favorite pillow and blanket. It might be nice to have colored pencils and a sketch book, or a quilting project to dabble with or ignore.

And food. Tubing, swimming, laughing... after hours of serious play we were Hungry. Bill warned us we'd be hungry and, of course, he knew the solution was waiting for us in town, at Mike's Pizza. I could write a ten page post about long days at the beach, or camping, and the splendid appetite that comes from swimming, hiking, running, walking, leaping, body surfing, snorkeling and breathing ionized oxygen. Food is good. Food when you are truly hungry is a sumptuous blessing.

Back at the campground, Geoff and I took Maria on an early evening stroll. It was beautiful... the air, the surroundings, the company... all beautiful.

This is where I started to get into a bit of trouble. Memory trouble, because I videotaped and photographed 2 entire Giga Bytes of memory... I wanted to capture every moment, so I could bring as much of the fun home with us as possible. Then, suddenly and without warning, my camera coughed and sputtered...

... a little steam rose from the shutter button and the screen read: NO MEMORY.

I'm glad we travel with our laptop, a rather dilapidated specimen, rebuilt by Geoff and hanging on by a wire. It served us well... we were able to download and later retrieve all those many photo files I managed to collect after only 3 days into our 1 week journey. Once we were fairly confident our pictures were okay on the laptop, I deleted enough files from the camera to make room for more pictures, and I did try to be a little less zealous in my picture taking... though you would not think that was the case when you see just a handful of the Big Tree pictures I took.

Bill and Alison took Dominic home... they had to get back to their jobs. We hung back one more day and went to see the sequoias of Calaveras State Park. It never occurred to me to mention the possibility of seeing snow, though we were going up to an elevation of +4000'.

Don't snicker. It's real snow. Hard, old, dirty, plowed-up in a melting heap at the edge of the parking lot snow. Never mind the sweet fragrance of mountain pines and sky-scraping giant sequoias. The children ran to the sooty pile of winter.

They poked the snow and hit it with sticks. They followed the tunnels that seemed formed by giant snow worms and contemplated their existence. Geoff rode by on our bicycle... off to explore. He invited the children. They could not be compelled to leave their snow.

I sat with them and absorbed the scenery, inhaling the freshest air. We wondered when the last of the snow had fallen, how much longer this pile would last. The boys worked at loosening a hunk of hardened snow that hung off the main heap.

Maria studied the snow on her stick. She talked to the sparkling ice chips. She looked back at the huge quantity of "Ice-ice." She was riveted.

Then we went into the woods. We took a trail that would lead us to a sampling of the large sequoias. The day was perfect, warm and welcoming. The forest was inviting and we stepped in full of awe and wonder. Even the fallen trees are amazing. Resting giants, still holding life for the forest, still commanding reverence. Their size spans great heights, and time.

At one point I couldn't resist stretching out on the forest floor and looking up. It was dizzying, breathtaking and humbling. It was enlightening. I lost physical perspective and gained spiritual perspective. Details began to emerge, like the birds that were darting from branches. I saw squirrels walking up and down the trunks, like Sunday strollers along quiet avenues.

Besides sequoias, there were Douglas fir trees, the ones that smell like Christmas. And there were trees that were blooming pale green flowers with beaded centers. Perhaps you know what these are? They seemed to float on the branches and from a distance they looked like little lanterns in the shadowed forest.

Max and I walked through the length of an entire fallen tree... from the base of its trunk and through the top. Geoff stood in the space between these two trees. I thought of John Muir and the story of his riding out a Sierra storm in the branches of a Douglas fir. As a girl I loved to sit in trees; I think I might still love it. I'd love to try and see.

The walk in the forest was very nice. The immensity and delicacy of life there was a joy to witness.

No trip, no matter how luxurious or relaxing, no matter how spiritually uplifting, or intellectually stimulating... no trip comes without laundry.

Angels Camp playfully reminded me that we were accumulating a growing stash of dirty clothes. Sigh. There's no way to escape it... life and laundry track you down. At the end of any day, I liked looking at Maria's shirt and recalling the day: Ketchup from lunch, dirt from the gravel in the campsite, jelly from breakfast, little something or others from lying down on the forest floor. She had good days.

We hope to return to Angels Camp, to the Lake, and to see the Jumping Frogs of Calavera's County.

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