Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Musings of a Meandering Mom

Good vs. Easy. This is something I've fought my entire time as a mom. From the moment I first heard, " Is he a good baby?" And those rude dogs weren't asking if my precious baby was the spawn of Satan. What they really wanted to know was if my baby was easy....ate on a schedule, slept on a schedule, kept quiet. Goo goo'ed and gaga'd, but never really got worked up or had difficulties. It's all well-intentioned, but it also sends the very wrong message.

This may be chaotic to follow, but hang with me on this one.

I love Barenaked Ladies. I'm not ashamed. I'll say it again. I LOVE Barenaked Ladies. Their song, What a Good Boy talks about how we perceive people, from birth, and keep them captive in these perceptions. What if people are perceived as bad, when they're just challenging? When we are challenged as parents, as educators, as neighbors, what is our reaction? Do we sincerely write someone off as bad, simply because they require more of us than we anticipated, or were even willing to give?

Lost at School is one of my favorite books from when my kids were in public school. In it, Dr. Greene discusses challenging kids, disruptive kids, and how schools handle them. His discourse on Positive Behavior Systems (PBS) really made me think about something I had assumed into my thought patterns since I was earning my teaching license. How we reward kids whose natural tendencies are what we deem positive and punish those kids who are naturally disruptive. How we continue to view easy vs. challenging as good vs. bad.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

'Tis the Season

....Illness is in the air. And air is in our lungs. And thus, we are ill. Like dominoes, we all fell to whatever hit Bill in Prince William Forest Park. With the two kids we had sick in the Dulles hotel, we were almost halfway through the family. Three down, four to go. Fast forward past Thanksgiving (thankful that no one was ill on that day!), and we had two down Friday morning. And the last two on Saturday night/Sunday morning. And, being the giving people we are, we also took down Bill's brother's family.

Much of the past few days has been spent on house keeping. Cleaning surfaces, doing laundry, scrubbing toilets. You know the drill. It certainly was NOT how we envisioned our holiday, but Bill's brother and sister-in-law have been amazingly wonderful during this whole ordeal, and I'm sure feel they can check off their familial obligations for this lifetime!

The countdown continues.....10 days until trailer day!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Prince William Forest Park

Right off I-95, in the heart of congestion in Northern Virginia, right next to Quantico (FBI and Marines), lies Prince William Forest Park. 15,000 acres of forest as a respite from the hectic world of stressful jobs, wrenching traffic, and hustle and bustle of everyday life. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Very cold during the mornings, so I took to driving the scenic drive loop every morning. Sometimes with company, sometimes without. The leaves reached their peak while we were there, and the drive was just amazing. Part of that might have been the seat heater, but another part was definitely the leaves.

Farms to Forest Trail

NB's last Webelos adventure in order to earn his badge, was Webelos Walkabout. This one calls for a three mile hike. Ah, Farms to Forest fit the bill. NB wanted to bring cheese, ham, and crackers as our lunch. So we packed up, and four out of the seven of us made the hike. Bill happened to be sick as a dog that day, so NS volunteered to stay and take care of him, and J just decided not to hike. That worked well, with each group being happy with their lot. Except maybe Bill. I don't think he liked his lot in life that day. But the hike was fantastic.

NB Hiking

We had a lot of hills on our journey, so I ran down the first couple. The kids loved that. It made the hike a bit more work, but I'm sure it was good for my complaining old body. There were so many leaves on the ground that I really wanted to try leaf skiing, but it didn't work so well when I tried to slide on them. Fear not, I slid a-plenty, but not when I was actually trying.

Laurel Loop Trail

Bill did manage to feel better, so on our last day there, before we headed back out to a hotel to avoid the below-freezing temps, we walked the Laurel Loop Trail. About a mile and a half long loop, it's a very popular trail. The Quantico Creek winds through the park, and there are many small bridges throughout all the trails. This bridge, though, is the biggest one we came across, and is just cool. We were hiking this on a Saturday, so there were many more people than we'd encountered any other time in the park. Mind you, for most of the week, we were camping there with only one other person in the campground. We tried for some good pictures, but settled for just regular pictures, and then gave up the bridge so others could try for their pictures, too.

J Being Sworn In

The Jr. Ranger badge activities were awesome for this park. A lot of parks have kinda simple activities. The kids learn a lot, but they can get most of the booklets done just in the visitor center. This park had the kids actually taking hikes. It was cool. And when the Ranger swore them in, he took the kids outside, right under the flag, next to a petrified tree (millions of years old), and swore them in there. Totally awesome. I told the Ranger that it may possibly be the best swearing in the kids have ever done. Loved it!!!!!

After leaving Prince William, we headed back over near Dulles Airport for a couple more days at a hotel. The weather got cold a second weekend in a row. I just can't get my head around camping in the freezing weather. It was nice to just be warm. On our last night in the hotel, we hung out with some friends at their house. Their youngest had a rough cough, so they warned us about being sick. We headed out anyway. Bill went for full disclosure and mentioned that he had been sick the week prior. That night we woke up to two kids being violently ill. Hotel walls aren't as easy to clean in the middle of the night as you might expect. Ah, what a fun travel day we had the next day. But it was a fast moving illness, so by the end of the travel day, the kids were back to mostly good. Thank goodness. And now for the Thanksgiving fun!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Daylight Savings and Squanderings

Ah, daylight. My friend. My enemy. I hate the word "frenemy," so I won't use it here. At any rate, when we were in Banff, the sun came up around 5am and set somewhere after 10pm. That's 17 hours of daylight. Glorious daylight. That's time to do things, to see things, to feel the warmth of the sun. Alas, the sun rises now after 7am and sets around 4:30pm. Um, that stinks larger than 'potamus poo. I wake up now around 6am, and the temps are around 40 (sometimes lower, sometimes higher), and the sun doesn't really rise for another hour and a half, with it not really touching the temperatures for two and a half hours after I've gotten up. And now the kids really aren't getting up until 8:30 or later, they don't want to bounce out of bed when it's freezing out. So our day is starting slower, we're taking longer to do things, and the day ends quicker. We've got to get our dinner made, eaten, and cleaned up by about 5:30. The sun sets around 4:30, the darkness hits around 5, and we are again freezing by about 5:30.

I did not fully love the lengthy days in Banff. I wanted to sleep without sunlight. But I prefer those days (at least in Banff). We've been eating out more because of the challenges, we've been sleeping more, and I'm off kilter.

Monday, November 14, 2016

National Park for the Performing Arts

Wolf Trap is a park I've gone to bunches of time to see concerts and other performances, in the Filene Center, the Barns, and even in the Theater in the Woods. So it's been on my list to share with the kids for quite a while, but today was the day it was actually on the schedule! First things first, we went to my old roomie's house that I've never seen since she and her husband bought it after we left the region. What a gorgeous house and property they have!!! And they've been busy with renovations, truly making it reflect them.

MP and J Taking Pictures
Fountain at the Gardens

Our hotel really isn't that far from MP's house, so we stopped off at Trader Joe's en route since we were so early. Got us some tasty treats, and still made it to her house on time. I'm glad we picked up some snacks, because not only did we hit Wolf Trap, but we also made it to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. What a beautiful day we had!

Taking the Stage
Crossing the Creek

Wolf Trap has so much to offer besides the performances that bring most people to the park. I haven't been to the Theater in the Woods since my days at the day care center, so it was a great trip for me. Tragically, it was not as great for everyone in my party. My NS did not enjoy himself nearly as much. He did teach MP a scout song, which we then performed onstage, so that was a personal highlight, and I think it made it a bit more fun for him.


St. Mary of Sorrows Historic Church

Because I lived in VA for so long, I've got a huge list of things I'd like to do, places I'd like to go. We went to mass at the church Bill and I were married in. It's on the historic registry for Virginia. This building was actually used by Clara Barton during the Civil War. We arrived late, so we had to sit in the sacristy, which was a shame, but we did get to look around after mass. While we were hanging out waiting for the kids to get the camera from the car (why would I have left that in there????), I saw a family friend go by. I have not seen this lady since our wedding, I think. So after running to catch up with her and scaring the bejeepers out of her, I got a really cool chance to catch up with Mrs. Lowther and see how her kids are, introduce her to my kids. What a great meeting. Yeah!!!!


After talking with Mrs. Lowther, we spent some more time on the grounds and looked at the gravestones. There are some very old graves in the cemetary, and the kids were fascinated with looking at the stones and seeing how long ago these people lived. There's even a grave from a confederate soldier. There's no death date, though, so we're not sure if he died in the war or later.

Inside the Church

I just love the inside of this church. It's not a large space, but it is absolutely gorgeous. The pastor was the presider, so we even got to meet him after mass. He asked if our kids were old enough to be servers, and we explained that we were out of town. He threw a lot of snark our way for having left town. He was a fun guy, I'm glad we got to have a little chat.

After mass, I took the kids on a bit of a driving tour of my places. We drove by the main church, did a drive by of my high school, hit my grocery store, took a look at my parents' old house (it's not blue any more!), and then made our way over to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria where we met up with buddies. I worked as a day care summer camp leader for several years, so there are a lot of places I've visited and explored, but I can't figure out how or why I would have heard of this park. It's amazing, it's a wetland habitat in Fairfax County, but it's not necessarily where I spent a lot of time. At any rate, I've known about this place for more than 20 years, and Cici went to elementary school just down the street from the park, so she was excited to meet us there and have the chance to show her kids her old elementary school and the house she lived in so long ago.


G took this picture for me. It was cool to get to see all the frogs. We also got to see tracks in the mud, which the guys at the visitor center were happy to identify for us. The boardwalk is a nice half mile loop that takes you right over the water. We searched for birds, frogs and toads, dragonflies, beavers, otters, and possibly weasels. Bill sat looking for some little beastie for quite a while, but never got a second glimpse of it. When we were at the visitor center, Bill talked to the guys there, and they handed him a field guide. When he told them he thought it was a weasel (originally we wondered whether it was a muskrat), they said they haven't seen one there in a couple decades. Hmmm.... But he definitely saw something of that size, so who knows? It might have been a mink, but those sightings are also rare.

G on the Boardwalk

The boardwalk hike is just a fun little jaunt. We got to see turtles, too. I can't believe I forgot the turtles! They were so cool. We got to see three of them right in a group. It was pretty amazing that we got to see any wildlife, since we had seven kids behaving like lunatics. Which was fun in its own right, but they weren't the best nature observers that day.

As Good as It Gets

This is a fantastic picture for this bunch. I'm so glad they all get along. I remember having to meet my parents' friends when I was a kid, having to play with their friends' kids. It's not always a smooth thing. But all the times we've hung out since January, all the kids have played well without any awkwardness. Cool.

And we've got plans with more people and to see more things while we're in the area. I'm very excited.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Virginia, Again

We've finally made it back into Virginia! When we left in September, we were supposed to be on our way to Shenandoah National Park, but abandoned because of the rain. So this time around we were going to hit Shenandoah and then head over to Prince William National Forest Park. BUT, weather thwarted us again. Things got really cold, so we stayed in Tennessee instead of going to Shenandoah. And this weekend we're staying in a hotel, because I just can't bring myself to wake up in a 24 degree tent.

Visiting with Uncle Dick

On our way to our hotel in Chantilly, we stopped off in Richmond to have lunch with Bill's uncle. Definitely one of our favorite ways to spend a couple hours on a travel day! We had pizza at Cici's Pizza, and chatted for almost two hours. Tragically, when we left, there had been a wreck on I-95, so our travel was extended by an hour and a half. Blech.

But now that we're in the hotel, we're happy and relaxed (ish). We did spend WAY too much time watching Food Network. They had Cake Wars running, and they showed the entire competition in back to back shows, so we watched until midnight to see who won. Not so good.

Badin Lake Campground

Badin Lake

Badin Lake campground in the Uwharrie National Forest is a very cool campground. It's only $12/night, it has showers (though the girls' shower was FREEZING, so I'm not sure I can really count that as an amenity), it's on a lake, and the camp host is very friendly. We loved our time there. It is very remote, though, so going anywhere is a journey.

We did travel an hour each way for a dinner out at a barbeque joint in Concord. The Smoke Pit is a cool barbeque restaurant, reasonably priced, huge portions, yummy food. We really loved it there, with G proclaiming that I HAD to blog about it!

Right before we left for barbeque, we ran into a Boy Scout troop having a campout so they can work on the hiking merit badge. They were right across from us, so we even got to witness them waking up and getting moving the following morning. If only we moved as quickly!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Upsides and Downsides

Camping full time has its upsides, and its downsides. Upsides? Nature, definitely.

Great Blue Heron Neighbor

This is one of our coolest neighbors. At least he was our neighbor in Tennessee. The great blue heron is such a gorgeous bird. Such an ugly voice. But the racket he made isn't nearly as bad as the racket one of our last neighbors in Tennessee. They rolled in after midnight and proceeded to treat the entire campground to their immensely loud music and movies, well past 2am. Blech. Neighbors can definitely be a downside. Sounds travel in the great outdoors, especially when everyone else is asleep. One of our neighbors in NC came by looking for jumper cables. On our way out of the campground, we swung by and picked up the cables. They told Bill they were headed out that morning (toooooooooo cold!), and Bill let his pleasure show. They stayed up VERY late laughing and arguing over who got to use the seat heaters (thus the dead car battery).

Jason and Bill

Another upside is getting to see family we don't often get to see. We chose our location in NC in order to be close to Bill's brother, Jason. I think that in the nearly 20 years Bill and I have been together, there have only been a handful of occasions where I've been in the same state as Jason. We all hung out at Discovery Place in Charlotte, another science museum with reciprocity through the ASTC program.

Nathan and Levers
Chemically Enhanced Fire Colors

A huge upside for us has been making use of the reciprocity program for science museums. There are so many different ways to present science, it's just been very cool to get to visit all these fun places. The hands-on at Discovery Place has so many things that we've never seen or played with before, it was a great way to spend a couple hours. The kids were begging to spend more time there, so you know it was a great choice for us. Unfortunately, they were under construction at the time, so only a portion of what is normally exhibited was up and running. So I think the couple hours was really a good amount of time for us.

Another upside to perma-camping? Getting to choose your weather. We've been having to make our plans at the last minute lately, because nighttime temperatures are getting below freezing in some of the places we want to go. It looks like we're gonna suck it up this weekend and hit a hotel for a couple of days so that we can get out of the cold front Canada is sending our way, but still get to camp again in NOVA for one last visit before the year is up.

All this travelling is also sparking a lot of discussion between me and Bill over what kind of place we want to live in when this is all done. I have really enjoyed being back in rolling hills with trees and water. Food for thought.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sprinter Checkup

We've hit a milestone on the trip.  The Sprinter needs its first check up.  Getting maintenance scheduled can be a blech job at home, so I was nervous about doing it on the road.  But Bill found a few dealers in the Charlotte, NC area, and we got an appointment.  Piece of cake getting the van checked out and such.  And it only needed a few extras beyond what is included in the checkup.  The HEPA filter needed changing, which if you had seen the dusty roads we've taken her down, that would have been obvious.  And then the engine filter as well.  It feels so good to get this all taken care of, to know the van's in good shape, and we can hit the road safe and sound again!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Birthdays and Colors

We spent some time, finally, in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Beautiful colors, beautiful water, beautiful animals. Did not enjoy getting hit up for donations everywhere we looked. Nor did I love the idea of paying for the Junior Ranger program. A program designed to get our kids more involved in our parks. To get them to pay attention to nature and want to protect it. I get it, they think they're underfunded, so they're going to hit me every which way they can. But to put together a fancy schmancy junior ranger packet and charge me $2.50 for it. Bah to them. There are parks out there where the junior ranger packet is photocopied pages all in black and white, packets that engage my kids and make the visit to the park something to remember. Cut your costs, do more with less, stop putting your grimy paws in my pocket.

Beyond that, though, the park is gorgeous. We made the hike up Clingman's Dome. Half a mile of torture. We worked it out with another couple in the shop after the hike--it's a 12.9% slope. But I'm happy to say that, even though I was huffin' and puffin', my body is no worse for wear after that hike. Yeah!

Rock Hopping

We spent about 20 minutes at this one spot, trying to get a picture of the gorgeous little waterfalls. Except that there was a couple rearranging nature so that it looked more natural. It was painful. I'm not even sure they walked away with a picture. They certainly didn't walk away before we did. But we had a great time there, as the kids decided they would cross the stream, and then got stuck on the other side. Not permanently, we did come home with all five that we went with, but there were some moments when a few kids got a little anxious.

Clingmans Dome

This is what you're greeted with after you've done the Clingman's Dome hike, you get a ramp up to the tower to get the view. Totally worth doing the extra incline. And to me, this seemed easier than the trail. It's a bit chillier at the top than throughout the rest of the park, so you'll want a jacket when you get up there!

Mellow Mushroom

We ended the day with a trip to the Mellow Mushroom for dinner. We celebrated J's birthday, but I think most of us were a bit too tired to really party. At the campsite we did presents, and then crashed. LONG day!!!