Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye to the Year

     The past year has been filled with many detours and travels down unexpected roads.  There have been a few truly high points and more than a fair share of trials and tribulations.  If anything this year has been a time of transition and preparation.  It has formed a solid foundation for a new, stronger, brighter year to come.  Even the negatives will soon lead to great things to come.  And another year older always leads to more experiences.  And, although tomorrow is never better than the today we are given, I am ready to embrace a new year of life.  Happy New Year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Leaves of October

Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
(Part X)
     The beginning of a seemingly new era of hunting camp, Starlight has become our solid base and it continues to grow and develop.  But this month is more about the beginning of the season, of pumpkins and ghosts, of windy nights flecked with passing flurries and the anticipation of things to come.  In this old friends have bloomed new again.  "Big Chris" now visits with his "tribe" to lend a hand with camp chores and share drinks and tales by the fire.  Chris Hubert makes his annual pilgrimage to chase birds and rain clouds across the sky.  And Old Man Winter flirts with the forest.
     The annual Twin Pond pheasant hunt started three years ago.  It could be said that it actually began four years back with a family trip to the Equinunk Twin Spruce Lodge but the "boys" only trickled in when we switched to the Twin Pond site.  The inaugural trip saw the seven usual suspects gathered in the rain.  Tony, Danny, Drew, Jason, Hubert, my dad, and I all braved the chilly rain that day.  Most of them fled quickly after the birds and shells ran out.  By the second year everyone but Hubert, my dad and I had found better things to do.  Uncle George pretended to come for the hunt.  Nostalgia, more a walk down memory lane than anything else, was his true motive for tagging along.  While the hunt eventually washed out, Uncle George cruised the countryside visiting old haunts from a lifetime ago.  Hubert and I hunted a ground blind to watch the rain, waiting on a deer that was held at bay by our snores.  Driving straight up after work on a couple hours sleep left the two of us pretty much wiped out.  It turned out to be a perfectly gloomy weekend.
     Chris and I headed back to work soggy and empty-handed.  And Uncle George faded away, never to be seen in the woods of PA again.  It was as if he were an apparition of a hunting camp long forgotten clinging to the present but always knowing he could not stay.
(It is that time again.  Time to remember seasons passed.  Some of the seasons are as dark and grey as the sky that watched them but even those times need to be cherished.  Any day in the woods, even snoring, is a better day than one spent at work.  Enjoy the seasons.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Forgotten Day

      It should be right behind the Fourth of July. It should be held in higher regard than all the rest. There is no reason for it to be forgotten. Parades and ceremonies and fireworks simply are not enough. This is a day to truly be thankful, a day that should be met with football and giant dinners and family gatherings. It is the one day that should never be taken for granted. Today is Veteran's Day.
      The company I work for, like most companies theses days, does not recognize today as a day worthy of remembrance. It is a normal Friday. The union, as willing to accept dues as they are to concede recognized holidays, does not consider today a day worth fighting for. I wear the American flag stitched upon my work clothes, but can not recognize the heroes of this country without a sick day. The men and women who have fought and sacrificed for my rights and freedoms are not worthy of a day of recognition according to many, my company, it's customers, Local 807, and most of the rest of country included. The beginning of Summer is more important. The "unofficial" end of Summer is more important. A fictitious fat man in a red suit is more important. Watching a giant ball descend a pole while partying with friends is much more important. The veterans of this country are not as important as these things. However, without them we would not celebrate such frivolous matters.
      For many years, I hunted with my father on Veteran's Day. We used to meet in the morning and drive to the Delaware Water Gap and walk the fields there in search of small game, pheasants and squirrels mostly. We never mentioned that it was a holiday. We just walked the woods together. Spending time together was enough, no hoopla. As my parents left New Jersey to reside in the slower pace of Pennsylvania, my father and I still made plans to meet on Veteran's Day to walk the same fields. Times have changed since those youthful hunts. The holiday calendar at work has grown lean on what is considered an important or allowable day off. I, at one time, resorted to sick days to keep the tradition of hunting with my dad on Veteran's Day going. Recently, I have used seniority and vacation to ensure that this day is spent with family.
      My father is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He carries many scars of all kinds with him. There were years when those scars took their toll not only on him. I lost some years to those scars, too. The loss was of time and chances to make memories and I refuse to allow that to ever happen again. My children take pride in the fact that their grandfather was a soldier and fought for this country. I will not allow them to lose the opportunity to make memories of time spent with their grandfather. They proudly celebrate this day knowing they are, in some small part, connected to it. It is his day and he should have it. He has surely earned it and continues to earn it, everyday.
      My story is only one of thousands, perhaps millions by now. My experiences of the effect of war and the cost of politics and freedom are merely a blade of grass in a meadow of such experiences. All of those stories deserve a place, a day of recognition, a moment to reflect and remember, and a small word of thanks. These stories are attached to lives, to families. They can not be allowed to fade from the memory of a nation. They have sacrificed for every American. They have earned their day.
Who wants to be the one that takes their day away? Who wants to be the one that allows their memories to fade? Who wants to be the one that keeps their stories from being told?

It will not be me. Mine is but a small inconvenience compared to their scarifices. It will not be me.

The above passage was written two years ago.  I intended to put new words to paper today but could not say it better than this.  I did not wish to just rehash old words, so I present it here in its original form.  I am reposting it annually so as not to forget the most important holiday.  For now, just know, that I will not forget the day and I hope anyone that reads this will not either.  We take too much for granted today without wondering at the price.  Our veterans know that price and should not be forgotten.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Spooky Times

     To make up for the loss of Halloween due to Sandy last year, the day seemed to run the entire month for my family.  It was a month filled with spooky times and laughter and the creeps.  It had roller coasters and candy and baked apples and parades and ghosts.  There were road trips and headless horsemen and pumpkin funnel cakes.  I tried to jam as much of the spirit of the holiday into the month of October as possible.  And we are exhausted but quite happy.
     The fun began at Knoebel's, a place of happiness that I have praised long before this.  Halloween is different, however, and this was our first visit during the fall.  The park is only open on weekends in October and the grounds are decorated appropriately for the season.  Witches line the walkways and fly high above the kiddie rides.  Each ride is adorned with a different scary theme and some boring attractions take on a whole new atmosphere in the dark.  One such ride, the Antique Cars, is remarkably transformed into a wildly scary ride filled with costumed ghouls popping out at every turn.  The roller coasters speed through the dark night with strobe lights and shrieks.  The concession stands trade corn dogs for baked apples and pumpkin spices make it into every sweet treat on the menu.  For us it was a great beginning to Halloween and a tremendous family outing.  Even the road leading to the park gave up a little autumnal smiles passing by the Red Deer Farm and filling our cooler with jerky and summer sausage and bologna.  The kids marveled at the racks of the stags strutting out in the pasture and happily gobbled down the snack sticks.
    I could not pretend to try to top the Knoebel's adventure.  The next trip was a more relaxing affair held atop the Palisades in Fort Lee.  There were campfire stories told by Revolutionary War-clad re-enactors and a hand-picked team of cannon brigade.  Cannon fire echoed eeriely down the Hudson as our girls, along with a few Girl Scout friends, manned the antique firearm.  Apple cider donuts and warm cider kept our grumbling bellies happy until we could retreat to the warmth of a nearby neighborhood restaurant.  And we would need the nourishment for the following days events.
    The morning brought a corn field maze for ATV's.  The Girl Scout troop would be testing their skills aboard the machines as they scooted through the brisk morning air.  The lessons would flow into the afternoon until the girls tiredly climbed back into the truck.  But their naps would be short-lived as I headed back up the Hudson, across the Tappan Zee, and arrived in Sleepy Hollow.  Only a few short days away from Halloween, the small hamlet along the river was bustling with revelers.  Philipsburg Manor had been transformed into a nightmarish spectacle of horror.  Tickets were not for the faint of heart as screams could be heard clear across the roadway.  All the streets and walkways were lit by candlelight.  We enjoyed a hay bale seat under the horseman's statue as the kids stood in the town square trying to take in all the sights and sounds of Halloween.
     We made our way to the Old Dutch Church for a telling of the tale.  A lone storyteller walked amongst the 200-year-old pews of the church.  His voice boomed as he recounted the life of Ichabod Crane.  He skillfully played all the characters of the story and enthralled the audience with his telling.  The tale played out in the flickering candles of the church as the old organ supplied the background mood.  It was with pure enjoyment that I sat on the wooden bench, not just because of the story or the acting or the warmth of the wood stove but my family sitting quietly without phone or TV or any other screen or distraction, captivated by the voice in the musty air, a transportation back in time.
      The cool night air woke us from the dream, stinging our faces that were aglow from the wood stove back inside.  We shuffled down the dark paths back to the truck, past the living incarnation of the horseman as he sat upon his steed in the town square.  Both the rider and mount posed for pictures with haunted manor guests.  We quickly hustled passed the horse and ghost back to our truck.  The place a little further down the road held more Halloween for us.  Our reservation was for 8:30 and the time was near.  The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze held in Croton-on-Hudson would be our last destination for the evening.  The crowds were heavy to view the pumpkin art that filled the place.  Most of the folks attending the event were not very pleasant as they shoved their way through the maze of gourds.  Some did not even seem interested in the art or the event.  This was a definite departure from the quiet confines of the warm church we had just left.  The place was loud and crowded and quite crass.  The art was remarkable but hard to enjoy as the throng moved as one down the narrow roped paths.  The concessions here were over-priced and the overall feel was one of commerce and not one of tradition.  Though the carvings were incredible and a visit to this event should be had at least once just to see what all the hub-bub is about, it is doubtful that we will make a return trip next year.  Our truck will most likely stop a few miles prior at the Old Dutch Church.
      Halloween ended with bags full of candy and little sore feet, great big smiles from thoughtful costumes, and hair still slightly tacky from Mischief Night escapades.  We had more than made up for a lost Halloween from a year ago.  It was now time to dream of turkey and sweet potatoes and backstraps and hunting seasons, and, hopefully, snow.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Keeping of Memories

   It has been two years since I wrote of "Frames" and the pictures I take and keep along this road of life.  It has been even longer, 14 years to be exact, when we opened an account and started a family website for loved ones to post their pictures and keep in touch.  There were photo albums and recipe cards, wedding announcements and birthday wishes.  The site was filled with memories and old pictures.  It was a private vault of family traditions.
    With the coming of technology, Smartphones, Ipads, and Facebook, the site was no longer visited.  The family's presence on the site and each other's lives had waned.  People now keep in touch through little screens and impersonal messages lacking full words or even the courtesy of proper spelling.  Memories are now posted on the Internet for everyone to see, out of focus and fleeting.  Nothing is saved.  Nothing is tangible.
     The lack of interest in maintaining our private family site and the lack of new content being added led to its closing.  Before it faded away, I tried to copy all the pictures and moments and memories to be put in a safe place, to hold on to them to show my kids where they came from and who their family was.  Though it may be acceptable for some, I refuse to allow my children to grow up without history.  To say that some of those kept memories are not important to me would be a lie.  Perhaps it is just me feeling nostalgic, yearning for days gone by, or maybe it is just me seeing the tragedy in forgetting all the things that make us who we are.  There are lives within those frames and stories behind the captured moments and care taken in making sure those moments are saved (in crisp detail).
     I do not buy into the thoughtless posting of quickly forgotten times.  I do not even pretend to understand the need to keep the world up to date with the going-on's of the mundane.  I do not wish to participate in a society of vicarious living through a 2.5 inch screen tethered to my hip.  I need to engage in the creation of my story and intertwine that story with the stories of others.  Everyday I cherish that creation and savor the story and relish the history made.  I fight to capture the moments and do them justice not by hastily throwing them to the wind but by putting them on paper.  I still believe in processing photos so one can hold them and touch them and store them away in shoe boxes.  My closet is full, of pictures, of memories, of history, of life.  As our family website fades, I have become more resolute in my keeping of memories.  Someday someone will want to remember.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Summer's Last Hurrah

       It was the second day of school and only a half-day of classes.  Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer, was a mere three days in the past and we had only returned from our jaunt to Toronto two nights prior.  The dizzying end of summer whirlwind came to an abrupt halt.  The school uniforms and hefty backpacks laden with homework were pressed back into reluctant service.  Summer had run into the wall of the school year and stopped, dead in its tracks.  Or had it?
      I had planned months ago to involve not only the kids but Grandpa, as well, in the Girl Scouts Father-Daughter Whitewater Weekend.  I had envisioned it as the summer's last hurrah.  My wife could take a day or two to relax and prepare for the coming school and scouting year.  Grandma could have a weekend of quiet to read, relax, and plan the future of her retirement.  The girls could play in the water and sing around the campfire one last time before the school year truly got under way.  Grandpa could joke and complain and mess with the kids without being scolded by Grandma.  And I could run around and make sure everything goes well and enjoy a camping trip with the kids and my dad.
     The rafting center is a quick two hour drive straight from the house along Route 80.  It is straightforward and, if you leave before rush hour, stress free.  The check-in at the Girl Scout pavilion is organized and painless, even problems are really not problems as they are resolved almost instantly.  The campground is well laid out and, as long as you aren't placed within a small tent community, peaceful.  Even within the tent groups, the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.  We were assigned a private spot with our own fire ring and picnic table.  We really didn't need the table as all of our meals were provided in a large buffet-style arrangement.  The fare was standard camper cuisine; hot dogs, sloppy joe, watermelon, pancakes, powdered eggs, and the like.  From the time we arrived the schedule was filled with activities, from crafts to paintball to geocaching, until your bus is ready to ship your group to the whitewater put in.
     The river was cool. The water was swimmer friendly, almost inviting.  The kids timidly tested it at first but it took only a few dips for them to become comfortable with the flowing water.  They enjoyed floating down the river holding onto the raft.  They laughed as water fights broke out between rafts, buckets of water being flung by giddy dads, water guns wielded by giggling Girl Scouts.  The guides acted as safety nets, road signs, storytellers, and entertainers.  We gobbled down a riverside lunch of cold cut sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies.  Towards the end of the trip, after paddling and bouncing and splashing, the guides rewarded the rafters with a chance to leave the rafts and actually float down the rapids themselves.  The kids jumped at the chance to challenge the white water with only a life jacket.  To float down the churning water, bobbing like two rubber ducks in a washing machine, created silly smiles that could not be wiped away.
     Our return to the campground brought a few moments to relax beside a small campfire and dry out from the wet day.  The relaxation was short-lived, however, as the activities returned with the setting sun.  There was a dance pavilion, a magician, and an ice cream social.  We were all quite content with the campfire and were ready to retire for the night, the kids' eyes heavy from the day on the water.  The only thing left to do was visit the outhouse before crawling into our sleeping bags.  My oldest daughter wanted to visit the more elaborate camp bathroom near the camp store.  As we walked through the camp, passing by one of the pavilions, we spotted scouts protecting large Styrofoam bowls.  Upon Grandpa's investigation of the origin of the bowls, he guided us toward a line of people between two bushes.  As we entered the clearing through the bushes, there were large bowls of ice cream awaiting toppings and we were more than happy to smother some of the bowls in chocolate syrup and sprinkles.  How could we have possibly snuggled into our tent without a treat of this magnitude?
     For the kids, the trip was a grand success.  They went camping (always popular).  They had a campfire they built themselves (even more popular).  They rafted and swam and floated and challenged the river (a new favorite).  They ate ice cream and geocached and goofed around with Grandpa (all perennial favorites).  For Grandpa, the trip was a chance for the grandkids to keep him young, if not exactly without a price (his words and his sore muscles).  For me, it was a chance to enjoy them both.  A chance for me to stay young, camping with my dad while being a dad and camping with my kids.  A chance to relax and enjoy the goofing around, the silly stories, and being a family of three outdoors generations.  The water will always run and the memories of that water will last a lifetime.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Over the Falls

      To close out the summer, and to fulfill some of my wife's corporate obligations, we packed the SMV one more time and headed north.  A business meeting in Toronto would serve as a final mini-vacation before school started.  My wife would spend a day secured within a conference room while the kids and I wandered the streets of Toronto, exploring Canada.  But first we had to get there.
      Driving to Canada is quite easy, just head north and eventually you will come to a border crossing.  The one we chose was in Niagara Falls, NY and would put us just a few kilometers from Toronto once we paid the toll and cleared the checkpoints.  One would think that a touristy destination such as Niagara Falls would be accustomed to an increased level of traffic.  The Canadian border guard thought otherwise, or maybe he was just having a bad day, but he could somehow not comprehend a family road trip to Canadian Niagara.  A trip without an itinerary, pre-planned and written out, seemed extremely foreign to him, though this was somewhat strange and quite frustrating juxtaposed against the Ripley's and Hard Rock attractions within spitting distance of the guard shack we were stuck in.  After some more witty banter between disgruntled border guard and increasingly frustrated "international" traveler, we were welcomed into Canada.
     The road to Toronto was like any other highway, only measured in kilometers, until we actually arrived in the metropolis.  Then the road transformed into a nightmare of detour and construction and quickly narrowed into a gridlock of streetcars and electric bikes.  This was NYC with cabs being replaced with a never-ending stream of trollies.  Mayor Bloomberg would be in heaven with all the changes he could make, or ban.  Smoking is much healthier in Canada, or so it would seem.  Work stops for lunch, which seems to be most of mid-day.  And a quick snack of a couple of burgers set us back more than $50.  The hotel was nice enough, though the construction followed us to the doorstep and a crane was erected overnight right outside our balcony.  The kids loved visiting the beach along the shore of Lake Ontario and the waterside lunch we had at the European café.  We appeared not so much as tourists as we sat outside, legs crossed, nibbling on crepes and spanakopita and loukoumades, sophisticatedly enjoying the second-hand smoke and lattes.  Our lunch spanned nearly two hours before most of the diners began drifting back to work.  I checked the time and found it nearly time to make our way back to the tall buildings of the city's center, with all the detours and construction easier said than done. 
      We arrived in front of my wife's building just in time for her to hop into the escape vehicle.  The journey to the highway would prove more than an adventure.  The sun was leaving us as we closed in on our home country.  It was decision time, cross the border now as the traffic waned with the day or spend the night sightseeing in Canadian Niagara and fight more traffic tomorrow.  We all voted to dash back to America while the getting was good.  The U.S. side of the border was far less glamorous and the hotels should be ashamed of themselves compared to the spectacle across the river.  In the cool night air we enjoyed strolling around the national park and gaping at a miniature version of Las Vegas, replete with glaring neon casinos and a ferris wheel,  glowing in the darkness just a bridge away.  The falls at night from either side is a sight to see and they are illuminated for a few hours to add to the attraction.
        The following morning we stepped out onto the park's observation deck to take in the glory of the falls in the daylight.  A quick elevator ride down into the gorge brought us to the Maid of the Mist's dock.  The boat ride is almost mandatory for any visitor and you get to keep the iconic rain poncho for the trouble.  The disclaimer here is you will get wet.  Just how wet is completely up to the tourist, but you will get wet in some fashion.  The power of the water is humbling and the closeness one is able to achieve, through hiking paths or wooden stairways, grants true scale to the magnitude of the falls.  It is strange here, a glorious natural wonder sandwiched between a carnival-like atmosphere and a dilapidated small town fighting to keep up, with its lone temple to gambling standing amongst the boarded up buildings.
      It seems the falls are now overshadowed by the casinos and the whole place has become more of a rest stop along the highway to other more interesting destinations.  The countryside along the 7 hour journey to the border is quaint farmland along the back roads or boring, monotonous asphalt along the highway.  Either way, the family is over the falls.  Maybe, one day we will be back, perhaps when another business meeting calls but a single stop was nearly enough.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Old Country

     Leaving the sand and the sun and the surf behind us, we followed the coastal highway northwest back toward Philadelphia.  We thought of completing our trip by visiting more Revolutionary sites but then decided that Philly deserved more attention than we had time for.  Perhaps a straight run back to the farm, but that trip was just too long to go without stretching the legs.  What to do?  Where to go in Southern PA?  Why of course, the checkerboard fields and manicured simplicity of Amish country.
      Everywhere you look the Amish culture is the hot topic of the moment.  Yet the roads and fields and homes we drive by are quiet and modest.  The scenery is tranquil.  It is like driving back in time.  The power lines and phone poles slowly fade away.  The traffic slows and lessens.  The roads are winding and relaxing.  This is not the land of producers and reality TV, the places we view on our screens. This is true Amish country, a place of quilts and farms and simplicity.  We are merely passers-by, quick visitors to their place trying to absorb the atmosphere.  The kids were wide-eyed trying to find a buggy, a glimpse of the new, or is it the old? 
      Whichever it was, it was an adventure.  And no adventure would be complete without a brewery stop, but this one would be different.  It was housed on the grounds of an antique mall in the heart of Lancaster County.  The restaurant attached to the brewery was toted as a mecca for aged beef and incredible steaks and farm classics and homemade bread.  What a surprise!  We did not find a farm-friendly brewpub.  Instead we found a building transplanted from somewhere in Transylvania.  The inside was dark and eerie.  It smelt of old country but not in a very good way, more in a musty, less-traveled air.  The food was alright, the beer cold and the pumpkin ale worth a six-pack.  I would not return and could not believe that a big name brewery, largely distributed, operated such a place.  Perhaps that is the kitsch of the place, a product of its location and surrounding population.  If its a Norman Bates dining experience in a sublime setting you are looking for, then Stoudts Brewing is worth the ride down the buggy roads of Lancaster County.
      Ours was a pit stop along the route to Cabela's and everything outdoors and, ultimately, our farm.  It was definitely a memory for the family, in a spooky, Halloween atmosphere.  Maybe a trip back is in order as the leaves change color and the ghouls begin to creep out.  Maybe, just maybe....

Monday, September 16, 2013

Summer Sand

     We left the Revolution and the original colony and the past behind.  We piled back into the truck and headed down the highway toward the salty breeze of the Atlantic.  We followed the overhead signs toward Virginia Beach and the ocean. We are not beach people.  Sand is not one of our favorite things.  The little crystals that invade every little nook and cranny are not our friends.  It is a rare occasion that we visit a beach.  A few months ago, however, the pull of curiosity fueled our children to inquire about a beach visit and on a spur of the moment decision, I veered the truck toward Sandy Hook and the lighthouse there.
     The Hook is not a great beach, rocky and rough and full of ocean debris and crushed, sharp shells.  The bay is protected by mosquitoes and rocks and jagged shoreline.  The surf is rough, bashing beach-goers.  It is not a perfect place, but it was a quick trip in a few spare hours before a mandatory family event.  And it was enough to feed the curiosity.  The kids now begged to visit a nice beach, to play in the waves and feel the sand between their toes.  With these nagging requests filling my ears, I followed the highway toward the eastern horizon.
      Virginia Beach was hosting a concert and a fishing tournament as we neared the tourist town's exit.  The traffic became increasingly oppressive.  Our movement was halted just short of the city.  We took a family vote and turned the truck northward to find less people and more open road.  The Cheasepeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is only a few minutes north of Virginia Beach and kept us on the road north.  It is a cool feat of infrastructure, a bridge that halfway across surprisingly dives into the depths to become a tunnel.  Out in the bay is a man-made island equipped with a rest area.  There are bathrooms and a café and a fishing pier and a view of the seemingly endless ocean horizon.  It was a nice diversion from the road and the traffic and allowed us to stretch and talk to some local fishermen as they pulled their bounty from the sea.  The lone stretches of highway that seemed to float on the choppy bay caused some distress to a few of the truck's occupants but the detour was worth the memories.
      Another hour further north brought us into Ocean City, where the party never ends.  The current population seemed a little too inebriated for a family stop.  The police presence, on foot and on bike, bespoke a rowdy atmosphere and not worth the effort.  Our family enjoys a quieter experience and so another vote kept the truck rolling further north.  We crept along the main drag of Ocean City, watching the partiers stagger along, every once in a while catching a glimpse of a drunken vomiter or hung-over balcony-sitter.  The music was loud and followed us down the road.  One large bridge later and the neighborhood quieted and the beach became inviting.  We settled for the night off the main strip of Rehoboth Beach.  
     As the sun brightened the day, we found a parking spot close to the manicured beach.  The sands were softer than the Hook.  The people more relaxed than Ocean City.  The crowds were much smaller than Virginia Beach.  The boardwalk is not as bustling as a Jersey spot.  Rehoboth is a small, peaceful place with everything a beach should be while keeping itself respectable.  They have the arcades and some rides and plenty of ice cream and fries and T-shirt shops.  They also have a brewery and some restaurants and plenty of scooters.  The lifeguards are pleasant and professional.  The beach boys are more than happy to run you out a chair or umbrella.  And the surf is rough enough to ride but not crushing.  The kids had a wonderful day, as did the parents.  We do not visit the beach often.  I really have no use for chafing sand and salty hair.  I do not see the point in visiting a place where one needs to carry their own shade with them and a nap will turn you into a French fry.  But on this day, the salt in the air was just right and the smiles of my children were worth the sand grinding between my legs and burning my toes. The beach rarely calls us but Rehoboth can call anytime.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Revolutionary City

     The first road trip of the family's summer, and to break in the new SMV, was an eight hour jaunt from PA down to Virginia and the Revolutionary City of Williamsburg.  It was an almost quick, straight run down the interstate, past D.C., and into another world.  After a few bathroom breaks to stretch our legs and gather some brochures at the different welcome centers, we arrived at our pleasant hotel room situated right across the road from 1776.  The restaurant downstairs from our room was just the ticket to get into the spirit of the place.  We filled our bellies, enjoyed a brew, and settled in to get enough rest for the coming day.
      Our trip back in time began as soon as we stepped away from the hotel.  A pedestrian bridge fitted with a timeline led across not only the road but across history.  The original surviving homes from the 1700's came to life with well-versed re-enactors.  Every few hours, right on schedule as listed on the map, history came to life and some of the most important moments in a young country's founding played out before us.  There were Red-coats and militia and declarations of independence and the actual reading of The Declaration.  There were horses and buggies and encampments and silversmiths and brick makers and blacksmiths.  The amount of detail in the "living museum" was overwhelming and the kids were enthralled.  The firing of cannons as the militia went off to fight the British, practicing with muskets in the encampment and marching with the re-enactors, and talking with revolutionaries filled our day.  The kids also tried their hands at being spies for George Washington and gathered clues as we explored the city.  We even came back after dinner to enjoy the city as the day cooled into night.  Fires lit the streets and lanterns guided us around the buildings as a ghost guide whispered stories of other-worldly residents still occupying the taverns and workshops.  It was a long and wonderful day. (One hint for those who visit here:  the souvenir mug is well worth the unlimited refills at the different tavern stops, especially the grocer that doles out root beer floats and root beer slushies in a never-ending fashion.)
       I could not in good conscience leave Williamsburg without stopping at the local brewery.  Their beer was fresh and made for the Revolutionary City to compliment the theme of the place.  Hardy brown ales and tavern porters, along with more modern, lighter renditions, filled their taps.  I was able to procure not only some of those brews for the coming chilly nights of Fall but also some hard won pumpkin ale that seemed to disappear from every shelf I tried to snag it from.  Other stops along the road included homemade pies, Chick-fil-a (no one wanted to pass this by), and the southern peanut shop to gather goodies for football Sundays.  Our only regret was not being able to visit nearby Jamestowne, the original colony and another living museum.  But we will be back, as voted upon by the back seat navigators.  As a whole, the first half of our first new road trip was a great success and a pleasantly relaxing endeavor for the driver.  It is quite enjoyable to have a couple of weird kids that dive into a detour away from the roller coasters and arcade games and feed their curiosity.  They will never forget touching the same doorknobs and bannisters as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  I know I never will and that thrill beats a roller coaster everyday, to say, as a family, that we touched history.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Summer Winds

     Where has the summer gone?  The winds of summer blew right by me.  The days have slipped quickly by.  The first day of a new school year has somehow snuck up on my family.  That is not to say that the days have been wasted, or lost track of.  I have tried to pack as much as I can into the short, quick-moving days of July and August.  The dog days have brought many changes to my workday and workload.  I have retired the old truck and tried to catch up to the times, under protest, with a new family "CUV" that sips less gas and holds more stuff.  In exchange, my family has decided that more road trips were in order and the miles needed to be piled up immediately.  There were adventures upon adventures and on this first full day of school I am able to catch my breath and look back on the summer and share some travels.
      My adventures began this summer by replacing the family's old, worn-out Pathfinder with a newer rendition of the same.  The purchase process was surprisingly painless and held little surprise in the way of acquiring an updated vehicle.  The surprises were more in what is now considered a "SUV" or truck compared to several years ago.  The salesman found my inquiries about skid plates and full-size spares and "real" four-wheel-drive almost comical.  The need for an opening rear window to access stacked cargo without opening the rear door stymied the man.  The lack of tie-down points in the cargo area raised eyebrows.  And the need for ground clearance measurements and departure angles just brought shaking heads and shrugging shoulders.
      The salesman, along with my wife and children, sat me down and tried to explain to me about gas mileage and weight savings and creature comforts.  They detailed the increased population of soccer moms not wanting mini-vans and their need for a more rugged looking vehicle and the new "civilized" family transport.  There seems to no longer be a need to leave the pavement with a vehicle to search out solitude and new sights.  The need is more to get through some slush in order to make it to PTA meetings on time.  I was regaled by all the participants of this sale by tales of glamping and resorts and golf clubs and reduced entry door sills so no one has to raise their legs too high to get in the truck.
      My family was more than happy as we left the parking lot with a cute new somewhat-truck.  They talked of new roads and new trips and new adventures right around the corner now that our odometer once again read "0".  They giggled as they played with the "dual-zone climate-control" and adjustable rear seats and any other new-fangled part that will break a year from now.  I am not impressed with any of this stuff but the new MPG sure helps to lessen the sting of driving a pseudo-truck SMV (soccer mom vehicle).  The road calls again and I am determined to test the limits of this new Pathfinder.  The first warm breeze of summer brought a big change, a new SMV with plenty of miles ahead and a new warranty awaiting testing.  So down the road we go (with the A/C cranking and the heated seats keeping our butts warm).

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Summer's Pause

    As the glowing sparkles of the evening's fireworks fade into the night air, the last embers sizzling into the farm pond, I can not help but to pause a moment in that quick breath of silence and darkness.  The first full week of summer for my children has come and gone in that last flash of gunpowder.  A few days before they had been studying for their final tests and now they are running carefree through the grass of our farm, sprinting to the pool filled with cool mountain spring water, barefoot and carefree.  They are not worried at all at what lies on the other side of summer, of what the coming school year has in store, only that the sun is high, the water is cold, and the ice cream stand is open.
     Yet in this quiet moment all the trials, tribulations, and treacheries of the past school year hang heavy on the warm summer air, in my mind at least.  As the school year ended, a short week ago, the board of ed decided, in what was initially called a "knee jerk" reaction to disgruntled parent input but was quickly morphed into a "a well-thought out and lengthy discussion based on data collected" to appease shocked parents on the other side of the aisle, to disband a special program for more advanced students.  The program combined different studies and subjects into one period, thus students learned literacy through math word problems and science through designated reading assignments with technology thrown in for good measure and quite a lot of hands-on assignments.  The program captivated the students but also saddled them with a heavy homework load and a plethora of major projects for independent, at-home study.  It simply was not an easy course, challenging would fit best.  But for students not in the class, the program was all fun and no work, field trips without the ensuing reports, experiments without the analysis, and they were missing out.  And so the whining began, reaching a crescendo with the threats of lawsuits and private schools and political tactics. 
       It has become apparent, in this quiet moment, that being an "all-star" is ok for sports, even if we do not keep score.  It is perfectly fine to tell a child that he or she is not good enough to make a team, that maybe next year, if they work hard enough, they may be able to make the cut.  It is paramount to our children's future to overachieve in the realm of physical abilities.  But to have a label of "advanced" in the classroom, for a child to have a challenging experience, to push them to excel in academics, to reward the hard work and dedication to studies, is detrimental to the whole school system.  Within our educational system we should strive for mediocrity is what we were told as the school year ended, because "smart" is offensive to others.  Practice for par on the field with educators turned coaches and see where that ends up.
      I am struck dumbfounded in this moment.  In the opening days of summer, I have had this absurdity thrust upon me to ponder during the steamy days ahead.  To know I live in a community where adults, parents, supposed friends, would see fit to selfishly strip my children of their thirst for knowledge, their drive to excel in things more than a simple game, is slightly disconcerting.  To have neighbors advance their kids by hobbling mine leaves more questions than answers and more than a bad taste in the schoolyard.  For my kids it means little, the grass is green and freshly cut and tickles their toes.  The summer sun is high in the sky and the pool is cool and inviting.  They care not at all for the projects ahead, school can wait, summer is here.  But for me, in this quiet second as the fireworks disappear like fireflies on the warm breeze, a shudder rides up my spine.  The horror of the playground is much more than a summer movie and its coming all too soon.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Where did May go?

Where did May go?
I do not know,
You can not stop how the days flow,
You can not ask time to slow.
Life does not follow reason or rhyme,
One can not stop the march of time.
To get caught in the tangle is all too easy,
Of work, of drama, of everyday ruts.
To be caught in the routine is easy,
and the door of opportunity quietly shuts.
One must make a difficult choice
to see the person from the routine be torn,
and new opportunities be newly born,
honest words must be given voice.
Where did May go?
I honestly do not know.
You can not ask time to slow,
but you can change where the days flow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Disappointment and Redemption, Pt. 2


     Sunday was a new day, filled with hope and sun and fresh air.  In order to not allow the day to go by on the couch or fighting crowded supermarkets for the week's rations, I had concocted a plan from the previous night's disappointment.  The family would hop in the car and travel a short distance to a wooded nature reserve.  We would spend the day hiking, geocaching, picnicking, and enjoying the weather.  They were slightly worn out from Saturday's birthday party and shopping spree.  Last night's dinner was a forgettable memory and fading fast.
    We arrived at the first parking area of the state forest and readied ourselves for the day's adventures.  Our initial hike was a short jaunt down a fire road where we came upon an unused telephone pole and a puzzle for searching geocachers.  The whole "event" was wonderful, amazing, and truly well-crafted and thought out.  I will not divulge the details of this woodsy puzzle to keep the quality of the experience intact for any who should seek it out, but to get kids outside this is definitely a treat.  It also bode well for the rest of the day. 
      Throughout the day we traveled down dirt roads and leisurely back roads passing farms and woods and ghost towns and fishermen.  We sat by the stream and admired the water and the Spring colors blossoming and the fish outsmarting the kernels of corn on the ends of the hooks bobbing in the current.  We grabbed several small walks down short nature trails along the stream until we came upon Buttermilk Falls.  The climb is steep, but not oppressive, up NJ's tallest waterfall.  They have placed stairs now to gain the top.  One used to have to actually climb to the apex.  Our youngest adventurer wished to lead the way and she had us climb well beyond the top of the falls and probably would have had us climb to the clouds if she had her way.  We finished our day with a two-and-a-half mile hike that felt more like a forced march by the end.  The sun was setting and our legs were tiring as we made our way back to the truck.  Our feet howled from the long day but our bellies rumbled even louder.
     A nearby brewery would be our savior, and hopefully redemption from the previous night's disappointment.  Krogh's is shadowy inside, filled with cubby-hole booths and log-hewn tables.  The bar is separate from the dining area and has a different entrance.  For those wishing fresh air and scenery, there is a quaint patio outside in front.  The dishes are comforting, large, and filling.  The desserts are homemade mountains of sugary sweet goodness.  The staff is efficient, knowledgeable, and loyal (a plaque on the wall shows many employees staying beyond 20 years).  The sampler of their goods comes in a handmade wood platter holding seven different brews, a true treat.  The only thing better than the meal and the beer and the day would have been a nap in the fading glow of the afternoon.  But the road home beckoned and away we went, headed for home, feeling not only redeemed but quite happy.

(I do not usually write true reviews of places, restaurants, etc.  I may offer suggestions or opinions about certain things but normally do not attempt to steer a person away from experiencing it themselves.  However, in this case, the two brewpubs were so similar in style (local "dive" bar) but so glaringly different in overall experience, that I could not help but to see one so negatively while finding the other so satisfying.  I would easily steer anyone to Krogh's but I would be hesitant to give directions to the Gaslight.  If you are in search of beer try both just to say you did, if not follow the Krogh.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Disappointment and Redemption

    This past weekend was filled with a little bit of everything.  We had a birthday party to attend, filled with fun and games and cupcakes.  It was a marathon of amusements, laser tag, and arcade games.  On the off chance that my family and I stay down by the city on a weekend, I attempt to cram as much as possible into the two days.  Staying local means grabbing as many local attractions as we can.  There are plenty of diversions but it is also too easy to laze away an afternoon relaxing in the yard or on the couch, taking a breather from being on the go.  These two days would not be a breather.
    Saturday found us with a birthday party on the schedule.  My daughter's best friend had invited her and her sister to a local arcade/amusement/funplex.  There would be magic and lasers and video games and the constant whirring of kids and machines.  Before we even thought of the party, the weekend was started with a Spring walk through the cherry blossoms of a nearby park.  It was nice to be out as a family, strolling along in the crisp morning air.  The party brought us near a shopping center and so after several hours of laughing and playing and singing, we stopped by some stores to refresh the kids' wardrobes for the coming warmer months.  As shopping usually does, our bellies began to grumble, which leads us to our disappointment.
     To say the day was long would be an understatement.  To say we had our fill of fresh air and activities would be a mild description of the day's events.  We were hungry and ready for a good meal.  I had, as I am wont to do, decided to finish the day at a brewery.  A sample of new brews made in a nearby town would be a decent end to a long Saturday.  Breweries/brewpubs are usually known for their quality pub fare and some even excel at more ambitious dishes.  This particular spot was near several colleges and with such a pedigree should prove to be a worthy dining spot.  The Gaslight Brewery and Restaurant is a confusing and confused little spot.  At first glance it seems to be a local dive bar (that's the door you come in and the scene you are greeted by).  We entered into an everyday bar, no hostess, no one to seat us, no one even to greet us as we looked for a table in a place that had several rooms of seats.  Most of the seating was at bar tables with high, stiff chairs.  We found our place to dine without much ado but something was off.  There were plenty of wait-staff but everything seemed to be in slow motion, as if underwater.  Our waitress was courteous and attentive enough yet she never offered any direction or insight to new guests about ordering or the homemade brews available.  She was just sort of lost.  All the bar tables appeared crowded, with plates, glasses, what have you, merely because they were small.
     We had come to a place with an identity crisis.  It was not a restaurant, though it touted itself as one.  The prices on the menu would have you believe it was a restaurant but the tables spoke of a small-town bar.  It was not a brewpub, or even a bar, again the prices on the menu would not allow it.  The management wanted the place to be a restaurant with a refined menu and priced accordingly but they failed in the endeavor.  The establishment had a homey closeness to it.  As a dive bar with fresh-brewed beer it would have excelled if not for the pretend family atmosphere that was put on to attract customers in order to justify the menu.  If one would turn down the lights, serve the requisite pub fare done right, and continue brewing decent beers, I would agree with the decision, give it two thumbs up, and leave the family at home as I enjoy a local ale.  As a restaurant, one would have to expand past the tiny bar bathroom, extract the local bar hounds from the corner stools, add real tables, and train the staff to hawk the place's hand-crafted wares.
     To our disappointment, dinner was lacking.  I had found the first brewery ever where I could not get a sampler of their craft. And the day ended flat.  We would have to wait for tomorrow for a shot at redemption.  I was truly disappointed that a day spent away from the farm had ended so poorly.  There was not hunger strong enough to make our dinner seem filling nor throats dry enough to find the beer quenching. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Catching Caching

    It is not often that I get to spend some time with my niece and nephew.  They seem to always be involved in one activity or another, sports, clubs, just being busy.  To some degree, I do not know them that well.  They know my kids and they know who I am, we live in the same two-family house.  However, we do not find time enough to truly interact.  A few times a year I usually ask my brother and sister-in-law to let the kids travel with us the 150 miles to our farm.  We all get to spend some quality time together to reconnect and they get to spend some time with their grandparents out on the farm as an added special bonus.  They run free, playing with the goats, chasing chickens, riding ATV's, being kids.  Ice cream and pizza for dinner, mud and water and sunshine during the day.  Grandma and Grandpa usually have some special gifts squirreled away for these weekends.  These are jam-packed, fun-filled weekends.
      Our last foray with the kids into the wilds brought an opportunity of sun, snow, and a gorgeous mountain day to go for a hike.  My kids ran for their gear, knowing a hike usually consists of also finding a cache or two.  Now, for anyone that follows the Gravel Road already knows, caches (geocaches) are little, hidden treasures found by downloading coordinates from a computer to a GPS and then following the GPS to "ground zero" of where the treasure is hidden.  The treasure is usually a small ammo box or Tupperware filled with silly little trinkets stashed out of sight along a hiking, biking, or walking trail.  As the now attached stat bars alongside this writing can attest, the kids truly enjoy the treasure hunt.  And they were more than eager to share their secret searches with their cousins.
       The day was bright.  The roads were muddy.  The snow on the trail was deep and crunchy.  The kids were vibrating with excitement.  They couldn't get down the trail fast enough.  The four of them were running from tree to tree, from rock to rock, glimpsing at the GPS as they ran.  I had to call my kids back, to allow their cousins a chance to find the hidden box.  Searching in the rocks of an outcrop, reaching under fallen logs, digging through the snow, the search was chaotic and fun.  My young niece finally found the box safely tucked under a tree root sticking out from the short rocky ledge.  She excitedly sifted through the baubles inside, looking for a keeper.  There was a victory dance and some trash talking before the box was rehidden and we returned to the hiking trail.  The kids sprinted back down the trail to the truck, hooting and hollering along the way.  They cried out for another set of coordinates, for another cache.
       A short drive brought us to a secluded Boy Scout camp in rural upstate NY.  The kids scrambled out of the truck in a tangle of arms and legs, trying to be the first to secure the prize.  It was cute seeing three young Girl Scouts debating the whereabouts of the hidden container in the middle of a snow-covered dirt road before climbing the entrance wall to the camp and discovering the Boy Scouts' cache.  We left them a special trinket with a mileage tracker and special story as well as their unique Girl Scout swap.  With one short trip, and two fairly quick finds, the kids were hungry and the big people were ready for home.
      The rest of the weekend flew by, with more games and adventures.  The trip home found us interrupted by a bathroom stop along the highway.  To keep the kids busy while awaiting the bathroom-breakers, I found a cache nearby and everyone again piled out in a rush to find the hidden Tupperware.  The stop was short and just a distraction before we hit the road again, and the rest of the trip was filled with snores and quiet, sleepy grumbles from the backseat.  At the journey's end, my niece and nephew quickly returned to their at-home routine, as "Uncle John" had brought them home after their scheduled bedtime on a school night (What a rebel!).  Our time together had ended without much ceremony or fanfare. 
     It was not until a few days later when we received a text message and saw an accompanying segment on Facebook of the "wonderful new world of treasures and adventures" that my niece had found so enthralling.  She had brought home a new hobby, a new interest.  She has since dragged my brother out in the dark of night in search of new, local caches.  During weekends, she has tried to run and find some hidden goodies in between soccer.  It would be a lie to say that I do not feel a little twinge of pride of opening up a new world to my niece.  I can not say that it does not make me smile to know that my brother is now haunted by little plastic key chains hidden in public parks searched out by kids young and old.  To know, in some little way, that my family has contributed to the memories that his family now makes brings a satisfying grin.  I can not wait for our next trip together, for our new adventures, for what is hidden under the next fallen tree or down the next hiking trail.  Though our time with them is short, it is always special. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Fruits of Winter

     The first day of Spring has come and gone.  The sap is running from the trees and overflowing the buckets.  The Easter eggs have all been hidden and found and turned into egg salad.  Snow still covers some shady areas and the wind still bites as it blows through the naked trees.  Mud has become the color of the landscape and the road and the woods.  The sky wages a daily war against the weather to change from grey to blue.  Winter clutches greedily to the world not wanting to relinquish its cold grasp.
      In the barnyard the animals are becoming antsy.  They can feel the changes of the season.  They yearn to run in the pasture.  The barn is slowly becoming empty as the hay reserves grow low from the long months of frigid air and hungry goats.  The shed is hidden by great clouds of steam as the sap boils its way down into syrup.  The impromptu sugar shack is a sure sign that Spring is right around the corner.  The workshop is a buzz with ATV's and motorcycles and oil changes and tires being aired, tractors being greased for the coming sun, and big, open doors letting the air finally circulate through the building.
       As the grass fights its way from brown to green and the first buds of the season can be seen on some of the hardier trees, the yard seems to be slowly waking.  The birds have returned.  Wood ducks have been spotted on the open water of the pond.  The new chicks have arrived to bolster the flock and increase our egg stock.  The damage from the onslaught of this winter's hurricanes and storms can finally be assessed.  The fences need mending, trees strewn across the trails need to be turned into firewood, and some of the drives need to be regraded yet again.  There is plenty to do outside and the fresh air stirs not only the soul but the stomach as well.
        Inside, baseball has come to the TV.  It is a funny thing, drinking the dark, hearty beers of winter, the porters and the stouts, while enjoying a few innings.  But those few remaining winter warmers will go nicely with the venison stew simmering on the stove and filling the house with belly-grumbling wafts of garlic and onion and gravy.  The stove is cluttered with pots.  The stew is cramped on all sides by boiling syrup in its final stages of production, adding a sweet smell to the savory scents filling the house.  Mason jars of the finished syrup sit next to fresh-baked biscuits.  The biscuits are torn between a bath of brown gravy and fresh stew or melted butter and warm maple syrup.  We may just have to save a few biscuits for breakfast, if we can wait that long.
     Though Spring may have sprung, it is the fruits of winter that have filled our freezer with meat and our cupboards with syrup.  The fridge is stocked with the last of the hearty brews.  Our bellies will be full and bursting and ready to fend off the outside work to be done.  Though some may find the chores daunting, they are merely good excuses to be outside in the air, in the world.  They are hidden gems, precious fruit, time to spend with family working together on our own piece of land nestled in the woods.  The in-between seasons are the best of all.  Mud and snow, cold wind and warming sun, wood smoke and open windows, the best of all seasons.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dinner with Friends

    I do not "go out on the town" very often.  Meeting up with friends to catch up and enjoy a pint is not a common occurrence.  That is not to say that we, as a family, do not dine out.  My children are quite fond of visiting new restaurants.  They have gone so far as to start their own attempt at a children's version of dining reviews. Their tastes range far and wide and their palates are quite adventurous.  Some old stand-by's that are used as "control" dishes to measure the kitchen of an establishment, and are always ordered, are the calamari, the steamed clams, and the alfredo, preferably with grilled chicken.  A good shrimp cocktail will always bring a smile.
     However, dining out with family in order to spend some quality time over a few choice dishes is not what is on the menu.  To visit with friends, trusted folks with which one can relax, talk frank, laugh, and enjoy company, just may be the perfect dish.  I call many people in my life "friend" but most only wish to pretend at comforting, genuine interaction.  Perhaps I am cynical (if you read this blog even a few times I believe this is glaring), untrusting, slow to let my guard down, but I find most people prove my reservations true.  I do not hold it against them.  I still consider them as close friends, but not close enough for dinner.
     Which leads me here, over the last couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to visit with a friend and his family on several occasions.  We do not see each other nearly as much as we should, yet each time we pick up right where we had left off.  Life, kids, work, all draw us down separate paths and making time to review our adventures is tough to come by, but we always manage to squeeze something into our hectic schedules.  As of late, we have taken to using our time in the pursuit of some of the finer dishes from the more refined restaurants we can find.  This may mean a dent in the pocketbook but an experience well worth the extra hardship.  The different venues and atmospheres, the candlelight and coat checks, the valet parking and origami dining napkins, the fine china and pomp.  We live a little and laugh alot.  I am mightily impressed with his children, older than mine by a generation (his being of college age and mine a year out of middle school) and still happy to share stories of school and work.  They can easily convey their thoughts and engage in conversation with all members of our party, young and old.  I can only hope that my children will mature as well (though it seems by their fine dining mannerisms and conversational ability that they have a good start). 
        The two families have laughed over amazing appetizers, debated politics and applauded achievements over main courses shared around the table, and have reminisced as towering desserts were conquered.  Tales were woven through the foam of craft beers that had traveled from different states and around the corner.  And, in the end, we have hugged and said our "so-longs" as the valet patiently waited.  Maybe a few times a year is all we can afford, both in time and money, but they still are too few.  Life is too short not to try new things.  Time is too little not to laugh.  I cherish the fine things, the finest being their friendship and the lives they share with us.  I hope to see them again soon and tell stories both old and new.

(His daughter is preparing to embark on yet another life journey to help homeless children on the other side of the country.  I would like to wish her a grand adventure, a safe return to tell tales of her journey over yet another dinner, and that she touches other lives the same way she touched our family's (my children's especially).  And I hope her parents are as a proud, if not more so, as I am to know her, to see such a wonderful child grow into a marvelous woman and human being.  You all are truly blessed and have blessed our house.  We will see you all soon but not soon enough.)


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Snowballs and Snowtubes

     And with an icy explosion, just for a brief moment, the world was nothing but stars and numbness.  Then as quick as it came, the moment was gone.  I was brought back to my senses by the frozen trail mapping its way down my back underneath my jacket.  A little sliver of smashed snowball had found its way under my clothes.  I proceeded to engage a method of removal that was part dance and part convulsion and it elicited howls of laughter from the kids.  More snowballs arced their way toward me, trying to hit the same target that had me hopping in the first place. 
     I found that the best way to rectify my wet, cold back was to engage the offenders in an impromptu snowball war.  The day's chores, mucking stalls and throwing bales, would have to wait until my assault was avenged.  Being slightly larger than my attackers I devised a less direct engagement of snow artillery.  I began launching snow in high, rainbow trajectories, carpet-bombing the barnyard.  Children, dogs, horses and goats were running in all directions.  From behind tractors and trees their small projectiles still came flying, along with waves of laughter.  My wife's back, sore and perpetually aching from multiple attempts at repair, suddenly did not hurt so much as her hands released the first snowball thrown in years.  Now I had three "enemies" to engage and all of them found my rainbow attacks hysterical.  It was in short order that the tears on my cheeks from laughing so hard began to freeze in their tracks. 
      Seven days later the package had arrived.  My little attackers could not get through the cardboard fast enough.  The only way I could get anyone to agree to a snowball truce was to promise the purchase of a new snow riding device and it was trapped in the packaging.  Now, I could not in good manly country conscience buy a regular sled, not even a sort of fancy racing sled.  No, I needed the hard-bottomed, inner-tube-inflated, heavy-duty, ATV-towable model.  The air compressor screamed as the air went rushing into the inner tube and breathed life into the "sled".  One kid went running to find the tow strap while the other scrambled for the goggles.  My wife tried to quietly hide but the kids would have none of it.  The two little imps had already convinced Grandpa that today would be the perfect day to remove some of our tree stands from the big field and that he needed to bring his ATV and a tow rope just in case we got stuck in the snowy field.
       Cheering the kids on as Grandpa slung them around the field on their new tube was fun.  Watching them bounce over the ridge and get slammed with snowdrift after snowdrift was cute.  Seeing them slide sideways behind the ATV, gaining speed as they were sling-shotted through the turns was a hoot.  But the greatest moment came watching the kids rolling in the snow on their backs holding their stomachs like some crazy little turtles that had been flipped on their shells and could not stop laughing at their plight.  Their laughter was not only infectious but came in unrelenting waves, as one wave finally began to subside another would come crashing down upon them, catching me up in the process.  All of this craziness was brought on by the sight, and more hysterically, the sound of their mother flying by on the snow tube tethered to Grandpa's ATV.  Her hoots and whoops and ooohs and aahhhs were killing us bystanders.  They seemed to be forced out by each and every bump the tube hit.  They grew louder as the pair neared our viewing position in the field and then faded as the ATV blazed a path to the far side of the field.  Her shrieks of terror when the tube was flung into a turn knocked the kids on to their backs in fits of laughter.  They began rolling when the shrieks turned into oowwww, owwww, owwww, owww, oww as the tube bounced toward us.  Just when we all thought it was over, Grandpa threw the ATV into another snow-banked fishtail, shooting the tube into a tight 180 degree arc at what seemed to be a speed that would not end well.  The shrieks were unnaturally loud when they were right next to you but they were nothing compared to the howls of laughter coming from the kids.
        We learned important lessons over those two weekends.  Some we already knew, others we had forgotten.  Grandpa is evil and it is good.  Snow is wonderful and cold.  Snow tubes are fun to ride.  There is only one thing more fun than watching your kids have fun on a ride, and that is watching them laugh, especially at their mother's terror.  The thought still makes my stomach hurt.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Resolutions and Ruts

    Last year was not one of the most memorable.  Some memories were made, but not as many as should have been.  Most of the days, especially as the year aged, blurred and stagnated.  There were family losses and the angry lash outs that come with tragic loss.  There still probably has not been enough time for the wounds to scar over, even as life marches on.  New weights of responsibility and the commitments such weight brings began to pile up and grind away.  The grind is more mental, especially when most of the ailments are mental (and owned by those around you).  Personality conflicts are hard to address when no one is interested in change.  My time in the woods, my sanctuary, grew short.  The time to recharge and refresh became nonexistent.  And the rut grew.  Yet, as always, small hands can perform big things.  And those hands were armed with snowballs and one good frozen projectile to the back of the head was all that was needed.  In that icy explosion, the world was right again and laughter followed..........