Scenes from a Vacation

Little Hunter's Beach

Come take a walk

As I mentioned and lamented in my last post, I didn’t get to fully enjoy my vacation this summer. Every year we go to Acadia National Park and spend the whole week exploring – tons of hiking and bike riding. I was sidelined by a back injury and not happy about it.

There were awesome views, of course:

Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

But often I had to stop and rest while the boys ran ahead, and entertain myself by looking at something not quite as stunning, but still equally cool, like, maybe, a neat-looking rock.

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Yeah, I have a lot of rock pictures from this trip.

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We hunted frogs.

Can you find the frog?

Can you find him?

And herons.

Can you find the heron?

This one’s much easier

We conquered the ocean…

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…and boy-eating bridges.

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Of course we enjoyed a good campfire almost every night, and a good campfire is only complete with sparkler jousting…

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…and s’mores.

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While we were making these, we quoted The Sandlot.

And thinking of The Sandlot reminded me of the best parenting advice in a movie ever: “I want you to get out in the fresh air and make some friends. Run around, scrape your knees, get dirty. Climb trees, hop fences, get into trouble, for crying out loud!”

How times have changed.

Sometimes it’s the little things that put a smile on your face.

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I wonder at exactly what point they gave up.

And no summer vacation would be complete without a trip to a haunted fort:

Inside Fort Knox

Can you see the ghost?

Or a run-in with a boy-eating oven.

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Enjoy your summer days, friends. They’re already flying past.

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A Computer-Free Weekend

“People are getting overrun by technology. The future is here.” – Younger Son

The other day Older Son had to explain what a meme is to me. That’s the first time that’s happened in twelve years. But it describes what I got in my email last week so I thought I’d be cool and use it. The meme in question was a bunch of pictures of people with their noses in cellphones and an Einstein quote that said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

Like many memes, I can’t find proof that Einstein ever said that, so it’s probably just someone’s opinion. Einstein wasn’t the type of guy to refer to people (especially those younger than him) as idiots. Nor do I believe we have a generation of idiots on our hands.

On the contrary some scientists believe that technology is actually speeding up our evolution. Whether that’s good or bad is up for debate but, it is what it is (to quote an overly-used and somewhat annyoing meme).

What I do agree with is that we are living with screens in our faces, and it’s becoming more and more pervasive, like it or not. I’m not anti-computer. In fact I need it to do most of my work and my laptop is probably my favorite thing. Next to my iPod of course.

But I’ve been taking computer-free weekends more and more often now and I’m quite enjoying them, more than I thought I would. This time it was a LONG weekend – Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house – and I left the computer behind. Egad.

There were times over the weekend when I missed my technology. I needed it to look up Christmas wish lists and basketball schedules, and check our now-online family calendar (a move I resisted as long as I could – what do we do during the next week-long power outage? Paper is still good for a lot of things, like calendars. And contact lists that don’t get destroyed when they go through the wash in your pocket).

At these times we had to fight over the one available computer. Luckily when we wanted the movie listings they were still in the newspaper. We found ways to get around the hardship.

And I could always borrow someone’s phone or iPad to get to the internet. It was very meta (is that a meme?) to be watching a TV commercial about how advertisers are losing viewers to handhelds while two people sat on the couch looking at their handhelds.

But Grammy’s house is family time. We played games and made craft projects and baked. Older Son and I built his science project while Grandpa let Younger Son try out the drill press. We read books. Real ones! (I really hope books make it. I HATE reading on a Kindle and I’m not afraid to say it. Oh crap the tech police may be after me at this very moment.)

I finally convinced one of my kids to play double solitaire with me, which was what I did at my Grammy’s house. My sister pointed out that she still has the deck of cards we used.

I found that by far, I’m happiest when my whole family extricates ourselves from technology. More often than not we have to leave the house in order to do this, but that’s just fine. For this weekend it meant a climb on a glacial rock, a long walk to the beach, and watching surfers ride the waves in the warm sun for half an hour.

So much better than what you find online.

I got way behind on Facebook and had to recover from that. And realized, is it that important to keep up? I basically only use it to get messages from people who don’t have my cell number. Or, strangely, can’t look me up in the phone book (another book that I’d really like to see survive. God I feel like a dinosaur).

I even sat down with a pen and a piece of notebook paper to write this weekend. It felt old-fashioned, and odd, but good. I had a small victory over technology. Its hold over me is weakening. My son and Einstein can relax – we’re gonna be OK.

MCAS Rampage

The United States seems to be heading towards taking the decisions about American education out of the hands of American educators and instead placing that sacred trust in the welcoming arms of an industry run entirely without oversight and populated completely with for-profit companies chasing billions of dollars in business. – Todd Farley

Dear State of Massachusetts:

I just got my son’s MCAS test scores in the mail. I’m not happy. But I’m not talking about his performance, or that my town’s scores are the lowest in our area. I’m not happy that I even have to deal with this whole ball and chain.

I’m not happy that I have to stand here and look at your evaluation of the quality of my son’s education on a bar graph. I don’t want you keeping records of his scores for the past three years. I don’t want you knowing how proficient he’s been and how much he’s dropped.

I don’t want you using test scores to compare us to other schools. I don’t want you looking at these charts and deciding which school gets more money, and which doesn’t deserve it. Children can’t be quantified. Knowledge can’t be measured by numbers. But these tests have reduced our entire educational system to an attempt at doing just that.

I want my school to teach whole children. I want my kid to go to art class and gym, not “health and wellness.” I want him to have recess. Of course he scored low on data analysis. I don’t even know how to do data analysis.

I don’t want my kids to need counseling to deal with the pressure you’ve been putting on them since they were eight years old to do well on your goddamn tests.

What I do need is his lunch menu. But the school doesn’t print that out for us anymore, I’m guessing because they have no money for paper and toner. And that’s probably because they had to buy all these envelopes and pay for postage on them to send me test results that I don’t care about. Also, I don’t want the staff at my kid’s school wasting hours stuffing envelopes when they could be, oh, you know, preparing curriculum?

At open house they told us that the kids have to keep all their books in the classroom now, because last year they lost a couple and can’t replace them. They’re down to the last of the books. But when you consider that we can’t even afford teachers anymore, I guess the books and lunch menus aren’t our biggest concern.

I want you to stop handing our education budget over to the unregulated for-profit companies and give it back to the schools so my kids can have teachers and books. Please. I’m begging you.

I want you to stop making my kids’ teachers justify their jobs by somehow compelling their students to score high on your tests. The numbers on your paper don’t show a thing about what my kid’s been doing the past three years. Or what he’s dealt with. Or how he’s grown. Or what an amazing human being he is. Or what an asset he is to his classroom. Or the relationship between him and his teachers and what they give to each other.

I want you to think back to a time, not that long ago, when if a student failed it was their fault, not the teacher’s. And not everyone in the school had to be proficient in every subject, because we knew that not everyone could be. And the teacher’s job didn’t depend on it, and they didn’t have to justify their every teaching decision to a computer that’s analyzing a scanned set of bubbles and spitting out meaningless lines on charts.

When you can do that for me, we’ll be all good. But until then, we’re in a fight.

Bike Path: Kill or Be Killed

After a week of riding the (gorgeous, incomparable) bike trails on Cape Cod, I’ve learned alot about human nature. First there are the types of people you will find using the trails:

1. The Tour de France’rs

They have their bodysuits, their space-age helmets, their front-arm-leaning handlebars, fanny packs and camelbaks, and feet cemented to the pedals, so they AIN’T stoppin. Just stay out of the way because the peloton is coming through, and you will die if you get in front of it.

2. The Neurotic Parents

They want to teach their kids to ride, but maybe they should’ve thought about doing that at home, before they got on the biking superhighway. Sometimes they have to stop and lecture their children about “how angry it makes me when you do that.” Often accompanied by grandparents pushing empty strollers. Occasionally you see a variation of this with three or more adults pulled over to the side of the trail, all fussing over one crying child in a bike trailer.

3. Walkers, Joggers, and Dog-walkers

They have every right to be on the bike trail. It’s supposed to be a safe haven for people trying to enjoy a walk or run without having to risk their lives on summer-traffic-filled roads. But I’m not sure they’re any safer with the bikes than they are with the cars.

4. Teenagers, Old Folks, and European Tourists

Lesser seen, but still present. Teens will be surly and/or dangerous-looking. So will the old folks. Europeans will be half-naked and stopped on the side of the trail eating berries.

5. Rollerbladers

Really?

6. Normal People Out for a Nice Bike Ride

Like me and my family, who were just trying to get through it all unscathed. And at least one of your party will be asking, “What’s the point again? Why are we riding bikes in a straight line for hours?”

Repeatedly.

My scariest moment was when we passed a dad and son who were pulled over, and mom was just getting back into the flow of traffic. Older Son was in the middle of the lane passing her and I was starting to make my move when I noticed there was a daughter, maybe four years old, trying to turn around and find her family. Older slowed down when he saw her swerve across the lane of traffic.

But the 65-year-old guy coming toward all of this mess didn’t. He just made a grimace like, “Oh my God! There’s a little pink Dora bike in front of me! How dare she? I’m about to crash into her! But I ain’t slowin down, dag-nabbit!”

I told Older he did the right thing. When in doubt, STOP BEFORE YOU CRASH INTO PEOPLE. It’s pretty basic.

Now. To this spicy gumbo, add cars. Every time you come to a street crossing it’s complete anarchy. By the letter of the law (we think), cars aren’t supposed to yield to bikes in crosswalks (I know, stupidest thing ever). But it makes sense if you realize that bikes are supposed to observe the same traffic rules as cars, so a rail trail crosswalk throws everything into confusion.

Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians, so on the trail, the rule is that bikers should stop and walk their bike across the streets, hence becoming pedestrians and clearly having the right of way.

But no one ever gets off their bike. And the cars can’t always see the crossings coming. They are hidden around corners and in trees, and anyway most drivers on the Cape are in vacation mode. They’re not paying attention or they’re in a SERIOUS rush to get to some soft-serve. If they’re not familiar with the trail, they can be flying along with no clue that a person could jump out in front of their car.

As my dear old sailor dad used to say, the laws of gross tonnage apply. Motor vehicle vs. pedestrian laws don’t matter when a many-ton vehicle is flying toward your 65-pound skin-and-bones baby.

So we taught the boys to come to a COMPLETE stop at every crossing. BUT, those of us who are trying to keep our children from being flattened by cars get in the way of the peloton, who fly through, knocking you out of the way in their hurry to beat you to the entrance on the other side of the road.

Then you’ve got the people who draft off your stopped cars. You and the kids are getting across as safely as you can, when the others come up your butt because they shot out in front of the drivers who stopped for you. Now you’re on the other side trying to climb back on your bike and get….CRAP! Angry Granny!

“ON! YOUR! LEFT!!!!” They yell, annoyed at you for being in their way.

So what does all this mean? It’s simple. People need rules. I have my own problems respecting authority and I’m the first person to say, “Bah! That’s not a real law.” But if there were just some basic right-of-way guidelines (i.e. when a small child loses control of their bike and darts in front of you BY ACCIDENT – stop your damn bike instead of yelling at them and their parents), the trail would be a far less terrifying place.

Dave had a theory that it’s like the townies vs. the college kids. After a few weeks of having bikes dart out in front of their car, or being on a bike and having a car speed toward you, there’s competition between locals and tourists, drivers and bikers. The age-old story. Oh – and it’s hot. And everyone’s stuck with their cranky family.

Of course Dave also managed to get in a little parenting wisdom. Our last human behavior observation, which I’ve been saying like a broken record for years anyway, is this: kids will watch what the adults are doing and do exactly the same thing.

So when he’d had enough of all the shenanigans, Older got in on the act. As he tried to turn left to exit the crosswalk and head for a deli we’d picked for lunch, another crazy grandpa went flying by him (to pass everyone and get back on the trail first) and almost knocked him down. Older yelled, “Thanks for almost crashing into me while I was trying to make a legal and safe left-hand turn.” (We’ll have to work on brevity when it comes to his snippy remarks.)

After this event Dave told him, “If somebody’s out here yelling at people then they’re probably not a very happy person. Don’t let them ruin your day.” So we mocked him, ate sandwiches, and went back into the fray for another hour of enjoyable riding in straight lines amongst crazy people.

But please don’t let this story deter you from riding the trails. Go early or late, go on a Tuesday, go when it’s NOT summer, but get out there and see them, because as far as rail trails go, this one is world class.

What Died in My Kitchen?

I took the trash out, so the smell isn’t coming from there.

Ditto the compost.

It smells like something rotten in the fridge but it’s coming from outside the fridge.

Toss the bowl of melted raspberries that was accidentally left on the table overnight.

Check under the baseboard heaters – is it possible a mouse crawled in there?

Under the fridge? The stove? Only the detritus of years: ping pong balls, magnets, cat food, tumbleweeds of dust. Dang I should really clean under there.

The fruit bowl? Fruit flies: check. Rot: no.

Was there a perishable in the pantry?

The In-sink-erator? That’s always a good culprit.

Ohhhh. Eeeeeew.

It’s the cantaloupe, purchased only three days ago, which looks deceivingly innocent on the top, but has gone moldy on the bottom and is mating with the chopping block countertop below. I actually have to scrub the stain.

And now the compost smells again.

Curse you, grocery store produce department!

Latest (Last-minute) News

Hop on over to the Valley Advocate and check out my latest post on loss and gratitude (if you are so inclined). Scroll down the blog list on the left-hand side (or pass the duchy on the left-hand side. Sorry. It’s late and it’s been a long day).

And please listen to WHMP tomorrow (Tuesday, June 26) from 8:00 – 10:00 AM, when I’ll be participating in a parenting forum and possibly taken to task over my recent comments on said subject.