Adventure is out there

Twins Go To Colombia

Before the twins were born, I swore I wouldn’t let them stop me from getting out of my comfort zone and traveling. What I didn’t realize was that sometimes a trip to the grocery store would qualify for both counts. Nevertheless, when Mom asked if I wanted to take the boys and join her for a week in Medellin, Colombia, of all places, I decided to commit and then figure out the rest later.

That strategy–commit, then figure it out–sometimes works, and it sometimes backfires.

Say you’re at the grocery store, and on a whim you buy all 30 ounces of cream cheese for a cheesecake. No matter how you feel about it later, you’ve got to actually bake it. Because there’s no way you’re eating enough bagels to excuse that purchase. You bake the cake and act like it was totally planned.

When you buy airline tickets to Colombia, you go. Even if, as the days before the trip approach, you find yourself wondering what on earth you’ve signed yourself up for.

In this case, the strategy was a good one. I’m glad I went, I’m glad the babies had the experience–even though they’ll never remember it–and I’m glad I got out of my comfort zone enough to make it happen. With that said, there were many moments during the trip that I longed for a childproofed playroom, for a husband to dump the babies on long enough for me to take a nap, and for wonderful English-speaking baristas at familiar local coffee shops.

The following are some of those moments.

  1. When stuck on the metro wearing a screaming baby while sandwiched between 25,734 complete strangers.
  2. When on the metro alone with one twin, after Mom got off the metro at an unknown previous stop with his brother.
  3. When desperately trying to explain that I want a hazelnut latte, not a cafe americano con leche.
  4. When trying to remember the Spanish word for “upstairs,” drawing a blank, and feeling like an entire university Spanish minor course of study is failing me.
  5. When fumbling with Colombian pesos and trying to disguise the fact that I have no idea how much the jumble of coins in my hand is worth.
  6. When staring blankly at a menu of traditional Colombian food and realizing that none of it is remotely appetizing.
  7. When the standard, already-annoying twin questions (how old are they? are they twins? which one is older? are they walking yet? are they identical? are you through having kids now? you must have your hands full? is this one bigger? are their eyes more like yours or their dad’s?) are even worse when presented in rapid-fire Spanish but blending in is impossible with blue-eyed, fair-skinned babies.

My memories of Colombia will forever be misty mountains, lush flora, gently swinging cable cars, plywood “beds,” incredibly kind locals, and various iterations of the above seven situations. I would go back in a heartbeat–but I’d definitely arm myself with more mental preparedness and basically just prepare to function in survival mode for the duration of the trip, should that become necessary.

In other news, I’m still recuperating, because some vacations are relaxing and some vacations are exhausting and this was the latter.

Visiting Concord, MA

When you get odd opportunities to visit a new place, you take full advantage. Yesterday Manny had an appointment at Hanscom AFB, so I tagged along with the twins and we wandered around Concord a bit afterward.

Somehow I grew to adulthood without realizing what incredible historical and literary significance lives in that little town. Having realized what talent (and, arguably, genius) came from there, I seriously want to go sit under a tree in the Minute Man Historic Park for awhile and hope that whatever inspired Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott seeps into my pores just a little bit.

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Yesterday we just had time to visit the Old North Bridge and the Old Manse before heading back home to get the twins to bed. But I’m definitely planning to go back to visit Orchard House (where Louisa May Alcott lived and wrote and set Little Women), the Wayside (home to Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Sidney, and Nathaniel Hawthorne), Walden pond, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery’s Authors’ Ridge.

The Old North Bridge’s significance is more historical than literary. It was the site where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired when British troops came to confiscate settlers’ firearms.  They met unexpected resistance from the colonists, who occupied the hill overlooking the Old North Bridge and fired on the British troops below.

Later, Emerson wrote the Concord Hymn for a ceremony dedicating the Old North Bridge. Today, a statue of one of the Minutemen and a stanza of the hymn stand directly in front of a replica of the Old North Bridge that crosses the Concord River in the same spot.

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It was a little eerie to stand in this spot and remember reading the Concord Hymn back in grade school, when all that history seemed so far away.

It was also a little surreal to take the short walk to the Old Manse and its peaceful garden plot, and to walk down to the boat dock–just minutes away at a slow walk–that was a popular picnic spot, swimming hole, and boat dock for Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, and many other colonists around the time of the Revolution.

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It’s easy to imagine stepping back into that world of farming, picnics, gardens, poetry, and transcendentalism. It’s hard to imagine wrapping your mind around something like a revolution–and the fact that those settlers were essentially going about their everyday lives–when shots rang out over that peaceful, winding river, and everything changed.

Babies’ First Ren Faire, Poetry, and Very Expensive Boots

Over the long weekend we packed everything up for a quick jaunt to spend a weekend in PA, including a day at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. This was my second time visiting the fair. Manny took me to the fair for the first time a year ago when I was pregnant with the twins. I spent much of this visit relishing the cooler weather and the fact that I’m about 40 lbs. lighter than I was back then.

But my first impressions were generally the same.

Smells: Pine trees, roasting meat, and whiffs of handmade soaps, candles, and leather from the many stands.

Sounds: Laughter, “G’day, Lady” x100, strains of bagpipes and small vocal groups from different directions, the click of stilts and performers assuring guests that the more they drink, the better the performances.

Sights: people wearing tails, very large skirts, chain mail bras, kilts, masquerade masks, and all the staged buildings and vendors set up to look extremely old-world-ish.

100 Great Poems for Boys CoverFrom the stationer, I bought 100 Great Poems for Boysdespite the title. It’s a brilliant collection for kids. Actually, it’s a brilliant collection for me. Since the purchase, I’ve driven Manny crazy with dramatic readings of Poe’s “The Bells,” Christopher Smart’s “For My Cat Jeoffrey,” and Henley’s “Invictus.”

And from Catskill Mountain Moccassins, I bought $700 shoes.

Hopefully this is the first and last episode of Major Purchases That I Might Regret Later you’ll read about on this blog. They aren’t Jimmy Choos or Prada or any other brand that garners that kind of price tag (I mean, seriously, who has those at a ren fair?) But they are custom leather boot-ish footwear made to fit the foot of each individual buyer, trimmed and finished to completely custom specifications. And because Manny has a pair (received his joyfully, in fact, a few days before he proposed four years ago), he insisted I order some. They’ll last for twenty years, he said–and they’re the only shoes you’ll ever have MADE for your foot, so you should indulge.

So after staring at color swatches, conferring with a friend (who had been convinced to order a knee-high pair of her own), and agonizing over all the button choices, I stepped up on a little platform for my feet to be traced, ensconced in a sock, then taped with gaffer’s tape to create a comfortably snug pattern that would form the basis for the soft leather mocc.

The sad part? Even after they’re fully paid (we put a third down for the pattern tracing and design), I still won’t get them for the better part of a year–and by that time I might not even remember what they’re supposed to look like. But what’s done is done, and in the meantime, I’m going to try not to think too much about how many poetry books or skeins of sock yarn I could have bought with that money.

Babies are not my full-time job.

IMG_2097The other day, someone congratulated me on how much stuff I manage to do with the twins.

As if going anywhere with them requires the kind of motivation and perseverance that only marathon-runners or those with a penchant for self-punishment possess.

Have we really set our expectations of life so low that we think it’s all over once we reproduce?

Though it’s very well-intentioned and flattering, this attitude surprises me every time I encounter it. I’m not some kind of superhero for going places with my kids–for traveling with them, for taking them on hikes or long walks on rail trails, for going shopping with them strapped to my body.

Doing things with my babies doesn’t make me a remarkable parent. It makes me a human with a life to live. It has never made sense to stop going to the fun, unnecessary places because I have two small humans who keep getting clingier by the day. On the contrary, those small humans probably need to experience those new, unnecessary places more than I do.

Babies are NOT my full-time job. They are part of the life rich, varied God gave me.

I don’t do things despite babies. I do things because life needs to be lived. Because staring at the same four walls drives all of us crazy. Because sometimes you need fresh air, and not from your own backyard.

When I was pregnant, I swore I wouldn’t let babies stop me from having a life. Obviously they’ve changed the life. And I won’t lie and say that it’s always easy (as if anyone would believe me if I did). Some days, I revel in being able to stay home, wear pajamas all day, and do nothing–except feed hungry mouths and change diapers and cuddle and bounce and dance in the living room, of course.

Other days, I do go on an adventure despite the exhaustion and spend the entire adventure putting out fires (world-class poopy diaper in the middle of a hike. angry crying for no apparent reason in the middle of a shopping mall. forgetting the pacifier/toy/extra bottle). But even on those Murphy’s Law days, it’s still worth the effort.

In general, I choose to let kids continue the adventure rather than replacing it. And that’s one of the best choices I will continue to make.

Which is why the slightly cooler weather is making it more inviting than ever to go take babies to the farmer’s market even if I don’t really need anything. Or to pack everything up and walk six miles on a tree-lined rail trail. Or to book flights to South America with my mom so the babies get to spend their first birthday traveling the world. Or to splash in the little kiddie pool on the back deck.

For me, having kids means having adventures with kids.

I Calculated The Value of a (hand knit) Sock

I’m pretty sure my blog is schizophrenic. One minute it’s a parenting blog, then a diet blog, then a travel blog… I originally wanted it to be a “look at the fascinating/exciting things I’m doing and places I’m going!” blog, but I don’t do enough fascinating things for that to happen, so what you see is what you get.

Brace yourself, because I’m going full-on knitting mode.

Hand Knit Sock In Progress

I promise I’ll try to make it interesting, but if making amazing things isn’t your  jam, feel free to skip this one.

We recently took the boys to Texas. They experienced their first flight, a series of long road trips, and two weeks of visiting and sweating (June in Texas is no joke, y’all). The longest we spent in any one place during the whole trip was three days. Throw eight-month-old twins into the mix and that’s a recipe for crazy. BUT I had plenty of road trip time to knit socks.

The most knitting I get done lately is in the car, when we’re in transit. That’s the only time the boys are guaranteed to be safe (and likely asleep) that I don’t also have other pressing responsibilities. So I use that time to make things. I knit. And the very best travel knitting is sock knitting.

Hand Knit Socks Cascade Silk

I did some math. One pair of socks includes well over 20,000 individual stitches, and depending on the pattern, takes me about 10-15 hours to finish.

Which is why I laugh when occasionally (very occasionally) people ask if they can pay me to knit them socks.

The yarn for a pair of hand knit socks costs $20-$30. There’s cheaper sock yarn out there, but I won’t knit with it. If I’m going to spend 10-15 hours of my life running the stuff between my fingers, it’s going to be soft and beautiful.

Hand Knit Socks Araucania Huasco

At a modest rate of $10/hour plus yarn, a pair of handknit socks could easily cost $150 or more. But that’s assuming I would be willing to work for $10/hour. I probably wouldn’t.

This is why hand knit socks are special. You can’t buy them (unless you’ve got a pretty hefty sock budget). You can bribe a knitter, but if that knitter doesn’t already like you a lot, it’s just not going to happen. In fact, if someone gives you a pair of hand knit socks, you should reevaluate your relationship with that person and consider thanking them with coffee. Or chocolate. Or a sports car. Because they gave you a pair of priceless socks and they probably deserve it.

You can go to the store and get perfectly serviceable socks for a dollar. You can get high-end Smart Wool socks for $20, if you want to be fancy. And neither of these options requires hours of running yarn between your fingers, rubbing needles together, putting to use all the skills learned over many years of trial and error and how-to videos.

That makes it crazy to knit socks, right? I mean, who does that? Why do that? If you realize that time is the most valuable currency, why knit anything–let alone socks?

Hand Knit Socks KnitPics Stroll

For me, knitting doesn’t replace other things I should be doing (most of the time). It is my entertainment, the thing I do when I would otherwise be sitting motionlessly watching Netflix, listening to an audiobook, or riding in the car (and I’m not good at sitting motionlessly). It’s an activity I enjoy that results in actual things I can keep or give to someone I really, really like.

You can’t pay me to knit socks or much of anything else. I have no desire to open an Etsy shop to sell the things I’ve made. I can make better money taking on extra writing work.

It’s about watching that beautiful yarn run through my fingers until something priceless comes out. Watching actual things come out of those little snippets of time is fun. It’s my version of PC gaming, movie watching, music listening, time-wasting amusement. And though I’m a little biased, I consider it superior to all of those–if only because in the zombie apocalypse, I’ll be able to enjoy myself and clothe my feet.

Walking in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods CoverIf you have any outdoorsy spark within you at all, then certain books are bound to elevate that spark to genuine obsession. A Walk in the Woods did that for me in July.

The stupid book made me want to drop everything, buy a backpack, and go hit the ~2,800-mile-long-trail posthaste. Nevermind the fact that I’m 26 weeks pregnant with twins, and walking a single mile feels like a feat of superhuman strength and stamina.

Reading Bryson’s account of through-hiking the trail reminded me of hiking in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains with my best friend in college–spending Saturdays in the woods, far enough from classrooms and homework that they couldn’t quite touch us, logging mile after mile and then dragging ourselves to Panera afterwards for soup and sandwiches.

Anyway, the whole reading-and-reminiscing thing sparked a conversation with the hubster, who started an AT through hike with a friend several years ago. Sadly, they couldn’t finish because said friend injured his ankle. The hubster’s dream lives on, and mine remains on my bucket list–the same place it’s been for the past four or five years.

Knowing that about 90 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through western Massachusetts, we decided to look up volunteer opportunities at the trail conservancy in this area. A few days later, Manny informed me that he had signed both of us up to help rebuild a bog bridge on a section of trail an hour and a half away by car + 1/2 mile by foot.

I protested on the basis of exhaustion and general aches and pains. I told him he might end up carrying me back up the trail. And then I went with him anyway.

We met a few scruffy-looking men who could have been 45 or 80. Apparently one was a ridge runner whose full-time job is hiking the AT from one end of Mass. to another to keep an eye on the trail, rumors of bears, fallen trees, and the like. They handed us some wood to carry down the trail, and down we went.

The weather was perfect–mid 70’s, breezy, clear sunshine and cotton candy clouds. I think I waddled the half-mile to the bog bridge and back half a dozen times over the course of the day, alternately carrying a piece of wood, a box of nails, or a hammer.

Appalachian Trail in MassachusettsI will note that the aches in my back and hips and the fatigue of walking, even while carrying lumber and tools, pretty much disappeared as long as I was out there walking in the woods (they all came back in full force later, sadly).

The hubster and I were also elected to walk another mile up the trail in the opposite direction to post a “Beware of Bear” sign near a shelter where a bear had decided to rob some unfortunate hiker of his entire food bag the week before. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the fuzzy fellow, but no such luck.

But back to the book. If you don’t want to come away from A Walk in the Woods with a compulsion to, well, go for a walk in the woods, probably don’t pick it up in the first place–even though they are making it into a movie next year.

The book itself is hilariously uncouth, captures an incredibly relatable ambivalent love-hate relationship with the trail, and is laugh-out-loud funny. I spewed the tea I was drinking dangerously close to the pages more than once because a particularly entertaining line caught me off-guard. Because of this, I’m calling it the Funny Book on my 2015 Reading List.

Because the spark of obsession was lit, I followed that read with Hiking Through, another AT book, this one from Manny’s section of the home library. It’s an autobiographical account of a former Mennonite hiking the trail after losing his wife to cancer. I respect this guy more than Bryson, but he’s not a writer, and his attempts at both poetry and humor fell rather flat. Still, it was worth the few hours it took to read it. I’m thinking these might lead to a whole series of AT-related reading.

I guess this is all to say that if one day in the not-so-distant future, you read here that the hubster and I are quitting life to take two kids and a dog on a six-month-long walk in the woods, you shouldn’t be terribly surprised.

Bleak House, house buying, Hawthorne, Melville, and Bryant…

Bleak House CoverIt took me a month to read Bleak House, mostly because moving from Guam, buying a house, and generally not feeling great has been monopolizing life lately. The book itself is classic Dickens–brilliant and impossible to review. Everything that can possibly be said about it has already been said by more well-spoken readers than me.

Somewhere around page 300, I laughed out loud at something (this happened a lot while reading this book). The hubster looked up from his computer. “Good book?” he asked.

“It’s brilliant.”

“What’s it about?”

And for the life of me, even though I was already a third of the way through the thing, I couldn’t really say what it was about or where it was going. The action really starts around page 700, which is probably why so many people find BH such a daunting read.

Nevertheless, it’s brilliant. You should go read it now.

The hopeless situation of that Chancery lawsuit was a nice break from househunting and moving stress. Dickens takes effort to read when all you’ve read lately are more modern, American-authored books, and I needed something to keep my mind occupied.

So there was that, and it took forever to read, and it made me feel like I needed to go read every single Dr. Seuss book ever written to catch back up with my 52-book goal on the 2015 reading list. Although BH would qualify for several different items on the List, I’m counting it toward “a book that I own but never read,” because it really has been collecting dust for a while.

I found Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose!

I found Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose!

 

Side note: Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was born in Springfield, Mass–the same town in which we’re buying a house. There’s even a memorial sculpture garden, and it’s kind of awesome.

This weekend I learned a little more profoundly just how much literary history is EVERYWHERE around here. The hubster and I went to hike Monument Mountain, just west of town, on Saturday. Google revealed that a picnic on that mountain once spawned a friendship between Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, that one of their conversations supposedly inspired Moby Dick. 

 

Poet William Cullen Bryant also waxed rather eloquent on the subject of that mountain’s rocky crags.

Let thy foot
Fail not with weariness, for on their tops
The beauty and the majesty of earth,
Spread wide beneath, shall make thee to forget
The steep and toilsome way.

Read the entire poem here, if you’re feeling dedicated.

Monument Mountain

The views up there were beautiful. But I’ve seen unquestionably more spellbinding mountains than that one. Did William Cullen Bryant ever visit the Rockies? That bears research, but I doubt he would have been as impressed by the Berkshires if he had.