Thursday, July 31, 2008

Time Travelin' Tractor Boys

Okay, Internet, I hear the collective groans "Ugh, Donkey Camp AGAIN?? Can we move on, puhlease?"

No. No I can't. I can't really move anywhere due to the chest constriction and piles of laundry all over my house, but that's a whole other whine which I'll save for my stable boy. And my mom (thanks Mom. And stable boy - you're fired).

I wanted to share the pictures of this cabin that "we" helped repair. It was built circa 1910 and was used during the summer for "fire watchers" who lived in the mountains while they played on their Wii and ordered takeout and got all spooked reading the latest book in the Twilight series. Ever-alert for the smell of smoke or the crackle of lightening.

Seriously, these were people, like my husband's grandfather and Max's namesake, who spent almost half the year living alone in tiny cabins or lookouts. Hiking or riding through the vast and wildly unpredictable world of lightening and snow, bears, huckleberries and illegal hootch stills. To me, getting the opportunity to literally walk in their boots without the kitsch of Curry-run souvenir shops with bus-filled parking lots, or Williamsburg actor-types with fake accents and intrusive conversation, was humbling. And enlightening (pardon the pun, and in no way in reference to McQueen).

This cabin is located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, which means that no power-operated tools or vehicles can be used. So chainsaws are right out, and hand saws are right in. When trees fall (which they do, a lot) on the trail to the cabin, one gets off of one's mule and grabs a buddy and starts cross cutting with a huge saw the likes of which most people only see at a "Paul Bunyon Days" Festival. And then you move on for another 20 yards and do the same thing over again. For miles.

And then, when the commute is finished, you get to work.

And, as you can imagine without any power tools, these things take time. There is no "instant gratification" in historical preservation. Because, just as you start making progress and figure things out, it's time to get down the mountain. And that's a commute that makes LA at rush hour seem speedy.

Down the mountain on mules, with dogs running at their feet, over and under wild brush, balancing on sides of cliffs that make you wonder if it's really that wise to be so dependent on a creature that drank her breakfast from a creek filled with giardia and other bacteria. Stopping for a quick break at the snow bank to retrieve the now-blessedly frigid beers that we'd tucked in the snow earlier on our ride up the mountain. Counting the minutes until Motrin could enter the bloodstream.

After returning to base camp and finishing the work of unsaddling, feeding, watering and praising the packs who really did the hard work of the day, they earned their reward in a shady spot with wild strawberries and fresh hay.

And our reward was found in lawn chairs and silence and the happy, still haze that comes from a day of hard work and exhausted muscles. The beauty of nature, the respect for that which has gone before, and the absolute amazement that anyone could do THIS after eight miles on horseback:

I think everyone is trying to kill me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Coolest Thing I've Done Today

I'm in a bit of a haze today and still drowning in laundry.

Not that it's stopped me from checking out this fun site. I dare you not to find your inner masterpiece...

"The Best Thing for the Inside of A Boy Is The Outside of A Horse" - Will Rogers

One of the nicest souvenirs from our visit to the woods last week was the confidence that Max brought home after spending three days with his best friend, Simi The Wonder Horse. The bond that he's formed with that Norwegian Fjord horse began before he was even two years old and has strengthened at each visit. Max becomes more confident, more loving, and um, more independent around his equine friend.

Simi seems rather indifferent about the little guy (just don't tell him that) because I think any real attraction for her comes in the form of food. Which is why I really like this horse. She's my kind and she's very good to my kid. And she's short and strong and doesn't move very fast. And she has dark roots in her mane. So, I guess we're practically separated at birth. No wonder he loves her. She reminds him of his mother.

On our first morning at camp, Max was a pretty getsited cowboy and his quick movements were making both the two legged and four legged members of our work party nervous. So Grandpa plopped Max onto Simi's back without a saddle and said "Stay", more to Max than to the horse. And they did. For over an hour until we were ready to head out. It was amazing. I could use one of those Simi's around here. Especially since we're practically sisters. We could borrow each other's clothes, and stay up watching "Law and Order" and argue over which is better chocolate, this or this. And she could watch over my kid and I'd never have to worry about what he's up to because he'd be sitting on her back eating his oatmeal or brushing his teeth.

Holdin' on tight

Max's natural ease around livestock did not come from my contributing DNA. Although I love animals, and some of my people are even what one might term "horse people" (in a very nice sort of way), I'm not a natural rider. I enjoy the peaceful rhythm of horseback riding, but I find it somewhat awkward and well, unstable.

Especially when doing things like this:

Consider that this photo was taken at a point on our ride where I felt comfortable getting my camera out of my pocket and riding with no hands on my saddle or reins. Because my other hand was on my CHILD. Yes, Sam rode on my lap.

This is important to know because about two hours into our three hour ride up the mountain on our first day at camp, my saddle slipped until it was perpendicular to the mule and parallel to the ground. Ever so slowly, I felt myself shifting down along the long side of my mule, Becky. A normal person would have grabbed onto the horse, or shifted back up onto it. But I was not a normal person. I was a mom with her baby on her lap and all I could think about was protecting his precious noggin and breaking his fall.

Which is exactly what my right rib is for, apparently. Breaking the fall of my child and then hurting like hell. After my backside met the mountain floor my primary concern was (a) making sure that Sam was ok, and (b) making sure that he'd stop crying for fear that he might spook any one of the four mules with us and thereby endanger Max, who was riding on Simi The Wonder Horse all by himself, with just his two dirty little hands wrapped around a saddle horn.

Mr. Wonderful and his father stepped right in and calmed Sam down by introducing him to the magical elixir called Gatorade for the first time, thereby ceasing all noise except for the gulp, gulp, gulp of a healthy, albeit shaken, toddler. And although I felt like I should have my NFL contract renewed into the eight figures after what my chest felt like, we got back on and rode up the mountain for another hour.

And you know what, it was worth it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I think John Denver wrote a song about this

We've returned from Donkey Camp '08 with great memories, new-found confidences, high hopes and plans for next year, and um, saddle sores. Vitamin M never worked so hard on my aching muscles and bones and I've never marveled so much at the vitality of young children.

Our camping trip was centered around a work-party summoned to assist the US Forest Service in restoring an old cabin (circa 1910) that needed its roof replaced. This involved driving to base camp about 4 miles up a road that was rocky, bumpy, rutted and rooted. From there, it was an additional two and half hour ride by mule up to the cabin.

The 4 mile road into base camp took over an hour to travel. With two small children. Facing each other (not a window). After traveling 9 hours in a truck that Mr. Wonderful had benevolently rigged to accommodate two car seats and a DVD system. Removing either kid required more engineering aptitude than astronauts need to attach to the International Space Station.

But the kids did great and Sam even cheered "More Bumpy Road!" and "Tow Truck!" every time Mr. Wonderful pitched into a hole. I think Max learned some new vocabulary from his daddy, and also a frustrated manifesto about the political nature of forest mis-management. That's always nice to share in preschool.

Upon arrival at Camp, we removed the cramped astronauts and let them run loose while we stretched our legs and surveyed the potential death traps. Um, I mean surroundings.

Max peered over this cliff and declared that it was "a consequence" if you went down it. Couldn't have said it better myself. I would post a picture of the drop off but I didn't want to get too close, lest my little shadows follow along.

Some people claim that spending time in the Wilderness brings them closer to their Creator, more in touch with a higher power. I believe that's true. I've never prayed so hard in my life.

'Queen car really enjoyed the trip to the woods. Sam could have cared less about the acres of dirt smeared and caked across his face, knees and elbows, but it really bothered him if Lightening McQueen got dirty. He wanted to wash him constantly with the water that had been trucked in and was needed for cooking, personal hygiene, and hydrating tired and weary cowboys. Water that would take nearly three hours of precious work-time and human resource to replace if depleted. Water that was not okay to be used as a carwash. It turns out that toddlers aren't really hip to the more advanced concepts of resource management when it comes to water and dirt.

Dirt was pretty much the theme of the trip. Dirt in the forms of dust, mud, soil, and rock that found its way to adhere to every piece of skin and clothing in our possession. I don't think the boys have ever been so happy. They wallowed and snuggled in the dirt and were delighted by the scarcity of water that allowed their soiled faces and hands to remain grimed until meal time.

Sam demonstrates the front loader upon arrival.

Designated dirt digging area

Happy Dirt Diggers

Scoopin' up the fun.

To be continued...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Warning: Heart Melter Ahead

Drip by drip, Sam's little persona emerges and blooms daily. We see the world through his eyes on such a deeper level now that he can describe his feelings, connections, and interests with words other than "Cars!", "Queen!" and "Dump Dump!"

We always knew him to be a sweetheart and lovebug, but we are even more delighted to have his thoughtful presence in our family now that he's talking. His mastery of "Tank you, Mommy" or "Tank you, Max" over the slightest gesture doesn't even begin to make the word 'endearing' seem adequate. When others are showing emotion through tears, or anger, he is quick to saddle up with a soft kiss to the shoulder, knee or cheek as an offering of empathy.

Taking a cue from his dad, Sam has found that the path of minimal words and perfectly timed affection to be quite effective and persuasive.

Watch out, world.

Little MacGregor

Our neighbor, Georgia, asked me recently how we were able to have such success with radishes since she's always had trouble with bugs getting into them.

Easy, I told her. We let Max have free reign and the bugs don't stand a chance.

Friday, July 18, 2008

No Child Left Inside

In a brilliant play on words and bureaucratic educational policy, there is a national movement underfoot to get kids into the great outdoors.

Richard Louv's stirring article, "No Child Left Inside," documents a burgeoning movement to reclaim the idea of outdoor play for kids, who are increasingly under house arrest. Louv ascribes many benefits to outdoor play, beyond simple physical fitness -- the idea of a connection to the outdoor, physical world, the numinous moments of natural beauty, the psychological benefits to distracted, hyper kids.

It comes as no surprise to me that children benefit from some time outdoors, and so do their caretakers. Exploring all the sensations of the natural world invites a discovery of one's self and surroundings that feels good to both young and old(er). I love watching my world change through the seasons, as Mother Nature gently sets the pace and reminds me who truly is in control of an otherwise crazy calendar.

As a family, we are all benefiting from some nature communing this summer. Sandy beaches, muddy pies, post hole digging, and snow pea harvests are offering each of us their summery reward. I've been deleting more shows on the DVR than we've been watching, and we all feel the benefits.

I say all of this not to be preachy or authoritative, but more because it's about to get a tad bit whiny around here.

Me, whining about "The Great Outdoors".

Why? Because we're about to go, as my friend Sara put it, to "Donkey Camp".

Yes, that's right, our first family camping trip. (Insert thundery boom and crackling lightening sound effects here).

And that's not "camping" in quotation marks where there is a bathroom with a flushing toilet and satisfying shower at the end of a leisurely day by the crik. No, this is big league Camping with a Capital C.

Mules, people.

Mules hauling gear. Tents the size of my living room. Turkeys being roasted in a bucket with nothing but a stick and some charcoal. Precipitous cliffs that could make children vanish faster than you can say "rescue helicopter", and last but never, never least: A Hole.

A hole in which to put the pee and the poo. Okay, probably more of the latter than the former for 3/4s of our family, but for me, there's going to be a lot of squatting in places that might be habitat for things that rattle or coil or slither.

We will be joining Grizzly Adams, aka Mr. Wonderful's father, on a little expedition into the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. The link is inserted not just for the benefit of satisfying curiosity, but also so that dear ones can alert the authorities if they don't hear from me by a pre-determined date.

Feel free to come rescue me.

Just bring a 4x4, a mule, and please... a very cold margarita.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

P is for Progress

It appears that the US Economy isn't the only thing spiraling downward.

Sammy peed in the toilet for the first time!

Yay! Show me your clapping hands, people!!!!

I know that there is a looooooong, long, road ahead on the potty-training train, with lots of uphill climbs, stomach-churning unexpected drops, and a roller coaster ride's worth of twists and turns.

But, today, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

A light that says that I might be able to leave my house unencumbered by the worry of diapers and wipes; never more to wake to the odor of rancid pee.

Spontaneity, you will be my theme song!

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel or an oncoming train?

The train that will take me to visit the land of sofas that smell like they belong in a frat house, car seats that get washed more frequently than my hair, and baskets of potty prizes in every bathroom.

All aboard the potty-training express!

Maybe I'll wait to book that trip.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pullin' Tractors and Heart Strings

Summer doesn't really become official until you've contemplated the Mother of All Culinary Regrets: The Funnel Cake.

It also might not really be Summer until you have caught a fish, participated in a tractor pull, or tossed a water balloon at a mock George W. Bush. Or been heckled by a carny, churned your belly on the Tilt-a-Whirl, or scrubbed your hands with 2.3 gallons of hand-sanitizer.

Because it's not really Summer until you empty the contents of your wallet at a County Fair.

As if doughy puffs of deep-fried, sugary goodness aren't enough of a draw, we read in the paper about a "Kids Pedal Tractor Pull Competition" at the community fair. If there's a better recipe for guaranteed good times in our household than mixing miniature tractors with a ferris wheel and large volumes of sugar, I have yet to find it. So, with high hopes and a roll of Tums, Max and I headed off to the Fair.

It did not disappoint.

Uncle Sam teaching Max to aim for either the President of the United States or a blank picture that he suggested could be his baby brother. Good, old fashioned, 'Merican values are being taught at these fairs, people.

The Ferris Wheel before it started moving. After the ride ended, our facial expressions were reversed. Max was all smiles and I was forcing the gastric juices back to their rightful place.

Tractor Pull Misson Statement: "Regardless of the outcome, it is the mission of the show director to positively uplift each child and help create a more healthy self-esteem."

Other than just letting him ride a tractor, Cowboy Damon didn't have to do too much to positively uplift Max.

Notice how hard Max is working just to reach the pedals.

And they're off! Except that Max didn't want to get off the tractor. Ever. At the age of four, Max had achieved Nirvana, found Valhalla, and discovered his Opus. Tractors and Showmanship.. a winning combination.

And then, when the banjo music was over and the blue ribbons were distributed and the cheering crowds had scrambled off the hay bales and over to the Arcade, Max remained. Stunned by the silence and the rush of such a monumental experience.

It was over. Alone on the tractor tarmac, he appeared dazed by the dizzyness of fame.

And while I struggled to find the words to say "There's always next year, baby," and wondered how this was going to be good again, a friend appeared offering to treat The Champ to a snow cone.

Who knew? It appears that Pina Colada syrup colliding with grape goop in a puddle of shaved ice is the healing elixir of tractor pullers everywhere.

As we were leaving, Max stopped to admire the fishing tank set up by a local sportsman's club. 2 bucks per fish.

Which, of course, led to some angling.

Best line of the day (pun intended), came from a man nearby who was watching the young man and the sea.

"I'll pay two bucks to watch that kid catch another fish."

And he did.

Fresh Rainbow Trout with Yogurt Dill Sauce and chilled Chardonnay.

Way better than a Funnel Cake.

A Room of One's Own

While visiting us last week, my dad procured a set of over-sized, highly antiquated speakers from the side of the road with a sign bearing the four most inviting letters in the English language: "F-R-E -E". Somehow he managed to lift the behemoths into his car without herniating himself or ripping out the car's transmission, because, thoughtfully, he wanted to install them in Mr. Wonderful's shop during his absence.

Where my dad saw good fortune and great sound quality, I feared the battle of marriages everywhere..."Don't Mess With The Man Space."

"You have the whole house. The garage is my space. I don't toss cardboard boxes ready to be recycled into your living room",
Mr. Wonderful has said to me without any touch of irony. Fiercely protective with pleading eyes, men reveal how sincerely they love the solitude of cement floors and bare sheetrock. Apparently, when one's DNA is of the variety that allows one to gestate, one does not "get" the concept of man space.

I suggested to my father (with just a little smirk) that installing two speakers that were each larger than our furnace might not be the most ingratiating of acts toward his son-in-law. Being a very thoughtful person, my father quickly picked up on the man-space love and saw his own good fortune: a unique opportunity for free, high-quality sound amplification for himself. It only involved driving the leviathans, along with his wife and dog, some 800+ miles away through forest-fire smoke and wallet-busting gas stations back to his own shop, where he envisioned himself listening to bass-heavy bluegrass in the peace and comfort of his own man space.

This was the part where I've learned to keep my mouth shut.

My mom, however, had a few things to say about taking the speakers south. The next thing I knew, our printer was spewing out pages with the magic four letters and my father was asking if I had any tape. I know his heart was as heavy as those speakers when he hauled them down to the busy road to leave them for another loving home.

Later that afternoon, when we drove past the speakers waiting in isolation for someone to welcome them with as much love and enthusiasm as my father did, I was a bit sad. Partly because I knew (a) my neighbors were probably wondering who the SOB was that left that junk on our road and (b) we were all going to feel really badly if they ended up not finding a good home. My mom and I would feel badly that I was now saddled with dealing with unwanted, heavy audio equipment and my dad would feel badly about that and the fact that rich fidelity was being abandoned on a dirt road.

We returned a few hours later and, much to our surprise and delight, the speakers were gone; off to someone else's home, hopefully blaring out some Steve Miller Band like they were intended to do.

Mr. Wonderful, however, has decided that he would have really liked those speakers. He's informed me that if my father ever makes any suggestions in the arena of audio equipment that I must welcome such discovery with open arms. And apparently an open garage, too.

Which just goes to show that, once again, I really don't "get" the man space.

Fortunately, though, I'm pretty fond of the inhabitants.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer of Love

After a week filled with snuggles, laughs, Campari cocktails and fresh-picked raspberries, we bid a reluctant farewell to my folks today. Our visit with them was what life with multiple generations under one roof should be: lots of outdoor time, sunshine, giggles, truck literature, clam digging, and my father's homemade pizza. Tossed in with some enormous (and free), 1970's vintage bass distortion AR speakers that tweaked the male-linked undercurrents of audio electronics and man-space territorial bonding, it was a great time.

In addition to my dad's pizza, there really isn't a greater gift in life than seeing love flow from above to below and then cycle back up again. To watch my parents adore my offspring, and to hear the soft voices and sharp giggles that grandparental love elicits from Max and Sam, for me, is life's great reward.

Getting someone else to brew the first pot of Peet's coffee and start the toast "pop" rotation before my feet even hit the floor, well, that's pretty rewarding, too.

Sure gonna miss those guys.

Fair winds and following seas, Bubbi and Granpa Tom.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Liquid Gold

The boys went on a critical mission to Costco this morning, affording me some much appreciated peace and quiet. Upon return, Max was eager to share the details of their outing, which I will spare you. All pretty mundane, except for the part where Max told me that Daddy stopped at the "Liquid Store".

The Martini: Bringing families together since the invention of the potato.

Holiday Road

As I write, my folks are North bound and down, heading up the great interstate to spend a few days with us. To say that the house is buzzing with getsitement would be an understatement. I've been up before six the past two days and drank almost an entire pot of coffee by myself, so perhaps some of the getsitement is chemically attributable. Max keeps asking if it's lunch yet (they will arrive shortly thereafter) and Sam keeps yelling "TOM!" and giggling with glee. Mr. Wonderful is pouring over brisket recipes and ordering power tools online.

Ah, Summertime.

This week we received a wonderful piece of mail from my dad reminiscing about a fondly-remembered family camping trip circa 1985. I'm attaching it below and I know it's a bit blurry, and I apologize, but there are sheets to change, trash cans to empty and an endless supply of legos to return to their bins and I can't really tinker with the HP this morning. (Note: you can click on the picture and it will enlarge to a viewable size).

Time travels faster than a red Mazda with an orange sleeping bag, and this photo proves it. Because even as I type, I am still inside that hot car with the white and black interior, wearing a turquoise and purple Esprit de Corps sweatshirt, listening to Bruce Springsteen on my Sony Walkman, and am about to fall asleep and hog the backseat until my brother just gives up and lets me sleep on his side of the arm rest. And my dad is making a swift jerk, pulling over to the side of the road, and we are all laughing at his impulsion to photograph the moment.

Ah, Summertime.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Need to Read

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
~ Groucho Marx

Our little guys can spiral into whiny, argumentative, territorial little beasts at the drop of a matchbox car. The pecking order is established at every meal, portions are reviewed and even the color of a cereal bowl can bring down peace negotiations faster than a tv camera on a North Korean nuclear reactor.

Imagine my delight to find them in the early morning this way: not arguing, not hitting or biting, nor crying or whining. Not two little forces of tears and mucus and accusation.

They are readers. Readers reading together.

Diggers and Cranes, bringing the world together one morning at a time. Thank you, Usborne and authors/illustrators Caroline Young, Chris Lyon, Teri Gower and Nick Hawker.

And thank you, Bubbi, for knowing that your little diggers needed this book. And so did their mommy.