Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time Spent Solo (East Pond, June 26, 2011)

I haven't seen my kids in five days, which is a record. I'm used to being around them almost 24/7.

Our household isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination; I can be Joan Crawford and my kids can be possessed Linda Blairs. There are days when I'm reaching for the Pinot Noir long before sunset...but such is life. I wouldn't trade time spent raising my kids for anything else in the world. I miss them.

When Hugh asked to take the girls to Pennsylvania for a week, I was all for it. Alex and Sage would see their grandparents, and I thought I'd take advantage of the alone time and spend my days doing Extremely Healthy and Worthwhile Things. So, last Tuesday, the kids packed their suitcases and headed south with their father.

As soon as they left, a strange feeling came over me.

Gone was the desire to do Extremely Healthy and Worthwhile Things. In its place came a great sense of lethargy. I wanted to find a couch -- immediately! -- and sink into it.

And so I did. For five whole days, from the time my kids left all the way up until this morning, I've been resting on my couch in New Hampshire.

Well, okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. I've kept up with my personal daily writing quota and I've taken care of a lot of book-related business. I've also taken Max for daily walks. However, compared to what life is like when the kids are here, I've been extremely inactive.

Finally, this morning, I felt like getting off my duff and back into the woods. Instead of a 4K, I chose something laid-back; Max and I took a three mile roundtrip hike to East Pond. It was nice to get out again. Though I missed the chatter of my children, I took pleasure in watching my dog scamper along the trail.

On the way home, I saw a man standing by the side of the road, his arm outstretched, trying to give a nearby moose some trail mix. I honked the horn to startle the moose and it ran into the woods. The guy glared at me and I glared back. There wasn't anyone else around, so I didn't stop to say anything...I just drove slowly onward...don't feed the wildlife, folks!

The girls will come back soon, and I'll be glad to see them. I've no regrets spending all that time on the couch, though. After eight and a half years of constant kid-duty, it was nice to completely relax for a while.

I'm ready to have them back; the lethargy's gone, the laziness has passed. Bring on the laughter, the noise, the sibling arguments, the hiking, the homeschooling, the playdates, the classes, the messy rooms, and the driving here-there-and-yonder. Such is the life of a homeschooling hiker-mom, and I like it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sage's First Ten-Miler. Garfield, June 20, 2011

Garfield Trail, 10 miles roundtrip, 3000 feet elevation gain.

Sage is making her way through the list fairly quickly now. We're running out of mellow possibilities and entering rougher territory, but I think she's ready for the increase in difficulty. Also, Sage is very interested in tackling three "really big" highpoints out west this fall, and traipsing over the White Mountains for a few months is a great way to get in shape for such endeavors.

Garfield Trail is easy for a ten-miler, which is why I picked it for Sage's first. I wanted her initial venture into double-digit mileage to be relatively free of rocks and roots.

The weather couldn't have been nicer for this hike. Not too hot, not too cool and just enough of a breeze to keep the blackflies away.

The girls marveled at the immensity of this fallen tree.

It was smooth sailing all the way to the summit. The girls played word games during the first half of the hike, then we made up Spanish sentences and translated them for each other while on the switchbacks (Alex's idea). Yes, I know, we're giant geeks, but hey. Processing and translating a foreign language makes the hiking go faster...they're thinking about the sentences and forgetting that they're walking uphill for miles. Sage doesn't like to do Spanish at home, but she loves figuring it out on the trails. Whatever works, right? Yeah, okay, fine...we're giant geeks anyway. Sue me.

And...we made it to the intersection with Garfield Ridge Trail! From here, it's only 0.2 miles to the summit.

The final push was short, but fairly steep.

Above treeline!

On the summit, standing on the concrete foundation of the former fire lookout tower.

The views were spectacular. Here's Owls Head and Franconia Ridge...

Owls Head...

Galehead Hut, Galehead, South Twin, and the Bonds...

The Presidentials peeking out from behind the Twins...

Vermont in the distance...

And the best view of all -- Sage celebrating her 20th 4K! Franconia Ridge stands behind her.

This was Max's 9th 4K -- he celebrated by taking a nap.

We spent an hour or so lounging about, enjoying the early afternoon sun. When we were ready (and after Max woke), we headed back down.

All went well, but that final mile was tough. We really wanted to be at the car already...we were done, but the parking lot was nowhere in sight. Finally, the trailhead appeared.

'Twas a good hike and a gorgeous day.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Parenting and Acceptable Risk

Six year old Sage had a gymnastics performance yesterday. She wore her sparkly blue leotard and joined her classmates in walking across the balance beam, somersaulting, and twirling around the uneven bars. We were proud of her.

Then the older kids did their thing.

Good Lord.

Girls not much older than Sage flipped across the mat at the speed of light, one after the other, almost too fast for my aging eyes to track. I became increasingly uncomfortable. What if one of them landed the wrong way? It wouldn't take much for one of them to die; for Pete's sake, my eight-year-old fractured her tibia last January doing a simple floor jump. What if one of these kids landed on her head instead of her hands?

Then came the tweens and teens, who performed what looked like a cheerleading routine. Girls stood on other girls' hands, girls were thrown and flipped in the air and caught by their teammates, girls spun ten feet off the ground and thankfully did not fall on their necks.

All these gymnasts were fantastic. Their instructors are top-notch and the studio is fabulous. All the parents had a right to be happy and proud.

As I looked around at the multitude of cheering adult faces, I wondered how many of these parents would let these same children hike up Mt. Washington in the middle of winter. Probably not many. Maybe even none. But they let their ten to sixteen year old kids flip head over heels through the air at the speed of light?

These people are nuts.

What about the parents of football players? If your son is a quarterback, that's fantastic...right? Why? Football (along with gymnastics and cheerleading) accounts for a lion's share of the catastrophic injuries and fatalities that occur in traditional children's sports. Reference.

The parents of football players are also nuts.

Perhaps it's better to avoid all children's sports and just let the kids ride their bikes around the neighborhood. That's safe enough, isn't it? Probably not, considering that 86 bike-riding kids under the age of 16 were struck and killed by cars in 2009. Ten thousand (!!) more were struck and injured. Reference.

Therefore, any parent who lets her kid get on a bicycle is absolutely, without a doubt, 100% nuts.

What about hiking Four Thousand Footers? To be fair, a legitimate comparison can't be made because analogous studies have not been conducted. That being said, any parent who takes their kid up a Four Thousand Footer, especially in the middle of winter, must clearly be nuts, right..?

So I guess that makes me nuts.

So which parents aren't nuts? The ones who keep their kids away from all sports and general physical activity? Nope. Inactive kids have a higher risk of becoming obese and developing high blood pressure and diabetes.

These parents are definitely nuts.

So what's the solution to all this nuttery?

I suppose we'll each have to decide what constitutes acceptable risk for our own individual family -- and we'll have to respect the decisions other parents make for their own individual families. We don't all have to agree. However, we can't try to force our own conclusions down other people's throats. After all, nuttery abounds, no one's immune.

I'll take my six year old up a 4000 foot mountain when it's ten degrees because we're prepared, I carry everything we need for an accidental night out, and I stick to popular trails. Some other mother will let her daughter spin and flip fifteen feet off the ground because she has complete faith in her daughter's abilities and the rest of the team's competence. Yet another mother will let her ten year old girl bike around the block because she knows her daughter will be careful and watch for cars. Etc.

Not that any of this matters, because at some point each of us will strap our kid into a car and drive him or her somewhere. And THAT, my friends, is the most dangerous activity of all.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: EVERY NATURAL FACT, by Amy Lou Jenkins

I'd planned to post this review two weeks ago; when the book arrived in the mail from Amazon, I was sure I'd fly through the text and crank out a report within days. Being a speed reader, I'm used to absorbing material quickly.

That illusion evaporated within my first five minutes of reading EVERY NATURAL FACT. This is not a book to scan, it is the exact opposite of an easy read -- and I mean that in the very best of ways. This is a book that requires a cup of tea, an easy chair, and regular hours of quiet solitude. This is a book to fall into; it's a full sensory experience that deserves your complete attention.

Jenkins writes beautifully and brilliantly. As a resident of mountainous New Hampshire, I never thought I'd be interested in the lands of Wisconsin, but Jenkins's lush descriptions of her state's natural habitats instill a deep appreciation for those beloved meadows, marshes and woodlands. She is a gifted writer; her narrative is rich and detailed.

The book focuses on her relationship with her son, DJ, which is what drew me to the book when I read a description on the internet. As a mother who hikes with her kids, I appreciate reading the stories of other parents who hike with their children. It's a hard topic to find -- there's a dearth of published parent-child nature narratives. Hopefully that trend will change as the years move on and our country fully embraces the Last Child in the Woods movement.

In EVERY NATURAL FACT, DJ is a tween, and Jenkins walks the balance of sharing the outdoors with her son and giving him the emotional and physical independence his age requires. She does the dance wonderfully well; I can only hope to do the same when my own children reach that stage of youth.

Each chapter involves a particular topic or excursion, and each chapter is peppered with flashbacks and insights into Jenkins' own childhood or not-too-distant past. Jenkins weaves philosophy, history, local folklore, and religion throughout her narrative; the mix works, it contributes to the text's intimacy and deepens the overall scope. In addition, her sentences are just plain beautiful. In Chapter Eight, "The Point of February," she writes: "The branches of the shrub held little orbs of ice that glowed in the overhead moonlight like the crystal drops of a chandelier." Gorgeous.

I finally finished this book three days ago, but I wish I had drawn out the experience. For this book is an experience; it's not a quick read, but a full sensory immersion. Get this book and sequester yourself for at least a half an hour every evening. Sit in an easy chair with a cup of tea and let yourself fall into this. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hight, Carter Dome, Wildcat A -- June 12-13, 2011

We tried something different and videotaped our last hike using Sage's Flip video camera.

Though the Flip is easy to carry and even easier to use, I'll buy something of more professional quality this week. In the meantime...sit back and summit Hight, Carter Dome and Wildcat A in nine and a half minutes.

Hight, Carter Dome, and Wildcat A -- Flip Video

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Presentation on July 23 at AMC's Highland Center

On July 23, the girls and I will give a lively presentation about our experiences hiking the White Mountain Four Thousand Footers. Our talk will take place at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center in Bretton Woods, NH at 7:30pm.

Get Up and Go -- with Trish, Alex and Sage
AMC's Highland Center, Bretton Woods, NH
July 23 at 7:30pm

This talk is open to the public and free of charge.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Field Trip to Moosilauke, June 6, 2011

Gorge Brook Trail, Moosilauke Carriage Road, and Snapper Trail. 7.5 miles, 2450 elevation gain.

I'm going to do something a little different with this blog entry. Normally, I restrict discussion to matters pertaining to the trail. This is, after all, a record of my daughters' adventures in the mountains. However, lately I've been asked a question that I'd like to answer using the experience of today.

The question: why do we homeschool?

It's not because the girls had a bad experience with a particular school. They've actually never set foot in a school, except to attend Girl Scouts, which is held at the local elementary building. It's not because we don't like specific teachers. I admire teachers and think they do the best they can with the situation they've been given. It's not because we're religious fundamentalists. On the contrary, we're quite secular.

So why do we homeschool?

It's simple, really. We homeschool so we can hike Moosilauke on any day we please.

Of course, it doesn't have to be Moosilauke...and it doesn't have to be hiking. It can be swimming, painting, playing games, or hanging out with friends. It can be attending a museum, visiting a chemistry lab, experimenting with the piano, or taking apart the blender. It's about flexibility, freedom, options, and taking the time to explore.

I put the girls through a variety of structured academic activities three days a week, year round. They also have playdates and extracurricular classes (karate, swimming, Girl Scouts, etc.). The rest of their time is theirs to use as they see fit. They both recently tested two grades above their age level on the IOWA standardized test (complete battery), so Hugh and I feel comfortable with their intellectual progress and our method of education thus far.

Flexibility -- it's a wonderful thing that allows us to take advantage of beautiful days. Therefore, when a beautiful day presented itself this morning, I asked my kids if they wanted to hike. They said yes, so off we went.

The view from Moosilauke Ravine Lodge:

The trailhead:

The first leg of our hike:

By the time we'd gotten to the "Last Sure Water" sign, which is the approximate half-way point, the girls and I had reviewed Spanish vocabulary, compound words, rules of grammar, and Latin phrases. None of that review was planned, it just happened spontaneously on the trail. Both girls enjoy word games while ascending a mountain, and both girls had the previous day's academic lessons on their minds. Informal and spontaneous "schooling" happens a lot with us. The girls learn far more during one of these sessions than they do during a regular "school day."

We took a break at the spring and watched Max as he chewed on a few dozen fallen branches.

We moved on when the girls felt ready.

The rest of the ascent involved discussion of upcoming media possibilities regarding UP. I'm careful to talk about all potential publicity opportunities with both the girls; I cannot make a move without first consulting them...which is how it should be, given our specific situation. This is not a case of one author promoting a book. My entire family will soon be in the spotlight, and Hugh and I need to make certain that both girls are comfortable with every single aspect of their immediate future.

All discussion ceased when we entered the "little tree zone," as the girls like to call it. This is the part of the hike where we feel like we're close to treeline. The sunlight pours down, the trees start to shorten, and views pop up here and there through the blowdowns.

From this point to treeline, it's all about enjoying the present moment.

I mean really, why would you be inside on a day like today when you could be here?

Sage reached the top and -- my camera battery died. I therefore took the summit photos with my cell phone.

The girls and I spent at least an hour hanging about, appreciating the scenery and eating far too much chocolate. Eventually, we meandered down the Moosilauke Carriage Road toward the South Peak. We met our season's first Appalachian Trail thru-hiker by the intersection with Glencliff Trail; I welcomed him to the Whites and gave him a Hershey bar.

Unfortunately, the trail between Glencliff and Snapper was filled -- and I do mean filled -- with blackflies. It was impossible to take any breaks or even slow down...they swarmed, bit, and drew blood anytime our pace fell below a jog. It was a difficult descent, especially for Sage, who was tired and wanted to rest more than we were able.

Once on Snapper Trail, the blackfly situation improved and we were able to relax and catch our breath. Life became much easier after that, and we arrived back at the Lodge in fine spirits.

A gorgeous day indeed. Sage got 4K #17 and Max got 4K #8. I enjoyed another fine day with my girls, and we made it home in time to grab dinner with friends.

Life is good.

*For what it's worth, I don't advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to education. What works for us might not work for others, and what works for others might not work for us. Thank goodness for options.*