Author Archives: josephandmichelle

Caves

We promised Elias that we would take him to visit a cave for his birthday.  When we made that promise we had no idea how easy it would be to keep and that we would be able to visit two cave systems instead of just one.  The morning of the 28th of December we drove into swampy east Texas and onward, through humid Houston, the 4th largest city in the country and onward into rolling Texas ranch country watching the deciduous forests slowly widen and prickly pear start appearing.  We drove into San Antonio where we stopped for groceries; here the forests were made up of 15 – 20 foot tall Pinion Pine, Gambles Oak, Juniper, and some sort of short Cedar.

During the drive Michelle found a wonderful camp ground only 40 minutes beyond San Antonio called Cascade Caverns Campground.  When we arrived we stepped out of the car, set up our tents and quickly signed up for 2 nights instead of one. The kids tramped out of the car after 2 days of driving and quick as a wink geared up with bow and arrows, backpacks, pocket knives and trowel heading like the lost boys (and lost girl) of Neverland into the woods for adventure.

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 It turns out that just beyond San Antonio there lies the remains of ancient reef systems.  The sea receded leaving the limestone remains of what’s called the Texas Hill Country.  These hills harbor a very high concentration of caverns.  One such cavern was located right under our tent at the campground that we decided to call home for the next several nights.  We signed up for a tour the next morning which Jacob has taken the time to explain here:

Elias, Dad and I walked to the meeting place.  There were about 10 people.  The guide came and we all started to walk.  The guide started to tell us about the caves and this is what he told us:  “The caves were created by water 140 million years ago.  All of the land was under water and the silt and dead life was made into limestone.  Limestone has a slow dissolving point in water.  When the water receded and the land was uplifted, all of the rain water went to the lowest point.  So when that water sat on the stone it started to dissolve creating the caves.” 

An interesting thing is that in most cave systems the stalactites and the stalagmites grow and inch every 80 years or so, but in these caves the stalactites grow an inch every year.  But here, every few years the caves would flood and knock down the cave formations. 

Also because of the very wet nature of this cave there are two animals that live here, Bats and the Cascade Caverns Salamander which is endemic to this particular cave system.

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On December 30th we loaded up the car and once again headed west.  This time we drove 6 and half hours through landscapes becoming consistently less vegetated.  Slowly the trees where outnumbered by prickly pear.  Cat Claw Acacia, Creosote, and a few other very shrubby plants took over and finally a complete lack of moisture gave way to barren expanses of rock, dirt, sand and oil rigs.  The lofty rigs and big aggressive oil trucks were the only things we saw through the flat landscape until we crossed the border into New Mexico.  With  only 30 minutes of our drive remaining the view became hillier with soap tree yucca and prickly pear, while desert grasses became numerous and a grand desert mountain range loomed ahead with Carlsbad Caverns tucked somewhere in the landscape.  We drifted into White’s City Campground at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains.  We were the only tent campers there with the entire desert to ourselves.  This may be due to freezing evening and early morning temperatures in the 20’s…

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On December 31st we hopped in to the car and drove the several miles up the hill to the entrance of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad was huge.  The immensity of the Cavern chambers was not what any of us expected.  Our birthday boy, Elias explains the caverns as “fun….very fun”.  Elias goes on to explain.

“The Stalactites and the stalagmites going together were awesome, I loved them.  It was VERY big.  It felt like a different planet.  I’m still not believing it was real. I really liked the underground ponds and the curtains.  Like when you put your flashlight up to them it shined through them and you can see red.” 

We all learned the quick way to remember the difference between the cave formations from our guide, she said the stalactites hold “tight” to the ceiling and you need to be careful of the stalagmites as you “might” trip over them as you walk.

The enthusiasm Elias was showing made it all worthwhile for me.  I am not a cave person; my favorite parts of the caves are the entrances where all of the living things are found.  In Carlsbad Caverns for example the entrance is huge and hosts one of the coolest natural shows on earth.  Every sunset for half the year thousands of bats pour out of the entrance to this cave creating what looks like a sunset plume of smoke for miles in every direction.  Unfortunately we were not there for the show, but we were there for Elias’s birthday and he was very happy about that.  The actual birthday was on the first of the year and our plan for that day was to take it easy around camp, open presents and enjoy the day slowly.  The big party, the big birthday bash that Elias would remember forever was going to all of those cool caves.

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To end the day Elias and I hiked a trail from the visitor center about three miles all the way to our camp.  A great walk marked by a desert landscape he was just being introduced to.  We celebrated the New Year of 2014 around 8:30 pm which was about an hour past our family bedtime. We usually go into our tents when it gets dark and rise after dawn. This night we sat around a fire, watched the stars, reminisced about our crazy year to date, shared gratitude for our life, our family and friends and thought about the year to come.

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Camping, Car camping, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Cascade Caverns, Family camping, Homeschooling | 4 Comments

New Orleans

As we packed our car that warm balmy morning we were very excited about the westward adventure that lay ahead.  Things had gotten slow and easy down there in south Florida.  The weather always warm and humid makes you slow down a bit.

We bumped off from Grammy’s house and sped NW up the peninsula making one important road side stop for a huge bushel of Florida oranges and grapefruits.  Onward we pressed through Orlando where the temperature was still as much as 80 degrees.  About an hour North of Orlando I stopped for gas and received a chill.  Now down in the 50s we had driven into the more temperate winter air mass that had sunken as far South as North Florida.

That night we found a convenient camp ground right off of the highway only a few miles before the border of the central time zone.  The panhandle of Florida was forested, not what I expected – pine forests with not much undergrowth.  I had always pictured rolling farm country here but it looked more like the forests around Flagstaff, Arizona.

Our plan from here was fairly loose.  We wanted to get to Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico by Elias’s birthday on the 1st of January.  We very much wanted to spend time in New Orleans on the way out but we didn’t have an exact schedule for that.   We woke up that morning in the Panhandle.  I rushed everyone out of bed packed up and we were on our way by 7:30.  That was a record for the trip so far.  Towards the beginning, back in Montana it would take us hours to break down camp.  11am at first.  Slowly we pushed it down to 10am.  If the boys were motivated we’d bring it down to 9:30.  By the way, this is with me getting up before dawn and getting coffee going for Michelle and I, before taking on breakfast duties and so on and so forth.  But today we had to leave early and everyone was on task.

The following day, the 28th of December was calling for up to 2 inches of rain in New Orleans.   New Orleans was about 5 and half hours from where we camped.  The job at hand was to make the most of the great weather.  We didn’t want to have anything to do with that much rain.  So that’s what we had to work with:  Make the most of the iconic city for an afternoon and an evening and then move on.

Driving into the city you can’t help to have a reaction to the state of things.  So many neighborhoods with people clearly still living  in disarray.  Roofs ripped off with weeds comfortably growing out of them unchecked.  Unkempt neighborhoods, buildings run down to the ground, people living in desperate shambles.  This was everywhere.  The interstate ran above and you could look down in to these people’s lives like it was on display.  Were these places forgotten?  When did hurricane Katrina happen?  2005?  Up in Long Beach, New York we took morning strolls on this brand new and beautiful boardwalk.  Neighborhoods were in good standing there with only sandy roads a mile inland to remind everyone that the sea did try to claim that land just last year.  Why is New Orleans being forgotten?

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Once we parked we quickly found the perfect restaurant right on Bourbon Street.  A nice place with authentic Cajun dinning but also comfortable enough for the kids to squirm a bit.  Po Boys, Gumbo, Alligator Sausage, and all kinds of proper, authentic New Orleans food and adult drinks, we were having so much fun.  From there we picked up and walked the town.  If you are going to walk any neighborhood just for fun, than this is the one.  Your eyes are constantly being entertained and taunted.  The smells make you think of older places than the USA.  Voodoo is everywhere.  On the surface it’s for the tourists, but also around corners and in people’s  eye’s.

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My favorite part was the music.  The Jazz was not coming from restaurants, bars and clubs like I had thought it would.  It was all over the streets.  The Jazz bands were made up of all of the brass wind instruments you can think of…they were just jamming kids and adults alike.  High energy fun music that made everyone wanna move, and accompanied by drums so that you had to move.  Everyone danced whether they were walking by on their way to something else or you were like us, just there to soak it up.  The beats made everyone happy.

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As the sun began to set we made our way back to the car, but not directly.  We meandered because the little neighborhoods fill you with wonder and pull you in.  Weaving back to the car was fun, until it was too dark…then we hurried.

As we pulled onto the interstate and began driving west again we were filled up and agreed to come back and live it up more  probably with the kids once they were quite a bit older.  They loved the energy but it’s not really the place for kids.  For now we head west beyond the reach of the storm rolling in.  That night we made it to the border of Louisiana and Texas.  The following morning we only received a trickle of rain while New Orleans got well over an inch of rain.

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Categories: Adventure, cajun food, Car camping, family, Family camping, Florida Panhandle, jazz, New Orleans | Leave a comment

Florida

Recently while sitting at a Starbucks in Tucson, AZ I overheard two women about my mother’s age having a conversation.  I couldn’t help but to overhear them because they talked so loudly – ok maybe I eavesdropped a bit.  Most of it was about online dating younger men, something about their ex-husbands and they kept on referring to each other as cougars.  One said while referring to a mutual friend, “yes can you believe it, she gets so excited when her grandchildren come to town, she drops everything…you would think that is all she cares about…” The other woman clicked her tongue and they went on to discuss some of their other friends. Well they could have been talking about my mom (and if they are reading this blog, I want them to know that my mom is the kind of grandma that I want to emulate!)  My mom came to be with us after each child was born and most recently after Ila was born and stayed with us for a month!  She was instrumental in helping us prepare and sell our house and helping us to manifest this year.  She somehow makes each of her 9 grand kids think they are the apple of her eye and time spent with her feels priceless.  These are the reasons why we planned to spend the month from late November through late December in Florida with my mom and her partner Michael.

As we drove from Cumberland Island to Coconut Creek, Florida, the boys read off their food requests on the phone to my mom, watermelon, lox, cream cheese, bagels, mangos, hamburgers, ice cream. We arrived tired, filthy and so happy. Our time in Florida spanned Thanksgiving, Chanukah, my birthday and Christmas.  After months of traveling mom and I kicked off our time with a (much needed) massage and facial, so funny going from wilderness camping to spa and such a delight.  We visited the Keys right after Thanksgiving and upon our return we headed to Orlando.

 Now, we visit Florida a few times a year and rarely go to Orlando.  Elias and I just finished reading Harry Potter: The Sorcerer’s Stone and our family was set on visiting Universal Studio’s brand new Harry Potter World. This too is pretty funny after spending the last few months in the wilds of America but it was a blast! If you ever visit one of those big Disney like parks you may have had the experience of having to wait on line forever. We timed our visit just right – off season and before the December holidays as the lines were only 5 minutes or less.  This may not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Joseph and Jacob must have ridden the roller coasters 20 times literally doing laps!  Hogwarts was awesome and I felt like I was a riding a broomstick which was totally cool (although the 3D action slowed my mom and Michal down for a bit.) Ila rode on her first carousel in Dr. Seuss Land and was over the moon riding it 3 more times with her brothers and daddy.  Day two we visited the part of Universal with the movie rides. I think the highlight for Elias and Joseph was the live animal show where the animal “actors” do a bunch of tricks.

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As if roller coasters and Harry Potter weren’t enough excitement, we met Jeremy, Joseph’s friend who is now a helicopter pilot in Orlando. In all of my 39 years visiting Florida, I rarely see manatee. I have one memory from when I was a kid seeing the manatee amongst cruise ships in Fort Lauderdale but not a close and clear viewing of these gentle huge animals. Jeremy took us to a spring where the water stays a constant 70 degrees. The manatees float in and hang out as the river water gets cooler, leave to eat in the nearby river and then return to the spring. The clear blue spring was beautiful and stocked with fish and manatee.

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On our way back to Orlando Jeremy surprised us and offered to take the kids and I on a quick helicopter ride!  Jacob and Jeremy in the front, Elias and I in the back with Ila on my lap. Totally felt like Top Gun…I know they didn’t ride helicopters in Top Gun but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.  It was a great end to the mini north Florida adventure.

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Between Orlando and the rest of our visit we focused on school, writing, sea turtles, beaches, family and exploring all sorts of cool animal sanctuaries. We spent many days with Mimi my almost 93yr. old grandmother and the boys went on countless dates with Aunt Libby my dad’s sister, always coming home with trinkets and smiles.  As my 39th birthday approached I really had everything I wanted and needed shy of my brothers.  My birthday wish came true as they came to visit and celebrate –  Simon and Susan and the kids from Asheville and Jack fleeing cold Long Island, New York sadly without his kids.  My heart was full!

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Florida was an important anchor for each of us. After months on the road even with family and friends we were a bit tired and the boys needed a sense of predictability and structure. Grammy (my mom) represents this as well as unconditional love and support. We have spent important time with her over years especially since my dad passed away 4 years ago. Somehow she makes sure that she is present in our life and in my brother’s lives at all of the most important times. The long visit also gave us a chance to improve our Rumikub game and hang out with and get to know Michael.

Right before we left Florida we celebrated Christmas.  Growing up Jewish my first experience with Christmas was with Joseph’s family when we were dating.  I love celebrating with him and with his family in Charlottesville.  The years of celebrating Christmas in Bellingham and having our own tree still feels weird to me and against the grain. The kids are growing up with a sense of Jewish identity and we celebrate Christmas as well.  For us these celebrations are more about family and coming together than it is about religion.  We see Christmas as more of a welcoming of a winter celebration. So here we are in Florida where my mom has NEVER had a Christmas tree but as she said “there is always the first”. We enjoyed a “Jewish inspired” Christmas, stockings and gifts in the morning, movies in the afternoon followed by a great Chinese dinner…take out!

 Gifts packed up, hugs and kisses all around, Dec. 26th we packed up the car, said our goodbyes to the warm humid air, pulled up the anchor and hit the road…destination New Orleans!

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Categories: Car camping, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Play | 1 Comment

The Keys

As we drove south of Miami we passed the last turn offs to Everglades National Park and continued south.  Eventually the road kept going but the land did not.  The Over Seas Highway continues traveling 127 miles jumping from island to island or key to key via a series of very long bridges all the way to Key West.  Instead of a landscape panorama we’d been watching through the windshield up to this point now it was all Ocean Blue.  “Where are we?” “I want to live here!” Elias hollered out as we cruised along like a ship at sea.

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The lower Keys are technically part of the Caribbean in several respects.  The climate is considered tropical and is the only tropical climate in the contiguous United States.  The history is well tied into that of the infamous pirates of the Caribbean which included Key West’s strategic location as an ideal staging ground for the US military to fight and eventually defeat piracy in the region.  Then there are the people and pace of life which is totally Caribbean, meaning laid back and friendly.

We had reserved our camp 6 months ago which was for the next 7 days.   It was located around mile marker 95 which is below the 25th Parralel on Bahai Honda key, a quiet and undeveloped State Park reached soon after the Seven Mile Bridge.

When we pulled into Bahia Honda State Park the gals working behind the check in desk were stoked to hear about our trip, very friendly.  Our camping spot was just perfect on a very quiet lagoon with the back side of our camping spot tucked aside mangroves.  The Mangrove forests that make up the bulk of the trees in The Keys actually extend throughout much of southern Florida’s coast and estuaries’ making up the most extensive Mangrove forest in the western hemisphere.  During high tide at night, the sea came in just shy of camp surrounding the site by water on either side.  There was definitely an organic sea grass odor that wafted in and out of the tent and our dreams.  Even with the highs every day in the low 80s there were no mosquitoes.

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We began each day sipping coffee and watching the many different types of shore birds on the Lagoon and in the Gulf but then spent most of the time on the beaches on the other side of the island in the Atlantic Ocean.  We would home school, cook and eat dinner right there next to the beach as well.  Lovely.

Through the entire week we made one trip to Key West  for an evening of wacky sunset fun with Grammy and Michael (our Key guests for a few days) and a one day trip to Big Pine Key to see the tiny Key Deer species endemic to the area.  Other than that we stayed very busy with an intentional meditation of soaking up the tropical sun during the last few nights of Hannukah… We called it “B’Chai Chanukah” on Bahia Key.  Bathing suits were just about all we wore for the week…snorkling, throwing frisbee, swimming, home schooling , learning about the place and so on.

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To the north the entire country was cold.  We heard about snow in Asheville, we heard that it was even in the teens in Bellingham, which is rare.  We heard that temperatures were getting well below zero  in parts of the Rocky Mountains.  Places through Montana and Wyoming where we began our trip were under a blanket of frigid air.  The important thing is that we weren’t there.  We were here where cold only existed in form of an evening beer and an afternoon ice cream.  Not that I don’t like cold.  I’ve made a career of being in the cold.  But I seemed to have hit a threshold, perhaps it was last winter and I haven’t been able to warm up.  It was not sudden though.  It was year after year –  there I am in the snow, in the winter, year round.  Granted, there’s always the reward of cold smoke spraying my face, there’s the crystal sublime landscape that’s all mine, but there have been one too many arctic chills setting in further than my down clothing could protect.  Too many hours, days trudging in white out, snow, rain, wind….lots and lots of wind.  Not normal wind, wind that bites and doesn’t care. Then there’s the cold rain.  The rain soaks in beyond my gortex jacket and this is my second jacket….the rain should only last for two more days; day after day of cold rain; drizzle; snow ; blizzard; My fingers are still numb, numb from cleaning out gear with cold, numb fingers that make me want to scream….and barf; But I can warm up.  I am slowly warming.  Here in the Keys the water and the air temperature are both in the 80s.  The wind is warm and tropical and I am starting to thaw.

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At the end of the week as we drove back towards Grammy’s house we were gritty from sand and browned from sun.  The mood in the car was quiet and happy.  It was a satisfied quiet that comes from days spent slowing down time.  The evening sunsets with pelicans drifting by and the boys wrestling on the beach while we make dinner are forever imprinted on my mind.

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Categories: Bahia Handa State Park, Camping, Car camping, Ecosystems, family, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Snorkling | 1 Comment

Cumberland Island

As we drove south out of the mountains we entered into a VERY different climate.  Asheville being at 2,500’ elevation in the southern Appalachian Mountains was starting to receive cooler weather by late November and there were no longer any leaves on the trees.  By the time we reached the coast of southern Georgia the air was warm and balmy which made it feel like we rewound the seasons back to late summer.  The following morning we woke up in the sub-tropics and we would remain in this climate for quite some time.  Our job for the day was to organize our camping gear in order to catch the pedestrian-only ferry that would take us to Cumberland Island, the southernmost island off the coast of Georgia.

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Cumberland Island was something I knew nothing about.  Michelle set it up, she made reservations for the ferry ride and the few nights of camping on the island.  I didn’t really anticipate or think much at all about it.  I did know there were wild horses, I knew that there were no cars permitted on the island, and I knew there were miles upon miles of wilderness beach line.  But that’s all.  Stepping onto the island was like entering a different world.  The forest had a deep dark green and quiet feel too it.  All of the trees were Sand Live Oak trees, an evergreen species of oak, and the undergrowth was Saw Palmetto, a species of palm which is only waist high.  The oaks were draped with long hangings of Spanish moss while the ground was soft, packed sand that was comfortable with bare feet.   Their was a common feeling among all of us as we landed:  This was going to be fun!

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We hauled our stuff a quarter mile down the foot path to the other side of the island to the campground on these funny garden type carts and on our backs.  The camp ground was nestled in the dark forest adjacent to the beach.  As soon as we set up we started exploring.  On the way there I had over heard a ranger talking about the most likely place to see the wild horses.   From camp we set off on a network of wide dirt roads/trails south to the ruins of a large mansion at the edge of the island’s southern marshlands.

Although the known human history of the island began 4,000 years ago with various native tribes followed by Spanish settlements in 16th and 17th, and then the English in the early 18th century, what remains on the island are a  series of very large estates in various stages of ruin sprinkled around the otherwise wilderness landscape.  These remaining ruins were built by the Carnegie Family.  The oldest and largest was a huge plantation that burned to the ground before the Carnegies rebuilt it even larger than before.  After the Great Depression it was burned to the ground once again.  As we walked onto the estate a heard of deer tending to the well trimmed grass stampeded off followed by a bunch of wild turkeys.  Soon after that the famous wild horses of Cumberland island started showing up.  One by one they would walk in from the forest or the marsh.  Ila was very pleased.  Even with Michelle and the boys beginning their stroll back towards camp, Ila would not leave.  The two of us stayed and watched the horses for quite some time. We were used to the well kept, well groomed horses living on the horse farm at uncle Frederic’s house. This was an entirely different animal. These horses were wild, a bit shaggy and breathtakingly free…sort of how we were feeling at this point in the trip.

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Through much time spent at the incredibly wild beach as well as exploring the island, we soaked in the pleasures of Cumberland Island, but not without incident.  Jacob acquainted himself rather intimately with the most poisonous caterpillar in North America.  As we were walking in to the forest to our campsite from spending time on the beach I saw Jacob up ahead standing there grimacing and holding his arm in pain.  As I walked up to him he was moaning and he pointed down to the bizarre thing he claimed had just stung him.  It was one of the weirdest little things I had ever seen.  About an inch and a half long this well brushed wisp of fur could only be identified as some sort of alien caterpillar.

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At the Ranger station on the other side of the island Jacob’s pain seemed to subside a little as we spoke to the ranger on duty.  He had no idea.  He called the head ranger who had the day off.  The head ranger said two years ago someone had gotten stung by the same thing.  Nothing terrible happened, just very painful up his arm and down his side.  We didn’t evacuate and his pain subsided.  It turns out this caterpillar is called a Puss Caterpiller, as in Pussy Cat, in reference to the cat like look to it’s hairy coat.  It’s found in the southern US with most activity in Texas.  It’s sting is known to be very painful and goes from a localized reaction to systemic through the lymphatic system.

That evening, as we shooed away some of the most aggressive raccoons I ever encountered Michelle jumped onto the picnic table and the boys started swinging what ever was around and yelled. Ila watched in amazement as the raccoons ate up her “doodles” (noodles). Every now and then she will tell us this again…”raccoons eat doodles”! The racoons were followed  by a few opossums and armadillos.

On the ferry ride back to the mainland the five of us were all gathered on the bow of the boat.  Soaking in a beautiful ride Elias yelled “Hey, look down”.  We looked down at the water 8 feet below us and 3 dolphins were right there riding in the wake so close to us and the boat we could almost touch them.  It was so cool.  Up and down and occasional jumping out of the water they entertained us for quite some time before they veered off.

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Now onward to south Florida.

Categories: Accupuncture, Cumberland Island, Family camping, Puss Caterpillar, wild horses | 7 Comments

Asheville

About 12 years ago after Jacob was born, Sunder was still a puppy and the world was feeling the reverberations from 9/11, we moved from Durango, CO to Asheville, NC a magnificent place smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian mountains.  We moved to be closer to family and specifically to my brother Simon and sister-in-law Susan.  Jacob was 2 months old and life was so fragile.  We didn’t know what the world would bring next.  In those days we hardly knew what it meant to be adults and marriage was its own adventure.  We moved in with Simon and Susan and their 2 dogs Pascha and Chelsea for almost half a year before finding our own place. Thank goodness for their wide open arms.  By the time we left two and a half years later we had emerged from the amazing chrysalis Asheville had provided and moved to Bellingham.  But there are still roots there…. roots and memories.

When we were considering moving out west our criteria was to live near the ocean for me, near big mountains for Joseph and close to large airports to see our families. Bellingham took the cake on all fronts but this is the thing, visiting family a few times a year just doesn’t cut it. After years of living out west, we needed to be immersed in the family soup for a while, we needed to set the itinerary for plenty of family time on this adventure, New York, Virginia and now North Carolina.

We arrived in Asheville November 1st and moved in again with Simon and Susan for three weeks. This time we were down 3 dogs but up 6 kids, our 3 and their 3, Arielle (age 9), Noah (age 6) and Iya (age 1 ½). The first week and a half Joseph was taking his WFR course so we were also down a dad.

Uncle Simon helped us unwind from this crazy journey adjusting us at his Network Chiropractic office. We then spent evenings and nights with him catching up, downloading endless amounts of books and music on the boys’ respective machines, watching movies and reconnecting.  Each day was an adventure, we drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and went hiking, we went to Rumbling Bald for rock climbing and visited The Western North Carolina Nature Center (which has some of the last surviving Red Wolves).  Elias, Jacob and Noah went to evening classes at our friend Michael’s new Tae Kwon Do school. One of my favorite trips was to the Arboretum, which is affiliated with University of North Carolina, Asheville with Nana Carole and Papa William, Susan’s mother and step father. The gardens and grounds were scattered with installations created by a Lego sculptor. After visiting Noah’s Lego entry in the city wide contest we saw real sized Lego bison, super sized fox and a hare, hummingbirds, flowers and butterflies.  Susan and I set an active itinerary for the trip but really we only needed to be together and hang out to feel fulfilled – kids and adults alike.

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Every morning for three weeks, Elias and Noah woke up at the crack of dawn to scurry downstairs to the crazy play room. They literally had toy “worlds” throughout the entire room (which was the length of the house) and in every corner incorporating Uncle Simon’s stacks of books and tools…Legos, trains, matchbox cars, hero factory guys, more Legos. Upstairs, the little girls woke up searching for each other.  Ila and Iya – two kin spirits ready to play with their babies, Arielle’s toys and books.  Jacob and Arielle, the big cousins played on the periphery of the young ones.

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Funny how cousins work, no matter how long it has been between visits or how young they are, they reconnect – just fit together, some crazy cellular DNA connection.  Elias and Noah were seriously connected at the hip – no fights, no fusses just 2 peas in a pod. Same with the little girls to each other and to Arielle their bond seems to reach beyond the short time they have been on the Earth.

While on the family topic, there is something to be said about co-parenting.  Most of our days with the kids incorporated 2 mommy/aunts and much of the time included one kick ass nanny “Ninja nanny” (as Jacob named Alyssa). Parenting, cooking, playing and homeschooling seems so managable with 2 moms on duty! Our time moved quickly and alas Jacob was reunited with Lily Mae.

Alaya and Michael and baby Lily Mae are dear friends whom we spent most of our time with 12 years ago. As young mothers Alaya and I were inseparable for 2 ½ years and likewise the babies were together all of the time. Now a decade later (and 12 years old) Lilly and Jacob reconnected and were immediately great friends.

Right across the street from Alaya and Michael lives Jill.  Jill is my oldest friend on the earth.  We grew up down the block from each other in Oceanside, New York.  Our mom’s were friends while pregnant and we have known each other ever since… -play groups, nursery schools, elementary and so on. She moved to Asheville when we lived there to be close to us. We moved and she stayed. We haven’t spent enough time together in the last few years and she has been dearly missed. The time hiking, cooking and hanging out was so sweet and too short.

It was strange and sweet dropping back into a place and a life that we left 10 years ago to see how everyone’s lives, careers and families have unfolded.  This trip so far seems to be just that. We are reweaving the early threads of our life into a more complete tapestry, less space between the threads, more connections and sharing it all with the kids.  I think that is the gift of being older and intentionally touching down on places, moments and people, this time working out the kinks and knots with open hearts and the wisdom that comes from a clearer vision of what it’s all about.

It was difficult to leave Jill, Alaya, Michael, Simon, Susan and their families at the end of the visit. Maybe they too will visit us somewhere out west or back in Bellingham.  Pulling away from Asheville, Ila did her normal role call,

“Mama?”

“Here Ila”

“Dada?”

“Hi Ila”

“Bebop?” (Jacob)

“Hi Ila”

“Yiyis?” (Elias)

“Yes Ila”

But this time she included her extended family, “Susu? Uncle? Arielle? Noah? Iya” I tell you if anything pulls at the heart strings this is it! Thankfully we would see the cousins in Florida at the end of December so parting from them was a bit easier, such a sweet visit.

Now on to run with the wild horses, Cumberland Island bound…

Categories: Adventure, Asheville, Blue Ridge Parkway | 1 Comment

The N.O.C

On November 2nd Michelle and the kids dropped me off deep within the Appalachian mountains at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  I was scheduled to take a 10 day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, a certification I am required to keep up with. There were several benefits to redoing the whole course rather than just doing a re-cert such as keeping up with the new updates to protocol, the introduction to cool new products readily available on the market and then of course learning little tidbits, new tricks and techniques and refreshing the skills forgotten.  Regardless of all of these technical skills there were three things that made this particular course and time in general a treat.

The first thing was the place.  The Nantahala Outdoor Center, which is usually referred to as the NOC is a mystical place in the Nantahala Gorge well within the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina.  The NOC runs programs for all age groups with it’s main focus on river rafting with subsequent programs focusing on zip lines and the Wilderness Emergency Care.

Located on the VERY pretty Nantahala River they run guided raft, kayak and canoe trips on not only the Nantahala River and on the dozens of other rivers within Western North Carolina.  The very rustic and remote village like cluster of buildings that make up the main campus consist of a convenient store, retail outdoor store and restaurant right on the river.  Then there is the actual campus on the other side of the river that encompasses the main raft house and then conference buildings followed by the cabins further up-hill that hold tightly to the steep forested mountainside rising out of the valley.  Branching out of the NOC are a series of trails with the most famous being the Appalachian Trail or AT.  The AT runs the entire length of the Appalachian Mountains (Georgia to Maine).  Thousands of people attempt to hike the AT every year and most of them start a few hundred miles south of the NOC.  Even in November, the number of hikers arrived there overdo for a shower and roof over their heads was quite high.  The AT descends steeply into the Gorge for thousands of feet and then climbs back out again even further up into Smokey Mountains National Park which consist of many of the highest mountains east of the Mississippi.  The highest peak, Mt Mitchell at 6,680 feet is actually not far, located on the other side (east side) of Asheville.

The second treat was the experiential approach to teaching the material.  This was by far the most practical  WFR course I have taken.  There was not a single skill we learned in class that we did not take the time to practice in a scenario.  Practicing like this makes the more obvious and straight forward circumstances we face in actual emergencies much simpler.  In real life all the pieces are straight forward and easy to file and make decisions on.  The first example that comes to mind occurred towards the end of 2012 when I was climbing with two customers at Mt Erie in Washington state. There were two individuals climbing a route to our left on the Main Wall, a 300’ wall on the south face.  When the guy leading fell he flipped upside down smacking his head, (he wore a helmet thank goodness).  More than anything he impacted his leg before flipping upside down.  We quickly lowered him to the ledge and within two and a half hours a helicopter plucked him off the cliff side and carried him to the hospital.  On the initial assessment we found his ankle had the lower leg bone poking out with blood pooled thick around.  With any movement whatsoever blood began squirting quickly.  With no movement there was no increase in blood flow.  Our decision was obvious, don’t move the ankle and get him to a hospital.  All the pieces were there.  There were no what ifs?  There were just the real options that were on the table.

Stokes carry

During one of the  course scenarios that took place at night, we responded to a couple of young women who went out for some night climbing and one of them fell to the ground unconscious.  Her partner went to get help. Every step of the way I’m asking myself, “What should I be seeing here?”  “What am I not seeing that I should be seeing?”  It’s more like a game with set rules and parameters where there is always some sort of hidden injury or medical condition that you’ve gotta pull together.  This coaches you to use all of the tools the course provides you again and again.  As I approached the scene, the woman pulled a knife on me…..That’s step one – the scene was not safe so I stopped there – nothing could be done. The young woman in the scenario then fell apart emotionally.  What happened?  Did she hurt herself?  What happened?  Well it turns out she swam across the Nantahala River and back to call a rescue.  It’s getting towards freezing and it’s night time.  Should we really cut all of her clothes in order to get her dry and warm blankets on her?  We ended up warming her up without completely stripping her down but that may not be what I would have done in real life. The participants played their roles quite well.

In 2008 I was on my way out with two gals of an early June trip on Mt Baker.  Everything was covered in late season snow and we had one last sketchy creek crossing.  The only option to cross the raging Glacier Creek had one dubious log crossing.  This is of course where one of the gals fell in.  We pulled her out no problem but we still had a few miles of walking.  She wanted to just walk out and get it over with.  I demanded she completely change from head to toe including underwear.  That was the proper first aid.  All the pieces were there, it was easy.

The river was another tool that was used on the course to keep pushing and testing us.  One of the last days we put the entire group in two boats and floated down the Nantahala.  Back and forth we ran scenarios.  Back and forth, back and forth, we tested each other.  Rafting down the river gave us the opportunity for a new and dynamic environment to run scenarios – what a blast..

Lastly but by no means least the third biggest treat of the course were the people.  Halfway through the week I realized I was no longer counting the days.  Through evening meals and drinks, afternoon hikes, good conversations, entertaining study sessions I found myself amongst a great group of folks.

By the end of the week when Michelle and the kids came to pick me up, one of our class mates who is the head naturalist at a local nature center invited us as well as several other classmates to a falconry session.  Michael, our naturalist, took us to the Balsam Mountain Preserve where he works and introduced us to their Eagle and Kestrel as well as taught us the basics of falconry with their big and beautiful Harris Hawk.  I enjoyed having the bird fly to my arm and snag the piece of steak out of my glove but it was probably most fun for me to watch the hawk fly to Jacob and then Elias.

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Appalachian Trail, Bald Eagle, Balsam Mountain Trust, Falcon, Harris Halk, Nantahala Outdoor Center, North Carolina, Wilderness First Responder | Leave a comment

October

On October 1st we tackled the 10 hour drive south to central Virginia

We had a lot of plans for Charlottesville.  Of course one was to experience the leaves change.  When we arrived we re-wound the seasonal clock two weeks.  Surprisingly we were greeted by the South East’s last heat wave of 2013. I quickly remembered  why  I never come to the east in the summer anymore.  The hot soupy humid air hung thick with bloated mosquitoes for what seemed like eternity although I think it only lasted for 3 or 4 days.

We came to Charlottesville to be with my family.  My parents live, literally a stone’s throw from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s famous home on a hill above town.  My brother Frederic and sister Adriana live here as well with families.  My brother’s son Julian is Ila’s age and is small and adorable with a dark complexion to match his Costa Rican mother.  He is fully committed to trucks.  My sister has Auguste, age 3 with electric blue eyes and a blonde head that matches a young Elias  and perhaps me when I was his age.   And Zora my sister’s very big and happy baby daughter.

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Choosing to live far from them has limited the opportunities to keep growing and sharing our lives.  I’ve been getting glimpses of the idea that our kids could grow up not knowing each other.  Just getting together for holidays is too fake.  I wanted us all to hang out for a small cross section of normal life.  See what the work week looks like for them.  See how they get along.

We came here because a year is a very long time to travel for a small family.  We came to be grounded in familiar places and feel what it was to be at a proverbial home.  I love coming to my parent’s house.  When you grow up and leave, even after almost two decades it is like coming home.  My mother’s cooking, our extremely comfortable routine of being together, our ability to laugh enthusiastically at the exact same things.  So many things about being with family are entirely taken for granted until you’re out there in the big wide world for too many years and not enough people are laughing at your jokes.

Jacob and Elias love coming here as well.  It’s a level of mystery and excitement they don’t get anywhere else.  They LOVE going to my parent’s art studio and diving whole heartily into projects.  Growing up we would always take Halloween costumes very seriously and I have always wanted my kids to enjoy that with my dad.  Jacob took on the task of designing and constructing the battle armor of a dead Trojan Warrior while Elias, also preparing for battle built his far more glamorous a knight in shining armor.

The second week we were there the hot humid weather turned to a constant torrential rain as a tropical depression that had crawled up the east coast stalled just off of the coast of Virginia beach and lifted buckets after buckets of water out of the Atlantic inland to the Blue Ridge.  As the rain came down Michelle and I dropped the eager boys off at their grand parents work aka art studio and we hunkered down to get some much needed work done.  After all, just because we’re traveling for the year doesn’t mean we don’t have jobs.

The third week the crisp cool autumn air returned as scheduled, bringing an occasional Maple to turn completely yellowish red or a an Oak to turn yellow orange.  We visited our friends on White Oak Lake in Madison county very close to where I was born and we proved that not everyone catches fish on White Oak Lake.

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From here we moved to my brother’s house for the remainder of the stay.  My brother lives on this 100 acre picture perfect horse farm in rolling pasture hills cozied up to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Here I had one of my favorite bouldering rocks about 3 minutes away and was very eager to bring that into our daily routine with our usual home schooling and work related tasks.  We prepped for Ila and Jacob’s birthdays (which took place through the last week of our stay) and we prepared for the rock climbing courses I scheduled to teach in Northern Virginia throughout our visit.

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As the boys came closer to the finishing touches on their costumes single trees turned into groups of trees lighting up on the hill sides:  The Ash, Walnuts, Poplars and Elms turning the panorama yellows and oranges.  We traveled to Northern Virginia to run rock climbing courses and visit the capitol city.  Actually it was just Jacob and Elias that helped, and they did a great job of it too.  Still young enough where I need to watch everything they do it was very cool to watch these adult students give Jacob all of their confidence while he explained a skill and watched them shake their head in surrender while watching Elias scamper around the rocks like a spider.  The climbing here was actually fun considering I was expecting nothing special.  It is also located right on the Great Falls of the Patomic River which is a big symphony of Cascading rapids on this fairly large river that head waters several hundred miles up in the mountains of West Virginia.

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Here we camped for the first time since camping on the Missouri River in central south Dakota.  We returned to the basics of our little adventure while remembering the rythm that we had established as travelers during the first month of our journey.  Following one of the day’s rock climbing courses we went to the Washington Mall where one can find all of the most notable sites of the District of Columbia including the White House and the Washington Monument.  Our main goal was the Museum of Natural History which is part of the Smithsonian Museum, the largest collection of museums on the planet and they are all free.

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Back in the Blue Ridge the forests were erupting with yellow, red, purple and orange – extraordinary yet so ordinary.  Ila’s Birthday was quiet and humble as it should be for a two year old. We visited her “horsey friends” many times that day, played with her stroller and her brothers and ate fruit.  We saved the 27th, Jacob’s Birthday for the Ila and Jacob party.  It took place at my brother’s farm house.  We made Sushi, played soccer and walked the farm checking out the horses.

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Now with only a few days left we had many things to accomplish.  I had a few bouldering problems that I had to finish.  We had a few more hikes in the hills, a few more dinners with my sister, my brother and their family.  Frederic, my brother, and I sipped more whiskey and then of course one last important job to do:  Trick or Treating.

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We hit the road after trick or treating to make the five hour drive down to Asheville, North Carolina where Michelle’s brother lives.  I had a Wilderness First Responder course I had to make on the 2nd of November and hoped for a day of rest in between.  As we drove away from my parents house we traveled south through Appalachia and were rocked by the winds tossing the car around with an oncoming storm.  In the evening dark there were now more leaves blowing in the wind than there were on the trees.

Now three hours into the drive, full of treats from Halloween,  we finally received a trick.  Our car began coughing and studdering – it was clear we needed to stop.  We checked into a hotel and awoke in the morning in Christiansburg, Virginia.  This turned out to be a good thing since this region is where stock cars were invented to run moonshine back in the 20s and 30s.  Still being very much a part of local pride and culture we found some very nice Nascar mechanics to make a few “adjustments” to the car before heading on to Asheville. November 1st…the adventure continues…

Categories: Adventure, Blue Ridge Mountains, Camping, Halloween, Monticello, VA, Washington D.C. | Leave a comment

Thank you Chickens

Annique, my wild and beautiful Prescott College roommate and Thomas her friendly, intense and loving husband whom she also met at college settled down in the little town of Putney, VT. We couldn’t leave New England without a brief visit.  Over a decade ago we visited them in their cute rustic house on Putney Mountain with a 2 year old Jacob. Thomas shared tales of tracking animals in the VT winters – hare, deer, weasel following their prints in the snow, as Annique cultivated her hearty garden and found her own roots in the rugged and beautiful North Country.

It’s funny how the little things that seem inconsequential in our life can make subtle and lasting ripples. Way back in 2002 Annique taught us the art of singing to their chickens when we gathered the eggs to thank them (and to calm the rooster so he didn’t peck at us)!

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy eggs,

for your yummy eggs”…

That little chant has become part of our family thankful repertoire all of these years since and is such a sweet way that Annique and Thomas are woven into our everyday life.

Over the last few years they designed and built a beautiful home tearing down the old house and keeping and developing the gardens. Annique, a well respected Midwife and Thomas an accomplished Acupuncturist and Chinese Doctor, share an office/practice in Putney called Medicine for the People and seem to be living a very busy and meaningful life as integral resources in their community.

Pretty quickly our families connected in a warm and deep way.  This visit we met Samuel their very sweet 4 year old son.  Elias quickly and quietly got to work on Samuel’s train set and Ila at dismantleling Elias’ work! As they have been lacking in traditional toys they were quite pleased to play and play and play and Samuel was a generous playmate.

Jacob was under Thomas’s spell after quickly realizing that they share common interests…Thomas has a vintage collection of comic books…! This coupled with his mastery in the art of bow making, tracking and animal awareness kept Jacob teetering between nonstop questions and nonstop reading.  He had his first introduction to characters like “the Punisher” and was later given a three volume set of books on how to make bows and arrows, the Bow Makers Tome.  Jacob was SOLD!

Although our visit was short we found time to hike through the beautiful VT autumn with Annique and Samuel, walking a few miles up the road from their house towards the top of Putney Mountain watching raptors soaring on the drafts above. The kids played on a magnificent old and huge tree, hiking home barefoot and free.

The day before we arrived, Annique, Thomas and their friends killed and prepared chickens for the winter – 100 of them.  Although in my vegan years this would have been quite difficult for me to bear, in my recent incarnation as an omnivore I was intrigued by the process.  Our drive across the country has allowed for a few good conversations on food, food choices, raising animals and farming. Very recently Jacob and I discussed different slaughtering techniques and theories comparing factory farmed animals and humanely raised animals. I understand, based on my reading and my brief time working on a ranch in Colorado, if killed humanly the animal does not experience fear or as much anticipation and terror in the end.  This is so much kinder to the animal and healthier for the person eating the meat.  Unsurprisingly, this was Jacob’s first question to Thomas after finding out about the chickens. Thomas described how he held each chicken closely and compassionately in his arms until he felt them stop “buzzing like a refrigerator” and felt more calm.   A wide eyed Jacob (and Michelle) were captured by this story.

Evening was spent with the boys helping Thomas stack a truck full of wood near the back door of the house in preparation for a long VT winter as Annique and I prepared incredible chicken enchiladas and fresh salad from the garden.  Around the fire Thomas brought out arrow making materials and the boys learned the art of crafting their own arrows by gluing on the feathers and the tips with the proper tools. They made a list of all of the things that Jacob needed to craft his own bow over the next few months which fit in perfectly with his 6th grade Waldorf curriculum and made missing school a tiny bit easier to bear.

We came full circle that night singing our thankfulness to the chickens with a deeper sense of gratitude and understanding.  All holding hands and smiling at each other around the dinner table we giggled as we sang –

”Thank you chickens,

thank you chickens,

for your yummy meat,

for your yummy meat”…

Stocked with delicious syrup and VT hard apple cider, we packed the minivan and shared hugs trying to convince our friends why reuniting in Arizona this winter is an excellent idea (hint hint if you are reading this Annique and Thomas).

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Categories: Accupuncture, Autumn, Hiking, Homeschooling, Medicine for the People, Midwife, New England, Prescott College, Putney Mountain, vT, Waldorf Curriculum | 1 Comment

Apples

We drove north out of NYC under a perfect blue bird day.  Our mission was our friend’s farm in Upstate NY.  Mike and Rachel use to live about three houses down from our home in the Lettered Streets in Bellingham, WA.  Two years ago they moved to a beautiful country house in the rolling hills of the Hudson River valley about 2 or so hours up the Taconic Parkway north of The City. It was pretty much guaranteed that when we hung out with Mike and Rachel there would be ample full belly laughing.  We were sorry to see them go from Bellingham although we were now psyched that we would have a good solid week of  merry making.

Haley, Andersons

Their big country farmhouse in its pretty pastury landscape prepared us to be poised and ready for the start of one of the most spectacular shows on Earth.  The deep green summer foliage was just receiving it’s first brush strokes of reds, oranges and yellows.  This was actually part of the grand plan:  spend the Autumn in the east, starting up north and working our way south so we can experience the colors to their maximum potential for the longest duration.  This was going to be the kid’s first time experiencing the whole show beginning to end.

Mike and Rachel have three kids, Quinn, age 10, Tula, age 6 and Harper age 1.  Quinn won the take home prize on that first evening for providing us with the most memorable laughs, a child with no regrets and a skilled dancer and (hilarious) entertainer.  The image of Quinn dancing around with gusto to some Abba tune takes the cake.  Although to be fair Tula, an explosive fire cracker, is a close second with her ability to entertain “valley girl style”!

The first night we stayed in their house but for the next several nights we stayed across the country road at this very old house owned by a previous governor of Alabama.  The “Govna’s house”, as we called it a very old and immaculately restored farmhouse built in the mid 1800s and furnished right out of a magazine with a very expensive mix of classic farmhouse/southern-country/NYC-entertaining. We were comfortable but concerned that the kids would touch an antique or commune with one of the ghosts…pretty sure that the upstairs creaking doors were ghosts of farmers past…maybe not.  What it did have was three artsy fartsy terrier/poodle type dogs who where given a pile of shredded cheese on the kitchen floor each day after their morning walk.  Two of them suffered from extreme neurosis.  One of them (the biggest one) was terrified of everyone and was curled up in a corner the whole time while the others loved to freak out and bark all night, every night.  In the end, the house was a bit weird but was more fun and novel than anything else.

Mike and Rachel have lots of acreage and several ponds on their land.  Throughout that week we went fishing, running, picked apples, caught up on work and home schooled quite a bit while the kids where in school. The Haley’s showed us a great time in the country which included the dukes of Hazard ride to the next farm – kids hooting and howling out of the sunroof!

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On Thursday we went to the Gunks, (Shawgunks, NY) one of the most famous climbing areas in the country located close by.  The Gunks were plenty fun for cragging but beware, it’s $17 dollars per person to climb for the day.  For me that took quite a bit of the fun out of it.  In the end I wouldn’t go out of my way for that.  The odds of waiting in line for a popular route were high, and there were a lot of people there.  Also, it could be that each of these routes have seen more ascents than any other collection of climbs in the country.  Most of the climbing was uncommonly slick and steep, which made for some welcome exercise all said and done.

Elias at the Gunks The Gunks

On Friday we went to check out the Hawthorn Valley Waldorf School where the kids attend and Mike works.  Waldorf is an educational system that began in Austria at the beginning of the 20th century.  The system is based on Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy stating that a child’s development into adulthood requires a strong competence in moral responsibility, educational integration into their practical lives as well as an emphasis on promoting a growing child’s freedom of spirit and expression.

A very rural and pretty country side surrounded this picture perfect school which looked more like a small village in the countryside of Europe.  Actually the school itself was on one side of the street and the Waldorf health food store and farm on the other.  The farm was actually quite large with a creamery and a fermenting area.  One of the elements that have always rung true for me about Waldorf schools is their natural appeal.  The buildings were beautifully sculpted to blend into the natural environment surrounded it.  This gives a calming vibe and pulls you into the community.  The fact is though, that the school where our kids attend in Bellingham (and where Mike used to teach), the Whatcom Hills Waldorf School, is next to impossible to top.  Much smaller and simpler than this one but with great community and home town vibe.  We were reminded that we have what we wanted right at home.

The last few days were great fun.  We moved back into Mike and Rachel’s house and Mike and I got the chance to go and get rowdy at the local pub.  On the very last day we picked enough apples from their young apple and pear orchard to make several gallons of fresh apple cider.  Actually I think more than several.

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Next stop, Putney Vermont to visit our friend Annique and Thomas’s.

Categories: Apple Cider, Hawthorn Valley Waldorf School, Homeschooling, Hudson River Valley, The Gunks, Waldorf, Whatcom Hills Waldorf School | 2 Comments

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