Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Snow Day fun

The cold water made these bubbles feel like real snow!

These yummy snowmen melted in their mouths.

This day was filled with fun for all of us.

Check in later for updates on Camp Happy Hoppins!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Snow Day at Camp Happy Hoppins

After vacationing in the wild bear filled world of Shenadoah National park and visiting with family in Ohio, life at home seems, well, rather plain. And hot. The weather here in the summer just keeps getting hotter every year. That's why we are kicking off the last week in June with a SNOW day here at Camp Happy Hoppins. What is Camp Happy Hoppins? It's the name given to our family home by our friends. This year, Elliot's friends are visiting every day this week for a fun filled day camp-style gathering. When the kids arrive on Monday morning, I have planned the following:

Shaving cream art projects

Paper Snow Flakes

Science Projects with Ice

Snowman Cookies

And a Classic Snow Story

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Surprise in Every Day

Not long ago I read that there is a surprise in every day. While that may seem obvious to most people, seeing this in print has actually helped me to manage my stress in unexpected situations. Usually the surprise is not that great, even totally unpleasant-- but since the surprises are now a part of my daily routine I'm learning how to accept them and move on.

This week, I was surprised when:

My teen returned without her soccer gear even though this year we are sending her to soccer camp. It's kind of a big deal considering my fledgling business has miles to go before it pays the bills.

The driver's side window fell out of the track.

The dining room chair leg broke. By the way, why are dining room chairs so expensive?!

While attempting to avoid two early morning joggers who should have been using the sidewalk, my husband scraped his van on a pedestrian sign that was cemented in the middle of a road at a crossing where super elitist people send their kids to school. I don't think it's even legal to cement signs in the middle of roads, but obviously they have a huge sense of enitlement.

I was prepared to go to the pool this week, but *surprise* my son got pink eye.

After returning from our incredibly transformative hiking trip where we walked near seventeen black bears, not one person on fb commented on this amazing event. Thank you blogging friends, you are awesomer than awesome! Your comments rule!

I had a blast hanging out with my teen last night. Even when she asked "PLEASE CAN I DRIVE YOUR CAR?!"

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Comforts of Home

I think it will be a very long time before I take a vacation without them!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bears in the Woods, Ghosts in the Cabin

At some points on the trail I was able to lead the way, especially since I wanted to get to the secure safety of Corbin Cabin.

Safe from the bear families, but haunted by the sad story of hardship and a family tradgedy in the 100 year old Corbin Cabin.

Once we were safely out, we stopped at this Day's Inn in Elkins, West Virginia. It was a former hospital, still being used by doctors of all kinds! How appropriate! In the basement of this former hospital, some genius repurposed the morgue into a steak house. I was struck by this item on the menu:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TST: Seventeen Black Bears Makes You Stronger

This story is about confronting my inner fear machine, the one that just won't let me rest. I was going to spend the week recounting my back country hiking experience in the Shenandoah. Perhaps the many details of that adventure are not meant for anyone but me. Maybe my new knowledge of what it feels like to experience close sightings of seventeen black bears over the course of five days cannot be conveyed in words.

Each day on the trail brought me closer to a mental breakdown, not because I couldn't handle the physical challenge, but because the repeated jolts of adrenaline and the hypersensitivity to my surroundings was overwhelming.

You see, I am naturally afraid of bears. But maybe it was the stories of violent bear encounters that gave me this fear. I was afraid because I wouldn't know what to do in the event of a mauling. When my cat was hit by a car and I had to retrieve him from the road I could barely lift him because something inside made me incredibly weak, like a bag of water.

For some reason I had to learn how to walk near many black bears on the trail without running, hiding, or fainting. I had to learn how to keep my cool. It was perhaps, the only thing to do. Just like laughter saved me from being strangled by a homeless man in the library, pretending that it was no big deal to stand next to a momma bear and her tiny cub was what saved me from being mauled.

I did not go to the Shenandoah purposely to view large, furry black mammals, but now that I'm home in my city, I have to say that it was a blessing. It is an amazing experience to overcome the kind of fear that turns your legs to water, heightens all senses and produces gallons of sweat. By day five, I really wanted to go home. We were not making any progress on the trails because every time we went out, there would be another family of bears. At one point we found ourselves surrounded by three bears behind us and one bear in front of us. Instead of running away like the first bear, the bears near the Corbin cabin simply recognized our presence as if we were butterflies. It is the most incredible experience to look at the face of a black bear and have it return the gaze without aggression. For some reason, we were able to walk by 17 bears without causing alarm. On our last hike, a one mile journey up a steep mountain, we passed seven. Families of bears living in rocky caves, grazing on bugs under fallen trees. The only way I managed to keep walking was by focusing on the back of my husband's shoes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Our Walk in the Woods: Day One (and a half)

Soon after my graduation from Guilford College, I discovered Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and fell in love with the story of the 800 plus mile hike he took with his friend Stephen Katz on the Appalachian Trail. Like millions of Bryson's readers, after reading the book I felt empowered to at least attempt to hike portions of the trail. I thought a good long walk with a backpack in the forest would be the ideal way to celebrate my revised life as an ex smoker. Thinking of the exciting physical challege of climbing thousands of feet of mountain terrain, filling my lungs with exhilarating clean air and enjoying the return of my sense of smell, I happily filled my pack and didn't object when my dear one ordered the maps then planned a series of circuit hikes in the Shenandoah National Park near the AT, rather than a long, relatively straight hike exclusively on the famous pedestrian highway. A straight hike on the AT meant seeing lots of other hikers (I liked this idea, but dear one loves solitude), and it meant leaving our car and arranging for a ride back.
Further research revealed a shuttle service for hikers in the park but we decided against this after learning of Corbin Cabin, a century old homestead near a spring fed river that was available for PACT members to rent for $25.00 per night. To get to it, one has to hike one hour downhill from Skyline Drive. This delighted my economist/naturalist/adventure loving guy. We joined the PACT and reserved it for three nights, and looked forward to experiencing this historic sanctuary in the middle of our vacation. We would use our tent for the first and last two nights of the trip.
After taking our son to my brother in Fariborn, Ohio, we arrived at the park as the sun crept behind the mountains. In the dusky evening, I strapped on my brand new pack. Everything felt wrong. I was immediately aware of what a horse must experience when a person sits on its back. My chest felt a sharp pain of constriction as the weight pulled me backward and down. I struggled to walk with ease on flat pavement but pasted on a smile for my dear one and snapped on my head lamp. In a matter of minutes, I was walking uphill on ankle twisting rocks in the quickly fading light. Soon, I was surrounded by dense woods on a narrow trail in complete darkness.
Bugs flew at my eyes and nose, attracted to the white light of my headlamp. Annoyed, I snapped off the lamp and adjusted my eyes to the darkness. Even during the darkest nights, tiny bits of light appear. At that point on the journey, the stars were obscured by tree limbs. Worse than the absence of light were the swishy, rustling noises close to the trail. Dear one played the harmonica to alert the bear of our presence. Startled by the sound, the big swishy noisemaker suddenly stopped making noises. My legs turned to water as sweat trickled from my forehead. Maybe it was just a deer. Maybe. After a little while, the swishing sound could be heard farther away. I somehow fund a way to step forward and to keep following the man who spent months planning and saving for his long awaited vacation.
I tried to hide my fear, but frankly, hiking in the darkness on a narrow, rocky, dense trail to the top of Brown Mountain where black bears live is at the very least, nerve wracking. My heart raced, I poured sweat and prayed mightily.
The darkness deepened until at last we saw the night sky and a huge gray rock that stood out like a bright beacon of safety. The rock had a wide ledge and we happily climbed to it, resting our tired backs on its solid surface. Back country hikers are required to camp away from trails, out of sight. To my dismay it would have been against the rules to sleep on that rock.
Not wanting to give into my fears the first night, I forced myself to relax a little and enjoyed the vastness of the night sky on the mountain top, full of stars and cool air. I made myself remember that was truly rewarding to do something so challenging and extraordinary with my husband. We were more than Dick and Jane and the white picket fence. So much more. We were alive and free in the natural world.
Even though I was beginning to discover that I had the power to control the waves of fear if I tried hard enough, my nervousness and exhaustion that night left me standing rather uselessly in the woods while dear one set up our tent and hung the food. I slipped into the tent with my head on the low end (where our feet should have been), and immediately felt like a caterpillar in a flimsy cocoon.

I was too tired to turn around but too nervous to sleep. Concentrating on the wind that sounded like ocean waves above my head, I reviewed bright memories of my idyllic childhood to comfort me between a series of light naps.
The memories were full of color and bittersweet. I ached for my Michigan home with its lush green lawn and cottonwood trees. I remembered the feeling of walking barefoot to the garden and seeing my dad work on his tractor. I remembered my mom's sheets on the line and my younger brothers playing an imaginary game near the deck. Then, to my amazement, the tent walls looked white. Morning had arrived on Brown Mountain and with it the wind had died down and the birds were chattering. I had survived my first night in the back country. With a head dizzy from lack of a good sleep and a soft supportive pillow, I braved the underbrush for a ideal place to pee while dear one boiled our water. Having finished these tasks, we climbed back to the big rock and drank our coffee, exhilarated by the air, the space and the view.

After breaking camp, I managed to adjust my pack so that I could breathe. The hike down the mountain was a feast for the eyes, but it was hard. The terrain was steep and filled with rocks.
We kept up a good pace and made it to a river during the heat of the day. Having only spotted one person all day, I felt safe enough to change into my swimsuit and rest in the shallow pools betwen the slippery rocks.
It was shortly after this refreshing rest that we found ourselves at an area of the trail were we had to cross the river. Dear one had already made it to the other side when I stepped on the first big rock and looked up to see a very large black bear bottom crashing through the trees away from me. I was stunned by his/her speed, awestruck by the black glistening fur that shook in ripples while it sped away. I knew without any doubt that I would never run from a bear. Running would be completely pointless against a beast of that size and speed. My husband was on the same side of the river as the bear. The noise of the rushing river had prevented him from hearing anything. He did not know that he was so close to the bear. To alert him of this development, I whispered his name.
I'm sure he couldn't hear me whispering his name above the gurgling rushing water, but he finally turned back to check on me. I was gesturing with my arms to show him "bear! Big Bear!

Due to the fullness of my experience on the trail, I've decided to share this story in a series of installments. Please check in tomorrow for Day Two: An eleven hour hike and our arrival on the Appalachian Trail.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Feedback from the Children

There is a happiness bubble in my chest today, thanks to the children in my son's kindergarden class. After thinking deeply about what would be a worthy end of the year teacher gift, my son asked for sets of Knees and Paws for the classroom. He wanted to make a new "center" at school. I had reservations.

Would my hand made gift be seen as self promoting? That was not my intention. There are many other avenues to get the word out.

Thankfully, I let my son decide and the teachers and students were delighted with the gift. The kids have been playing Knees and Paws every day since I brought them into school. I included a little word/picture matching game in the event that Knees and Paws by themselves are not "educational".

Since giving this gift, a surprising development has occurred. The children are using the picture cards which show images of pets, toys and a vet as prompts for their imaginary play. In a group of three or four, they choose cards. If a vet card is drawn, then that child plays the role of pet doctor. Elliot said that someone wanted to be a dog catcher, even though there wasn't a card for that.

In this way, the small groups have been sharing without conflict, taking turns based on the cards.

When the teacher asked who wanted to play Knees and Paws, nearly every hand in the room shot up. A few tough guys in the class sat with their arms crossed.

Later, I was surprised when the teacher assistant approached me to share how impressed she was with the game I had invented. I hadn't thought of Knees and Paws as a "game" really. But now I wonder if there is potential to develop one. The kids are making up the game. I love the way they decide on the rules and context of their play.

Before leaving the school after today's visit, several children thanked me for the "game" I had made. I'm keeping that bubble of joy that comes with a child's thanks with me on the trail.

I'll be home June 20th for those who have followed the story of my Appalachian Trail challenge. I look forward to seeing you then!

Holy Mole' Giveaway Winner

Congratulations Elysabeth Eldering on Winning the Holy Mole' book giveaway!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Into the Mountains

In three days, the Shenandoah National Forest will be my home for a week. These pictures were taken on past visits to the mountains of Virginia. They are post cards for my blogging friends before our departure. Thank you for any prayers you may send my way as I will be hiking between 10 to 15 miles per day in high elevations with a fully loaded (40lb) pack. I have looked forward to this trip for months but, just like a bride on her wedding day, I'm experiencing cold feet. I wanted to be in better shape.
There's a little part of me that is afraid. I'm trying to stuff that feeling down but doing so just makes the fear grow. First, I am afraid of bears. Second, I am afraid of sleeping in the forest in the dark. I am also afraid of fatigue and sore muscles. I am afraid of any freaky people that might be living out their days in the woods because they are hiding from the authorities. I am afraid of being lost. I have never spent one night in the woods unless it was in a campground with many other families around.
I am going to discover that I have everything inside of me to make it through. Thank you for being my friends. You've helped me work from home without feeling like a complete loner. Happy summer to all of you and I look forward to seeing you here again when we return.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Laughing at the Wrong Moment/ Momma Kat's Writer's Workshop Prompt

Laughing in the public library is usually inappropriate. Perhaps that's another reason why I no longer work there. Informational, silent, dusty, yes. A club for the joyful, hyper-social, wild child, not so much. There are two sides of me, at least. One is the studious, silent thinker. The other longs to be the life of the party.

I had been working night shift in an inner city library for several months, and despite the constant, draining task of keeping the local teens from disturbing the peace and engaging in nefarious group activites, I loved my work and the people I worked with. We did laugh together, many times. Perhaps my happiness at being a part of such a wonderful, dedicated group of people facilitated my tendency to let my guard down with the entire public I served. Not only did my library job fulfill my need for friendship, I felt deeply connected to the idea of being an approachable, open, safe person to whom children and adults in the community could turn to for information. I took a special interest in creating lists of contacts for those experiencing homelessness. My job was more than the shuffling and sorting of books. It was about being in the middle of a river of people, from all backgrounds, from all corners of the world.

But back to laughing at an inappropriate moment.

It was 5:55 pm, on a Friday afternoon. I was alone in the main area of the library, making my way toward the computer lab to lock up, when a man I recognized as a local homeless visitor walked in through the front doors, taking long strides toward me, with an urgent purpose. He said

"What are you doing?"

To which I responded,

"Sir, we close at six on Fridays".

To which he responded,

"What do you mean you're closing?" While placing his hands firmly around my throat.

What does one do when they are alone and being choked? Usually a smart person would have fought back with everything they had in them. I, on the other hand, laughed. With the remaining air left in my lungs.

My laughter caught him off guard.

He released a little.

With his hand still on my neck, I continued to chuckle. I said,

"We're closing because librarians have a life too. It's Friday. Time to grab a few beers."

The dumfounded look on his face proved that I had sucessfully broken his stereotypical image of the mousy, meek, vulnerable librarian.

He walked out the way he came in.

I locked up and went home. Later, I regretted not calling 911. After all, I had been physically assaulted by strangulation on the job. But somehow, in my nervousness and relief, I forgot to call for help.

Sometimes laughter, even at an inappropriate time, can be the best medicine. It may have saved my life.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward, Standing in the Middle

The theme of my senior English capstone was "Remaking the Past". From that experience, I discovered the importance of keeping one foot in the ever shifting river of the past, one foot in the muddy pond-like present, and two eyes on the oceanic future which rolls toward the shore in crashing waves or sloshing ripples. Inspired by Emmy Mom's Ten Things To Smile About, I've decided to spend some time thinking about the past while standing on the threshold of a new month and the summer season.

Warm weather is a blessing, especially for a person who grew up in Michigan. Perhaps that's why I don't complain about my life in North Carolina and the humid, oppressive summers. Yet it's not easy to live so far from my family. After nine years here, I'm painfully beginning to feel the absence of family gatherings like weddings, baby showers, funerals and holiday parties. It's not very fun spending Sunday afternoons folding laundry instead of cleaning up one of my mother's famous chicken dinners. But I live with my choice to stay and rebuild my life here in the south, and mostly I am incredibly happy and blessed beyond measure. I would have missed meeting the love of my life, would have missed having our son, had I moved back home.

The month of May brought the blessed warm weather, and also a huge slump in sales. There were a total of two. Plush accessories are a seasonal item, a fact I accept. In the absence of processing sales and making custom orders, I've done other things. I kicked off the month on a high note with the celebration of my birthday with new friends. We enjoyed a wonderful bonfire, cookout, and sleep over. My friends call our home "Camp Happy Hoppins". It's a name I'm proud to have, especially because it has the word "happy" in it. We live just outside the city limits so we are allowed to burn. This is a big hit with our friends who live in busy areas under city regulations.

I started and finished two really great books, the first, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Asar Nafisi, and the second, Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The first was a very intimate and detailed look at women living in Iran under the regime of its Islamic State. I think this book would be a good introduction to A Thousand Splendid Suns. For a long time, I've avoided learning about the middle east because I was sensitive to the violent images in the news. Somehow I understand so much more because I related to the stories about women. It's hard to connect to the images of war made by men. Committed, on the other hand, was a deep look into the history and concept of western marraige and all the pitfalls one might find there. I couldn't put it down.

I also had a yard sale. It was pretty much a flop despite having customers all througout the morning. I was dissapointed and a little ashamed to sit there while people browsed through my humble offerings.

I started running at the Y instead of on the sidewalks outside. I actually improved my time and strength this way. I followed my runs with a dip in the pool and learned that I can swim easily. After two years of being an ex smoker, the laps came easy. This was a triumph.

I became more involved in blogging. I am thrilled to have met some really wonderful people here.

I planted a small garden. Due to blogging, it is now full of weeds.

I met a new friend at a local resale shop; I intend to develop that connection as much as I can.

Last, I packed all of my food for a 5 day hike on the AT. This is my next big adventure out in the world. I hope to be able to swim in rivers and under waterfalls after long hikes in the highlands. More to come on that...

And if you're still with me after reading all of that, I am going into the month of June with three exciting things to look forward to: a hiking trip in the Shenandoah, the return of my teen, and the process of writing the official patent for Knees and Paws. Needless to say, with all of those things on the horizon I am stopping production of the product to focus on those events. I will still take custom orders, but so far, no takers. Perhaps this is the most foolish thing I've ever done in my life, but I'm tired of having jobs that are so safe and secure that they make me brain dead!

For now, I'll stand in the middle, waiting, enjoying life as it comes.

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