Weekend at Laurel Hill State Park

We spent the weekend camping with my parents and brother at Laurel Hill State Park. It's a large state campground with a little man-made lake and beach and lots of hiking trails, about an hour and a half east of Pittsburgh. Memorial Day weekend is pretty busy at most of the state campgrounds and this one was pretty much filled up. We went on a really nice kid-friendly hike on the Hemlock Trail and saw a stand of old-growth hemlocks. Laurel had a good time identifying flowers using our Audubon guide. We saw jack-in-the-pulpits, violets, bluets, trillium that were done blooming, foam flowers and some interesting fungus. A portion of this trail is slightly treacherous for the 3 and under crowd, so if you take little ones be on guard for that. The stretch isn't very long - maybe a quarter of a mile up, but we had Marko in the backpack and I wouldn't have wanted him to walk there, because of the steep drop down the side of the hill. I know not everyone has a 2 1/2 year old that is still small enough to easily carry around, though. M got some good long runs in, as the Laurel Highlands trail passes through the park here. My brother had the excellent idea of renting some canoes and going out on the lake, where we saw a bird fishing. We think it may have been an osprey. It was impressive to watch it soar above the lake and then dive down into the water. It made about 3 dives before it got something big enough that it carried it away into the forest. The beach provided a lot of entertainment for Laurel and Marko. Laurel caught tadpoles and made friends with every kid there. Marko moved sand around with his tiny shovel and rolled in the sand, telling us he was a turtle.

We camped in a tent loop and I'm always pretty satisfied with the noise level, even when there were thousands of people there like this weekend. Things do settle down once it gets dark and it's really quiet after 11, other than the occasional crying kid. (Including ours, from time to time.) It was freezing cold on Friday and Saturday nights, but I expected this so the kids had long underwear, coats, hats and mittens, which they slept in some combination of.  We lucked out and had no rain at all. Laurel is big enough now to let her join the throngs of children roaming around the campground. Occasionally kids would stop by our site, and my mom taught a couple of them to play bocce.

As for camping with kids, it's definitely getting easier and more fun now that they are a little older. We go to sleep with them when it gets dark, and usually end up splitting up because we have two backpacking tents that are not really big enough for all four of us anymore. We make s'mores at the breakfast fire so there's no pre-bed sugar rush. I take a lot of baby wipes and don't bother trying to really bathe them properly. They get incredibly filthy, regardless of what you do. A thorough tick check, including scalp, should be done when you get home. My parents can be sort of fancy when they camp...so it was fun to be with them this time and have full meals. My dad was all about the bacon-wrapped gourmet hot dog this weekend. We often just eat Clif bars, apples, pb&js and will maybe roast hot dogs. For entertainment I brought sketch paper and colored pencils, a soccer ball, 3 Audubon guides and a couple of Ranger Rick magazines. Laurel also had her razor scooter. Mostly, they dug in the dirt and enjoyed lighting sticks on fire.

I brought a red quinoa salad and it really traveled well. You can check out the recipe here. It was very easy to make and filling if you have vegetarians along.

I'm glad we kicked off the summer season with a camping trip and I hope we can get out there a lot in the next couple of months.


8ish Years Ago, Somewhere in Virginia

Yesterday our refrigerator broke. Well, I could probably say that several months ago, our refrigerator began to break, and while M&K are great at many things, home maintenance is not something that comes naturally to us. We are greatly inclined to ignore the compressor ka-chunking after every cycle. Until we realize the ice is not frozen. And actually, most of the food is not cold. (Good thing we don't ever stock up on meat.) Then we are motivated to take action. We spent this morning at the Scratch and Dent, selecting a suitable replacement. It was actually the first appliance we have ever purchased. And a side note about the Scratch and Dent....is this a Pittsburgh thing? Literally everyone from friends to neighbors to the crossing guard at Laurel's school recommended that we go there. Actually it all sounded more like, "Yinz have to go the Scratch n Dent!" (Even if they don't normally speak in a Pittsburgh accent.) Anyway, we found a fairly unscratched and undented model and they will deliver it on Thursday. Until then, it's ice chests and everyone has to clean their plates. No leftovers. In other news, the post office has lost a package M was expecting and the PWSA still has not issued us a water bill since February. The dental office charged the wrong insurance account, and I had to straighten that out. Marko is in a "dumping out" phase. The weather has suddenly turned hot, so I need a bigger diaper bag to take when I go out to make sure I have enough water for all of us. And that was pretty much my week so far. Yes, life is indeed exciting right now.

Cheers! From the AT, 2007
Here you can see a picture of us from about 8 years ago. Clearly slackpacking on the AT, since we seem to be carrying a bottle of wine. I believe we are somewhere in southern Virginia. I remember I saw a scarlet tanager that day. There was a lot of sidehill trail. Hiking without a pack felt effortless. A couple of '07 thru-hikers that we know are on the PCT right now and posting updates on their Facebook feeds. Watching my friends' adventures unfold reminds me of the many adventures we have had. Some folks we know are moving to Phoenix, which stirred up all these memories of late-night stir fry at Johnny Chu's and watching Akron/Family sweat in Modified Arts. The homemade tamales my teacher's aide brought me, and walking across the entire South Mountain Preserve with Leah and Kristijo. And my cousin Lisa is moving cross-country and just texted me from the road, which made me think of cooking blueberry pancakes in the Bitterroot Mountains with Lance and M, for some reason. Not sure why. They are nowhere near Idaho. I guess it's just the adventure. Rolling into a place that you've never been and seeing it with fresh eyes.

I think I'm on the path I'm supposed to be on, but there's so many different ways life can go. Actually, I guess I don't even believe in a "supposed-to-be path." This is just where I'm at. Enjoy it, or change it. But when my fridge breaks down before we're ready to do the rest of the kitchen upgrades, or someone asks me what's new and I have to say that I spent most of the day on hold with the water company, or sweeping up cheerios, I sometimes think, "seriously? How did I get here?"

The other night, M took me to see Neil deGrasse Tyson. Yes, we went on a date to see an astrophysicist give a lecture. Trust me, he's very entertaining, although I just can't get into Cosmos. He was speaking about something he calls the Cosmic Perspective. It was very interesting to see his slides zoom in on DNA strands and zoom out to theoretical models of multiverses. You can read more about his ideas in this essay. I think I was most moved by the interconnectedness of it all, and the way that patterns repeat themselves across nature and space. He's right that if you are musing about the cosmic perspective, you have it pretty good because it means you aren't mired in day to day survival.

And for all the mundane chores that must be done and redone, I have this incredible gift of watching a two year old and a five year old navigate the world. They pick up a shard of a buckeye nut and bring it to me. Which tree did it come from? Who ate the rest of it? How did they crack it? Can a tree still grow from this part? Can we put it in our mouths? Things I would just step over become reasons for curiosity and conversation. Last night and today we had a lot of wind, and little sections of new leaves from the chestnut tree had blown down all over the school yard. Marko spent a half an hour gathering them up as if he had found something amazing. He probably doesn't even remember last fall, so this idea that leaves coming down to his level, where he can examine them and touch them was sort of mind-blowing. Plus, he insisted on wearing this blanket as a cape, so it was very cute to watch. Laurel is reading more and more everyday and seeing her eyes light up when it "clicks" is just as rewarding as it was when I watched my America Reads Challenge mentee.... little six year old William in...gulp...1998, do the same thing.

So, that's life right now. Good as ever, but not because it's perfect or easy. It's just amazing when you stop to think about it.


Marathon Sunday

Marathon Sunday is pretty much my favorite day of the year, for one reason. The route goes by our house, and so our block is closed off to traffic. Every single year, at least one car will come flying down Braddock Avenue and go slamming into the wooden barricades Public Works sets up. For this reason, I do not let my kids actually play in the street, but it is tempting. We do go down to the corner and hang out with all the neighbors to cheer the runners on. Some die-hards arrive early with lawn chairs to see the elite runners to go by. Most people drift down with cups of coffee in hand and babies in strollers once the big crowd of runners starts to pass. There's always a cranky police officer there, dealing with all the people who forgot about road closures and are trying to get to work or church.

This year, M ran again and finished respectably in 3 hours and 21 minutes. He's still got Boston on his mind, so plans to run another marathon in the fall and will hopefully get to that pace he's been chasing. It was really great to hear from friends all around town who saw him running and yes, he always looks that happy when he is running. He also saved me from navigating downtown traffic by riding his bike home from the race. (Yes, M is hardcore like that. He will run 26 miles and then bike 8 home, up a giant hill.) Marko and I cheered him on at mile 17, with Marko briefly joining the runners on the course. I had to dash out and scoop him up while he screamed "DADDY!! I RUN WITH DADDY!!!!"

Although, Daddy running is not that unusual for Marko to see and he greatly preferred watching the street cleaners come by after the race.