This weekend we camped on the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail. A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Ohiopyle campground, which was especially fun because we were there with Laurel's friends from school and their families. However, the campgrounds are super crowded in the summer and kind of noisy. It's less than a mile from the parking lot to get to the 653 Shelter so we did a sort of hybrid backpacking trip. We didn't hike very long, but we were far enough away from our car that we just carried in sleeping stuff and water and a few snacks. Marko would have made it, except we were running out of daylight so M threw him up on his shoulders for the last part of it. We made a fire and ate some pistachios.

The next morning, we woke up and hiked out (Marko made the whole distance this time on his own two feet. Yay!). We took them down to the river in Ohiopyle for a while and they splashed around, collecting sea shells and drawing in the sand with sticks.

I don't have a single picture of the weekend. I never carry a camera anymore and my phone doesn't really work in Fayette County so I just left it in the car. We didn't really have any toys or books with us, and it was fun to see the kids find stuff to do. The overnight trip was a total reset for all of us....a chance to hang out without a lot of distraction and enjoy each other's company and the beautiful surroundings.

Not that it's all bliss and relaxation. They cry, they fight, they won't go to sleep at the right time. Marko needs to stop a lot when we hike and we still have to carry him sometimes. I have to be prepared to clean up poo and then haul it out. Everyone gets really dirty, there's poison ivy and ticks. I've learned to never, ever run out of snacks, but sometimes it still happens. And the car is utterly trashed every single time we go anywhere. It kind of creates a lot of extra work for me. But still, I'm always glad we went.

I love that we have a place to go. The kids are getting to know the trails we frequent and the terrain and features of the region. They recognize the landmarks on the way to our favorite places, and Laurel especially understands how everything changes throughout the year and depending on the weather.


How to Raise an American

Last night we met up with some family at the park where I spent every 4th of July (and most days of summer) as a kid. The weather was pretty terrible, but we still had a good time, sharing a picnic and watching the kids play together. We ended up leaving before fireworks started, as it was raining pretty heavily, so Marko and Laurel have yet to experience that part of Independence Day.

It's complicated to explain the meaning behind this holiday. You can't really talk about any of our patriotic celebrations without talking about war. To a child, it may just seem to be about picnics and fireworks.

Last night I read this essay in the Atlantic about E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy list. When I was a kid, my aunt bought me the kid's encyclopedic version of his list (it's been revised several times since). I remember paging through it well into my high school years, and comparing the items that I was familiar with from school to those I had not yet encountered. Hirsch was criticized for the heavy "dead white male" presence on the list, and the essay in the Atlantic really explores that criticism. Having spent most of my education career working with Latino and Black children, and now raising my own white children, I am sensitive to the subtle messages that underpin every textbook paragraph or discussion about historical events, and the way those messages have different effects on children from different backgrounds. But still, it resonates strongly with me that having a common body of knowledge is important for our country and for preparing the next generation of citizens.*

The thing that I always liked about Hirsch's work, and what I found most relevant to my own work as a teacher of literacy, is the idea of schema. No matter what might be on your "list" of things to teach your kids, each item is sure to provoke curiosity of a whole web of other topics. Exploring those schema can often lead to alternative accounts of historical events, exploration into stories that were once important to Americans but now forgotten. The "list" is fluid, ever-changing, just like the composition of America itself. I'm sure Pearson and Scholastic and the marketers of Common Core hate that idea, because it becomes impossible to publish it and sell it to schools.

At the end of the essay, the author challenges us to think of just 10 things - not the the 5,000 on Hirsch's list - that every American should know. I'm only going with 5, because my kids are little, and my list is sort of centered around Independence Day and words they might hear. I'll look these up on Wikipedia, do an image search, look for flags when we're out and about, and check out some books from the library the next time we go.  I'm probably going to accidentally tell them something inaccurate, or leave out a relevant detail. The point is not to make them experts on the term, just to familiarize them, one story at a time, one evolving list at a time.

Stars and Stripes
Thomas Jefferson

*Even using the word citizen caused me to pause. I used the word to mean "someone who participates in society" in a very general sense. But I started thinking about the people my kids know who are not US citizens, or who took different paths to citizenship. It's important that we all have an accurate definition of terms like this, or it becomes impossible to understand or participate in discussions about it. 


Right Now: Liveblogging the last moments of the day

It's light until very late in the evening right now. The kids will not go to bed until 9 at the earliest. Sometimes we spend a lot of time trying to make them go to bed earlier, but I am rather lazy, and would rather not put forth good effort on a fruitless task. (The downside is limited adult time in the evening, but that's not fun anyway if they keep popping out of their beds.) So right now, I'm lounging in my low-boy camp chair, typing this blog post and trying to see if the kids will actually clean up the random mess of felt pieces, pipe cleaners and Legos they have scattered across the living room and dining room.

I think our camp chairs are actually the most comfortable pieces of furniture that we own. What does that say about us?

I'm playing their favorite music to inspire them...a strange mix of Wiz Khalifa, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and Taylor Swift. I had the marvelous idea to call our dinner "Pasta Bar" and serve the ingredients separately. I think that's why Taco Tuesday is so successful. Everybody ate with enthusiasm (except M, he isn't home from work yet).

My other summer evening trick is to not turn on any lights when it starts to get dark. So it's very dark in here, and I actually have no idea how many pipe cleaners are left on the floor.

Laurel seems to know all the words to Blank Space.

I finally chopped down the jungle of weeds that was taking over the backyard today. I promised to pay Laurel $5 if she filled a whole garbage bag with weeds. But she wandered off after about five minutes and joined Marko in filling and dumping out various water bottles and buckets in the kiddie pool. Then after I picked up all the weeds she was hysterical over missing her opportunity to earn money.

Wow, they really like Uptown Funk. If it wasn't so dark in here, I would take a video of the dancing that is going on. There are still a lot of pipe cleaners on the floor, though.

I'm not sure it's going to get any cleaner in here, so it's time to call it.

No wait, Marko just showed up with the broom. There is hope yet. At least all the pipe cleaners might make it to one corner of the room, along with any stray pasta.

Yep, this is going to be as clean as it gets.

We do baths everyday because we spend a lot of time in the park and I'm paranoid about deer ticks. I'm very excited to read a few of our library picks from today. Marko got "Squirrels" and "Fire Trucks." Laurel and I will continue on with "The Long Winter" - which reminds us how good we have it. And the it will be dark and everybody will fall asleep right away. Probably including me!

Taco Tuesday and the Little House on the Prairie

Laurel and I have been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. It kind of blows my mind that I have a kid big enough to listen to chapter books, and it's delightful to revisit something I read in childhood. Ma runs the household with this air of confidence that I truly envy. My primary reaction to adult life and parenting has been "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!" In every chapter, I'm amazed at what they make do with, and how fast their chores get done. Ma makes their own brooms, for goodness sakes. My chores, on the other hand, are literally never done. Ever. And I have no shortage of supplies.

But there are times when I feel more confident about my homemaking skills. Every Tuesday for the past year or so, I've mixed up a bowl of masa harina, salt and warm water. At first, I carefully measured, to ensure that I would end up with the right consistency and the right number of tortillas. But in the last few months, the process has become more intuitive. My mom showed me the trick of using a plastic grocery bag to line the press. I feel the dough, add a little more water, or let it sit a little longer. Instead of needing to carefully divide the dough with a knife, I pinch off the right amount before rolling it into a ball and placing it in the tortilla press. Taco Tuesday started after we watched the Lego movie, kind of as a joke. It continues because it anchors our week. We usually invite some guests, but that often comes together last minute. If more people show up, I mix up more dough. It only takes a minute or two to cook a fresh batch of tortillas, especially now that we have the Griddler. Marko and Laurel are familiar enough with the process that they are actually pretty helpful. I clear out the half-full containers of leftovers in the fridge, and see what will make a good combination in a taco.

Tacos are the key to becoming more like Ma Ingalls. By that, I mean that she only ever cooked a few different meals. Routine and repetition made her a master at her job.