Category Archives: child activities

Our Summer Excursion: Days 26-29 Jersey Shore, Shenandoah River, Home

There’s a huge gap in posting Our 2012 Summer Excursion series that recaps our experiences from June 3-August 3 by time and location. Thanks to a friendly nudge, I thought I might try to wrap up our 2012 events before we all turn in to toads in 2013. Or is it royalty? Who has been kissing who around here?

Don’t hesitate to be confused, or lost as to where this story started. Ask questions, or if you care to, go back and read all about it! It’s tagged.

NYC petrol. Roadside.

D26: The whole while we were in Deep River, CT with my aunt and family we envisioned making an overnight stop in NYC. We thought we could catch up with my cousin in Brooklyn, make a stop into Rolling Orange, and show the children a truly enormous city. As we took stock of our days and nights, we opted for driving through, waving at the tall, tall buildings, on the most economic route (some bridge tolls were $25, we avoided those), and staying in New Jersey.

Toll anyone? We doled out about $12 to get from CT to NJ that day.
This is no way to experience NYC. Shameful. We must go back, without the minivan.
It was the pits. So close. So far.

We had arranged to meet up with Megan, her husband and two boys (and now one girl, it’s been too long!!) in Ocean Grove, NJ as a part of the interviewing we were taking on for Liz Canning’s Less Car, More Go documentary about the cargo-bike revolution. If you have been following along with our involvement, you may also recall that it was formerly under the working title (R)Evolutions Per Minute.

Megan recommended Allaire State Park, so on our way through the Bronx, I called and made reservations for the night. Putting that cell phone to work. I have a whole rant about that iphone for later. Remind me to fill you in.

Brent recording video of Megan and Brain on the boardwalk during that “golden light.”

We felt at home with the Soul Learning (Now Days with the Grays) family and were quite smitten with the Jersey shore. It was the deepest beach I had been on, with a wide public, pristine boardwalk, and homes set back behind the front road that angled inward so every front or back porch had a view of the ocean. None of the homes were on stilts, another beach icon I was accustom to. There was a small carnival flair about the shops, not a touristy, buy here, buy now demanding atmosphere. It was hometown meets vacation destination. Ocean Grove earned its place on our “must return for a visit” list. So far, what and who hasn’t?

Oliver left, Gray boy right, at sunset.
Ice cream pallor, our souvenir of choice, and a super treat from the Grays! (thank you again).
They still make these! Excited and horrified.


The calm before the storm at Allaire State Park.

D27: Brent nudged me awake at 6:00AM to help decide if we should strike the camp or throw the fly over the tops of our open air tents. My intentions were to head back to the beach and pow around with Megan, but that wouldn’t be for several hours, and if the tents get wet from the incoming storm, then we would have to pack them up wet and drag them out later.

We chose to pack up and shove off. Who knew how long the rains would last? It was a 20 minute clean up, carry the sleeping children into their seats, finish tearing down the tents and drive away moment. We weren’t even to the park exit before the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down.

We finished out our route through NJ, crossed into Delaware for our first ever Waffle House experience. Brent still gets a chuckle out of the idea that I asked our server what fruits and vegetables they could serve. “This is a grits and grease place, hun.” Thanks. Feeling better now about having never taken my family to Waffle House.

Does a Waffle House stop in Delaware really count as having been to Delaware?

The Delaware stop was intentional. I had never been to Delaware.

We picked up some groceries then kept on trucking. The skies were clear, having driven away from the storm, and we started the process of determining where to go next. I was thinking we might go to Washington DC. There were several people I emailed about visiting as we passed through. We had two nights left before we were to report in Elkins, WV for a three week appointment Brent had taken. If we spent one night in DC and one night in Virginia, or two nights in DC, or what if we spent two night in VA? And so it went. The closer we edged to DC the more we wanted to keep driving. There was a lot of traffic. It was still very early in the day, considering our early start, and staying in DC would cost a lot more money than camping in hills along the Shenandoah River.

We eventually settled on Watermelon Park, south east of Winchester, VA. This place was nestled on the river, down a dirt road. Seeing that it was 100F we found a small shady spot, striped down and climbed into what we hoped would be a cold river. It wasn’t. Brent set up camp, the children and I squinted into the noon day sun.

Shenandoah River. The river bed was solid, slimy rock. Not much deeper than what you see here, even half way out. Strong currents in places, but very soothing.

In setting up camp, Brent assembled the bikes to get around the grounds. We made a few camp store trips for all the necessities (and the air conditioning). We were going to do this camp thing “right.” Fire wood. To go along with the chocolate, Jiffy Pop, marshmallows and graham crackers we picked up earlier in the morning. Our other two camping nights were just for sleeping, this one was for playing. We kicked around the water, skipped a few stones, and burned things.  Oh, and we used a pay shower. Cool. Nothing like depositing quarters to conserve water and time. It was better than any gift giving holiday. Childs play.

Camp mobile.
The main event. Jiffy Pop.

With everyone clean, fed and waiting for some drop in temperature before attempting to settle into tents, Brent checked the forecast. Could we leave the fly off again tonight? It really is great to fall asleep and feel the dewy air settle around you. That is, it is great for me. Brent can’t tolerate what he calls “noises,” fly or no fly. He never sleeps well.

There were forecasted storms at 1AM. Move the tent away from the tree? Closer to the tree line on the west side? Pack up and find a hotel? It was a subtle argument. If we stayed, which I wanted, he would be nervous, scared, miserable, which I didn’t want. If we left, I would be bitter about money and the loss of opportunity to camp, which he didn’t want. I didn’t care to camp in a storm, given that one of our tents was bound to leak buckets. I was unsure of where to put a tent during a storm, under the tree? Out in the open? It didn’t really matter. We rushed around again, without inciting panic in the children, and stuck yet another camp, for the second time in one day. All before sunset (9pm ish).

As we headed back out that dirt road I started looking for hotel vacancies. There were few. Then it began to rain, far earlier than forecasted. As we approached Winchester a wall of wind rocked the van. We pulled over immediately. Flipped on the hazards. We held hands. The wind was pushing everything over a ridge above us. A perfectly horizontal force beating rain, sticks, dust, and debris. We watched trees bow down. Minutes passed as we whispered “tornado?” “do we drive?” “get out and lay in the ditch?”

Everyone around us was stopped as well. The sky was dark, so not knowing what was happening up and out there was intimidating. There was an interstate on ramp and over pass in front of us. We saw a break in the wind and headed straight for town. I knew there was a hotel on the other side, without vacancy, but with resources. We pulled into the hotel overhang, driving over branches and fallen glass lamp covers. Wind still racing. Rain still falling. A man was in the hotel door way. Initially we couldn’t open our van doors. We took stock of how many children to carry at once and who could/would run on their own. I yelled at the man for some help (not very politely), grabbed the baby and Avery as Brent carried Elliot, who was terrified and crying.

Hotel lobby. Weather channel.
London, mildly unphased by the event was using the camera to entertain herself. We really did cower right here for a while. Elliot was terrified, the rest of us were very shaken.

Anyone else remember the night of June 29th? We hunkered down in that lobby for a good while, with a bunch of other great people. The desk clerk found us a hotel room the next exit down, for when the derecho had passed. We drove down an interstate littered with trees that had been broken apart by barreling through semis. We slept light, and thankful, that my stubbornness relented and we made the decision to pack up camp.

Happy hotel guests. This was our second stay at a hotel during the trip. I sent a bill for both those nights to host institution in Rochester as part of our travel costs for Brent’s lecture.

D29: With the intention of driving onto Elkins for our three week stay, we check out of the hotel and went into Winchester the next morning to do laundry and play at another children’s museum (reciprocal pass member!). It was difficult to see where there was no electricity, but there were trees uprooted everywhere. We didn’t realize the devastation of the region until later. The program dean in Elkins called to say the town’s electric and municipal water was down and we couldn’t come to town just yet.

Discovery Museum. Again, free admission with our reciprocal pass.
These small galleries are perfect for spending a couple of hours. We enjoy them more than the large institutions where you never feel like you get to see and enjoy everything. Not that they are not spectacular, they are just massive.
First laundry mat experience. They did all the work. Love it when chores are fun! Laundry cost us about $7 to wash and dry. We had a car seat with vomit on it, so it was not something we could put off.
So entertaining. The establishment also had free popcorn! Perfect, no?

We spent the next many hours calling for hotels, camp sites, anything along I-81. There was either no phone, no cell service (towers knocked down), no electric, or no vacancy. While I understand some of those rooms were full of people who truly needed them. With the extensive heat wave, many of them were full of people who just wanted air conditioning, and it irked me, quite a lot. We drove for nearly 400 miles trying to find a place to stay and then it occurred to us that we could and probably should just go home. We were in our drive way at midnight.

Stopping at the West Virginia welcome center at sunset. This tree suffered from the derecho. Thousands of trees met similar fates. I can’t describe how many downed trees, lines of cars at the only gas pump open for counties, or pitch black mountains and towns we saw. It was an eerie devastation that was trumped by Sandy months later. There needs to be a talk about Disaster Relief with bicycles. These regions could have used some community cargo bike power.

Our house sitter took air conditioned refuge with his own family, who left us a cooler of fruit, drinks and ice, and a battery lantern. We camped under our own roof the night of June 30th.

View Larger Map: As best as I can recall the route


Birthday Bashes

You may have holiday cards, we have birthday.

Round 1
We rung in the birthday season this week! We do parties every other year or so, depending on the situation. This is most definitely a party year. Avery rocked into the 6 on Thursday with a bunch of his best buds, some pals from school, the neighbor boys, who are besties with Elliot, but beloved by the littles, and most of our crew of six. It was free play, inside, outside and upside down. There were no decorations other than those up for the winter holiday season. I had fruit and veggies on the table for after school and juice and soda as a treat.

Cake in the jam jars. I never got a photo of the “finished product.”
Children. Everywhere.

We had home made whole wheat cake I baked in the bottom of tall jam jars then topped with confetti ice cream and extra cupcakes with frosting from the jar. Then enjoyed plain takeout cheese pizza Brent picked up from Ginos on his way home from work.

Tied down with his scarf. Using what’s available.


We organized a game of flashlight tag then gave everyone a flashlight to take home in their ‘goodie’ bag that was sprinkled with confetti snowflakes and mini candy bars. I tried to balance the things Avery wanted to do, with some of the things I wanted. We passed on going to the local Billy Bobs (Showbiz Pizza), passed on the fancy cake, passed on the junky toys. He was delighted with the compromise.

Goodie bags and LED flashlights picked up at the dollar bin in Target.

I turned all the winter gifting over to Brent. I don’t want anything to do with it this year. Turns out, that means he spent $50 on art supplies and science project materials at the local art store for birthday gifts. I am still trying to keep quiet about it (blogging is quiet right?). I am definitely going to have to give him a budget for Christmas. We also didn’t say “no gifts” on the invite this year. Several of our close friends gave him experience gift cards! There were toys, which they love, have broken, and haven’t let go of since. There weren’t many, and they are being enjoyed, so we feel this was a great balance for us this year.

Avery had to make a volcano before bed with his new art supplies. Pipe cleaners, construction paper, wide masking tape for the win!

Round 2
Oliver turned 3 today. It was the cutest and slightly annoying of experiences. He was livid with anyone who suggested he was three. He insisted he was two, that he wouldn’t be three until his birthday. Yeah, that was today. He didn’t “get it.” I mean, he’s only 2, right?


Every year for his special day we host a holiday open house. We are up front about it being his birthday too. Several new friends came by, and old ones, and neighbors. It was a full, loving home tonight. I made adult fare (soups and salad) and had plenty of finger foods. Brent put on two loaves of Pretzel Bread. We lit candles on lemon cupcakes and served apple strudel to everyone else.

Apple strudel with cranberries and almonds, in lieu of cake.
Box mix lemon cupcakes (leftover mix from some cheater cookies I made for a cookie swap), frosting from the jar, crushed pecans. I knew the children wouldn’t eat the strudel, so this was the alternate. They didn’t eat these either…

There were gifts. He only received one gift his first year, which he still uses and enjoys (a Radio Flyer Scoot ‘n Zoom) and no gifts in year two. We exchanged books with friends in lieu of presents, and this was good for all of us. This year, he was having a rough time with Avery having a party and gifts just days before his turn at the event. Brent picked up a toy bow and arrow and some toy tanks, which Oliver had been expecting to receive today. The rest of the guests, knowing how we had done things in the past, all gave him books! We asked our guests to pick out books from our collection to take home with their candy “goodie bags.” It was really great, to yet again, spend a warm evening with good people.

After all that, and especially the candles, Oliver was finally ready to admit he was three. The party sealed the deal.


You can read more about Avery’s 5th birthday here, and how we celebrated with Oliver when he turned two, here.

Leaving the Flock

The Scene
We had a big birthday party after school on Thursday. Avery was celebrating turning six. We had an uncountable number of children in the house at any given time between 3:30 and 7:00pm. There were neighbors, school friends of various grades, siblings, myself and another mother and her newborn. There was also the forgotten violin lesson for London (10yo) at 4:45pm and my husband was at work.

Plan A was to have London stay home. It was her last lesson of the semester. I had forgotten about it, being focused on the party, and not having moved the appointment on my calendar from Tuesday to Thursday.

Plan B was to send her and Elliot (8yo) on their bikes together. Elliot would wait out the lesson with a book and they would return home together. It would be a 1 mile ride, each way. They’d have to cross Hal Greer Boulevard, a busy five lane (one turn lane in the middle) that recently changed their posting from No Turn on Red to No Turn on Red between 7&8am and 2&3pm. Every morning for months, when school returns to session there is a police car with his lights on at the corner across from the school. More often than not, there is car debris in the middle of the road from a recent accident. Everyone was turning right on red there anyway, so I guess they thought that it might be easier to just change the sign than to enforce the law? That corner sees most of their car and walking traffic during those hours, so part of me understands. The part of me that wants my children to be able to get safely across that street at anytime doesn’t.

When the children are on their own bikes, we use the cross walk. Riding up onto the side walk at the entry to the gas station also on that corner, and pushing the button. When the walk signal comes, it posts a red light to all directions of traffic and gives a walk signal to all directions of traffic. When drivers are permitted to turn right on red, their heads are often turned left to see if traffic is coming, not looking right to see if anyone is cross the street. I have issues with this, as you can read, but we choose to use the cross walk with our children at this intersection, and we are not the only ones. When we have the children on our cargo bikes, or we are riding solo, we use the traffic lane.

That aside, Plan C is what took place. Elliot refused to leave the party, and I couldn’t blame him. Despite me explaining my needs for him to be with his sister for safety, that I would have to ask his friends to leave the party, that he may not have friends over during the weekend, or any other “trick” I could pull out, he wasn’t going to leave the house. Having the option of independent transportation can lead to one not transporting themselves. London needed to get to her lesson. I couldn’t leave the party, despite Elliot trying his best to convince ME that I would only be gone 20 minutes and that HE could keep an eye on a dozen plus children.

Having the power of independent transportation can lead one to transporting themselves. London went to her violin lesson, on her own bike, under her own power, all by herself. She carried her violin on her back, in its case with the strap. She had a second bag with her notebook and my cell phone, which Brent insisted I have her take along (I have opinions on this for another time). She said she didn’t want to go alone, at first. Then she said she couldn’t decide and that I should decide for her. Then she just went. She was down the driveway before I could get to the front door to see her off and make sure all her lights were on, that I reminded her to look left and right often, to signal only if she felt safe to lift her hand from the bars, to use the cross walk at Hal Greer, and all those other “worrisome reminders” that parents often recite as their children go out in to the world alone.

Wow. What an enormous milestone. She’s walked a couple blocks away by her self in the past. This time, she was riding in traffic, on her own vehicle, with the power of her own body, a mile from home. There were no bike lanes, no sharrows, no paths. Besides using that crosswalk light, there were no sidewalks. She immediately returns to the lane when the light permits her to cross. There was no one there to remind her what the yellow lines mean, or stop at the signs, or keep an eye on cars backing from driveways. All those behaviors we had been modeling for the past year, all those instructions we had been calling out, were being utilized.

She called when she arrived at lessons. Brent stopped by on his way home from work, with party pizzas, to escort her back in the dark. One mile was a huge accomplishment for her (although she really is nonplussed by the whole event), but a really great test of our own strength to let her go. Maybe you can imagine that Brent and I have different ideas of what our children should be able to do, or what we should allow them to experience. We do. We just come at this parenting thing from different childhoods of our own. We have different fears.

Imagine all of that one more time. Our 10 year old has the means and the ability to travel on the streets without an adult, along side and between vehicles driven by adults (and teenagers). Elliot could have been out there with her. He’s actually the far more responsible, aware and capable one of the two. An 8 year old on the road, on a vehicle that has every legal right to that space as a driver, but does not operate in the same capacity.

It was with these ideas meditating that I read Chicargobike’s recent post that reminds the powers that be, that we must be thinking about complete streets and bike lanes with the intention of having 8-80 year olds get from where they are, to where they need to be, safely and efficiently.

My attitude that Huntington, WV is a bicycle friendly community, remains. However, as we watch our children grow and begin to consider all methods of transportation, we see so much need for improvement. Taking notice of these needs, I spend time writing down my thoughts and expressing my concerns to the agencies that can implement those changes. I encourage you to do the same, where ever you are. It’s one thing to wish things were different, and another thing to let someone know who can do something about it.

Before riding bicycles, we were happy enough to let others make decisions on our behalf. Hurray for a representative democracy! After riding (this could be a BB, before bicycles, and AB, after bicycles thing) we realized “our theys” were not making fully informed decisions. Most of those involved with the planning and  implementation of laws and infrastructure are not riding bikes, walking, in wheel chairs, etc. I am grateful for their attention to the matters, and deeply in love with those who are riding and who are making decisions and creating action, but they are not the majority. They are also experiencing something unique, and so are we.

The thought of asking London and Elliot to go to lessons on their own had been rolling around for a while. I felt like all I was doing was escorting her to practice and coming home. I wasn’t transporting her. She didn’t need me. Brent always met her for the pick up. Other than crossing Hal Greer, the rest of the trip was side streets that may not have had sidewalks and all but one of them didn’t even have paint lines. Very slow, casual roads, where you often found joggers and dog walkers sharing the road with you. The courage to finally send her on her own came from her violin instructor. It had nothing to do with violin. Their family is car-lite too. They ride bikes for transportation to school and work, but do other errands with their van. Hannah mentioned to me that they have been encouraging their 8 and 10year old to ride to school unaccompanied, and they have handled the 1.25mile commute very well, on sidewalks, their preferred riding style. Knowing someone else was out their doing what we wanted to do gave me some confidence to try it.

Does that sound familiar? I started cloth diapering after being around some parents who did so. We began composting after seeing a few friends incorporate this into their lives. We, as people everywhere, often want to see the actions we desire reflected in those around us. We also want to see what we are doing being reflected back. This is why we have social circles and social media. This is why some people move, choose certain schools, wear styles of clothing, practice their faith. We are trying to align ourselves and feel comfortable in our choices. Had Hannah not told me what they were doing, I might not have had London attempt this quite yet. She’s capable, but I don’t know that I was ready, socially, to let her go. While certainly, not everything I do, has to have been done before, or being acted out by others around me (ahem…cargo biking?!?), oftentimes, when it is, it serves as great encouragement.

The Hat Tip
The title of this post is a reference to Travis Wittwer’s Transportland post, Empty Nest. He discusses the discretion made to transition a child from the cargo bike to their own independent wheels. I am not sure where Travis is on having his children ride without an escort. I do know that this is not the start of regular independent child commuting for us, only a foundation.

Where are you in your family bicycling journey?

From Stagnate to Ecstatic

Left you all hanging with a Bah Humbug post and all these other great winter holiday things have been going on. We have been trying to host weekly friend dinners or outings, there has been tinseling and lighting of my Yuba, scheming of birthday parties eminent, planning of ‘cards,’ and a last minute review of the gifting budget. We do a daily snow dance, that has yet to work. I have certainly been more active on quick social media (go ahead, follow or like) than on the blog, and it’s the blogging I miss most. It’s also the blogging that requires more time, which some how, I have plenty of, but not in the right places. Which would be the perfect segue into a review of Stealing Time magazine…but I loaned it out to a friend before I could finish reading it (I was very excited to share!), and again, with that time thing…it’s been all over the place.

We have been doing our general bicycle riding, and still commuting to school by bike more often than by car. Brent always bikes to work. There have been Plan2025 meetings, Kyova transportation meetings, Friends of PATH creation, a little bit of arts fartsy stamp and print making for The Wild Ramp, typical avoidance of household chores, cuddling of children, and fixing of flats. Oh so many bicycle tire flats.

We keep rolling.

The check arrived from the Cafe award and it’s in a pile, in a bag, in my closet, and written on a list of things to work on, somewhere in a drawer, in my room. The interviews we set out to cover for the Less Car, More Go documentary over Thanksgiving break didn’t so much as get talked about. There’s an excuse for that as well.

My frustration with the daily grind continues. My yearning for adventure wages on. The ability to do anything about either is stagnating. I try really hard to be happy with the here and now, and I am thankful for what I have, but I have this personality of dissatisfaction and a need for constant change. I’d say there was something wrong with me, but I know their is not. I am your average crazy in a town of content. If there is something going on in town that I’d like to attend, I have championed excuses for avoiding it. If it’s at a set time, I dread it (i.e. school). That’s if a child isn’t sick, dragging their feet, not doing their homework, etc. Classic depression that I feed and allow to grow. (Feed me, Seymour!)

This muscle in my skull seem defunct. I type things then minutes later read them to find I left out entire words and misspelled the rest. My comprehension to what others are writing or saying is nearly neanderthal. Incredibly slow. Almost fitting to call it, simple minded. There have been some really crazy, awkward and sometimes rude things coming from my mouth when I do have a chance to interact with others. My self absorption is growing. I feel like I annoy everyone I come across in person or in the web.

Then something happens. Make sense of this if you will.

I must pick up the children from school. My ride-share friend moved to Hawaii (I know…the nerve!), and my husband has to teach. The thought of letting them figure out how to come home on their own, does cross my mind. I dread getting Oliver and I ready. Gathering the things, leaving the warmth of whatever we have collapsed into (nap, reading, noshing on chocolates…), and climbing those hills. I am a codependent, introvert. It’s true. Except when I am not, then I am really not.

Then we do it. We settle our helmets. He buckles up, wraps on a blanket when necessary, opens the garage door and we breath deep.

Deeper. Solid breaths. We leave the insulation of home and regain consciousness and intention. A mindful moment.

The excitement of pedaling floods through my entire body. It doesn’t matter what the weather might be, or how the traffic is behaving. It feels amazing. After those four miles are through, I come alive. All those things I put off are suddenly desirable and completed. There is dancing. Sometimes I turn on music. The chaos that always happens when three children simultaneously bombard this house with their days adventures and their afternoon must-dos becomes rewarding. My mind is clear and focused, on them. I make plans for the future, tackle projects, return calls, seek out excuses to leave yet again, for another ride. Some days the opportunity occurs in the form of violin practice or art walk. Most days, there is just too much homework, diner making, uniform finding, lunch packing, and child prodding to be done. Those four miles of bliss get tucked into a special place in my heart and the brooding and longing begins again, until next time.

I might not have the motivational memory I need, but I have the perspective and understanding to appreciate the ride. Everytime.

Go figure.

Ok. Done brooding. Going to tuck the boys back into bed and make cake. Avery turns 6 tomorrow. If no one is vomiting in the morning (two were today), then we shall have a party after school! I will certainly post something on one of those quick social media outlets, tune in, there will be flashlights and camo.

Abandoning a Flat

We have had a lot of seemingly mysterious rear wheel issues with the ownership of our first Yuba (this two Yuba thing could get confusing, we are considering names). When the tire went flat Tuesday, with three boys aboard, I sighed deeply. Was this a related issue? It didn’t really matter. The important things were 1) what are we going to do about it? 2) why does Huntington have such a mosquito problem? It’s a related issue, as I was bitten dozens of times just standing there trying to figure out issue 1.

We were deciding to walk home (less than a mile) when the owner of the home we had locked the bike in front of, opened the door. We knew these people! Their children attended school with ours. How serendipitous! We parked the bike in their living room and carried on home. Brent returned with London, whom we dropped off at violin. He went back to the Yuba with proper tools and discovered a staple in the tire, that was most likely there before, causing both this flat and the previous slow leak.

Small town benefits, flat source found. The perfect October weather was just dessert.


It is noted, we didn’t carry anything to fix the flat. I gave that up when we are not going far (probably not a great practice), and I wasn’t going to fix it with three children crawling around and with the MOSQUITOES. I didn’t walk the bike home because I didn’t want to damage the rim or the tire further. What would you have done?

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