Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Anything can be.

"Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be."
-Shel Silverstein

Spencer has been a five-year-old for a good two weeks, but it's still a hard thing to wrap my mind around. Maybe because his big move to kindergarten has been delayed a year, and he remains suspended in the same routine as his four-year-old self. Maybe because his small frame stands inches shorter than his friends. Or maybe, probably, it's because I'm living in a land of disbelief that he could really be this old. Two weeks in, and I'm still reeling at how big five still feels.

Every birthday we mark the milestone with professional pictures, little growth notches displayed on our walls, his current ones mingling with Baby Spencer and Toddler Spencer. These are tangible proof of where he was, where he is, and where he still has left to go.

Normally my incredibly talented friend photographs my kids, but I decided to give it a try this year. Spencer and I set out one evening, just the two of us, and spent some time snapping pictures and exploring. I did my fair share of coaxing and prodding for him to look at the camera--no, with your eyes--and give me real smiles--say something funny--and bribing--just a few more and then we can throw sticks in the water--but I think it went well. Out of the hundred pictures I took, I have a handful that I really like. I'm excited to have them on my walls, mingling with both Baby and Toddler Spencer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Today is the right day.

"There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live."
-Dalai Lama

You know when someone's foul mood breeds in the air and spreads to all present in the group, and inevitably everyone is ill-tempered and grouchy? Well, that's how our camping trip started last weekend. Ashton was coming off a bout with some pesky bug--drippy nose, congestion, low grade fevers, and as grumpy as can be; Dave was sobering after a run-in with major construction in a town we had to pass through--cursing, panicking, sweating, on the verge of a panic attack. These examples, plus more, didn't start us off on the right footing, and the negativity stayed with us a bit once we rolled into the campground. It took us most of the night to shake it off and decide to leave it behind us and enjoy the today.

We camped in Elkader, the smallest and quaintest of towns, located deep in Small Town Country, Iowa. Our site was big compared to most we've encountered, a slab of cement to park the camper, a paved patio for the picnic table, and an expanse of grass for the boys to romp around on. Instead of the gravel roads we're used to in campgrounds, the boys loved being able to easily ride their bikes on the pavement. The vast majority of the place was filled with seasonal campers that have set roots there for over a decade, coming together each summer for BBQS, fires and late night shenanigans (loud singing to country music, included). We were definitely the youngest in attendance last weekend, but we were welcomed in with quiet hospitality.

After the fog of our bad moods lifted, we explored our temporary home. A basketball court with the backboard boasting local sports pride. A park. A man-made lake bordered with a white metal fence with the strictest instructions not to swim in it. We were, however, allowed to feed the fish. Great big catfish jumped up to snatch the bread pieces, fighting among the smaller, feistier fish. Just outside the campground was an old train car and army tank on display. The boys took immense pleasure in exploring these, especially Ashton, whose train obsession grows by the day.

Our first night ended with s'mores and baths and late bedtime shenanigans. As the boys goofed off in the camper, refusing to succumb to sleep, Dave and I sat subdued around the crackling campfire.

Saturday we awoke with all traces of our cranky day behind us, even when met with minor obstacles. Like the loaf of bread meant to be for our lunches--a bluish green all around the edges. We packed up around lunchtime in search of a restaurant instead, and wound up driving between one teeny tiny Iowa town to another. Finally we stopped in a town that boasted a towny bar that served lunch. It was one of those places that you know has been around as long as the town, maybe trading ownership over the years, but one where every patron knows each other. We were slightly relieved to walk in to an empty restaurant, avoiding the stares saved for strangers. 

After filling our bellies, we spent the afternoon at Osborne Nature Center, where we explored a butterfly garden, small zoo and a replication of an old-time town. While I ventured around the various buildings, the boys spent the majority of their time playing on the small train, driving Daddy to the VFW and wherever else he wanted to go.

On on our way back to the campground, we stopped in Elkader for ice cream and to admire the small waterfall on the Turkey River. 

We returned to the campground late afternoon. With no shade or breeze to ward off the 90 degree day, our moods threatened to return to their crabby state. Dave unhooked the hose from the camper and sprayed the boys to cool them off. Should you ask the boys their favorite part of the trip, this impromptu sprinkler would rank high.

Much like our moldy bread lunch fiasco, I discovered I was ill-prepared for supper, too. The pound of hamburger sat in our fridge at home, of no use to us hours away. Instead I substituted the burger with sliced hotdogs in our hobo dinners. The lone jalapeno I added proved to be extremely potent, and we sweated and cursed and chugged beer.

That night Dave and I found ourselves around the fire, the campground eerily quiet compared to the boisterous sounds of partying friends the previous night. The seasonal campers had retired early after having begun their partying well before the lunch hour that morning. The peaceful night was perfect, and as the boys fought sleep once again inside the camper, Dave and I made plans for what little remains of the summer, and talked into the night.

Sunday we slowly and lazily readied to go home, making one last run through the campground--pj clad and bare feet, loveys swinging in dirty hands. What started on a sour note, definitely progressed into a sweet trip at a destination we'd certainly visit again.