Category Archives: kids

Which buys more – $3 or $30?

What is the true value of a dollar? When we spend our hard-earned money, what are we really buying? We usually like to think we know what we’re getting.

A chance encounter has made me think more specifically about what we get for our money. On the surface we’re buying ground turkey to make tacos, a new shirt to wear, or the latest book from our favorite author. But behind every purchase lies a deeper story, a bigger meaning. Recently some ground turkey got me a hug and a big thank-you from my son for fixing his favorite dinner. Well worth the price!

I look at the scattering of no-longer-played-with toys in our house, and it makes me hesitate to buy more toys. I’ve seen the scenario played out many times over the years: give kids a cool, new toy; kids play happily with new toy; new toy is set aside and forgotten.

Of course, some toys last longer than others, and some draw the kids back in time and time again. But others are sadly far too short-lived. It’s entirely possible to spend $30 on a toy that for some reason never gets played with. Instead of getting happy, engaged kids, we get some plastic to clutter the floor and we’re out $30. Probably not a good return on investment.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to spend a mere $3, and change a person’s outlook on life, at least for a while. When I gave a homeless couple $3 for a pair of city bus passes so they could get to services downtown, their eyes lit up and they cried tears of thankfulness. Sometimes a mere $3 can get hope, encouragement, real help.

I wouldn’t stop giving gifts to my children, of course. But there can be an inverse relationship between the amount of things someone has and how much they appreciate what they are given. It might be good, even healthy, to give our kids less, which would perhaps increase their appreciation for what they do have.

It might also be good, even healthy, to give more freely to those in need who cross our paths. The truly needy are typically full of appreciation, and even a little help from us can impact their lives in a big way.

Some people say they won’t give if they don’t know for sure how the money will be spent. But I dare to think it might not matter so much whether we can accurately judge how well the money will be used. We give for the needy person’s sake as well as for our own. When we help others, it blesses them and us. There is a balance between taking a reasonable chance on someone and being foolish, of course. But if we use our best judgment and act in faith, we can let God handle the outcome on the other side.

So, what do we get for our money? What are we truly buying? If we have $30 or $3, we still have a choice. Sometimes we buy passing pleasures or things we need. Sometimes we find we have bought hope, encouragement, or tears of joy.

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When It’s More than Just an Oyster Roast

The sun sinks low beyond the marshes as we gather under the canopy of trees in the cooling night air. Family and friends, old and new, swap stories, speculations, and pleasantries. And the fire crackles in anticipation of the oysters.

Men place the square metal table over the fire. Once the table is good and hot, oysters are tumbled on, ready to be covered in wet burlap. Ready to steam.

Not a fan of oysters myself, I’m here for the company, as well as the other food–Lowcountry boil; grits casserole with collards, broccoli, bacon, and secret ingredients; twice-baked potatoes; and more.

Our hosts are gracious and welcoming, happy to share the beautiful winter evening under the oaks with the whole lot of us. Adults mingle around the fire. Kids flock together, playing games. More than a handful of dogs patrol the area on the lookout for wayward food or just a good belly-rub.

Before long the first batch of oysters is ready, and an eager throng huddles around a long table, oyster knives in hand. A woman from Atlanta tries oysters for the first time, and declares they are worth moving to this area. I muster my courage to try one, and I don’t mind it, but I’m content to leave the rest for the more enthusiastic eaters among us. My husband can eat my share. Besides, he has a little help from our 10-year-old son who realizes he likes oysters alright, but he really likes opening them for his dad.

Spanish moss drapes down from the branches as laughter rises up with the smoke to the wide Southern sky. Like a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of life. Somewhere through those branches above, the nearly full moon oversees the winding rivers and marshlands, impartial as a judge or a jewel set in the crown of this night.

My daughter and I sit a while at a picnic table, as my younger son fills up on crackers, cookies, and cake. My girl and I are eating Lowcountry boil when she announces we should do this more often. This oyster roast gathering of friends and family and food has made a good impression on her, and she’d like some more. And I think of how this is hers, in a sense, as it is ours.

This whole January-oyster-roast-with-friends-around-the-fire is part of the beauty and magic of the coastal South, an inheritance of tradition that mingles with the land. This land that clutches its treasures of history from Native Americans to Revolutionary War, through the Civil War to modern times, all cloaked in pine needles, acorns, and this sandy soil, and wrapped up in the distinctive scent of the salt marsh.

This is our inheritance, for those of us who call it home. Even for me, an adopted daughter of the South, raised here since the age of 12, the age of my daughter now. Here the hospitality is served with sweet tea, shrimp or blue crabs from the local river, oysters steamed outside on a chilly winter night, and good home cooking. Here we greet strangers, and hold the door open.

Though the heavy heat of summer drags on forever, and the sand gnats attack when the weather turns fine, still there is something special. The easiness in the sway of the Spanish moss in the breeze carries over into our easy manners, generous attitude, and good-natured stories. And our run-ins with alligators and snakes and flying palmetto bugs the size of your palm make for some great stories.

The evening draws to a close, and most of the crowd is gone by the time our family says our goodbyes. We load up in the minivan, and make our way down the dark dirt road sheltered by stretching live oaks. It’s time to head back to the paved roads and our usual daily routine. But we carry a little piece of the magic with us. It’s always there, just below the surface, a part of this unfolding story of our land, our region, ourselves.

Back at home, when the breeze blows just right, the scent of the salt marsh drifts down our street, reminding me of this privilege, of this inheritance, of this story we become.

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Scrambled eggs, anyone?

My son, Will, is a go-getter. The second-born of our children (but the firstborn male), he is competitive and driven toward superlatives like “best” and “fastest” and “biggest.” He has decided he will be rich when he grows up, and has looked into the cost of cargo ships because he thinks it would be cool to convert one and live on it. So, in his nine years of life, he has come up with various ideas for making money.

Recently, Will looked at me with a sparkle in his eyes and said, “I know how I can make some money. I’ll sell eggs.” No, we don’t have chickens in case you’re wondering.

My blank stare encouraged him to continue. “Scrambled, of course,” he added.

He went on to explain his plan of setting up a table at the end of our driveway where he could take people’s orders and then run inside the house to cook their scrambled eggs while they wait. Who needs a lemonade stand when you can have a scrambled egg stand? This idea is surely inspired by my son’s newfound skill of cooking scrambled eggs, which he thinks are the best. He is quite proud of his new ability, and apparently wants to share it with the world (at a profit!).

And while I have my doubts about the viability of the scrambled egg stand business model on our quiet neighborhood circle, I give the boy credit for coming up with ideas and imagining possibilities. And I walk the line between grounding him in reality and encouraging him to dream and imagine and create. Who knows what he will come up with? He just might hit on a big idea one day that could change the world.

In the meantime we have scrambled eggs, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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How to Win an Inn

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There’s an inn to be won for $150 and 200 words. The transfer of real estate by essay contest is becoming a bit of a trend around the country, and the most recent example to catch our family’s attention is a lovely inn located in a cozy town in coastal Maine. I imagine the delicious wild Maine blueberry pancakes for breakfast, the friendly visitors, rocky shoreline, small town community, stunning scenery, and long, exceptionally long, winters.

And I wonder how does one win an inn? Out of 7,500 essays, what does it take to be the top pick? What can you pack into 200 words to convince the innkeeper you are worthy? Is she looking for credentials? A resume? Passion? Writing skills? Originality? If I write that I’ve always wanted to run an inn, does that make me enthusiastic and hopeful or just like 6,000 other innkeeper wannabes? Is it even worth saying, or is it a waste of precious words?

Maybe luck is the best you can hope for. Maybe a certain number of essays make the short list due to their likeability. But probably a whole lot of essays are just fine, so some are chosen and others discarded by sheer chance or whim. It’s kind of like the lottery, only with much better odds. And, after all, somebody’s going to win (unless there are not enough entries, in which case the deal is off and money is returned).

Though we have not decided to enter the contest, our whole family is excited just by the idea of winning the inn. After visiting Maine on vacation a year ago, our three kids think it would be great to live there. True, we visited for about a week in the summer with near-perfect weather, and had a lot of fun. Which is not at all comparable to living there year-round running an inn, but nevertheless… they are ready to pack up and move.

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It’s odd to me that our children are so eager to move away. When I was 12 years old, my family decided to make a big move, and I could not understand why we would ever move away from home. Home was a place back then, tucked in the context of extended family and history. It’s not so much that way anymore as our society has become so much more mobile. Most of our kids’ cousins live far away, only coming for visits from time to time. And we have had plenty of friends move away over the years, so why shouldn’t we move away, too? There is something to be said for being the one to leave rather than the one always left behind.

Will, who is nine, has another reason to want to move. He is sure that if we pack up all our belongings he will finally find his lost Gameboy. Never mind that he hasn’t wanted to play with it in ages until recently. Or that he has some issues with putting his toys where they belong. There is something to be said for being organized enough that you don’t have to rely on a major move to find your stuff. But enough of that… no need to launch into lecture mode.

But wouldn’t it be something if we were to win the inn? How exciting and terrifying and life-changing! It would perfectly turn our world upside down, which is sometimes what we need, or maybe what we crave, even secretly. A change big and bold and dramatic. Crazy enough to shake loose the cobwebs of complacency and comfort, to raise questions and eyebrows. Some might call it folly. Others might call it a fresh start. I would call it an adventure.

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The Mowing of Grass and the Growing of a Boy

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I decided to mow the grass yesterday. Usually Jon takes care of the grass mowing, but I thought I would surprise him this time. Little did I know I was the one in for a surprise.

The kids had just finished their after school snack when I announced that I would be out front mowing. Will’s eyes lit up, and he asked if he could help. He is nine, and has helped mow the lawn only a few times. I hesitated, partly surprised by his enthusiasm and partly wary of his inexperience. But he had already finished his homework while waiting for me to pick him up at school, so I said yes, and we headed out through the garage.

I almost never mow the grass, but Will and I managed to get the mower started (he helpfully pointed out the little red button on the side that must be pushed before the mower will start). I showed my son where to begin, and off he went, happy as can be, with a look of determination.

It was one of those times when you can practically see your child growing up before you. Sometimes they grow subtly, almost sneakily, so that you barely notice until all of a sudden they are three inches taller. But this time I could see it there before me, the stretching, the reaching, the straining. Like my boy was willing himself to grow into bigger shoes, to be like his dad. As he leaned in to push the mower over the stubborn ground, he was leaning in to growing up.

And he wanted it. He wanted to be bigger, to do more, to be more. I could see it… in his face and in the way he didn’t want to let his sister have a turn. (Who knew mowing could be such an envious task?) But he let her have a turn anyway, content to stand beside me and watch her in a knowing, supervisory way.

Will started calling us Dad and Mom recently instead of Daddy and Mommy. Just out of the blue he changed our names. Anna, who is older, thinks it sounds strange. I think he is putting us on notice that he is no longer little, and he has plans to grow up. This child, the one who so often would wriggle away when I tried to snuggle him even as a baby… he is set on going.

When Anna had enough of her turn mowing, Will happily jumped back in the game. I watched him maneuver the lawnmower around the yard in a rather random path. He was full of determination and pride, though a bit lacking in skill. I tried not to point out every patch of lucky grass he missed, saving my comments for only the most obvious areas, and deciding to make up some of the difference with the hand clippers later.

Before long, both the front and back yards were mown, and they looked pretty good. My boy was sweaty and satisfied with himself as he went into the house.

I stood outside a little longer, taking in this accomplishment. And I was proud in a bittersweet way, pretty sure he was taller now.

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Considering the Challenge of Public Education

Recently I have been thinking about the challenges of public education . My daughter will be going to middle school next year, so we are looking at our options, trying to provide her with the best opportunities.

Our county has an interesting assortment of charter, specialty, and traditional schools of varying levels of accomplishment. Some of these schools boast high achievement with outstanding test scores and innovative programs, others lag sadly behind the basic standards, and many are a mixed bag. Students can apply to attend a charter or specialty school, and many do. In fact, there are so many students clamoring to attend the higher achieving schools that they just don’t have room for them all. Thus, a lottery selection process has been established to determine who gets in.

At this point, my daughter has lost the lottery for the charter school, and is preparing to play the next school lottery. And it strikes me as sad that motivated kids must leave their education to chance. What message does that send about motivation, hard work, the path to success? How many kids apply to these schools and fail to get in? How many squander time in less than challenging classrooms that, by necessity, struggle to bring other kids up to speed?

I can’t help but wonder, if there are so many students wanting to attend the “better” schools, why can’t we make more schools “better?” Obviously our county has some strong, successful programs, so why can’t we bring them all up to that standard? Public education is working great in some schools, yet failing miserably in others. So what makes the difference?

Some parents like to look to websites such as GreatSchools.com to evaluate school performance, but what does it really tell you? The GreatSchools evaluation is based on test scores. But what is behind the test scores? If a school has low scores, is it really a “bad” school? What are they doing there and why is it not working? Are scores low because of a deficiency on the part of the teachers? Because of the kind of students that attend? A failure in parenting? Socioeconomic or racial factors? The neighborhood it is in? A lack of money?

I believe, at the heart of school performance, the driving factor is values. Higher achieving schools have a common thread of students and parents and teachers and a school culture that all place a high value on learning and excelling. They are committed to learning. There is an excitement in the pursuit of Great that you cannot find if your goal is Good Enough. And that excitement can lead to higher levels of learning.

Education is a team effort. All the players must do their part. We cannot expect teachers to make up for misplaced values in the home or a culture that places celebrity and notoriety above character and learning. We cannot expect students to respect themselves and others if they are not shown and taught respect by involved parents, teachers, and the community. We are all in this together. Even if you don’t have children in the public school system here, public education affects you because these students will shape our community going forward.

So then, I wonder, how do we spread the value of learning to our students and to our community? How does the idea that learning is fun and valuable, important and powerful catch on? How can we cultivate curiosity and a desire to learn in the minds of students and maybe parents who are disinterested or otherwise preoccupied?

Can we encourage more parents of preschoolers to talk with them, read with them, count things with them to prepare them for school? Can we increase the visibility and impact of Parent University? Are there other service programs or churches in place already that can expand their focus to reach out to lower achieving students and schools with encouragement to value education? Can we bring some community leaders into the schools to lead motivational sessions about the importance and joy of lifelong learning? Can we further equip and empower our teachers to use innovative techniques in the classroom?

Maybe we can brainstorm, start a dialogue, and then step up and try something new to spread the idea that learning is fun and valuable, important and powerful. Maybe it won’t work. But maybe it will. If more people placed a high value on education, I think we would see a shift in mindset, in priorities, in results. We could raise the performance and the positive experience of all of our public schools.

Sure, you could say it’s only middle school. It’s not the end of the world. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal after all. Or maybe it’s the difference between getting by and thriving. Between learning to take the easy way, just doing the minimum, and being encouraged to take on challenges. Between merely making good grades and being excited by learning.

For some, where they go to school doesn’t matter all that much. They will do just fine anywhere. They will learn enough, make their grades, and life goes on. But, if our society is going to say that education is important, why teach our students to settle for Just Fine when there is the chance to have Great? And why leave that up to chance?

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7 Reasons to Lock the Kids Out of the House

The weather has turned blissfully autumn around South Georgia recently. Perfect for spending time outside without instantly sweating. Equally perfect for kids (and adults) to play outside. While my children do play outside during the dreadful heat of summer (which lasts far too long here if you ask me), in this autumn weather I am more enthusiastic in my encouragement of outside play, as well as more likely to join in walks, bike rides, and other outdoor fun. It just feels good to be out there in the cool weather sunshine with its crunchy leaves and butterflies.

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And outside play is great for kids. It is natural and healthy, even important, for children to spend time outside, connecting with nature and exploring their world. Research shows that we humans have a need for this type of connection. That it is good for us. That we suffer for a lack of it.

So rather than stressing grades quite so much, we might do some good by sending the kiddos out to play more. For there is some important learning to be done outside, independently, as well. It is good for the kids and good for the environment, as people who develop a connection with nature are more likely to take action to care for it. And it is just plain fun to play outside.

Outside, kids really tap into their creativity and imagination. They make tools out of sticks and clubhouses from clusters of trees. They develop storylines and characters for their games, maybe good guys and bad guys or imaginary creatures. The sky is the limit so they can imagine big.

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With all the talk of childhood obesity these days, playing outside is a great alternative to sitting in front of a screen. Kids exercise without even thinking about it as they chase each other, fly a kite, climb in that clubhouse tree cluster, or ride their bikes.

Perhaps children today are more sedentary not so much because they don’t want to exercise (as we adults may sometimes think of it as another chore), but rather because they are not often placed into the opportunity to exercise naturally. We let them sit and watch while the world outside beckons for them to explore and run and jump. They might just need some encouragement in the right direction if they are not used to playing outside much.

We might be tempted to think it would be better for our children to practice more with those flash cards than to play outside. While that sounds good (to adults anyway) and while there is a time and a place for flash cards, consider this article, by Richard Louv of the Children & Nature Network, based on studies that show the connection between getting out into nature, and the world, and learning science. Apparently a lot of science learning takes place outside the walls of a classroom, so it is not enough to rely on teachers alone to teach science to our kids. If you really want them to excel, send them outside or take them hiking. Maybe bring a field guide and binoculars.

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The scientific method, at its core, starts with curiosity, a wanting to know. When kids are outdoors, interacting with the plants and creatures and landscape, their curiosity has a chance to lead them into new discoveries and even basic research. I don’t know how many caterpillars our family has looked up online because we found them in our yard, and the kids wanted to know what they eat and what they will become.

Playing in the great outdoors also gives children the chance to develop their problem solving skills, which are essential to their life success. Spurred on by their curiosity, creativity, and imagination, kids are bound to run into some problems out there. As they learn how to solve these problems, they learn about themselves and their abilities, develop a healthy self-confidence, and become better equipped to handle larger life problems in the future. They cultivate a healthy sense of risk-taking as we allow them  to take reasonable risks, which also contributes to their self-confidence for taking on bigger challenges.

In this age of helicopter parents and preplanned activities, children don’t need to be coddled or sheltered by well-intentioned adults as much as they need room to grow. When we send them outside to play or take them to natural areas, like state parks or the beach, we give their natural curiosity and imagination room to expand, their bodies room to stretch and romp, their minds room to wonder and learn and solve problems that matter to them.

So many benefits from something as simple as playing outside and interacting with the natural world. So get them out there. Tell your kids to take a hike. Or go fly a kite. Or whatever. And sometimes you can go, too, just for the fun of it.

 

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Trying to Make Friends Out of Siblings

Frustrated by the arguing, nitpicking, and occasional bad attitudes of certain unnamed individuals in our home, I have started reading a book to my children. It is called Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends by Sarah, Stephen, and Grace Mally. The authors are siblings with obvious life experience who discuss the challenges and joys of siblings, while applying the unique perspectives of their birth orders.

The Mallys suggest reading the book with the children, which is a bit different from most parenting books I have read. Typically the parent reads the book, and then applies it to the children. In this case the desired change, to a large extent, must come from the kids themselves, so the book is written to them, and they are in on the solution. I have great hopes for this book.

When Evan, who is 5, heard the title of the book, he stopped me and asked, wide-eyed, “You mean your brother and sister can be your friends?” Yes, it is true, little guy. But really, our children are not so terrible together. They do have times when they get along great and clearly enjoy one another, and I love that. I just want to see more of it. More friendship, less snark and accusation.

It kills me to see my children hurt each other. I grew up as an only child, always dreaming of and begging for a sibling. Someone to play with and go through life with. And while I realize that a certain amount of conflict is inevitable when people live together, I want love and kindness to be a strong foundation of our family. I have given my children the gift of each other, and I must teach them to appreciate it.

Contrary to the book’s title, I do not plan to measure our success with this book based on my children becoming true best friends. If they do, great. But I just want them to get along better and enjoy one another more. A little less competition and self-centeredness. A little more kindness and empathy. Is that too much to ask?

So last night we all assembled in the living room, and I began chapter one, which helped us consider why family relationships can be such a struggle. Each chapter contains sections by each author, giving their own special perspective. Anna enjoyed some of the comments made by Sarah, the firstborn. Will liked it that the middle child was a boy, Stephen. He also teased that Evan is a girl (Grace, the youngest), which of course did not go over so well with Evan and nicely illustrated the reason for our new book.

While I read last night, it seemed that the kids were listening and thinking. At least they looked pensive to me, though maybe it was my own wishful thinking. Anyway, I am hopeful we will see some improvement in relationships and behavior in the days ahead… either from real changes of heart or an attempt to appease me so I won’t read such books to them anymore! But change is change, and I’ll take it.

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Milkweed, Monarchs, and Family Fun

This summer we planted milkweed in our yard, some in the front and some in the back, in hopes of attracting monarch butterflies. Monarchs migrate south from August through October and return north in the spring, seeking milkweed to lay their eggs along the way. The little caterpillars only eat milkweed, so it is vital to their existence. We planted and watched and waited.

After a few weeks we had our first monarch butterfly sighting in our yard, and before we knew it our milkweed plants were being devoured by some very hungry caterpillars. Milkweed is poisonous, and the caterpillars become poisonous by eating it, thus providing them with some protection from would-be predators. We all loved checking on the caterpillars throughout the day, marveling over how much they grew and wondering if we had enough plants to feed them.

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One day, after the caterpillars had grown to about two inches long, I noticed them wandering away from their beloved milkweed plants. A couple of them headed toward our patio, which I did not think was a good idea, so I returned them to the milkweed. The next day I found a beautiful pale green chrysalis adorned with gold sparkles hanging below a window overlooking the patio. It was stunning in its delicate beauty and the promise of transformation inside.

And so began our chrysalis time as more caterpillars disappeared, presumably wandering off to start their transformation. But we wanted to see, so we brought four large caterpillars inside, placing them in a mesh “butterfly habitat” with a few leaves for good measure. They did not eat the leaves, but made their chrysalises instead.

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The monarch stays inside its chrysalis for eight to ten days before emerging. After a couple days, the chrysalis on the patio turned strangely dark in one spot, as did one of our inside chrysalises. After nine days of watching and waiting, one of our healthy chrysalises turned clear, darkened by the orange and black wing pattern that was now plainly visible inside. A few hours later our first monarch emerged with her lovely wings.

The new butterfly clung to her broken chrysalis, and rested while her wings expanded and dried, dripping some extra color onto the bottom of the habitat like a tie-dyed shirt dripping. She would sometimes twirl and twist and stretch her wings. As she grew stronger, she would flutter a bit.

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Within two to four hours of emergence, after the wings are dry, the butterfly is ready to go. The kids and I released our monarch friend in the front yard near some flowers. Uninterested in the flowers, she fluttered from one leaf to another before settling on a leaf on our gum tree. There she rested for so long that we finally gave up watching her. At some point she flew away.

That same day we saw at least two more monarchs in our yard feasting on flowers, apparently the product of our crop of caterpillars who had wandered off into the yard. Two other indoor butterflies emerged over the next day or two, but the two that had darkened early never did emerge. My son also found one other chrysalis in the yard that had been broken before it had a chance to emerge.

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It was pretty amazing and special for our family to get this glimpse into the life of monarch butterflies, watching them go through their stages, considering their needs, witnessing their transformation, and releasing them to fly their long journey. I like to think we made a difference for these guys with our little patches of milkweed. Hopefully more monarchs will find us along their route.

Monarch butterflies have seen a decline in populations largely due to loss of milkweed. If you have a place in your yard to plant some milkweed, maybe the butterflies will find you, too. And you can help make a difference for these beautiful, fascinating creatures.

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Our Epic Family Vacation

In July our family embarked on our Epic Family Vacation to New England. This trip added about 3000 miles to our minivan, enabled us all to learn the words to the Frozen soundtrack, spanned city and country settings, brought us face to face with history and wildlife, and tested our camping skills, adaptability, patience, and perseverance. It was the best of times.

Our first stop was Boston, Massachusetts, a city rich in history and conveniently located near prime whale watching areas. Our family boarded the Hurricane II in search of whales on Saturday, and enjoyed a morning full of breaching humpbacks and swimming minkes. It was amazing.

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In the city, we followed the Freedom Trail, learning more about the American Revolution along the way and reflecting on the ideas of liberty and courage. It is always inspiring to gaze into the lives of those who were brave to stand for what they believed. We wrapped up our time in the Boston area with a dip in Walden Pond where Thoreau found inspiration and I hoped for some of the same.

The next leg of our Epic Family Vacation took us six hours farther north to Acadia National Park where we camped for four nights to the sound of waves crashing on the rocky coast. It is a magical, postcard kind of place. The air was cool and refreshing, a world apart from our own south Georgia in July. Sunshine sparkled on the waves while we clambered over rocks and ate wild blueberries along the path. We couldn’t resist taking a dip in this frigid part of the Atlantic, discovering that it’s not so bad once your legs go numb. We also had to swim in Echo Lake, which was just a tad less frigid.

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Our greatest vacation accomplishment was hiking to the almost-top of the South Bubble Mountain near Jordan Pond. The kids climbed like mountain goats up the rocky scramble trail, and we actually had to tell them to slow down. Eight-year-old Will was determined to make it to the top. Almost there, we came to a very narrow, steep section. Jon climbed up to check it out, and we decided not to proceed with our 10, 8, and 5-year-olds. The trick, of course, would be not just going up, but also coming back down with tired legs. Will was terribly disappointed. One day when they are older maybe we will tackle it again. Unfortunately, we will also be older!

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All too soon it was time to pack up camp and move on, meandering southward like a lazy river. Our river, however, crossed the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, which is when we went into full moose lookout mode. The road signs clearly indicated moose crossings in abundance, but not a single moose graced us with its appearance.

The evening we slept in New Hampshire, we drove around a while after dinner. When we came upon a good potential moose area, we set up our stake-out, watching and waiting. It was a grassy area by a pond, surrounded by woods. Prime moose habitat. A fellow moose-seeker stopped his car and told us he had seen moose there before. And so we waited more. But it was not to be.

Although we returned home mooseless, we did enjoy seeing many critters on our trip… amazing whales, incredibly cute red squirrels, zippy chipmunks, giant slugs, dead porcupines and skunks, lots of deer and turkeys and groundhogs, a peregrine falcon fledgling, tidal pool starfish, and a mink (we think). Not bad at all.

Maine was so awesomely beautiful, we didn’t want to leave. We hope to visit again some time, though it is such a long drive. But I think one has to go far to get to some place so completely different. And different can shake us up and shake us free sometimes. And that, I think, is one of the best things about travel.

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