Tuesday, September 1, 2015

First Day of School 2015

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Today was the first day of school. Audrey is in sixth grade this year, starting middle school. Charlotte is in fourth grade.

Even though they were sad about the end of summer, at the same time they were very excited for school to start. Audrey was excited about the "team" she's on in the middle school (there are three - they travel through the year as a group), and Charlotte was very excited about her teacher assignment.

They were so excited that they were completely ready to leave 30 minutes before necessary this morning.

Audrey got her hair trimmed and freshly colored yesterday to prepare. She's got plans to rotate the color throughout the year. I think green is next, and then pink.

The middle school starts 30 minutes earlier than the elementary, so our routine will change a little. Earlier to bed, I guess.

After school both girls were very happy. They had great first days. Charlotte thought the biggest troublemaker boy was going to be in her class again but he isn't (although he sits right next to and has a locker right next to one of her best friends, in a different class). Audrey was really excited about the expanded lunch options at the middle school compared to elementary school. She stays in her home room all day the first two days so she won't get a real sense of the schedule until Thursday. In addition to the core subjects she's taking French and Band!

The year seems to be off to a great start.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lake Dennison Camping

Lake Dennison Camping

When we arrived in New England in the summer of 2009 we immediately learned that one cannot go camping on the spur of the moment, at least during the main season. All of the public campgrounds and many of the private ones accept reservations six months in advance and if you don't book well in advance you're out of luck.

Six months ago our neighbors Molly and Brendan invited us to join them for a camping trip in August. We chose Lake Dennison. We were supposed to camp there with other neighbors in 2013 but something came up and we couldn't make it.

As this particular trip approached, the weather wasn't looking promising. Early in the preceding week, it looked like it would rain all weekend. But the forecast slowly improved as the week went one, and by Friday it looked like it could be OK, with just a few showers. We decided to go for it. Brendan and Molly were wavering but they were infected by our resolve.

Friday as we were packing it was one of those really gross New England summer days with high temps and very high humidity. I left work a little early and took the train home, and after just the 7-minute walk from the train station to home I was soaked in sweat. Ick. Meanwhile, the cold front that was bringing the worst of the rain was passing slowly over the campground about 60 miles west of us.

When we arrived at Lake Dennison, the campground was wet but it wasn't raining. We immediately set up lots of shelter. We have a canopy that we always bring, and I had borrowed a very large tarp from a neighbor to give us more dry area in case it rained a lot.

We were prepared.

Well, the weekend turned out to be fantastic.

The weather on the other side of the front was much more pleasant - warm but not too hot, and much less humid. And it didn't rain again during our entire visit.

There is a public swimming beach on the opposite side of the lake from our camp site. I paddled there in the canoe with Brendan and Molly and Anna, and Carol and the girls rode bikes there. We hung out at the beach for a few hours. The lake temperature was perfect.

We enjoyed our campfires and the girls played and played.

The rain arrived just as we were finishing packing on Sunday morning. It was still pleasantly warm out, so the girls and I went for a swim in the rain before we departed. It was a perfect ending.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Warm Summer Rain

We're getting ready to go camping. Rain is in the forecast - potentially heavy - but the worst of it should be past by the time we get to the campground.

The girls love a warm summer rain. They're out playing in it.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Circus Camp and Montreal

Circus Camp and Montreal

Okay, this combination of trips to and from circus camp gets a little complicated. Here's the itinerary:

Wednesday Evening Drive from Boston to Danville, VT and camp.
Thursday Morning Drop Charlotte off at 36-hour camp.
Thursday Afternoon John, Carol and Audrey hike Mt. Mansfield. Then visit Ben & Jerry's factory!
Friday John, Carol and Audrey visit St. Johnsbury, VT
Friday Afternoon Pick up Charlotte at camp, attend demonstrations.
Friday Evening Drive to Montreal.
Saturday Have an awesome day in Montreal. Run into our goof friend Ken from Seattle.
Sunday Drive back to Greensboro, VT to drop Audrey off at week-long camp.
Sunday Evening Drive home. Charlotte enjoys week of being only child.
All Week Go to work blah blah blah.
Saturday Morning Drive back to Greensboro, VT to pick up Audrey from camp. Attend demonstrations.
Saturday Evening/Sunday Morning Stay in a fun cabin in Barton, VT. Have dinner in St. Johnsbury.
Sunday Afternoon Attend opening performance of Circus Smirkus summer tour - in the Big Top in a pasture.
Sunday Evening Drive home.

And here's the looooong story...

We've lost track but I think this is the fourth year that one or both of the girls has gone to Smirkus Camp. Audrey went to the 36-hour Smirkling Camp twice and this was her second year of week-long camp. This was Charlotte's second time at Smirkling Camp. Smirkling Camp takes place over a Thursday night and camp is more than three hours from home, so we make a vacation of it.

In past years camp has been held at various boarding schools that they rent. But over the past few years Circus Smirkus raised $2 million, purchased a farm near their headquarters and finally were able to build their own permanent home. They were in a mad dash to get it ready for the first camp session. They held a work party in early June and seemingly half of the population of Greensboro (population 700) showed up to help. They barely made it! The dorms were still in a somewhat unfinished state but no campers or parents cared.

After we dropped Charlotte off, Audrey and Carol and I headed to Stowe. I had scoped out possible hikes and Mt. Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont, sounded doable. Unfortunately the forecast said we'd get rain in the late afternoon so we were under some time pressure. The hike was steep, rocky and muggy. Audrey was not enjoying it. A few hundred feet below the summit we came across the Green Mountain Club's Taft Lodge. It was a great stopping place. After some lunch and a rest we headed back down.

It never did rain.

In the evening we headed to St. Johnsbury to eat at a new restaurant I had found while researching: Kingdom Taproom. We had a great flatbread and a fancy salad. We liked the atmosphere.

On Friday we returned to camp to pick up Charlotte and attend her demonstrations. My favorite thing was the tumbling: watching Charlotte use a springboard and do a somersault.

Every year when we do this trip I ponder the idea of going to Montreal. It's a five hour drive from home, but only two hours from camp. This year we decided to do it. We departed camp about 4:30 and took the scenic route to a minor border crossing at North Troy, VT. We ended up getting delayed there because we had a bundle of firewood in the van. After a search, they made us drive back into the US to drop the firewood at the side of the road, then enter Canada again.

After a stop at a mall to buy a Canadian SIM card so I could use my phone for navigation and to find restaurants and attractions in Montreal, we finally arrived at our hotel downtown around 10:30.

On Saturday we first headed for Old Montreal to find some breakfast. We stopped at the first tourist crepe restaurant we found. It was alright. It served the purpose.

While we were eating we kept hearing jazz from the place next door. It also seemed like a constant stream of people was entering that establishment. But we went on our way.

We explored Old Montreal, which is very quaint. We went into several art galleries and Audrey, in particular, enjoyed that. We saw a lot of very cool art. We also stopped to listen to a great duo on the street and bought their CD.

At some point one of us posted on Facebook that we were in Montreal and our dear friend Britt commented that our dear friend Ken, her husband, was there for a conference. We eventually made contact and made a plan to meet for dinner.

Meanwhile, we took the subway to the Olympic Village from 1976 and the nearby Botanical Gardens. In the gardens is a place called the Insectarium which is a museum of sorts devoted to bugs. We had been told it was popular with kids. All of us loved it! Very fascinating.

One especially cool exhibit was a viney tree that had been trained to grow in a long horizontal arch from its pot to another pot about 10 feet away. At one end was an ant colony, and at the other end was a food source (a flowering plant). There was no glass. One could watch the ants chew off bits of plant (often in a team) before one of them took on the load and carried it all the way back to the nest. There were thousands of ants all making the round trip. And the most fascinating thing? The ants don't eat the leaves: they feed them to a fungus that lives in their nest, and the ants farm and eat the fungus!

I was blown away by the variety of insects. Even just among beetles and moths there were hundreds and hundreds of different species. It is a fantastic illustration of the power of natural selection to drive specialization toward a species' unique niche.

After that we went up in the slanted observation tower that was built as the centerpiece of the Olympic Village for a great view of the city. Back at the base, we discovered the Olympic swimming and diving pool is "hidden" under the tower.

Then it was time to go find Ken and find some dinner.

Ken had been busy at a technical conference all week and hadn't seen much of the city. We took him back down through Old Montreal, looking for restaurants along the way. We ended up back at the square where we had breakfast and guess what looked best? That place with the jazz.

It turns out the place has a lovely courtyard and the jazz is live.

There was a long line, but a strange thing happened. I went to the front and asked the greeter how long the wait would be for a party of five. He told me to wait right there. We were confused for a minute or two, but then he told me to go back in line and get my party and in we went! To a fantastic table overlooking the stage! We're not sure what happened, but we didn't complain.

The setting was magical: a beautiful garden courtyard with a lively crowd enjoying a gorgeous summer evening while listening to live music. I was on cloud nine.

We really enjoyed hanging out with Ken. After dinner we watched some street performers, the girls had their sketch drawn and we ended with some ice cream. By the time we walked Ken back to his hotel and took the subway back to ours it was pretty late.

It had been an absolutely perfect day! Thank you for the nice introduction, Montreal!

Sunday morning we drove back to Vermont in order to drop Audrey off at camp at 3:00. Then we drove home.

Charlotte really enjoyed being the only child for a week!

Saturday morning we got up at 6:00am and drove back up to Greensboro to pick Audrey up at 10:00.

For this one-night stay I had reserved a cabin next to the river in Barton, VT, about 20 minutes from camp. The girls loved it. There was a pool, and we could walk up the river a short distance to a stone railroad viaduct that was picturesque. That night we drove back to St. Johnsbury to return to the Kingdom Taproom.

On Sunday we slept in a little and laid around. Then we had a late breakfast and visited a yard sale in Glover just down the road from Barton. We bought some dishes and an old shoe shine kit.

Then it was back to Greensboro for the 1:00 performance of Circus Smirkus - this was the initial performance of the 70-performance summer tour. I really like going to the inaugural performance because it is held in a big top in the middle of a pasture at the circus headquarters, which is an old farm down a long dirt road.

The performance was great, as always.

Finally, all the fun was over. it was time to drive back to Melrose once more and get back to normal life.

The part of Vermont we visit every year for camp is called the Northeast Kingdom. Every year when we're there I spend a lot of time fantasizing about living there because it is such a gorgeous landscape: very green, rolling hills with surprise vistas, scenic little rivers. Of course, we always see it in June. I bet the winters there feel pretty damn long.

We'll do it again next year! Although next year both girls will go to week-long camp so the logistics will be a little easier.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Pawtuckaway Camping

Pawtuckaway State Park

In Mid-June we went camping at Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire with our friends and neighbors Dana and Rachel and the boys: Miles, Linus and Zack.

We usually go to Pawtuckaway in September a couple weeks after school starts. At that time it is less than half full and peaceful. It can also be a little cool for swimming (although that never stops Audrey). This was our first time in the middle of summer. We loved it.

We had camp sites across from each other and Dana and Rachel's was on the water. There's a great swimming spot there with some large boulders the kids can easily get out to. They love to perch on them and jump off.

The weather was ideal, with warm but comfortable temperatures. Not too many bugs. We got in lots of swimming, some canoeing and at one point the kids all disappeared for a while on an adventure of their own.

We'll definitely have to go back in high season next summer!

Oh, I almost forgot. At one point we gave the girls a few dollars so they could go to the camp store to buy candy. Audrey came back with crickets! And she ate them!