Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Wish List, Of Sorts

Sometimes blog topics are like my cat, Zoe; they appear out of nowhere and spread themselves out in front of me so that I cannot possibly avoid paying attention. Other times, they’re like my cat, Morris; deftly remaining just out of reach, and mumbling grumpily on the rare occasion I manage to get a hold of some random part.

Today is a Morris day, but I know if I don’t make an effort to write something, I’ll lose momentum. As I was scrolling through my facebook news feed, I realized I was already writing my next topic – Things I Wish. Post a comment if there’s something YOU would like to wish!

In no particular order:

  1. I wish I could carry a tune. I feel bad because I think I’ve passed on my tone deafness to my kids, and the youngest does love to sing.
  2. I wish I had more time to be creative. I have a list of things I’d like to try or get back into, but I don’t have the energy once the kids are in bed, and I don’t have the time before they’re in bed.
  3. I wish I could go on vacation. Paris sounds nice. (France, not Texas!)
  4. I wish (sometimes) that I had one of those extended families where everyone lives a few blocks from one another, everyone gets along, and there’s lots of cousins to play with. 
  5. I wish I could stay home with my kids (but only on the days they’re well-behaved).
  6. I wish I could go to the beach. 
  7. I wish I didn’t care so much what other people think about me.
  8. I wish I was better at braids and creative hair styles – summer is coming, and I’d like to keep my hair long, but still be cool. 
  9. I wish I was independently wealthy. I’d probably volunteer my time at a local animal shelter, since I know it’s not practical to have any more cats in my house. 
  10. I wish people weren’t so disconnected from one another. I think the world would be a much nicer place without road rage and internet bullies and extreme-partisan politics and all the other things that go along with our modern society.

So, that’s my list for today. Have I struck a chord with you? Do you think I overlooked something? Do you want to commiserate with me because some of your wishes are similar? Talk to me in the comments!


The Great Purge of 2014

I have never been “that woman with the spotless house” but I have to admit things have been pretty out of control at Chez Ballerina lately. Hubby and I have been trying to get organized for a while now, but we finally agreed that a Dumpster was in order. So, while others attended parades and cook-outs, our family sorted through the detrius of our 15+ years together. Read through to the end to check out my poll!

I am amazed at all the junk that came out of our basement. There were several boxes full of toys, backpacks full of college text books that are at least 10 years out of date, backpacks full of horrible things we shall never speak of again, not-so-dry wall, fiberglass insulation, questionable sleeping bags, old furniture…the list goes on and on. We even (finally) got rid of the bird cage stand that was there when we moved in.

Early on, I paused to consider whether we might need this bauble or that curiosity, and created huge piles of stuff that I donted to charity, but toward the end I became ruthless. When I climbed out of the Pit of Despair (a.k.a the basement) to find the living room looking as if a toy factory had exploded, I wasn’t pleased. When I realized the youngest was sitting on the couch watching TV instead of sorting through said toys, it was on like Donkey Kong. Knowing that the best stuff was likely elsewhere (…the back seat of my car…), I dragged the toy box outside, up-ended it into the driveway and gave the boys 5 minutes to pick out what they wanted to keep. If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have taken better mental notes about what they saved and what they discarded – it would have made for a great blog post. Then again, I also might have cared more about what they were throwing out. They managed to reduce the pile to about a dozen keeper toys before I swooped in with the snow shovel to get rid of the rest. I was impressed that they weren’t more sentimental – neither of them seemed particularly upset to see so many toys dumped in the trash.

At some point while we were cleaning, the youngest asked why we weren’t having a yard sale. He’s big on making money, and he’s fascinated by clean house shows on basic cable, where the home owners seemingly put in a few hours effort for a pretty significant profit. Hubby and I explained that we’d tried a yard sale when the oldest was still a baby – we’d ended up sunburned, and with barely enough cash to go out to dinner that night (assuming we were comfortable leaving our house unattended when all the creepers now knew where we lived and what kind of stuff we had.) As if that hadn’t scarred us enough, there was the guy who stopped to dig through our first major trash pile as it waited for curbside pick up. That was the cleaning session we’d initiated shortly after we realized our cat was using the basement as his litterbox, and the pile was filled with horrible, stinky little cat poop landmines. Hubby was nice enough to give the guy a heads up, but the stranger kept digging anyway. He eventually left with my old breast pump, some empty CD cases and probably a case of Cryptosporidium. Watching the guy dig through cat poop was bad enough, but I shudder to think what he was planning to do with my breast pump. So, yeah. No yard sale.

The Dumpster has been gone for only a few hours, and there’s plenty more work to be done to clean up and reorganize after our purge, but so far my only moment of regret was throwing away the remote to the oldest’s R/C car. I believe this thing was cursed, anyway. The oldest bought it with gift cards he got for his birthday, and couldn’t wait to show his friends after baseball practice. He was driving it on the grass near the field, but it went out of control and ended up in the parking lot where it was run over by another parent’s van. Hubby felt bad, since the kid had the toy for less than 24 hours before it was destroyed, so he bought him a replacement – which ended up with a slightly bent front tire because the youngest accidentally steered it in front of the oldest while the oldest was riding a scooter. Then, six months later, I threw the remote away, thinking it went to something else. See? Cursed! I felt bad for being so ruthless with their toys, so I replaced the R/C car with one that (hopefully) hasn’t made a pact with the devil. The oldest even contributed a gift card he’d received for Christmas, since he didn’t realize the remote went to his car, either (I did ask him before I tossed it.)

So far, so good.

How about you?

The Delicate Art of Friendship

When I was in kindergarten, I made friends left and right. Anyone who played with me at the park was instantly my friend, even if I’d never met them before and would never see them again. As I got older, I realized not everyone I meet is going to be my friend, nor am I going to want to be friends with everyone I meet.  I realized the value of the word “acquaintance” and its many synonyms (classmate, coworker, customer, etc.)

Then along came social media. At first, one had to be a real geek to find people on the internet (remember BBS and IRC?) Then along came providers like CompuServe and AOL, which made access to the internet as easy as installing a floppy disc that showed up one day in the mail. Suddenly it wasn’t just the hardcore computer geeks who were surfing the World Wide Web, or at least as much of the WWW as your online service provider would let you see. People could connect with other people all over the world, and the anonymous intimacy of online friendship spread like wildfire, though it was often awkward to try to explain to the non-internet savvy people that some of your best friends are people that you’ve never seen in the flesh. Before facebook, there wasn’t really a label for that relationship. Facebook normalized online interaction and made it acceptable to say that the 800+ people you’ve connected with are your friends. With Facebook, there are no more acquaintances – if you want to connect with someone online, you’re automatically their friend; it’s a virtual kindergarten, and Facebook is always encouraging you to go out and find more friends.

Herein lies the rub, however; we’ve lost sight of the line between acquaintance and friend. We’ve developed the ability to have over 800 friends and still feel lonely. Perhaps we’ve even grown lazy in face-to-face social situations, relying, for example, on a Facebook school parents group to make connections with each other rather than breaching the silence of the after school pick up line. I’ve been both a contributor to and the  recipient of premature familiarity with someone, simply because our children are friends and we’ve connected on Facebook. I’ve caught myself feeling momentarily jealous of pictures of Facebook friends enjoying wine night – at least until I remember that we’re not that close.

This blurred line between acquaintance and friend has made me realize just how precious are the women and men whom I would call friends, even without social media. These are the people who listen, not because they enjoy drama, but because they genuinely care and want to make the situation better. These are the people who share their crazy life drama with me, knowing I’ll listen and offer advice without judgement. Being with true friends means feeling comfortable and safe, but it takes work to get to that point. Social media can be a powerful tool; remembering not to rush a connection, and honoring the people with whom you ahead have that connection, is the true art of friendship. I’ve been a lot happier since I figured this out.

The Charles W. Morgan Sets Sail

The Charles W. Morgan at Chubb's Wharf, as seen on The Mystic Seaport's website
The Charles W. Morgan at Chubb’s Wharf, as seen on The Mystic Seaport’s website

Isn’t she a beauty? That’s the Charles W. Morgan at home at Mystic Seaport, The Museum of America and the Sea.

This past weekend, the Morgan began its 38th voyage by traveling down the Mystic River to New London, where it will take on ballast and do a few training runs before continuing to other New England ports between Newport and Boston later this summer. I wasn’t able to see it in person, but the pictures posted on social media are awe inspiring. The Mystic River is shallow enough in some places that the Morgan wouldn’t have made the trip if ballast was added at the Seaport – as it was, she was momentarily stuck, but tugboats and determination saved the day. The Morgan isn’t the first ship to leave New London on tour this year, but it certainly began its journey with the most fanfare.

My grandma was a volunteer at the Mystic Seaport when I was a child. Every Tuesday, Pa would drive her to the Seaport where she would unpack her wooden picnic basket full of baleen, whale teeth, needles, India ink and L’Eggs eggs cut into triangles. She would set up shop on the second floor of the Stillman building, and give scrimshaw demonstrations to museum visitors; the L’eggs triangles were so that kids could try their hand at carving and inking a design, since whale teeth are so rare. I used to love to go with Grandma and Pa during the summer; Grandma would let me help until the museum got busy, and then I’d be sent out to find Pa, who would wait for me before he made the rounds to visit his favorite spots. We both loved visiting the Morgan; Pa would chat with the interpreter, and I’d go below deck to see where they stored barrels of whale oil, and imagine what it would be like to sleep in the tiny berths. The decks of the Morgan were the source of a good many imaginary whaling adventures in my youth.

When the Morgan was pulled out of the river in 2008 to begin restoration, my mother and I often took the boys to peek at the ship through the fence at the corner of Isham and Bay Streets. I knew the Morgan was big, but seeing it out of the water really highlighted the magnitude of her. When the Morgan was re-launched on July 21, 2013, my mother, the boys and I were delighted to watch from across the river; it was my mother’s 73rd birthday, and the Morgan’s 172nd. The anticipation was great fun, and it’s nice to be able to say we were there, but when we realized the ship was being lowered inch-by-inch, the boys decided it was time to go swimming in Noank; Mom and I didn’t disagree.

I’m planning to visit the Morgan in New London before she leaves, but what I’m looking forward to most is her triumphant return up the Mystic River in August. Maybe after watching her come back home, the boys and I can have a few imaginary whaling adventures of our own.

Summer is Coming…and I’m not ready!

Memorial Day is right around the corner and I, once again, am scrambling to figure out summer camp for the kids, before it’s too late. Like many families these days, we are so woefully over-scheduled that I can barely figure out what we’re supposed to be doing this week, let alone what two kids with different interests would like to be doing all summer.

There are all kinds of great opportunities where we live, including nature camp at the Audubon sanctuary. Both boys are of the opinion that if they don’t come home from summer camp covered in dirt, they didn’t have enough fun, and the Audubon happily supports that opinion.

There are a few sanctuaries in our area, but we are particularly partial to Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester, MA. If you’ve never visited Broad Meadow Brook, you might not think it’s worth a stop, but it definitely is. The sanctuary is tucked away in a residential neighborhood, and the visitor’s center is set back from the road. While there are plenty of signs out front, the driveway is easy to overlook. The parking lot holds about a dozen cars, and doesn’t leave a lot of room for maneuvering, though there are often more spots in the side lot on non-camp days. The visitor’s center has a desk where you can purchase a membership, pick up a trail map, and buy snacks and drinks. Don’t forget to stop in the multi-purpose room to see Clem, the resident painted turtle. There are also clean restroom facilities, so you can hit the trails at your freshest.

The front of the visitor’s center features a butterfly garden, full of color and fragrance and, of course, butterflies. It’s a lovely spot to spend a few minutes, but there’s so much more to see! The back deck of the visitor’s center, for example, is surrounded by bird feeders. There are a few comfortable chairs to relax in after a hike; you can sit back, have a sip of water and watch all kinds of birds stop by for bite. If you prefer, there’s also a bird blind with plenty of viewing spaces for everyone.

The trails start behind the visitor’s center, with plenty of options for all types of explorers. A rope guided sensory trail makes nature accessible to everyone with available audio tour, Braille signs and tactile maps. The Holdredge Trail is great for younger kids; it snakes down the hill behind the visitor’s center and around the Nature Play Area. Umbrella strollers might have some trouble, but some of the more sturdy strollers usually do ok along this trail. Parents can descend at a leisurely pace while kids explore and make their own paths down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill, there’s a boardwalk that extends to the left, leading to the frog pond, which is a favorite for my kids. The area around the frog pond has benches where one could sit quietly, but who wants to do that when you can lay down on a giant rock overlooking the muck? Even on the hottest days, the noises of the city melt away, and the frog pond is simply quiet, cool and green.

When you’re finally done exploring the frog pond, you can loop back around to the beginning of the Frog Pond Trail and continue along the Holdredge Trail to the stream, which is a popular spot to collect crayfish. The trail here is much less stroller-friendly, though, so this is really an activity for older kids who don’t mind walking on their own. Our family adventures usually stop about here because we spend so much time mucking about, but there are plenty more trails to explore. Kids at summer camp walk nearly every inch of the sanctuary in their time there, so I’ve always got my own trail guide with me when I bring the kids.

If you live in the Worcester area, and you’re unsure your kids would like summer camp at Broad Meadow Brook, the sanctuary also offers birthday parties that are like a mini-camp session. Rain or shine, the birthday child and their friends go into the woods with one of the Broad Meadow Brook Naturalists (who have really cool code names like Moth, Red Tail, or Blue Bird), followed by time in the multi-purpose room for cake and presents. The kids come back dirty and tired, with big smiles on their faces. How often does that happen, these days, when there are no electronics involved?

Even though I haven’t actually found time to sign up the boys for camp at Broad Meadow Brook, it’s definitely my easiest decision about summer. This will be the first year for the youngest, but I know he’ll love it just as much as the oldest does; and I know the oldest loves summer camp at Broad Meadow Brook for a few reasons – there’s the look of exhausted bliss when I pick him up and the constant singing of the camp song, but most telling is the camp picture collage that hangs on my fridge. It’s been there for nearly 2 years, and I’m still not allowed to take it down. The summer was that good.

What’s your favorite summer camp activity, now or when you were growing up?