Category: family

Thoughts on the Fair


It’s my birthday week again, and that must mean it’s time for another Farmington Fair. Hard to believe this was the 11th one my family has attended, but there you have it. It’s developed into quite the tradition for us, even though it inevitably falls at a very hectic time of year.

This time, we had the chance to introduce the fair to some friends who have moved into the area. It was fun being on the opposite end of that, since I still remember clearly being introduced to the fair myself ten years ago. (I worry that I didn’t do quite as good of a job at it as the friends who introduced us years ago, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying,)

As we were going around with our kids, it gave me time to reflect a bit on what things were like for Denisa and me back then and what they’re like now. A great slice of that was seen by just observing how each of my kids were interacting with the fair. Tomas was zooming around with his friends from ride to ride, as “spending time with his parents” at the fair has taken a bit of a backseat. DC was still walking around with us and happy to hang out with Denisa or me. MC was, of course, attached to us at the hip. (It’s a really busy fair. Losing track of your little ones would be bad.)

The rides themselves age up with the kids. Our friends’ daughter was small enough that some of the kiddie rides really intimidated her. MC had no problem with those, but some of the big kid rides were too much for her. DC couldn’t even fit on the kiddie rides anymore, and there were yet more rides she just wanted to avoid. Tomas just wanted to do the daring rides and that was it. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure. About how we each handle challenges that are generally matched to what we’re capable of (hopefully). And how as we grow older and better at handling challenges, life seems to have a way of finding new, harder ones for us to tackle.

In any case, it was a fun time. Got some maple cotton candy, mini donuts, french fries, and a new thing (to me): maple cream. Somehow if you boil maple syrup just right, it magically turns into this butter-like spread, but is still 100% maple syrup. I have a feeling demons are involved in its construction at some point, because it tastes absolutely amazing. I bought a pound of it on the spot, and I haven’t had to sign away my soul yet, so I think I made out okay on the transaction.

And of course for me there’s now the permanent connection the fair has to THE MEMORY THIEF, since a good portion of the book takes place there. It’s always fun to walk around and picture the different events of the novel happening in different spots. As if I could see Benji running through the crowd, trying to get away from the bullies, or breaking into the grounds late at night after everyone’s gone home. Good times.

Another one in the history books now. It’s running through Saturday, if you’re in the area. I highly recommend it.

A Camping Report

As I mentioned last week, the family and I headed to the great outdoors to go camping for our first time in five years. I really wasn’t sure how the trip would go. It was MC’s first time. DC’s second. And while I always would tell people that I liked to camp, I clearly haven’t done much of it recently. Plus, this wasn’t just going to be a camping trip. It was going to be a Camping Trip. I mean, we weren’t going to drive up to a camping spot, throw up a tent, and eat food out of the cooler we stored in our car. We were going to drive two hours, load all our stuff for three days into a canoe, and then paddle for 1.5 miles to our camping site, far from wifi and electronics.

This might not have been the full Lewis & Clark experience, but it was at least a Lewis solo record.

So we had to be sure all of our important things were in bags that would keep them dry. I’d like to say that I prepared like a professional for this trip, figuring it all out and becoming a camping master in the process, but that would be a lie. I just have a friend who’s a Maine guide (his wife is too), and he pretty much did everything for my family on this trip other than pack our bags. He picked the spot, planned the menu, brought the food, brought the tents, gave me the right bags, brought the right mats, brought the canoes, brought the fishing poles.

I bought my own fishing license. Does that count as preparation? Probably not, since I forgot to do that until we were already almost out of cell range and had to pull over to the side of the road to do it.

But this is the sort of thing he does professionally on his summers, and I’d always wanted to do it, so I’d planned this with him for quite some time. I wanted to see what it was like, and he was gracious enough to agree to take on the Bryce family for a few days.

I’ll admit that I’ve been stressed out enough the past few weeks that I didn’t leave on the camping trip in the best of moods. I have this writing deadline that’s taking up all my free time, and plenty of chores at home that needed doing. Why was I leaving to go do nothing for three days? Not only that, but I had to pack those wet bags oh-so-carefully. So as I was cursing under my breath, packing said bags, I really wished I’d never scheduled this thing in the first place. It was just one more thing to do.

Thankfully, that’s exactly why I schedule things ahead of time. Because past Bryce knows that future Bryce will be really happy he did cool things, even if present Bryce is a real stick in the mud.

We went on the trip, and we had a glorious time. It was an entire lake, and there were literally only two other groups on it. We canoed, swam, read, played games, ate like kings, fished, and explored. The kids paddled around on solo canoes. Tomas lit a fire from scratch without using matches. We picked wild blueberries and ate bass that we’d caught hours before. I even managed to stay on track with my writing goal, typing on my iPad during a brief rain break. The weather was cool, not hot, and it only rained a little. We went to sleep listening to loons calling on the water, and I woke up each morning to watch the mist clearing from the mountains around us.

It was about as Maine as you can get without having a wild moose walk through your camp.

Better yet, the whole family loved the experience, and they all wished we could have stayed longer. (Pro tip: always leave wishing you could have stayed longer. If you’re on vacation and are really wishing you could be home, something’s not going right with the vacation, and you’re blowing time off that could be better used at another time. I’d much rather my kids leave a camping trip wishing it could have lasted another day than come home wishing it had ended a day earlier.) I believe we’ll do this again next year.

In the meantime, if any of you out there is considering going on a camping trip of the kind I just described, exploring the Maine wilderness for a few days, either canoeing down a river or paddling over to a site and settling in, let me know. Like I said, my friend does this professionally, and I can now say without a shadow of a doubt that he provides a wonderful experience. He knows just what to do, he has all the equipment you’ll need, and he makes a mean sweet and sour chicken dinner. The only down side is his schedule fills up fast, so it’s kind of first come, first served.

I think it would make for a fantastic family vacation, especially if you’re not from Maine in the first place.

Gone Camping

I suppose that should technically be “Going Camping,” as I haven’t left yet, but that didn’t sound as good.

You know, for a person who has listed “camping” among his various likes, I hardly do it anymore. Or at all, really. I just looked up on my blog, and the last time I went camping was more than five years ago. Before that, it was another five years, right before we left for Maine. So apparently when I say I like to camp, I mean I like to camp every 5 years.

Then again, the reason we haven’t been camping is that I didn’t really want to go camping with a baby or toddler. And we’ve had babies or toddlers in our household for much of the last 10 years. We’re on the flip side of that now, though, and I honestly do hope I have time and the occasion to camp quite a bit in the next five years. (For values of “quite a bit” that involve “about once a year.”)

Of course, this feels like the wrong time to go camping. Simply heading out past the range of the internet doesn’t make my writing deadline go away, and it doesn’t magically make all the things I have to do around the house disappear either. But this is why you schedule things. So that when the time comes, you can’t just throw in the towel and ignore that thing you wanted to do. So we’re going, dagnabbit. Although I will be bringing my laptop with me, which is something I really didn’t want to have to do.

But I believe I will have more fun if I can get my writing done, so there you have it. I might be able to get away with just bringing my iPad. My plan at the moment is to write tomorrow morning before we leave, then write on Friday for a couple of hours, and then write again on Saturday once I get home.

Where are we heading? Spencer Lake. I’ve heard there’s good bass fishing up there. I’ll let you know how it went when I get back. In the meantime, don’t expect me to post anymore. I don’t even want to look at the internet. Later!

The Best Things are Often Outside Your Comfort Zone

I’m a person who loves his comfort zone. One of my favorite vacations of the year is the one I take around Christmas, because I go nowhere. I stay at home and play games and watch movies and eat food. It’s lovely. But as anyone who’s been following my life lately can tell you, I do many more trips and vacations than that, and most of them end up requiring a whole lot of planning and travel. Each time one of those vacations comes up, I inevitably wonder what in the world I was thinking that made me think it was a good idea.

Because I like my comfort zone. I’d happy stay at home each day. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s easy.

But often the best things in life are none of those. The things I remember for years after are the things that brought me out of that zone. That forced me to do things I’ve never done before. My mission to Germany. My semester abroad in Israel. Family vacations to Dublin, Paris, London, Germany, and Slovakia. Situations where I was frantically scrambling around, trying to piece things together and then hoping for the best as we headed off to the airport.

Of course. one could say those experiences are the most memorable because they involved the most pain. They were hard, but as time goes by, I forget the hard parts of them and only remember the good parts. And that’s true, no doubt. But it’s also true that the times that I have struggled the most have also been the ones that have had the biggest impact on who I am as a person.

This is strange. I’m trying to just talk about “hard” vacations, and I somehow keep being drawn to make a connection between hard times and hard vacations. Clearly there’s a difference between the two. Going through turmoil in life is much different than bringing it upon yourself because you want to go to Europe for a few weeks. But I’m reminded of rollercoasters. They’re terrifying, really. You strap yourself into a machine that’s going to whirl and loop and race you all over the place. It’ll jostle and rumble and shake you. Why do we love them? It’s chaos, and far from comfortable.

But I think we like them because it’s a way of having those tough times without having to have too many of the baggage that goes along with them. It’s controlled terror. Constrained.

And maybe that’s why I love these vacations, as much as I dread them and panic as I wonder if I have everything under control before we leave. (How will I get from the airport to the hotel when we arrive? What will we do? Where will we eat? How do we get tickets?) The lead up to the vacation is the same as getting in line and waiting for the ride to begin, listening to the clack clack clack as the coaster approaches the top. And then the big day arrives, and it’s whirls and loops and races all the way to the finish.

Chicago starts tomorrow. Then comes Utah, Yellowstone, family reunions, and more. It’ll be a fun ride, and I don’t know how much I’ll be able to post to my blog for the next while. Apologies in advance.

Wish me luck.

The End to Another School Year

And thus we come to the end of another school year, and the start of the couple of months where I think working is the hardest. It’s so much easier for me to head into work every day when I know my family’s in the same predicament. Sure, I get up earlier than they do, but at least I leave the house knowing the bus is coming soonish. Misery loves company, right? (Despite the fact that I enjoy going to work, I actively dislike getting up in the morning. Just keeping it real here, folks.)

It’s hard to believe another school year is in the books. Tomas is done with seventh grade. DC is done with third. MC has her first year of preschool behind her. It was a big year for all of the kids, for a variety of reasons. For Tomas, I saw him really come into his own in terms of taking responsibility for his schooling. He’d been able to coast through school up until this point, but this year things stepped up a notch, and it too some adjustment to get the hang of that. He came through that experience strong, and he finished the year with great grades.

DC has really upped her reading game since September. She dove right into the library’s summer reading program as soon as school let out, and she’s been devouring books. That makes me very happy for so many different reasons.

MC is just at the point where school is a fun thing to do. But that first exposure to it is important. We’re so lucky to have great teachers in the area for all ages.

Of course, I also realize that things aren’t all smooth sailing for Denisa now. She’s got three kids at home that she has to wrangle each day, which makes her job considerably harder. They’re signed up for swimming lessons, tennis lessons, and they’re planning outings around town and to the library, of course. So she gets to sleep in longer than I do, but her days are likely just as hectic.

And we’ve got trips scheduled, of course. The big one this year is an expedition to Chicago, then to Utah, with a side trip to Yellowstone and Wyoming because why not. There are three family reunions sprinkled in there. We’ll no doubt be plenty busy, and we’re hoping to go camping some when we come back.

Ever have so much fun scheduled you kind of wish you hadn’t scheduled any of it?

I’m at that point now. If I can iron out all the plans, then maybe I’ll start to feel more on top of things. Wish me luck . . .

And congrats to my awesome kids, for being awesome.

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