Swimming

If I could, I would swim every day. I can’t remember a time I didn’t love swimming, and my memories of swimming in a lake are so potent that even today, the mere scent of lake water makes me happy.

With luck my kids are building the same association.

I was hopeful that with a couple terms of swim lessons behind them, the kids would be more adventurous in the water than they had been. It didn’t work quite that way with Mica. She’s never been particularly worried about the water, but this time around she was very selective about immersing herself. As the vacation went on, though, and especially as adults played with her in the water, she started swimming more even in deep water.

I’m happy to say that the plan worked better for both of the boys. By the time we left they were spending hours in the water; Ryan in particular was hard to pry out of it. Just at the end of our trip the kids made friends with a pair of boys down the beach, whose family had a lot of water toys. The addition of new friends and toys made them much more adventurous, and soon they were running and jumping and paddling in ways that I would never have expected last year.

And Ryan for one made the next leap, too. He took off his life jacket and discovered that he could dog paddle without any flotation — an independent swimmer at last!

Camping With Llamas

My friend Joyce has a llama farm. She breeds pack llamas, trains them to pack, and takes them out on camping trips — and she invited my family to go out with her sometime.

Last weekend that opportunity arose, and the kids and I headed out for a weekend adventure at the coast.

It looked like the perfect weekend to go, because temperatures were supposed to reach 100 degrees at home, but would hover around a gentle 80 on the coast. Joyce and her housemate Don go out to a place called Bayocean Spit every year, so they know the area and have the actual mechanics of the camping down to a science. This was great for us, because I am a total novice. Even better, Joyce said she would manage the food for the group, and just ask people to chip in for their share. This meant that for the first time, we stayed in a tent without needing to subsist on hot dogs and nutella. (The kids still ate a lot of nutella.)

The llamas are not simply invited along on this adventure for companionship — they are pack animals, and carried all our stuff. In one case I know that one of them was carrying eighty pounds, so they are no lightweights. This meant that we could have luxuries like a table, propane stoves to cook on, and avocados to eat without needing to carry it all on our backs.

This is not to say that the weekend was completely without difficulties. Ryan had a little trouble with the length of our walk in; clearly we need to do more hiking as a family. (Mica had no trouble because she could ride on me.) And once we arrived at the campsite, I quickly discovered that I’d made a beginner’s mistake: I hadn’t adequately checked my tent. I had the poles, the stakes, and the rain fly, but no actual tent.

This looked bad. We were camping on the bay side of the spit, without the wind off the ocean. This meant that there were a fair number of mosquitoes around, and the prospect of sleeping tent-less did not excite me. But as it turned out, this was the best mistake I made all weekend. One of Don and Joyce’s friends, Kate, had come with us (with two llamas of her own), and had met some of her family who came by canoe. They had a campsite by the water, much less buggy and with a campfire, that they shared with us. So we went to sleep that first night listening to the waves and watching the stars come out above us.

The next day we packed up just a couple of llamas with supplies for lunch and headed off to the ocean on the other side of the spit. The walk was beautiful even before we saw a harbor seal watching us from the water, and at the end was paradise. Truly, there is nothing at all like the ocean, and this spot included a long sandy beach, dunes, and great piles of driftwood for the kids to play among. Even when Mica took a header into the surf and got soaked, she needed only a minute to be back up and running.

We stayed all day and when we left the kids were still not really ready to go. (Except Mica, who fell asleep in the backpack.) Sometimes I dream of spending the summer hopping from camp to camp, from forest to stream to beach, letting the kids explore each area to the fullest before moving somewhere different. Ryan, who’d been initially struggling with all the walking that this camping trip entailed, started asking me if we could print out pictures from our trip and put them on the wall where he could see them. (Answer: yes!)

But inevitably it was time to go back and think about dinner — and bed. It had been cloudy all day, and the local weather was predicting a chance of rain the next morning, which meant that we had a choice to make: did we squeeze into Don and Joyce’s big tent with them? Sleep in the open again and hope for the best? Try to rig up our rain fly?

I put the question to the kids and, somewhat to my surprise, Nathan opted immediately for trying to make it on our own. So with the loan of some cording from Joyce, we went back to our campsite and rigged up our rain fly as some sort of shelter. There was just enough time to figure that out, eat, and brush teeth before night descended. The three children snuggled down into the double sleeping bag with me right beside them. They were all asleep within ten minutes. I lay awake for a little while savoring the sense of having an adventure with my family.

And we made it through the tiny bit of rain just fine. After breakfast and packing, we hiked back out to the parking lot and headed back to Portland. Days later, I still can’t quite get over how awesome the whole experience was.

Oregon Renaissance Faire

I was so excited to discover, only a couple of weeks ago, that there is a Renaissance Faire close to us. Given how much fun the boys had at the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire last year, it seemed obvious that we should attend this; and since it was so close, I decided to bring Mica as well. With a bit of planning we managed to get the boys’ best friend from school and his mom to come along with us, which helped to stoke Nathan and Ryan’s enthusiasm.

We skipped the rainy weekend but arrived when the heat was in full force, and spent several hot afternoon hours wandering the faire. The kids found wooden swords almost as soon as we entered, and despite my admonitions to see what else was on offer first, we eventually went back and got them. There is a strict no-sword-fighting rule in the faire (except for designated events, like the tournament), so they were forced to content themselves with running around under the trees, slashing at shadows.

I was interested to see what Mica would make of the faire. She was very interested in the pony ride concept and wanted to go there first; but when she discovered that I was standing in line to let her actually ride one, she ordered me out of the line. She also liked looking at the various displays, and we spent some time trying on lovely circlets, but in the end she too chose a sword as her souvenir. (She might have taken a glass flute instead had I allowed, but there was no way that was happening.)

None of the kids were interested in sitting and watching the various shows, which was a pity since the small bits we caught were very good. Maybe in a few years they’ll be ready for that.

More Beach

There is more to the beach than crabs. When I was a kid there was something to do at the beach regardless of time or tide level, and that has apparently not changed.

There are sticks, for example, which can be weapons, or tools, or… well, to be honest, mostly those two. Maybe mostly weapons. A weathered board laid against a washed-up mass of tree roots makes a springy ramp for walking and jumping. Logs are worn away so that the stumps of their branches stick out extra far, and they turn and shift under your feet. I watch my children play with their balance and reaction times.

And there are endless Things To Find. Bits of shell; interesting rocks; smooth driftwood. Rubbery seaweed with tough, fluid-filled pouches. Thousands of baby snails. Sand fleas. And more and more and more, so much that a two-year-old (or, if I’m feeling like I’m on vacation, I) can poke around in mud and sift through sand for hours.

Cape Lookout

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In my ongoing quest to ease our family into camping, we recently spent a couple nights at Cape Lookout State Park. This park boasted the obligatory deluxe cabins, a lovely beach, and close proximity to the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I was pretty sure we could find plenty to do there.

The beach was so close that, despite some rather chilly windy weather, we spent most of our time there. And it was awesome. Nathan and Ryan are old enough to enjoy climbing on the rocks and playing tag with the waves; Mica did less climbing and less tag, but spent plenty of time running barefoot along the sand or playing in the nearby stream. People walking by, bundled up in their coats and hoods, would do a double-take at the barefoot toddler splashing happily in a cold stream.

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Dave and I, meanwhile, learned more about what to pack and how to use a grill, and had some really good meals, which the boys partook of modestly. (They ate a lot of chocolate sandwiches.) We continue to learn. Next time I think we’re aiming for three nights, and hopefully not needing an emergency store run to get crucial things like salt.

And we ended the trip on Nathan’s birthday by hitting the afore-mentioned Tillamook Cheese Factory, which not only has a really cool observation platform where you can watch the manufacturing line, but also sells ice cream.

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Riding

We were up early the morning of the Faire, which didn’t start until 10am, and our hostess consented to give everyone a chance to go for an early morning ride.

Nathan and Ryan had ridden exactly once before — the last time we’d visited Shawn and Trina’s house. On that occasion both boys had been interested, but nervous, and in the end I’d ridden Trina’s oldest and mellowest horse with each boy taking a turn up in front of me. It apparently made a big impression, for at the top of Nathan’s to-do list was riding a horse — this time without any aid from me.

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So Trina downed her coffee and we all headed up to the pasture. We must have spent at least half an hour with Trina patiently leading her (also very patient) mare up and down and around a small enclosure. Nathan at first rode alone; Ryan declaimed any interest. But after a while he was intrigued enough to grab a helmet and get up behind his brother. And then he decided it was time to try it himself.

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By the end of that day we’d been to the Faire and seen jousting, chased rats and dragons, watched shows, and tried our hands at archery. And both boys still claimed that riding horses had been the best part of the day.

They want us to go back. Soon.

Shows And Expectations

I’ve written before about how wrong my expectations can be when it comes to my children, and how much fun it is when they surprise me. At the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire it was Nathan who surprised me most, with his appreciation of the various shows we watched.

I’d been talking up the joust and sword-fighting mainly because I thought the boys (especially Ryan) would get a kick out of watching people battle. When we discovered that the actual joust was preceded by several rounds of equestrian displays, I was a bit worried — and Ryan, true to form, became increasingly impatient. Nathan, however, seemed riveted, and eventually I figured out why: partly he liked the horses, but mostly he liked the cheering.

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Not being a family that engages in or particularly cares about organized sports, my boys had never been to so much as a Little League Game before. Their biggest exposure to sports has been the football my Dad watches over Thanksgiving weekend. I think when the announcer divided the crowd into sections to cheer for the different riders, it was a novel and thrilling experience for Nathan. We were rooting for Wales, and he yelled out with real vigor whenever our rider was up. By the end of the joust, unable to sit still, he’d migrated down to within a few feet of the fence and paced back and forth, jumping and cheering at every opportunity.

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He was so excited by the process, actually, that he took us back that afternoon for the second show. The crowd was much thinner in the afternoon heat, but that didn’t stop him from cheering through the entire thing.

And it wasn’t just the jousting that he wanted to watch. There were at least four stages scattered around the Faire, with a constant rotation of performances at each one, and I was privately astonished when he wanted to watch a troupe performing gypsy dance. When they invited people up on stage to join in their last dance, he clearly wanted to go — and when I offered to go with him, he went for it. Then he decided to stay for the people singing ballads that came on afterwards. (Ryan spent much of this time hunting rats in the area and pretending to stab things with his new wooden knife.)

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Our last performance of the day was an extremely tongue-in-cheek presentation of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, done by an excellent trio of actors (with a little help from the audience). The boys liked it, particularly when the “dead” Pyramus kept correcting his companion. So in addition to the other excitement of the Faire, I can report their first exposure to Shakespeare.

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