I started this blog when I was laid off from work and had nothing but time on my hands a not a lot to do, and here I find myself in a similar situation. Life over the past 4-5 years has been busy and exhausting. I am working for Head Start as a teacher in a preschool classroom. The days fly by and I am usually stressed and exhausted. I feel at times like I am on a hamster wheel, just running and running and not really going anywhere. Still, time marches forward. Evelyn has started school and is now in the second grade at a small, rural charter school. Michael is working for a different early childhood program, as a mental health and behavioral support specialist (not his official title). We have been busy…and tired…and stressed.
Today, we are at home for the 11th day in a row, isolated due to the spread of COVID-19 across the globe. I figured it would be a good time to update my blog since this is something I never imagined would happen in my lifetime. I guess I always knew there was the possibility of world-wide pandemic, but of course, we never think this will happen to us or that we will live long enough to see events like this. Yet, here we are, with nothing to do but wait to see what will happen. Our days have been fairly calm here at home, but I do have an underlying feeling of anxiety (and who doesn’t?) which I try to keep hidden from Evelyn as much as possible. We have always taken the honest approach with her in explaining how things work in our world, so we try to be open and honest with her about the state of things without sharing TOO much, like how in Spain the military who have gone into elder care homes to help with disinfection have found dead bodies, abandoned by the staff. We try to share to good things, like videos of Italians on their balconies singing together to pass the time and raise spirits during their lockdown. For me, it is both scary and comforting to know that this is happening all over the globe. People are isolating themselves at home to help to stop the spread of the virus, which is very contagious and has a very long incubation period. While the feeling of solidarity makes all this a bit more bearable, it also scares me to think about the economic impact that these lockdowns will have. Schools are closed and all non-essential businesses have been asked to shut down in Pennsylvania and in many other states. We are extremely blessed that we are still getting a paycheck…for now.
I will never forget the look of excitement on Evelyn’s face when she jumped off the bus on March 13 and exclaimed, “No school for 2 weeks!” I had only just found out that the governor was closing schools for two weeks a few minutes before her and it was hard to hide the worry that was probably on my face. I knew even then that we would be closed much longer than 2 weeks. I think the novelty of being off school is going to wear out for her quickly. We have just been trying to make the most of the time at home…cooking, playing games, doing puzzles, catching up on Netflix, enjoying a little time outdoors when the weather is nice. It’s all we can do right now.
When we found out that I was pregnant with Evelyn, Michael planted an apple seed. When I asked him what prompted him to do it, he tells me that it was just a random thing, but then went on to say that he thought it would be cool to see Evelyn and the tree grow together. He had visions of her climbing it and playing in its shade.
I have to admit that I sometimes scoff at Michael’s ideas. I didn’t really think that the tree would grow, and even if it did, I was sure it would never produce fruit. And what would we do with it anyway? We lived in an apartment at the time. I guess I kind of thought it was a silly idea, but I let him have his dreams.
Well, the apple seed grew. At first I wasn’t even sure if it was the apple seed that was growing. It could have been a weed or some other tree seed that might have blown into the neglected pot. That pot sat on the patio season after season. I think at one point, Michael wanted to bring the pot into the house during the winter, but I didn’t allow it. When we bought our house and moved, the pot came with us, but I was still certain that nothing would come of it. Still, Michael seemed to treasure his apple tree, so I went along with it.
I’m not sure how it survived. Year after year, the pot sat in some corner of the patio, away from everything. Weeds grew in the pot and Michael would eventually pull them out. At one point, he wanted to move the pot into the middle of my landscaping beds so that the tree would get more sun. I sighed *that silly apple tree* and let him do it. That was last year…or maybe the year before…I can’t remember…that’s how much I paid attention to this tree.
This spring, the tree exploded with white blossoms. Michael mentioned that we should probably put the tree into the ground. Then the weather got cold for a few weeks and the gardening was neglected once more. Now the tree is covered with little apple buds and the weather is warming up again, so today we decided to free it from the pot and put it in the ground. I have no idea if it will survive this transition. We waited too long to move it. But, I figure it survived everything else it’s been through, including my lack of faith in its potential. It’s a tough little tree. It’s become a permanent part of our landscape now, just like the little girl who inspired its existence.
So Evelyn and I decided we wanted to make a summer bucket list. Ok, maybe I was a little more excited about the list than she was. Since I decided to apply for a teaching position at work (and I got the job), I am going to be off for the summer and I am more than a little excited about it. I have struggled with the work/stay at home debate ever since Evelyn was born. I have done both and neither option felt 100% comfortable for me. So now, I get to work while Evelyn is at school and be off when she is off. It’s the perfect balance and I actually really love my job.
Aaaannyway, I could probably come up with a crazy-long list, but I decided to keep it sort of short, so that I don’t kick myself later if we don’t get it all accomplished. Evelyn did contribute a few ideas, but I had a hard time getting her to understand the concept of a bucket list. When I asked her, “What do you really want to do this summer?” her response was, “Have a movie day!” So then I had to explain that we should put things on the list that we couldn’t do any other time of year. We could have a movie day any time. So then she came at me with…
Eat lunch at Odd Fellas: Well, we really can eat there any day, except for Sunday when they are closed, but she rationalized it with, “Well, we can’t eat lunch there any day because we have to eat lunch at school.” Ok, makes sense to me. Lunch at Odd Fellas for the win.
Go camping: I already have 2 camping trips booked for this summer so, easy peasy.
Make a fairy garden: We spent quite a bit of time pinning ideas for this during the winter when we were home sick or on snow days.
Outdoor movie: I just got a flyer from Evelyn’s school about some free movies in the park this summer. Now I just have to add the dates to my calendar so we don’t forget!
Paint Rocks: I really want to paint some story rocks to use in my classroom next year, and I think this will be fun for Evelyn too.
Go berry picking: We do this every year, so this one shouldn’t be a problem.
Have a paint day: Michael got me an easel and paints and brushes for Christmas, so I have been painting every now and then. Evelyn likes to paint with me, so this will be a perfect rainy day activity.
Make popsicles: Because summer.
Swing painting: Saw this video circulating around Facebook. We’ll have to drag our supplies to the park, but that won’t stop us!
I could probably come up with more, but I think I better quit while I am ahead. Evelyn is doing a headstand on the couch, so I think she’s finished contributing to the list.
Oh, how the time passes. I’m a little late in posting this, but my baby recently turned five years old. Five.
Try not to laugh at my sad little “5” cake. I like to bake and decorate your birthday cakes on my own, even if I am certainly no expert. This year, we had your first friends party that wasn’t at our house. We had a pool party at the YMCA. I’m not gonna sugar coat it though. December birthdays suck. Between the holidays and the weather, a lot of people we invited weren’t able to make it, but you didn’t notice and you had a lot of fun.
Five years ago the start of kindergarten seemed like a million years away and now your birthday has come and gone and kindergarten looms ever nearer. You just keep on changing. Lately, you have been so proud of how many things you can do for yourself. There are so many cool things about five.
Your dad finally “trained” you to go to sleep on your own at night. We still do our normal bedtime routine…three books, mom or dad sits with you for 3 songs, and then it’s hugs and kisses and goodnight. Most of the time you don’t put up a fight. Occasionally, you wrap your little arms around my neck and ask me to stay. Sometimes you’ll tell your dad that he can leave the room and recently you told him that soon you will be bigger and you won’t need anyone to stay with you at bedtime.
You are so proud of yourself when you can get dressed on your own, which is most of the time if you choose to do it. A few weeks ago, Grandma got you some Converse shoes that actually have laces and you insisted that you needed to learn how to tie right then and there. Of course, you got really frustrated when you couldn’t accomplish the task on the first try….just like your old mom.
We’ve started giving you chores to do and you love to help out around the house. A few days ago you said, “Thank you, mom!” when I asked you to clean something.
For your birthday this year, we got you a karaoke machine. You have always loved to sing and that hasn’t changed. Just today, you told me “I love to sing every day.” We watched the movie Annie for the first time and you said, “Wow, that girl is a really good singer.” You make up your own songs and you get mad at us if we try to sing with you, especially if we don’t sing it exactly the way you think it should be done.
Lately, when you get mad or frustrated at us, or if you don’t get your way, you stomp up to your bedroom, shut the door and draw a picture at your desk. The picture usually depicts whatever wrongdoing we have inflicted on you, but by the time you are finished with it, you are usually giggling as you descend the stairs to show it to us.
You draw happy pictures too. They are not all bad.
You are obsessed with babies and any kid who’s younger than you, really. You have an imaginary sister, and imaginary brother, and a large number (100 I think) of imaginary “cousins” who were displaced by a fire in their home and you invited them to come and live with us. We have to save places at the dinner table and you even take your “siblings” to church with you sometimes. You are struggling right now to understand things like love and marriage. You told me recently that you are going to marry your classmate James. When I asked you what makes him special, you told me that you “didn’t expect it, but you just fell in love with him.” I’m glad that many of these conversations happen in the car and you can’t see me chuckling at you as you tell me in all seriousness. You also ask about death a lot. Your brain is struggling to process all these big concepts. You often ask me what will happen if I die or if Daddy dies or if we both die. The worst part (to me) about you asking these questions is that you don’t seem to be the slightest bit worried about that happening. I think you are more interested in thinking about how your life might be different (like you could go to live with the Dobos family, as you once suggested)!
This year you are taking a tumbling class instead of dance. You seem to like it. You still love to dance and you like to dance along with music videos. You also like to do yoga and you are especially fond of the Gummy Bear song, mainly because the little gummy bear’s butt crack shows in the video. You’re kind of into butts and poop and farts right now. Ha.
I started teaching preschool again this year. It’s been 10 years, so I am a little out of practice. You are in one of the other classes, just down the hall, and you teach me songs and games and all kinds of fun things that I get to try out with my kids. You’re a pretty awesome preschool consultant.
You’re still giving us a run for our money sometimes. You had a pretty big breath holding spell right around Christmas time, after a year of being spell-free. I was certain that we had seen the end of them, but you reminded us that you are still our little girl who needs a little extra understanding now and then.
I’m sure that five is just the beginning of many years of you wishing to be just a bit older, but it’s the number that once seemed so far away to this first-time mom and it’s the number of years I have been pleading that time would slow down just a little….
About 2 years ago, I got Michael a telescope for Christmas. Shortly after, I found out about Cherry Springs State Park and have been wanting to take him there. It is supposedly the darkest place, East of the Mississippi, for viewing stars. Unfortunately, light pollution prevents us from seeing most of the stars in the sky from our cities and towns, so if you want to see what’s really up there, you have to find a very dark location. Lucky for me, it’s only a little over an hour away from home. So, I reserved 2 nights in the campground and prayed for clear skies. I had a really hard time finding out about the logistics of this place. I like to be prepared when I am going to be away from home, but the park website just doesn’t have a lot of detailed info. I scoured the internet for info and read a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor to help me prepare. I thought I would share what I learned from our trip.
I found a cool site called Clear Dark Sky, which gave me a detailed forecast of the expected viewing conditions. We had decided that if conditions looked bleak, we would just skip the trip. Fortunately, it looked like we might have good viewing conditions. So, we packed up and headed out.
My first piece of advice is to look at a map before going and plot out a few different routes. The roads that go into the park are long and winding and your GPS will not help you. We had planned to take route 44 the entire way, only to find out that a section of it was closed for road work. We were lucky that they allowed us to pass through with an escort, but it was a dusty, bumpy 5 miles, and set us back about 1/2 hour. We plotted a different way home.
The park at Cherry Springs has 2 observation fields. One is for serious astronomers only (not sure on the criteria for that) and there is a fee to enter. You can set up a tent or camper and stay the night, but it is gated and once they shut the gate, you are in for the night. They don’t allow people to walk into the field after dark and there is no light (except for red light) allowed on the field. They have some observation domes that can be rented for the night, but again, they are for “serious” astronomers only. If you fall into this category, I probably can’t offer you much more advice for your trip.
If you have kids and just want to marvel at God’s creation (or if you have a cheap, amateur telescope like we do), keep reading. On the other side of Route 44 (just across the street) there is a public viewing area, where you can park and view the stars in the field. Bring a folding chair or a blanket, whatever makes you comfy. It will probably be chilly, so bring a sweatshirt. There is no rule against white light in this area, but I would highly recommend bringing a flashlight with a red filter or just put some red cellophane over your flashlight and secure it with a rubber band. People get cranky when you shine white light in their eyes and it really does mess with the experience. There are port-a-potties, for your convenience.
We headed into the field around 8:30 or so, to wait for the sun to go down. I really thought Evelyn was going to be bored, but Michael gave her an iPad and we used an app called Sky Watch to find where planets and constellations would appear in the sky. She was literally giddy each time a star emerged in the sky. When we arrived there were several people already set up with some pretty serious telescopes. We were very fortunate to meet a couple who had traveled from Maryland and they allowed us to look through their telescope and helped Michael to figure out how to use his. We were able to see Jupiter and 4 of its moons, Saturn, and Mars. We even got to see the International Space Station fly by. I realized later that we never actually made it into the viewing field. We ended up viewing the stars from the parking lot. Ha ha, amateurs.
By 9:30 or 10:00, Evelyn got really tired and wanted to go to bed. I put her in the back seat of the car to lay down and sat with her until she fell asleep, but she wanted me to wake her up to see the Milky Way. By the time she fell asleep and I left the car, the Milky Way was making it’s appearance. I did wake her up for a time so that she could see it, but she fell back to sleep pretty quickly. I wish that I had taken this picture but sadly, I did not. However, I wanted to find a picture that would closely represent what I saw…stars forever and a white swath across the sky. You really have to forget about your problems and realize how insignificant they are when you witness something like this.
There is also a campground that has 30 sites. They are rustic, tent only, with vault toilets and no showers, and no dish-washing station, so in my opinion, this is not a great park for long-term stays. Aside from the star-gazing, there is not much to do here. We reserved a camp site for 2 nights, but I think we could have been fine with just one night. Most of the campers around us only stayed for one night. It really seems like this park is designed for short-term stays. However, if you want to stay for a few days, I would highly recommend staking a claim on sites 1, 3, 5 or 8. They are partly shaded so that you can escape the sun during the day.
The other sites are more in a field location with a few trees that dot the landscape. I was glad for our shady spot that bordered the woods, but if you are only planning to stay one night, I think that any site would be fine. Sites were very inexpensive (under $20 per night) and we reserved online, but I think that as long as the campground is not full, you could probably get a site if you just show up. If you want to go that route, stop at the little building on the way into the campground to pay for your site. I would arrive early (3-5pm) because the sites fill up quickly. That would give you plenty of time to set up camp, have a meal over a fire and head up to the observation field as the sun is setting.
A few things to keep in mind:
Try to go when there is a new moon. If the moon is bright in the sky, it will be hard for you to see anything else. Consult a moon calendar.
Prepare to stay up late….at least 11:00 or so for the best viewing.
You don’t NEED a telescope. The skies are gorgeous enough on their own.
Keep in mind that some of the pictures you see online might not be an accurate representation of what you will actually see. Sometimes the camera can pick up colors and depth that the naked eye cannot see. Also, so much depends on the weather conditions and the time of year that you go, and how late you are willing to stay up.
After our first night, we had a full day to spend and a 4-year-old to entertain, so we drove about 8 miles to Lyman Run State Park, where there was a lake and a beach. They have a concession stand and boat rentals and they also have showers there, if you are so inclined, but we decided to rough it and go natural for the whole trip. This was also a very nice park and I think that the star gazing would probably be awesome here too, but you would have less protection from white light sources and there is no specific place set up for stargazing. If you wanted a longer, more kid-friendly trip, it might be better to stay here and then drive over to Cherry Springs to view the stars at night.
After a long day of heat and too much togetherness, we decided to take a little drive over to a country store that was only about a mile down the road. Keener’s Kountry Store offered ice cream, gas (in ancient pumps), and firewood for $6 a bundle. Next time, we will definitely stop here for wood after we arrive, instead of dragging it in our car.
I have to say that my campfire cooking skills are improving. We made foil packs and corn on the cob. The foil packs had chicken breast, potatoes, onion, and carrots. I seasoned everything with salt and pepper and a nice chunk of butter. They turned out so good!
While we had a nice time and enjoyed our stay, I think the guy in this orange tent had the right idea. Arrive late in the day, pop up a tent, and sleep with the rain fly off so you can drift off under an amazing sky.
I have no idea why (probably my new mom nerves), but I was always afraid of camping in a tent when Evelyn was a baby. I had done it myself many times, but just needed some extra security when she was younger. Since her first summer, we have always done our camping in my parent’s pop up camper or a cabin. But, now that she’s a bit older, I felt ready to try camping in a tent. So, for our first tenting adventure, we reserved 2 nights over the 4th of July weekend at R.B. Winter State Park. My dad, aunt, and cousins were also staying in the park and my brother and his girlfriend decided to join us on our site. We also decided to take our dog (something that we have never done before). I was praying that it would all work out. Fortunately, I can report that everything went pretty smoothly, aside from a flat air mattress and a scraped knee.
We arrived in the afternoon on Saturday and set up camp. The weather could not have been better. We had two tents and a few hammocks with lots of camp chairs. I always keep a few extras around for my pesky nephews, who like to steal a chair the second it’s empty. We had site #56, which sits on the side of the hill, so it has a lower level for parking with some steps that lead up to the elevated tent pad and fire ring. There was also a picnic table and lantern hook. My only complaint about this site was that it was a little too close to the neighboring site. We were talking about trying to get both sites for next year, so that at least we will have family next door. Fortunately, our neighbors for this trip were friendly enough. I couldn’t help but giggle one morning as I watched the chipmunks fervently scramble to eat up all the food that had been left sitting out on their site, after we were so careful to put everything away in our car, so as not to attract bears.
Our three days at camp were just relaxing and fun. We went for walks, played in the sand on the beach by the lake, cooked over the fire, made s’mores, and picked on each other. I love that Evelyn can be entertained with barely anything “to do.” She finds her own fun. She loved just going in and out of the tent and curling up inside the sleeping bags, staking a claim on her sleeping spot right away. The kids enjoyed playing in the creek, lounging in the hammock, and exploring the paths. I even got in on the fun. I think that our dog, Moxie, didn’t quite know what to make of all of it, but she was very well behaved and I would definitely take her again in the future.
We had so much fun that we are planning to do it again sometime, and trying to talk even more of our family into joining us. Meanwhile, we’re getting ready for this summer’s next camping adventure.
Today, I turned 39 and I’m eating cake. Tomorrow, I’m embarking on a year-long journey to be in the best shape of my life by the time I am 40. Yikes. I’m “saying” it out loud.
There is just something about 40 that incites fear…and loathing…and panic, but I figure I have (God willing) at least a much time ahead of me as I have left behind me, so I might as well spend it well.
For the past few years I have been struggling with my weight and with just feeling unhealthy. My body is definitely on the decline. I am sore and tired most of the time. My back aches. Anybody who knows me knows that I hate exercise. I can diet until the cows come home, but I really, really loathe breaking a sweat. To my dismay, I have been thinking recently that I really need to add it into my life, even if it’s just baby steps at first. I work in a building that houses a senior center and on a daily basis, I see seniors, some of them withered and barely moving, walking laps around the building to get exercise. Every day they faithfully appear, pushing walkers and limping along. I have this daily reminder that I really have no excuse.
If they can do it, I can do it. What’s wrong with me?
I’ve also been somewhat down in the dumps and I am fully blaming it on facebook and social media. I have a serious addiction and it has been impacting the way that I interact with my family. It also keeps me from doing anything productive. It really needs to go.
So, I have decided that this is going to be the year that I pull myself together. I am going to give myself one year to get into the best shape of my life…I’m not just talking about my physique. I feel like I need a total overhaul. I haven’t decided if I am going to document the journey as I go (maybe monthly?), or when the year is over…I guess we’ll see.