Weather Report

The children were six feet away in the sandbox, pouring sand in each other’s hair and catching tiny bugs. Armed with a caulking gun, I ascended the ladder.

I had already cleaned out the old caulk and cleaned the gaps of debris with a dry paintbrush. With a trembling hand (not only am I not keen on heights, but the instructions on the tube of caulk was very clear on the fact that this is permanent), I applied a bead of caulk to the gaps to re-seal our sunroom roof. On the first panel, I forgot to smooth the caulk into the gap. I inspected it after I’d done the other two the proper way, and while it didn’t look pretty, it seemed to be filling the gap just fine.

The formerly (I hope) leaky sunroom.

Before I started working, I checked the weather online to make sure I had at least three hours before it was supposed to rain, the minimum curing time for water exposure listed on the tube of caulk. I learned that we might just get hit with Hurricane Irene this weekend. That gave me a little something to ponder while perched above the sunroom.

The last hurricane I was even close to being in was Floyd back in 1999 in North Carolina. Hurricane Dennis had come through about a week before. My mom was on the phone from her home in Ohio before each, begging me and my then-fiancee to evacuate, although no such order had been given by the authorities in North Carolina. These were people who knew hurricanes. If they said stay, we were staying.

This was in my early 20’s and was one of the first times I had suggested that the authority of a government agency might supersede that of my mother. I had a vague sense of doom as a result of not following my mother’s directions, but I did my best to act like a grown-up.

We put exes of masking tape across the windows of our apartment. We weren’t sure why we were supposed to do this, but other people were doing it, so we figured we might as well. That night, we slept in the hallway in case tree branches came through the windows of our bedroom during the storm.

As it turned out, both hurricanes just skirted our area, drenching us with torrential downpours but leaving us largely untouched by the high winds. The most exciting thing that happened was just buckets and buckets of water falling. It was thrilling to watch from our screened-in porch. The cat was not impressed.

Less than a month later, our families and friends gathered for our wedding. A coworker was getting married the same day. They’d booked a location on the coast and had to relocate the wedding when the original location was destroyed by the storm surge. Our wedding site a couple of hours inland was fine and, luckily, not flooded.

When I met my maid of honor at the airport after her flight from California, she said, “You sure have a lot of swampland around here. I could see it from the airplane.”

“That wasn’t swampland three weeks ago,” I explained.

These are the things on my mind as I think about the possibility of a hurricane in Massachusetts. That and the story the neighbor told about how there used to be a huge tree in our yard but that it was brought down by Hurricane Bob (I think) 20 years ago. Our neighbor said the tree blocked the street for a week before they finally got someone out to cut it up and cart it away.

Right now it’s almost as hard to imagine a hurricane as it is to imagine everything covered in snow. The weather this week is absolutely perfect. We keep every window in the house open all day long. We eat every meal in the sunroom with the windows removed so it’s just a covered, screened-in porch.

We’ll see what Irene does when she gets here.

At the very least, I should know by Monday if I did a good enough job caulking the sunroom roof.

The sandbox is ready for anything.

Take a Hike! Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary is an urban park in Worcester, Massachusetts, run by Mass Audubon. Many of the trails run adjacent to private backyards and join up with city streets. There’s a modest fee to use the facilities and trails, but I thought it was worth it. We’ve been doing so much hiking, I bought a Mass Audubon family membership, which gets us free admission to any of the sanctuaries.

We’ve already used it three times and we’ve had it just over a week.

The nature center has displays which caught my children’s attention, and there are bathrooms (which I always like) and bird blinds and interpretive placards.

I saw one dad pushing a toddler in a jogging stroller on the trail. He was having some trouble, but he had one of those with the smaller wheels and the swivel wheel in the front. I think that with a stroller with 16″ wheels and a fixed front wheel, it would be easier going. It might be challenging to cross some of the streams where you have to go rock to rock, but I think it would be possible with a jogger stroller (I’ll note here that I’ve never hiked with a jogging stroller. I wear my kids on my back until they’re almost four, then I let them walk). Most of the rest of the trails are wide, pretty smooth, and basically flat.

Rocky Crossing

Another Rocky Crossing

This is another hike we did more than once in one week. On August 5th, we went with our Friday homeschool hiking group. We had a wonderful turnout with, I think, five little boys, four moms, one dad, and then me and my kids.

My daughter was the only little girl on the hike. She was not thrilled with this turn of events.

My daughter likes things quiet and calm. Often when we have boys along, our hikes are not quiet and calm.

“Mommy, all of the shouting is giving me a headache,” she would say.

“Mommy, I like to have one or two boys around, but more than that is too much.”

At one point, she fell over a log and hurt her knee. Later, she dropped her special flat rock between the boards of the boardwalk. The dad with our group reached under the boardwalk and retrieved it for her. I said thank you for my daughter who was now too surly to respond.

Purple Flowers

With the large group, we managed to go one mile in about one hour. It was a lovely trail, though. We passed by the Frog Pond, which, true to its name, was home to dozens of frogs. We observed fallen trees and piles of large rocks. We crossed streams and creeks. We played at the natural “playground” (branches and bricks and hills of dirt and wooden swings).

Frog Pond

The following day we returned with my husband, the kids, and me, and it was much quieter. We didn’t see anyone else on the trails. My daughter seemed to enjoy that quite a bit more than the previous day’s hike. We spent more time in the nature center where my children enjoyed pushing buttons to hear bird calls and looking at the models of baby muskrats and butterflies.

Our family on our own ended up hiking about three miles. We went by the Frog Pond as we had the day before, then we headed into the woods and then along the brook for a ways.

Toad

On our second day there, my kids and I saw three wild turkeys, tons of frogs, three toads, one tiny snake, and a heron.

Spring Peeper

And because I let my children choose their own snacks that morning, they were happy with their food options so we were spared the complaints about those.

It was a great hike, and not far from our home. It’s one we will definitely do again.

Six States and Counting

Prominent roads and cities in Massachusetts.

Image via Wikipedia

Today I got my Massachusetts driver’s license. From the time I began driving until today, I’ve had licenses in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, California, Utah, and Massachusetts.

I’ve visited DMVs, BMVs, and RMVs.

I’ve waited for hours and hours (California) to get my license and registration, and I’ve not waited at all (Utah and Massachusetts).

I’ve been spoken to rudely by the staff (California and Ohio), and I’ve been treated very kindly and in an extremely friendly and attentive manner (Utah and Massachusetts).

I’ve taken written tests in five states (Massachusetts didn’t require one), eye tests in all six, and a road test in one.

I’ve registered to vote at the motor vehicle registry in five states (consecutively, not concurrently) and with three different parties (if you consider “unaffiliated” a party).

Of these six states, my favorite places to get a license are Utah and Massachusetts. Both have their quirks. Utah made sure I knew how long military personal with Utah residency could maintain their Utah driver’s license after they’ve left the service. Massachusetts doesn’t have proof-of-insurance cards (and doesn’t require insurance to get a driver’s license), and I had to get my insurance company to send a stamped registration form to get my plates. But both the Salt Lake City DMV and the Worcester RMV branches were very friendly and accommodating.

I don’t know why exactly, but I’m very nervous when dealing with government agencies. I’ve not done my own taxes since 1998 (I’ve had them done, they’ve just not been done by me), simply because I get way too anxious that I’m going to inadvertently fill out something incorrectly.

I’d done tons of research about the license and registration process in Massachusetts before my husband and I left the kids with my mom and went to the office today. Still, I had pit stains before we even walked into the building because I was so nervous I was sweating more than usual.

Luckily, the wait was not the two hours plus as I’d been led to expect. In fact, we didn’t even have a chance to sit down before our numbers were called.

Luckily, too, the woman who helped us was extraordinarily friendly. The other agents kept coming to her for help with their customers, too, which delayed us a bit, but after our nonexistent wait time, we felt like we were way ahead of schedule. In addition, it was quite pleasant to see such a collaborative spirit among the agents there.

In California, the staff seemed to talk with each other a lot, but it seemed to be more of an “agents versus customers” brand of collaboration than it was a “let’s try to put our heads together and figure out a complicated issue” kind of collaboration. (Not to bad-mouth California. The branch we were at was ridiculously busy, with lines out the door even for those with appointments who were just trying to check in at their assigned appointment times. With as overworked as the staff were, I can see how they might develop an adversarial attitude. And there was one agent there who was very helpful and friendly to us. Well, to my husband. I got the agent who talked loudly and unflatteringly to another agent about me while I was standing right there at the counter).

Long story short, I was surprised to find that I actively enjoyed my RMV experience this afternoon, and I made a point of telling the agent just how much I appreciated her friendliness. What’s even more surprising is that I enjoyed it even though I left there more than $300 lighter than when I went in.

I hope it’s at least several years before I need to add a seventh state to the list. If I do get a seventh, I wonder where it will be…

Take a Hike! Chestnut Hill Farm

Back in the day (“the day” being the 18th and 19th century), Massachusetts was largely farmland. Most of the trees had been cut down when the land was “improved” to make it arable. With the expansion into the Midwest, specifically Ohio, where the soil was less rocky and better suited to agriculture (once they cut down all the trees there), New England farms began to be replaced with factories and mills and the farmland was gradually left to become forest again.

Children skipping gaily up the trail.

Chestnut Hill Farm in Southborough looks how I imagine Massachusetts looked in its agrarian past. It’s much more open and exposed than the other hikes we’ve done. The trail runs adjacent to (and partially through) a working farm. We got to see cows and tractors, which was predictably thrilling for the children.

We did this hike with a pretty large group of homeschoolers. Including our family, there were six moms, one dad, one grandma, and twelve children ranging in age from fifteen years down to six weeks. Having such a large group provided us with some great conversation. It also made it even more challenging to decide which path to take when the trail we were looking at did not match what was represented on the map. Trail selection by consensus isn’t fun, but having everyone look at me to decide which direction to go was rather more responsibility than I’d banked on. Out and back it was, as I didn’t want to be responsible for losing this very nice group of people, most of whom I’d just met.

 

We did, however, make it out and back fine. We never did find the side trail we’d intended to take, but we got to see flowers and spider webs and ticks and inchworms. The kids and I kept up our tradition of spotting amphibious life by seeing a tiny little toad. She hopped away before I had a chance to take her portrait.

As with most of our other hikes, there was no restroom, but there was an ample supply of maps at the information kiosk. As mentioned before, the map was of limited utility and the trails themselves were not clearly blazed.

The trail we took was, however, wide and fairly smooth, and I think it would have admitted a jogging stroller with little to no trouble. It went by what appeared to be an open-air storage location for manure, which was a little smelly, but aside from that, it was quite pleasant.

 

It’s probably reasonable to explain at this point that I’m generally not going to give a hike a negative review. I think that a hike is what you make of it. There’s so much personal opinion when it comes to hikes. Some like to follow what to me looks like little more than a deer path through thick woods and underbrush. Others prefer a three-foot-wide paved trail with interpretive placards every 50 yards along the way.

Me? I like it all, although the overgrown, poorly blazed trails trigger my unreasonable anxiety about ticks and poison ivy and make me wish I’d paid attention in Girl Scouts when we learned to use a compass. And that I’d brought a compass with me. Except that if I had a compass, everyone would assume I knew what I was doing. I would rather not give that impression if I can help it. I just like to walk around outside.

Even a bad day hiking I won’t generally attribute to a “bad” trail. With the possible exception of a narrow trail that runs along a steep dropoff with no railing. (Utah, I’m looking at you.)

One more for the road.

Take a Hike! Mt. Pisgah Conservation Area

When I first saw that there was a Mt. Pisgah in Massachusetts, I experienced a moment of confusion. I thought for sure I knew where Mt. Pisgah was, and I was pretty sure it was in North Carolina. Turns out I was right; there is a Mt. Pisgah in North Carolina. There’s also one in Massachusetts and one in Oregon.

At an elevation of 715 feet, the Mt. Pisgah in Massachusetts is more of a hill than a mountain. It’s in the middle of conservation lands that straddle the border between the towns of Berlin and Northborough.

The day we went started out rainy. The forecast said there would be a break in the rain between about 10am and 1pm, which is just when we were planning to go, so decided to proceed as planned.

At the trailhead, we met another family, a mom and her two girls, and we grabbed our wide-brimmed hats and headed into the fog. The plan was to hike the the Mentzer Trail, with the North Overlook as our destination. Out and back, it would be about 1.25 miles.

Living in the West for so many years, I seem to have blocked out the existence of mosquitos. Between two rain storms is apparently, in the estimation of the striped and highly aggressive mosquitos we encountered, about the best time to go hiking We soldiered on, though, trying not to stop too much, which was difficult because we saw so many very cool things to stop and look at.

My son was, as usual, on my back, which made him something of a sitting duck for the blood-sucking insects but which kept him from contributing to the stop-and-start nature of the hike. The girls, however, did just fine on their own in this regard.

An orange mushroom! (My daughter took this picture)

My daughter, always the map-reader, carried the map and followed our route. She pointed out every blaze along the way and insisted that the rest of us also notice and admire each painted yellow spot before moving along. All of the girls found ferns and raspberries and lots and lots of mushrooms.

“Look! An orange mushroom!”

“Look! A blue mushroom!”

“Look! A tiny little mushroom!”

Here’s Toad, but where is Frog?

We saw both a frog and a toad. They behaved differently than the books and musicals I’ve seen about them have indicated. Perhaps in real life, they’re more private about their adventures.

We were just about at our destination when the girls began insisting they were done hiking and my son started asking to get down. We paused for a few moments and looked at the view, trying to imagine what we’d be looking at if it weren’t covered in fog and swatting away mosquitos, then we headed back the way we’d come.

The View

About halfway back, I let my son out of the carrier on my back. He was very excited to walk and seemed to think it imperative that he step on every single rock in our path. He didn’t limit himself to the ones that were in front of him. He swerved back and forth across the path, holding my hand for support and making sure to leave no stone un-stepped-upon. The girls by now were tired of finding mushrooms and decided to run ahead. They would round a curve and the other mom and I wouldn’t be able to see them. We knew they were there only by their laughter bouncing back to us through the fog.

Back at the trailhead, we packed the kids quickly into the cars and shut the doors, trying to keep the mosquitos from following us home. I squashed one on the headliner just before we pulled away.

In spite of the bugs, I quite enjoyed this hike. It was a treat to experience the different sounds and smells and animals in the forest when it’s rainy. The trails were well-marked and it was easy to find a path that was the right length for our little crew. And I look forward to going back and seeing that view when it’s clear out.

But what’s up with these trailheads that have no facilities? We’re not a “peeing in the woods” kind of family (well, 75% of our family isn’t), and even a port-a-john would be welcome after we’ve all emptied our water bottles.

Take a Hike! Gates Pond

When we moved to Utah, I connected with others through the moms club and La Leche League. That worked very well for that time of our lives and for that time of the year (March).

Now that we have two kids and we’re getting deep into this homeschooling stuff, and it’s summer (and the local LLL groups are on hiatus for the season), I’m taking a different approach to settling into Massachusetts.

For me and the kids, I’ve noticed that our best days are almost always outdoors days. To help facilitate more “best days” and to make up for the ridiculous amount of driving we’ve been doing here, I’ve decided that every day we’ll either go hiking or to a playground (or both).

Due to an odd series of events, I’ve found myself leading a homeschool hiking group here for four weeks while the regular facilitator is out of town and/or entertaining guests. Because I didn’t really know the area nor did I know any hikes when I volunteered to lead the group, I decided going out with the kids on some local hikes would be a good idea. Plus, I love hiking with my kids. My daughter is a great hiker and it’s so fun seeing their reactions to the things we see on our hikes.

This week we did two hikes. Tuesday’s was to Gates Pond in Berlin, Massachusetts. We did this one just me and the kids.

The hike around Gates Pond was about perfect for us. It was hot, but not horribly so, and the forest was nice and shady, so we were pretty comfy the whole time.

Gates Pond is actually a reservoir and it supplies water for the nearby town of Hudson, as dozens of signs along the trail reminded us. The trail is a 2.5-mile loop around the pond. It’s partially paved (black top) and is open to all manner of non-motorized travel.

We saw bikes and dogs, walkers and joggers, and we saw horse hoofprints and other—ahem—evidence of horses.

When we headed to the pond, I promised my children they would see frogs and turtles. Luckily, we happened upon this little guy, who helped me not be a liar:

My son rode on my back in the Ergo the whole time, but my daughter walked the entire 2.5 miles. I was very impressed! In addition to the frog, we saw raspberries, wild strawberries, rose bushes, and other evidence of a more agrarian past, like stone fences through the area.

There are no facilities at the trailhead, which isn’t ideal when hiking with little kiddos (I may have birthed the only boy ever who doesn’t like to pee outdoors. I suppose it’s better not to pee near a town’s water supply, anyway).

Aside from the potty issue, Gates Pond was a great destination for our family. It’s close by, very pretty, has excellent tree cover, is mostly flat, is a reasonable hiking distance, and it’s a loop so we can’t get lost. If I can swing it, I’d love to go back there for a jog one day.

Hey, Joe, Where You Going With That Hummus in Your Hand?

When we left California in 2008, we didn’t realize we would be leaving behind Trader Joe’s. Our standard Sunday routine in California was farmers market, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods. That combination gave us the greatest variety of foods at the lowest cost. In Utah, the farmers market only ran mid-June through mid-October, and there were no Trader Joe’s. Our reliance on Whole Foods increased dramatically, especially during the wintertime, and our grocery expenses increased along with it.

Now here's a dilemma: three bottles of wine and no one to share them with. I must acquire some local friends...

But now we’re back in Trader Joe’s country. I got three well-priced bottles of wine, along with chocolate-covered frozen banana slices (which, it turns out, only I like), mini rice crackers, freeze-dried blueberries and strawberries, and a 4-flavor variety pack of hummus. I still like my hummus best, but until I get my VitaMix tamper back (I accidentally let the movers pack it), I’ll be relying on store-bought. And Joe’s hummus was pretty decent.

We ate our purchases (except for the wine) in the car amid calls from the backseat for more “dip” and more “boo-babies”. We ate our impromptu lunch on the shore of Bartlett Pond while waiting to tour a rental property. An elderly gentleman out for a walk gave us tips about where to hike and where not to hike to avoid ticks, and suggested that if we were planning to fish, we wait a bit because they just put chemicals in the pond to kill off the weeds. He also talked up the local high school, from which his granddaughter just graduated, and gave us directions to some walking trails that involved statements like, “go past the old state hospital on the left, but going this direction it will be on your right,” and then a quick series of first lefts and second rights that we promptly forgot.

“Have a nice walk!” my husband called as the gentleman went on his way.

“Oh, I’m just staying on the road,” he said. “I’ve had enough ticks in my lifetime.”

As he left, I wondered if I should have offered him some hummus.

Where the Streets Have No Names (or Four). (The Final Day of the Cross-Country Road Trip)

We drove into Massachusetts today.

The Berkshires were gorgeous.

The drivers on the Mass Turnpike were as advertised.

Worcester smells funny (but different funny from Gary, Indiana).

MetroWest Boston is different than I expected. More heavily wooded. Very narrow streets. Our rental Yukon is by far the largest vehicle we’ve seen here. It’s not well-suited to this environment. It looked a lot more at home in Utah or Nebraska or Iowa.

And the roads here don’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason I can figure.

Our first adventure was to AAA to get maps. I am, frankly, amazed we found it.

I’ve been spoiled with parallel numbered streets for the past three years. I never needed a map in Utah. If you had the address, you knew where you were.

Marlborough, Massachusetts, doesn’t seem to be organized in the same fashion. The roads aren’t straight, they aren’t parallel, and they aren’t even named the same thing a half-mile down the road as they were where you started.

And, according to a friend in Connecticut, they sometimes aren’t named at all.

The advice we got from the AAA guy:

“This heah’s 95,” he said, tracing a blue line on the map with his finger. “It runs from Providence up to heah. Heah it’s the same thing as 128. Some people call it 95. Some call it 128. The people who’ve lived heah all theah lives call it 128.”

“But you won’t evah see a sign that calls it that,” another guy behind the desk chimed in.

“Right,” the first guy said. “That’s why I’m telling you. So if someone says 128, you’ll know they mean 95. Oh, and that city just west of heah that looks like it’s called War-chester? It’s pronounced ‘Wistah’.”

That last part we knew, although we thought it was pronounced like the Ohio city Wooster (“oo” like in book, not like in cootie).

We eventually made it back to our hotel, and even stopped (intentionally) at a little beer and wine store on the way (I got a GF beer from Spain called Estrella Daura. I’m drinking it now. Quite tasty). My husband was behind the wheel of the Yukon and had corrected his route because he thought he recognized a spot where he’d almost made a mistake on the way out.

“I have an excellent sense of direction,” he proclaimed.

I got out the map.

After a remarkably long time, I finally figured out where we were, and it wasn’t where my husband thought we were. I navigated us back to our hotel after yelling at my daughter to shut up (she kept saying, “Are you going east or west or south or north? Are you turning left or right or left or right or left or right?” And I said, “For the love of all that’s holy, would you please shut up?” And she cried. And I felt bad. And I apologized once I figured out where we were and got us back on a new track).

What I’m wondering is how I’m going to find my way around without a navigator in the passenger seat. I guess I’ll do it like I’ve done it everywhere before Utah: by getting lost over and over again, and finding my way back out over and over again. And likely yelling and crying and apologizing over and over again.

At least it’s June and not Decembah.

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