Take a Hike

I’m sure you know one of those families that are so outdoorsy and stoic that it’s irritating. They’re always headed off on epic cycling trips or month-long paddling excursions. They don’t have any wimpy kids in their brood, who constantly whine, “My legs are tired. Are we almost there?”

No. Their kids completed their first triathlon at the age of 6 and can easily carry a 20-lb pack as they scale mountains.

I don’t know who these kids are, but they look impressive.

I aspire for us to be one of those families. And I’m ready to irritate you with tales of our stoicism.

For the last few years, we’ve been promising our oldest that we would do an overnight hiking trip. Soon. When you keep saying that you’ll do something “soon” for YEARS, your kids start to lose faith in your empty promises.

I thought, for some time, that we would have to wait until Lark is old enough to walk a fair distance. She’s still only 5, after all. Although she requires no sleep and probably runs a marathon every day, when it comes to going on a family walk, her legs suddenly stop working.

She is very tired, she needs a break, she needs a snack, and this is boring.

I began to realize that if this overnight trip was going to happen soon, we’d have to take my daughter out of the equation. I told her with some hesitation that the three of us would be going on a camping trip without her. But that she would be having a sleepover at her aunt’s house.

She was not remotely disappointed. “Good,” she said, “Because I hate walking.”

The past many months of international pandemicdom has made me thoughtful. What kinds of experiences do I want for our family? What can we do together that is out in nature, creates growth and pushes our collective boundaries a bit? This excursion ticked those boxes for me.

I began researching all of the gear we would need. We have a lot of camping equipment, but it’s all for “car-camping” as snooty backcountry Canadians like to say. Translated, our tent weighs a tonne and is meant to be thrown in the back of the car for drive-up camping. The purists among us only consider it camping if you walk or paddle there. Or parachute. Whatever.

Although That Big Mountain Store had some great options for gear, their prices were high for what was essentially an experiment. I found stuff elsewhere, borrowed a few things, and hit Canadian Tire.

Last Friday, we tossed some packets of ramen in our bags and hit the road.

I should mention that I ran into trouble when I began looking for a place to do this hike. Ontario’s provincial parks system has a bunch of parks with hiking trails, and backcountry reservable sites. I narrowed my search down to the ones that were not more than five hours away, and then found that – sigh – most sites were completely booked until DECEMBER.

In this post-COVID world, no one is travelling far, and everyone wants to be outdoors.

Finally, I found an available site at Frontenac Provincial Park. This park is over 5,000 hectares but is apparently “threshold wilderness.” Anywhere else in the world it would probably just be wilderness wilderness, but in Canada, you know, we have tiers of these things.

On arrival, it was a balmy 12 degrees. We had a 5 km walk to our site.

Map in hand. Ready to walk.

I was relieved to find the trail very clearly marked. It was almost impossible to get lost.

The Arkon Lake loop was about 11 km in total, and relatively flat with a few small hills.

Frontenac didn’t disappoint with fall colours.

Craig and I were both super proud of our kid for not complaining and carrying his pack with minimal rests.

Campsite 7 at Birch Lake
Food storage box to prevent a critter invasion, OR, my worst nightmare, BEARS.
Bean steaming himself on a frosty 5 degree morning.

Although it was chilly overnight, the whole experience was amazing. You know that something feels like a success when you’re already planning your next trip on the way home.

What are your next new adventures going to be?

Silence and Solitude

My house is so, so quiet.

For the first time in an age, I’m alone in a house filled with silence. Well, almost alone. My husband is “at work” upstairs. Employing quotes implies that he isn’t actually working. He is.

I cannot hear My Little Pony playing on the TV downstairs. I cannot hear my son humming repetitively under his breath while he concentrates on something. I cannot hear the sound of my daughter’s foghorn flute voice asking me for a cup of water/a snack/a show/another snack/help/a sweater/clean socks/a cookie/screentime/playtime.

I cannot hear my children because they are at school. And lo, the children did returneth to school, and the parents across the land rejoiced.

I am alone with my thoughts. Exciting as they are. Last year, I asked a friend, a stay-at-home mum to three, what she was going to do now that her kids were all in school. She thought for a minute, and then said, “I’m going to think really long thoughts.”

So I’m sitting in the dining-room, thinking long, uninterrupted thoughts.

Over the last six months, the kids and I have filled the school-less days with many, many things. Games. Outdoor time. Puzzles. Artwork. Eating. Baking. Eating the Baking. Cleaning. Making Messes. Cleaning Again.

I recognize that there is an element of good fortune in not having a proper job to try to maintain. My job for the past half year has been to manage my kids and keep them happy and occupied in the weird post-COVID world we inhabit. And to keep them away from the office door because, Shhhhhh, Daddy’s on a call!!

I say “them” but really it’s my daughter who must be shushed. There are definite advantages to having a child who is a born talker. There are disadvantages too. I’d break it down like this:

Pros: Eloquent. Expresses self. Often hilarious. Strong debating skills.

Cons: Rarely quiet. (See my post Movie Kids.) Talks over the top of people. Interrupts.

When I get irritated with her for sending my train of thought skittering off the tracks, I have to remind myself that she’s probably destined for a luminous career in law or stand-up comedy.

It’s so quiet in here that I can hear the clock ticking.

Aw, I miss them. #momlife

Twelve

Today is a wonderful day.

Today I celebrate my son’s 12th year on the Earth.

Somehow, inexplicably, twelve years have flown and crawled and staggered past us. Ten years have gone since his cancer diagnosis, and time has rubbed away some of the horror of that wound, for all of us.

2020 has, and let’s not sugar-coat it, been a bit of a shit year all ’round, am I right? All of our lovely plans have gone up in smoke, the global pandemic rages on, and the uncertainty of what the future holds has us staring at the ceiling at night, and anxiously checking our news-feeds over and over.

I haven’t been immune to it. Fear has definitely got its sharp hooks into me too.

But I’ve been here before. 2010 was the worst year of my life. I stood on the brink of losing my only child oh-so-many times. Every day was a different kind of struggle. I was happy too, though, because I still had him. The highs were high and the lows were very low.

The life that I’d expected wasn’t happening. That life was gone, blitzed away by scalpels and chemo, and we were living a new life for which we didn’t have the script.

In the years that followed, grief and anxiety became constant companions, as I wrestled, daily, with all of the terrible repercussions that cancer had brought to my son, and to me, and my husband and my then unborn daughter.

I imagine that many, many, of us, around the world, are feeling this way now. The days ahead are uncertain. A nameless fear surrounds us, and a gnawing worry for our loved ones. We can’t see the road ahead. We want things to return to “normal” but despair that they never will.

Here is a secret: there is no normal. There is only what each generation has grown to perceive as the usual way of things. Oh I know, that doesn’t help very much, does it? Okay, so we can still hope that things will return to some semblance of normalcy, and usually, as history has proven, eventually, they will.

Given time, we will be able to hug and kiss each other with reckless abandon. We will go to parties and just take a piece of cheese off of a plate without a second thought. We will not wear our masks wherever we go. We will go to concerts again! We will have a runny nose and think, oh, just a sniffle. We’ll be packed like sardines in a stinking-hot subway car again. Goals, 2021.

The constant lesson of my last decade is this: Living in the shadow of fear is no way to live.

But how do we push back against fear? I only know that my best defence, against all of it, is to first look inwards. Sleep, eat, exercise, meditate, breathe. You know the drill.

And then, my next move is to just have a little faith. Have a little positive belief that things will be all right. I know. Sometimes they are just not all right. Things happen to us that are in no way okay. Existence and loving others = pain and suffering at times, as we experience loss and grief, and wonder if joy will ever be ours again.

For me, my belief has had to be that my son will continue to live and not relapse, and not develop a secondary cancer. And then, I have to, must believe that my daughter will not develop a brain tumour, and will continue to thrive and be her beautiful 5 year-old self. Beyond that, I then must believe that I will not grow a horrid tumour in my head either. I can’t.

The odds are stacked. We’ve got this bloody genetic fuck-up going on in our cells. But it’s also a matter of Who knows? and Maybe. So I’ll place my bets on the side of everything’s-going-to-be-alright, thank you very much.

Hospital Pros

I don’t want to take away from anyone’s pain. These recent times have tried us and wounded us. The stories of loss keep rolling out and have us shedding silent tears for the sorrows of the world.

No doubt, 2020 has been a wreck. But very soon, my son will be starting Grade 7 at a new school and naturally, he’s got that new-kid trepidation, but with all of the COVID protocols piled on top.

Am I worried for him, with his health history? I guess I would be insane not to worry, at least to some degree. But I refer you to the above comment about fear. I’ve been given good guidance, by his doctors, to not fret too much. To carry on as much as possible. To continue to embrace as much normalcy as we are able.

My son was born twelve years ago today. Tonight, by request, we’re celebrating with a spaghetti dinner followed by chocolate mousse. COVID birthday or not, today is a wonderful day.

This is twelve.

Boing

There are a lot of posts and memes going around right now about how much we Gen Xers are showing quarantine/social distancing who’s boss. At the risk of sounding like a crotchety member of the older generation, it’s true. In our day we had to play with pet rocks for chrissakes!

Sometimes it feels like the kids of today have it all.

And by all, I mean things like devices that cost hundreds of dollars and provide endless hours of fun and excitement. When I was a kid, it was mind-boggling to have, like, Atari. (We never had Atari.) Even a game as low-budget as a Wonderful Waterful was pretty entertaining. (And honestly, I don’t know if we actually had one of those either.)

Remember these? My dentist used to give me and the sibs these to play with while he tortured treated us. My kids get to watch whatever they want on Netflix at the dentist.

Back in the heyday of the 80s, when you went over to a friend’s house, you played outside in the backyard. Completely unsupervised of course. My brother and his friend used to light GI Joes on fire using cans of Lysol spray to incinerate them.

But I digress. Back to the backyards. Many people had a swing-set. Usually one of those ordinary aluminum ones that threatened to come out of the ground if you got the swings going too fast. Others had fancier ones with monkey bars and slides.

If there was no play structure, then you just picked dandelions or did cartwheels in the grass or something. We really, really did have to make our own fun. Okay, sometimes there was a sprinkler to run through as well.

Occasionally though, you’d go to someone’s house and – wait for it – they would be in possession of the most fun, the most dangerous piece of backyard apparatus that existed. The trampoline.

It was such a rarity that I only remember jumping on one a few times in my childhood. Maybe I was just running with the wrong crowd. Naturally, there were no safety nets or padding on the springs. Without doubt, those things were the cause of any number of cranial injuries or broken limbs.

Somewhere along the line though, someone got smart about trampoline design. Now, you will basically never see one without netting around it. And you will see a lot of trampolines because everyone seems to have one. Not having one is also okay, because you can just go to a trampoline park, another amazing thing that didn’t exist in the 80s.

Last year, our lack of outdoor fun became a bone of contention between the husband and I. I decided I wanted to buy a trampoline for our very small, urban backyard. I’d put aside some money and wanted to spring for (groan, I know) a compact, quite expensive trampoline. Fun and safety together. My husband was more inclined to allow our children to play with rocks or dandelions.

My kids were not going to have the kind of deprived childhood I had. Although I knew it would pretty much fill the backyard, I did it. I bought it, it was delivered, and my husband put it together with only a modicum of complaint. (He deserves kudos for assembling it for us despite the weather, which if memory serves was a very sleety kind of rain.)

He thought that they would lose interest in it after a couple of weeks. But a year later, those dire predictions have yet to come true.

The trampoline is, along with ice cream, keeping everyone sane right now.

This terrible photo was taken through the back door, because it was probably 4 degrees outside. T-shirt weather!

“Go outside and jump on the trampoline for a few minutes,” is a phrase the kids have been hearing a lot of over the last few weeks.

What’s keeping you sane?

Juicy

Now that we’ve all got all the time on our hands, it’s a good moment to dust off that juicer that’s been suffering neglect in your cupboard. I’ve had this baby below for, probably, sixteen years.

Breville makes a durable juicer. Circa 2005?

When we’re going through health-kick phases, it lives on the counter, so that everyone knows what kind of a**holes we are when they come into the house. Otherwise, we keep it in an annoyingly inaccessible cupboard, making daily use impossible.

It’s back on the counter now! Because if the Internet has taught me something, it’s that celery juice can cure anything if consumed in the correct quantities.

Juice doesn’t have to be that hard. It doesn’t need to taste like grass to do you good. I usually just throw a bunch of stuff in there with carrot as a base. (Because cheap)

In these crazy times, food waste has become a cardinal sin. Making juice is also a great way to use up fruit and veggies that have gone a bit past prime.

Carrots, apples, etc. Whatever you want, really.

The biggest bonus of all is watching your children consume nutrition in a glass without even arguing, as beets = pink.

The other day, the kids and I made a juice, and then used the pulp to make muffins. I know, I am amazing.

I’ve made these before, so had a recipe in mind, but it was similar to this one.

The reality check of all this healthy living is that I ended up standing in the kitchen for two hours, making juice and cleaning juicer parts. And making muffins with a child on hand who wanted to “help” but basically spilled every ingredient before storming off in tears because Mummy is mean.

Stuck in the house though, what else have I got to do except clean up messes that my kids make? What are you doing to safeguard your health? Celery juice? 😂