Friday, July 24, 2009

People vs. Animals

Every time we come to the cabin in Colorado, I feel like we are alone. Of course, our family has sort of locked in one end of the area with its cabins, and my aunt is not often here. If we don’t venture down to the rest of the lakes, it is easy to imagine that we are alone with nature. And nature we have seen – a fawn, three deer, several duck families, a suspected beaver, a heron, schools of carp, rainbow trout, a bunny, thousands of ladybugs (literally more than I have seen in my lifetime, all in one place), chipmunks, squirrels and a BEAR (really!).

People sightings are always much more limited, and it always seems such a shame that this area isn’t full of families, kids, friends… Many of the families who have summer houses here are from Colorado Springs, which makes it both easier and more difficult to spend time here. When you are only 45 minutes away from home, small errands and social events surely intrude in a way that they don’t if you are an 8-hour drive (or a 14-hour flight) from home. And if you only have two weeks of vacation, or even three, it is hard to just “hang”.

This year, we are in for the long haul, and have been pleasantly surprised with neighbors! Of course, my family is difficult to keep track of, and we have also been happy to bump in to some of them here.

Our people sightings to date are:

  • My cousin Diane and her friend Ann, on the way home from “market” in Denver

  • My cousin LouAnn, Pieter, Petra and Chase (Petra’s boyfriend) who flew in for a short weekend

  • The Smiths, who turned up on Sunday and provided Will, a perfect playmate and fishing partner for Benjamin

  • The Reynolds (Jean and Don) and their great granddaughter, who took the boys fishing, and then – effortlessly – prepared dinner for us all, plus more fishing (Benjamin was thrilled).

  • Two different club members, names unknown, who allowed Benjamin to use his net to “fish up” their caught fish

  • And an upcoming picnic one lake over – very exciting!

I know it doesn’t seem like much for three weeks, but in comparison, it seems positively crowded!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Always Prepared

I am at my dad’s cabin, now my brother’s, hunting for my dad’s telephone “short list” of his favorite numbers. I open the desk drawer, and find an envelope with 25 $5 bills in it. Why? It costs $5 to fish as a guest, and my dad, never wanting to come up short or not have the exact amount, must have gone to the bank to stock up.

We are having a memorial service for him here on Monday, three years after his death, nearly to the day. So much here is unchanged, and I truly think Christopher expects his Morfar to come wandering in at any moment. Annika and I sat up last night and told stories about the cabin’s history, and how we came to be in such a wonderful place.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just Before He Puked

We’re running a little infirmary here in Colorado. On Monday, I took the boys to see the Molly Kathleen, an old gold mine, open for tours. The tour packs you like sardines in a tiny, tiny elevator and drops you 1000 feet underground, and – new since the last time I was there some 15 years ago – they now show mine equipment in operation. Benjamin was a bit off all morning, but he topped it off halfway through the tour when he raised his hand and said, “Excuse me – I feel sick” and then proceeded to puke all over the floor of the mine. We were ushered out immediately, with a special non-sardine-like elevator ride to the top… and I’m pretty sure the other people on the tour were horrified or nauseated…

And as we arrived home, the phone was ringing. Seems Annika contracted the virus running rampant through camp, an Influenza Type A, likely swine flu. She had a fever, and was spending the night in the nurse’s cabin... but she wasn’t lonely. Seems this flu is spreading like wildfire through camps across the US, bringing 3-5 days of fever, and then leaving its victims with the equivalent of a nasty cold. Annika had the company of 4 or 5 others who also spent the night, and the nurse was visited by 20-30 other campers throughout the day. By the next morning, she was ready to come home early. A Tuesday pick-up versus a Thursday pick-up (planned) seemed like a good idea, since the likely prognosis was no activities and her last days in the nurse’s cabin. So, Tuesday morning, Christopher, a puking Benjamin and I set out to pick up Annika and stock up on Junior Motrin. Her fever topped out Tuesday night at 102.9 F, the highest any of my children have ever had, which sent me scrambling to the internet at 3:30 am… but the Motrin did its job, and we’re back in the 100-ish range.

How many more of us will end up with the flu (or the stomach bug) remains to be seen, but we feel a bit like a quarantine post here in the mountains.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Letting Go in Colorado

I do really love the book and the concept of Free Range Kids, the idea that our children should enjoy the same freedoms and adventures that we had when we were young. The theory is great… but putting it into practice?

My childhood summers were spent in Colorado, weeks at a time with my grandmother at her cabin. My mother was often there, and my father joined when he could, though the bank was not generous with vacation time (two weeks, taken together, June through August, not at Christmas). I’m not really sure what my grandmother did all day, but we – my cousins, my brother and I – were free to wander, as long as we were safely tucked inside if it rained or if there was thunder, which was essentially every afternoon. Then we would be shut up in the sunroom with a deck of cards (to play “spite and malice”) and a TV, trying to make the motorized antenna point towards either Colorado Springs (a better bet in thunderstorms) or Denver (which had the more rerun-intensive channel).

The point of the whole area around the cabin – a 50-member-50-cabin community tucked in the middle of National Park land – was fishing. I could never understand who would want to spend time fishing when there was so much to explore. Our explorations took us all over the place. I’m sure my grandmother had no idea what we got up to – if she had known, she would never have let us wander. We rock climbed on piles of boulders, exploring the “lion’s den” (with no safety gear). We made forts at the base of trees which were not even on our property, rather on the next door property (but the owners were old and never there, which left their lake free for exploration). We took scrap lumber, never mind the rusty nails, and built a bridge to a rock in the lake. We pretended to smoke real cigarettes (unlit) in a cave until they got soggy and fell apart (well, actually, she did find out about that one and was not pleased…). We made garages and houses for our matchbox cars under the deck, possibly undermining the foundations. We played Kick-the-Can in the dark. We rode wagons down the hill at breakneck speed – without helmets, elbow or knee pads. And somehow we managed to do all of the above with nothing more than a few skinned knees… and one slight concussion…

So now I’m back, for the first extended stay at the cabin in years. This year I will be here a total of three weeks, something I haven’t done since high school. And now I have children of my own, and I want to share with them the joys of my youth. And I am afraid to let them go. Think of the dangers the mountains present – I helped the boys climb a rock and they raced to the top and danced around, never mind the 2-story drop on the far side. Benjamin loves the fishing, but I’m much happier when he stays on our end of the lake, where the marshes make it unlikely that he could fall in over his head. I tried to show Christopher the lion’s den, but chickened out when I realized that he might fall, and a fall on those boulders could be deadly. I haven’t taken the boys up the valley yet – and don’t want to send them alone for fear of mountain lions. And I would love for them to build a fort… preferably somewhere close to home! I’m working on it… but letting go is hard to do!

Put to the Test

The boys have given up on socks for the summer. Benjamin has been sticking with his Crocs, which are practical in some ways, not in others... and Christopher has been wearing any and all of his shoes barefoot. So I decided it was time to get serious about sandals - Keenes - for both of them. Christopher was, typically, very excited to have something new to wear... and Benjamin was, typically, reluctant to consider the prospect. But by the time we tried them on and they both did a race around REI, they were sold. Blue (or Newport) for Benjamin, green (or Pine) for Christopher.

Within 12 hours, the shoes had been put to the test - rock climbing in Garden of the Gods club, exploring the Cliff Dwellings, stomping on the ground during the Indian dances, trudging through the muck at the end of the lake - and finally, testing the premise that the shoes are indeed machine washable. (They are!)

And by the way, the fish they "caught" was pretty dead... Benjamin swore it was swimming, but given the stench (and the stench of the shoes) it is doubtful. But they are happy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Benjamin's First Time at Camp

Benjamin tried camp overnight last year and loved it. This year - at just-turned-8 - he was ready to try two weeks. Annika would be there - added security for everyone - though she would stay 3 1/2 weeks. We got him a trunk, stocked it with extra clothes, underwear, towels, sunscreen, and a ton of other stuff he needed for his two weeks (and Annika was so excited about camp that she packed herself!).

Benjamin survived the two weeks, and though he had the option to stay on, he decided that two weeks was enough. He had a great time, and everyone agreed that he did really well. A few notable points
  • he was the youngest boy in the session
  • he fished faithfully every day, naming the two fish he caught (Sam and ...)
  • he tried arts and crafts and horseback riding
  • he got a bit sick (cold and cough) but was not homesick
  • and he made friends.
We are now full of stories about the Ghost of Florissant, tips on how to hold a flashlight, and information about fishing and general out-of-doors skills. He wants to go back... not next summer but the summer after. But I'm hopeful that next summer he'll be ready again.

Monday, July 13, 2009

If You Have a Hammer...

... is everything a nail?

A colleague of mine used this analogy once when discussing business analysis tools, but it is equally applicable, apparently, with small boys and soccer.

I just finished a week of tennis camp in Vermont, and when Christopher (age 6) wanted to play, I was delighted. We took our balls and rackets to Rob's front yard and started hitting - anything goes. Of course, Christopher just finished a week of soccer camp in Nantucket, and clearly had soccer on the brain. We finished our tennis game with a score of 11 goals to 10.

And then later in the golf shop, Christopher was putting away on the little indoor green. Every time he got a ball in the hole, he would jump up with his hands in the touchdown position and shout "Goal!"

Friday, July 03, 2009

Introducing Josiah Hubert Armstrong!

We arrived in Denver, got the kids set up for camp, delivered them to Florissant... and waited. Finally, on the 2nd of July, Jed made his entrance! Welcome to our nephew and cousin!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mom, What's Hail?

Just two days ago, Benjamin asked me what hail was - I had mentioned it, but had forgotten that he had never seen it. Sweden, a land without thunderstorms, stands in direct contrast to Colorado, where thunderstorms roll through daily. Annika, Benjamin and I began our drive to the cabin just after an enormous hail storm covered the ground with at least an inch of hail. In all the years of coming to the cabin, I have never before seen so much hail. Where the road wasn't white, it was green with aspen leaves knocked down by the hail. Fortunately, we missed the downpour, but the road was washed away, and had enormous ruts - glad I took a 4-wheel drive with extra insurance from the rental company!

Of course, with the downpour, hail and thunder, the power and phone were out, and the water, too, since the pump runs on electricity. A & B weren't too keen on staying overnight with candles and flashlights. Even after a dinner in town, power was still out, so we opted for a hotel. (My cousin, Diane, and her friend Ann were happy in Lou's cabin with candles, wine and romances - and reported that the power eventually came back in the middle of the night, some 10 hours after the storm.)