Eleven years after a miracle

It’s been eleven years since one of my twin sons almost died in an accident at the beach. Eleven years since a stranger intervened and turned our lives from grief to joy. Eleven years of being able to move forward with our family intact and love both of these beautiful children every single day.

 

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July 2007

Eleven years is a long time to live with a miracle. It’s easy in the day-to-day to forget what a gift each moment really is. It’s easy to let the intensity of the near-loss and the unexpected recovery to fade as the press and stress of daily life takes over. But on the anniversary of almost losing him, I stop to remember how close we came to disaster, and I recommit myself to nurturing gratitude for and mindfulness of the profound gift of life.

It’s hard sometimes for me to talk about this experience publicly, because I know so many people who have suffered the loss of a child (including in sand hole collapses), and I don’t want my own celebration after a near-loss to be somehow insensitive to parents who grieve. And yet it is precisely this – the fact that any one of us could lose any beloved and precious person at any time – that compels me to write. To live in the awareness of the fragility of life is to discover that every breath is a miracle, every moment we have with anyone we love is a miracle. I got a real honest-to-goodness miracle on the beach that day, thanks to a woman who was radically open to the stirrings of the Spirit. But each of us is surrounded by miracles every day, and the world is so much better when we treat each other with the awe and wonder and gratitude befitting this reality.

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November 2017

A lot has changed in my life since the last time I wrote about our miracle on the beach. A lot has changed even since this picture above, of our family last fall. In January, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare, aggressive soft tissue cancer, and by the time it was discovered, it was already Stage IV. I was feeling well when I was diagnosed, and I’m feeling well still, but it’s been a hard few months of treatments and major life decisions and trying to survive.

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June 2018

Our family looks like this now. I no longer have the hair that Rob and I have always shared. There have been a lot of other losses along the way, but what happened on the beach in Santa Rosa in 2007 reminds me daily not only that life can change in an instant but also that impossibly good things can happen even after things have gone horrifyingly wrong. So I face every day with a lot of hope. And joy. And the love of the three men in this picture as well as a wide web of family and friends who are holding me up.

Even though I rarely write in this space anymore, I had to come by and invite my readers again to celebrate with me that we got our son back. Thank you for sharing in our joy and gratitude. [I’ll be back tomorrow with a more practical reminder about sand hole safety!]

July 2007

July 2007

May 2018

May 2018

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Five things I learned while camping with Cub Scouts

Roughly half my life ago, my next-door neighbor gave me the nickname “earthchick,” and it stuck. At the time, it fit. I was what you might call “crunchy” – an earth-loving, tree-hugging, back-to-nature, vegetarian hippy-type (another friend called me “granola gal”). I was into hiking, camping, backpacking, contra dancing, recycling, and the Indigo Girls; I wore long crinkly skirts and Birkenstocks. You get the picture. I suppose I still have a crunchy sensibility (though I’m no longer vegetarian), but in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that is so far inside the mainstream as to be pretty unremarkable.

Also, I haven’t camped or backpacked in awhile.

It was a bit of a shock to me recently to realize exactly how long it had been since I’d been camping. I camped a little as a kid and a teenager, and a lot as a college student and twentysomething. I always imagined that once I had kids, I would spend entire vacations with them camping and hiking, maybe even backpacking. Then I actually had kids, and lots of my ideas about what life would be like went out the window.

In retrospect, I also realized that I always, always went camping or backpacking with at least one other person who knew more than I did about what to do. So I never really needed to know how to pitch a tent by myself, for instance, or how to start a fire. The idea, then, of taking my family camping, became a bit daunting.

Enter the Cub Scouts. My kids both decided to try scouting this year, and so far it’s been a good experience. In Cub Scouts, everything is pretty family-oriented, so for any camping, at least one parent comes, too. And with so many other parents around, not to mention the cubmaster, I don’t have to worry about not knowing how to build a fire.

Last fall, we went on our first campout, but my family didn’t yet own a tent (something else I always relied on my camping friends for), so we opted to stay in the cabin. The cabin turned out to be a bit of a disaster (heavy mold smell plus rodent infestation), so in the end, we slept in the minivan (its own adventure, but not remotely “camping”). For the spring campout, I bought our first very-own tent:

Coleman 14x10 foot 8-person Tent

Coleman 14×10 foot 8-person Tent

I’m so in love with this tent, y’all! This is the Coleman 14×10 Foot 8 Person Instant Tent (affiliate link) and I adore it. This brings me to the first thing I learned while camping with the Cub Scouts:

1 – Comfort is way more important to me than it used to be!

When I was younger, I loved being able to just strap everything onto my back and go. I didn’t care how small the tent was – small quarters was part of the fun. My priorities are different now. Give me comfort! Give me convenience! I also needed something I could set up basically by myself if I needed to. This tent is called an “instant tent,” and that’s not far from the truth. In the video on Amazon, two adults are able to assemble the tent in less than a minute. Working with a 9 year-old, it took me about 10 minutes. At 6:00 the next morning, I collapsed it by myself in about 5 minutes. I figure that most of what we’ll be doing as a family, at least for a little while, is car camping, so I’m willing to deal with the extra weight and bulk.

Another thing I invested in:

queen-sized air mattress

queen-sized air mattress

Until I started backpacking and using a lightweight sleeping pad under my sleeping bag, I always just slept with my sleeping bag directly on the floor of the tent. Apparently people don’t do that anymore? REI is having a huge sale right now, and with my 20% member discount I bought this Kelty Sleep Eazy Air Bed. It comes with a rechargeable pump (so you don’t have to have electricity at your campsite to use it) and it was super easy both to inflate and deflate. It was also comfortable, though I wouldn’t recommend sharing it with two 9 year-olds. And here’s a pro-tip: take the deflated air mattress out of the tent before trying to collapse the tent when you’re done. Trust me, it’s a lot easier that way.

2 – I have mixed feelings about fishing.

As a kid, I loved fishing with my dad. It’s one of my favorite memories from the first time he ever took my brother and me camping in Virginia (I caught four brim!). But my dad always baited the hook for me, and he also removed any fish I caught. The same has been true of what little fishing I’ve done as an adult – My Old Man has always baited my hook (as well as the boys’) and removed any fish for us. So it was a brand-new experience for me on the Cub Scout campout last fall, which I went on without My Old Man, when I had to put the worm on our hooks by myself. It’s not something I felt I could ask another parent to do – on a Cub Scout trip, I really should be modeling self-reliance and resourcefulness, right? – so I went ahead and got my hands dirty (and bloody). On the spring campout last weekend, though, one of my kids actually caught a fish, and that’s where things kind of broke down for me. It’s one thing to teach myself how to tear a worm in half and put it on a hook; it’s quite another to get a live fish off a hook without harming it.

In the end, I had to ask another parent for help. He was able to release the fish and get him safely back in the water. But one of my kids was sufficiently traumatized by the experience of watching the fish almost die on the hook that he declared he was done fishing. And truth be told, I’m not so sure about it myself. I have no problem with the concept of catching fish to eat; it’s the catch-and-release business that bothers me. The idea of hurting a fish for no good reason (i.e., not to be eaten) – ugh! On the other hand, standing alongside a lake, enjoying the silence and stillness that good fishing necessarily requires? That, I love.

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3 – Ain’t no cold like Michigan cold.

Michigan, you are beautiful, but you are cold.

Michigan, you are beautiful, but you are cold.

After 13+ years here, you would think I would know this by now. But I am still learning – it will always get colder than I think. I thought I had camped cold before. I can remember waking up “freezing” while camping before. But, y’all, I WAS SO WRONG. I have never really woken up freezing until this past weekend. I have camped in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington State, and I have never been as cold in my sleeping bag as I was this past weekend. And I even had a brand-new sleeping bag – the Kelty Cosmic 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag is rated to 20-degrees, but I didn’t manage to have it cinched properly around my head, so I woke up very, very cold in the wee hours. Then I couldn’t get back to sleep, worrying about my kiddos, one of whom was moaning in his sleep about how cold he was. Their sleeping bags are not really rated for cold weather, which I hadn’t anticipated being a problem on the third weekend of May, but that’s because I am an idiot who still hasn’t learned about Michigan weather. It got down to 37 degrees, and the thing about a 14×10′ tent that only has three people sleeping in it is that body heat can’t get trapped in there to help keep you warm. Anyway, it’s time to get my kids some new bags. Another parent recommended this kids sleeping bag, now on sale at REI. It looks like a great deal (though they’ve already sold out of the blue I wanted for my kids), and I’m considering it, but I’m also open to suggestions. I don’t want to spend a lot, but I’d like to have something that will keep them warm if we ever find ourselves camping in near-freezing weather again. Any recommendations?

This looks a lot like Georgia, but it is way colder.

This looks a lot like Georgia, but it is way colder.

4 – There’s always room for a handknit hat.

What kind of knitter goes camping in cold weather and doesn’t bring a handknit hat? The kind who still hasn’t learned lesson #3, about the Michigan cold.  Seriously, earthchick, pack a hat!

I was feeling good about having packed all our Mukluks (handknit slippers), which we slept in over our socks. But most everyone on the campout also wore hats once it got cold, except for me and my poor kiddos. A lot of the misery of the night could’ve been softened by the addition of a handknit hat, which I have a bin full of, of course. If you have room for a 14×10′ tent, you have room for three 2oz. hats.

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5. I need to come up with a better emergency coffee plan.

I have found that most people don’t make coffee as strong as I like, so these days I always travel with my own set-up. I bring my Bonavita Bona Voyage 0.5-Liter Electric Travel Kettle (y’all, I LOVE this kettle!!), my super-cheap, super-easy, super-effective single cup pour over cone (Melitta 64008 Red Ready Joe Filter Cone), and a little ziploc of my favorite coffee (Seattle’s Best Level 4 Ground Coffee, 12-Ounce Bags) (LOVE). All of this packs very small and works basically wherever I am to make my perfect cup of coffee very easily and very fast.

But without electricity, using my travel kettle wasn’t an option (even a car adapter wouldn’t help, as I had to park roughly half a mile from our campsite). I brought my pour-over cone and baggie of coffee (gah! I know I sound like a total junkie with my baggie), but figuring out the hot water situation was a problem. I had to break camp at 6:00a to leave by 7:00a, whereas everyone else was staying to hike. The cubmaster said he’d be up in time to make coffee, but it didn’t actually work out as early as I needed my fix.

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I don’t know how to build a fire (lame, I know), and I don’t currently have my own little camp stove set-up.  But obviously I need to step up my plan. I’m wondering if any of you could recommend a small camp stove or even some kind of tiny burner that could heat up enough water to make a cup or two of coffee. I’m interested in all recommendations, especially for very small, very easy set-ups. If you want to recommend a small camp kettle, I’m interested in that, too.

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So those are a few things I learned while camping with the Cub Scouts this past weekend. I suppose in the future I should try to learn things like:

  • how to build a fire!
  • how to get a fish off a hook!
  • how to get my kids to haul their share of gear!

But for now, I’m happy to have learned these few lessons. And I’m very eager to hear any of your recommendations for kids’ sleeping bags, small camp stoves, or anything else you think would be useful for an aging hippy chick to know about getting back to nature, family-camping-style.

 

Merry Christmas!

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With apologies for the radio silence this week (as I’m sure you understand, many obligations have overtaken my time, and I couldn’t manage to keep up with my blogging plans), I’m just popping by to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas (if you celebrate) and a happy Wednesday (if you don’t). We’ve had a wonderful day and hope you have, too.
requisite goofy shot

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 5

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Build a fort and sleep in it.

We’ve done this one every year, and the boys always love it. Little Buddha, our builder, has an eye for both engineering and aesthetics, and he had some new ideas he wanted to try out this year. We had several frustrating minutes during which we were all working at cross-purposes with each other, but we finally got it all sorted. This year, in addition to all their comforters and blankets, we added the pup tent I made them for their fifth birthday. They had a great time camping out in their bedroom, and it was another nice reminder for me at it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to make an ordinary day a little bit special.

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.

Advent Calendar Activity Day 2 :: Have a Wii game night

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The boys have been begging for me to play video games with them. I really don’t like to play video games – if I’m going to be sitting on the couch in the living room, I’d just as soon be knitting (or spinning). I’m happy to watch them play, I just don’t really want to put my knitting down and play myself. But they really wanted it, and it seemed like a fun way to spend a little time together. They were SO happy to find this activity in their second Smitten.

It turns out that it is really hard for me not to multi-task, and playing video games with kids really does require focusing on just the one thing. It’s sad to me that I find it so hard these days to only do one thing at a time, so this was a good exercise for me, and the boys certainly did enjoy it (we played Wii Party). I had fun, too. (well, except for the fact that I’m the worst gamer ever)

how the day ends :: a family ritual

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Most nights, the four of us gather in the living room before the boys go to bed, and My Old Man reads The Hobbit to us. I cherish these moments – such a reliable, gentle, and cozy end to full and exhausting days. But recently, the three of them discovered the truth – I haven’t been listening all that well. They were equal parts horrified and amused when they realized that I couldn’t call up some of the most basic plot points and I stumbled over naming some of the major characters. Hey, what can I say? I’m not here for the story, I’m here for the time with my family, with knitting in my hands, kids by my side, and my husband’s voice in the background.

I’ve decided to try to listen better now that I know I might be quizzed at any moment.

 

a thing I did today

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Today I helped my kids run their first 5K. They are not natural athletes, and they are not naturally fast or tough or any of those things that kids who can go out and just keep running for 3 miles seem to be. But they wanted to do it, and I wanted it for them, so we did it.

5Ks are actually my least-favorite distance to run – I like to run far, not fast (though I realize lots of people are able to do both) – and 5K races are over by the time I feel like I am just starting to hit my stride. This particular race – the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot – offers a 10K following the 5K; you can choose to run the Iron Turkey, which involves running both races back-to-back. I did that last year and loved it. In the case of the Iron Turkey, the 5K is more like a warm-up for the 10K; that works perfectly for me.

But this year, I am still coming back from a particularly nagging injury I sustained last spring in a half-marathon (anterior tibialis tendonitis), and I’m nursing some ongoing piriformis problems. I’ve had two running focuses this fall: coming back to running gently enough that I don’t reinjure myself, and helping my kids run. We started running together in late September, when a parent at the boys’ elementary school started a once-a-week running club for the 3rd/4th/5th graders. Every Tuesday, I go train with the boys before school. It’s been a great way to start the day, for them and for me.

We’ve struggled to fit in additional training runs, though, and I knew we were approaching this 5K with less-than-optimum conditioning. In fact, before today, they’d never run a full three miles.That was okay, though, since we weren’t really racing, per se – we were just aiming to finish and to have a good time.

The day didn’t start off great. One of the kids woke up grumpy and out-of-sorts; he got in better space by the time the race started (the steel drum band near the start helped!), but he was still struggling for the whole first half of the race. There were tears before we’d even reached the first mile mark. I struggled with how to motivate without being overbearing. I was frustrated – it’s hard to know how to help a child do his best. Hard to judge sometimes what is his best and not someone else’s best, you know? We ended up walking much more than running, and walking at a slower pace than I’d expected, and I had to let go basically all my expectations about how this race was going to go.

In the end, we barely finished ahead of a woman who took the race at a leisurely stroll while pushing a baby carriage. We crossed the finish line while the 10K runners were already lining up for their race. I came in last for my age group. So did the boys. Of course in their case there were only 13 other runners – so the fact that my two nine year-olds hung in for three miles does feel like a good accomplishment.

So we finished, and it was amazing to watch my boys sprint for the finish line while the 10K runners cheered them on. Seeing the boys’ faces after they’d finished was truly priceless. One of my kids told me with some surprise that he was feeling emotional, because he was so proud of himself.

I am feeling proud of them, too, and hopeful that this is something they will keep wanting to do with me. Given our back-of-the-pack finish today, I’m pretty sure their next race will be a PR for them!

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[from the archives] – Autumn Afternoon

I am getting ready to take the boys on their first camping trip – they joined the Cub Scouts this year (Webelos, represent!) and they are very excited about this first pack activity, which will also include a 5-mile “fall color hike.” I am full-on in an autumnal frame of mind now, which also makes me nostalgic for autumns past. I found this old post, which is only pictures, from seven years ago. The boys were two years old, and that year we started a tradition we still keep, of going to the Dexter Cider Mill for cider, doughnuts, and a visit to the Huron River. As I get ready to camp with my Webelos, I thought I’d share this old post.










a thing I was wrong about :: fall

365.133 - fall afternoon at the river
(fall 2008, on the banks of the Huron River)

Y’all were all so sweet not to correct me when I talked about celebrating the autumnal equinox on Saturday. No one pointed out that, in fact, Saturday was the last day of summer, not the first day of fall. I usually double-check my calendars for the beginning of season dates, but when Little Buddha started talking several days ago about the first day of fall coming, I made the assumption that he had double-checked. He is the most detail-minded of the four of us, after all. But he didn’t, and I didn’t, and so we celebrated fall before it had actually started.

That night, as the boys were getting ready for bed, My Old Man happened to be looking at the calendar and noticed that fall started on Sunday, not Saturday. He mentioned it to Tiny Dancer, who promptly burst into tears! Poor little boo. It really bothered him – he had been so excited about the start of our favorite season, and had happily celebrated all day, and it felt bad and weird to him to know that it wasn’t true. I told him that, to us, it looked like fall, smelled like fall, and tasted like fall, so for us, it was fall! That didn’t totally sway him.

As for me, I feel like we just got a bonus day of our favorite season. And now fall is here for real, y’all, and I’m thrilled. Time for trips to the cider mill, watching postseason baseball (Go Tigers!), picking raspberries, cuddling under blankets, having a bonfire, playing in leaf piles, FALL KNITTING, and, of course, baking (and eating) vegan chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. What’s not to love? What’s your favorite part about fall?

At any rate, now I can finally say it: Happy Fall FOR REAL, y’all!