Summer 2014

This summer started with Finn’s first family road trip. Rather than fly up to visit family in Michigan, we decided on a slow drive with lots of stops. We loaded up the Prius with suitcases, a cooler of snacks, a couple of ipads, and lots and lots of books.

On the road!

Our first destination was the Kennedy Space Center, where Finn stood tall in front of a rocket garden,…

Rocket Garden

…saw the inside and outside of the Space Shuttle Atlantis,…

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Piloting the Space Shuttle Atlantis?

…went back in time to the Apollo mission and unbelievably large Saturn V rocket,…

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…and touched a real rock from the moon!

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After we left Cape Canaveral, we headed up to St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, a masonry fort in the oldest city in the country. The stones were hot. Our visit was short.

St. Augustine

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We spent our second night in Savannah. The early evening was beautiful and as the sun dropped in the sky, Finn kicked a soccer ball around under the moss-covered trees with Daddy and a fellow soccer-lover who just happened to be walking by.

The next morning we drove from Georgia into the Smokies — Finn’s first-ever glimpse of real mountains. He loved the roller-coaster feel of the roads and the tall, shadowy trees that lined them.

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We drove along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, first stopping to watch a mama bear and her cubs:

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Then we parked for a hike up to Grotto Falls — a hike that ended up being over three miles round trip. Finn walked the entire way, climbing over tricky roots and rocks.

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We kept thinking we were almost there since we heard the water long before we arrived at the waterfall. I think the wait made it better.

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We took some photos, ate a snacky lunch atop a big rock, and then explored.

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Our other Tennessee stops were less idyllic (while more expensive), but Finn enjoyed them all the same. Rock City had some pretty overlooks, but was seriously blighted by garden gnomes. I specifically framed my shots to avoid them.

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We also hit the touristy Ruby Falls, where we took an elevator into an underground cave to a waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. Finn pretended he was going back in time to a prehistoric cave and searched for ancient fossils from the Cretaceous time period.

Ruby Falls

He “panned” for fossils again in Pigeon Forge along one of the cheesiest, most commercially-oriented streets I’ve ever seen (imagine putt-putt golf venues lined up next to gift-shops with Godzilla heads sticking out of them). But it was well worth it to see Finn so excited to “find” an ammonite, nautiloid, brachiopod, and fossilized tooth.

A little (fake) mining in Tennessee

After five days of driving and exploring, we were eager to arrive in Michigan, where Finn spent over a week with his Aba and Abuelo and enjoyed time with his cousins and other extended family.

We took walks and waded through creeks…

The kids and a creek

Walking through the creek

…and spent lots of special time at the lakeside cottage where my father grew up.

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Today was our last summer visit to Sugden Lake, and Finn was the last one out there.

Finn visited the cottage in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but this year he was much more independent — a boy off doing his own thing with a net or a bucket or shovel, a boy running around with some of the cousins he hadn’t seen in two years.

At the end of our last trip to the cottage, it was hard to leave.

It was also hard for Finn to say goodbye to a new little friend he’s not likely to see again — a baby raccoon he discovered one afternoon, chirping away desperately under a tree. When we checked back later that night and found the young animal still alone, weak, and very hungry, his mother still nowhere in sight, my father brought him in.

We called him Rocky. A few days later my father managed to find a proper and caring place for him — one that would allow him to socialize with other raccoons and then release him into the wild when he was old enough. Before Rocky left for his new home, Finn held him close to say goodbye, listening to him purr.

A short time later, we said goodbye to all of our loved ones in Michigan, loaded up our Prius, and crossed into Ohio.

First we drove past corn. Lots of corn.

Driving through Ohio. Lotsa corn.

Then we made a very important stop at Caesar Creek Lake Visitor Center to pick up a bona fide fossil hunting permit. We had plans to embark on a real fossil hunt in a 450 million year old Ordovician Sea bed.

Today we did some REAL fossil hunting in a 450 million year-old Ordovician sea bed.

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Although the finds weren’t as impressive as those found in our $25 “fossil bucket” back in Tennessee, the experience was far more authentic. In fact, it was so authentic that after a little over an hour, Finn was reconsidering his long-held goal to be a paleontologist.

The Tennessee Aquarium evoked more excitement from Finn, particularly because the animals there were a little more, well, alive (except for the penguin he’s hugging below).

Spent part of the day at the Tennessee Aquarium

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But then it was fossils and prehistoric animals all over again at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, where we saw a giant Woolly Mammoth skeleton and other prehistoric mammals, as well as a Megalodon jaw:

At the Florida Museum of Natural History

Even more jaw-dropping for Finn, however, was actually something a little LESS real: the 200+ life-sized replicas at Dinosaur World in Plant City. I think I have a picture of him with every known species of dinosaur (but won’t post them all here, don’t worry!).

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Finn's fantasy location: Dinosaur World

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Finn even won a “game show” contest, and corrected the “paleontologist/game show host” on one of the questions, which asked which animal was NOT a dinosaur, a tyrannosaur, a pterodactyl, or a Woolly Mammoth. Finn protested, “A Woolly Mammoth isn’t a dinosaur, but neither is a pterodactylus! It’s a flying reptile!”

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As if that weren’t enough, we stopped in Orlando to celebrate fourth of July and Gram’s birthday with Keith’s family. There were stellar fireworks, decadent desserts, and lots of horseplay with Finn’s cousins.

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Finn and his cousins horse around in the pool

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When we finally got home sweet home, we had been gone for three weeks. While we were away, Finn sometimes cried at night that he was homesick, but upon entering the house again, he cried because it seemed so strange to him. “I’m hotel-sick!” he wailed. “I’m abuelo-house sick!” Then he he walked up to the magnetic board in his room and pulled off an old picture of Willow, Abuela’s dog. “I’m Willow-sick!” he said, real tears down his face. I understand that transitions are difficult for him, and that three weeks is a greater chunk of his life span than it is of mine. Time goes so fast for me these days, it seems.

But it didn’t take long for life to fall into a normal pattern for Finn again. We’ve still spent much of summer doing what we always do:

…swimming,…

Finn and Margot take a break from the lazy river

Summer 2014

…creating,…

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Crazy cupcake making

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Fun today at Young at Art Children's Museum

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…playing games,…

The cousins play a board game -- on a Monday afternoon! It's summertime!

Finn has created a new board game for us to play. It's called (surprise, surprise) Dinosaura.

…exploring the prehistoric world of dinosaurs…

Finn and a triceratops skull

T-Rex cafe' was basically a dream come true for Finn. I just got a little disturbed when the restaurant delivered its tri-hourly "meteor shower" during which lights flashed, the dinosaurs moved, and Finn repeated, "please don't die, dinosaurs!"

…and just spending time with people we care about:

Having fun with cousin Oliver

Back home with friends @nathalia_ruiz

Happy cousins!

Getting Into Soccer

I’ve heard Finn identify himself as a “bookworm” and tell people he’s “into science.” Although I absolutely love hearing those things, I also want him to be well rounded and physically active, of course. Since soccer was a big part of Keith’s youth, we always planned on putting him on a team pretty early, but for some reason we didn’t until he turned five. At first, while kids with experience were aggressively chasing the ball, Finn was chasing butterflies or running off the field to tell me that he spotted stratus clouds in the sky. He was just NOT into that ball. But he loved being on “Team Dino” with Daddy as a coach, he loved the snacks, and he loved running through the “parent tunnel” we made with arched arms at the end of each game.

Then one day some of the dominant players were absent for a game, and with more opportunities to kick the ball, Finn scored his first goal. Suddenly, he was more focused on the action and more interested in practicing his footwork. Suddenly, he became more than just part of a team: he became a player.

These days, Finn is still very into books and crazy-into dinosaurs and fossils. But he’s also watching the World Cup with Daddy and kicking the ball around in the park just for fun.

Finn is finally “into soccer.”

Riding a bicycle!

Before I was a mother, I just didn’t understand the celebration and pride associated with simple accomplishments like walking and talking. After all, we all do it, don’t we? I couldn’t fully appreciate what seemed so ordinary. Yet somehow Finn’s first pseudo-words seemed like miracles and his first awkward steps across his room at eleven months nearly sent me into hysterics. Similarly, when this past spring Finn went from falling-down without training wheels to gliding around on a (much more instructive) balancing bike to finally riding his very own big boy bicycle down and BEYOND our driveway, I exhibited the same degree of shameless excitement. In fact, in retrospect I see that both his first walk and his first ride evoke a nearly identically dorky, gushing, I’m-almost-afraid-to share-this mommy voice.

Walking and riding a bike are significant rites of passage — both signs of independence AND of communion. Finn is not only growing up to become his own person, but also joining the rest of us. Now, as the Royal Poinciana in our backyard starts to bloom fire and we await the advent of our long summer days, I can plan for real evening family bike rides — not the rides of the past when I strapped Finn into the bike seat right behind me as passenger, but rides on which Finn pedals alongside us on his own bright orange Mutant Mongoose.

Snow!

Cold and happy

Snow becomes even more romantic when you’re never in it. Every winter holiday, images of the way things should be — purely, sparkly, crisply white — make me feel like we’re missing some kind of magic. This year I really longed to see Finn slide down a hill on an orange saucer and bring to life his own snowman… so although we usually travel to Michigan in the summertime, I bought tickets for February. Instead of our usual Valentine’s picnic on the grass in a pair of jeans and sandals, we hiked across a frozen river behind my parents’ house wearing long underwear and snow pants, boots, and jackets.

It was cold and beautiful, but Finn, seeing snow for the first time, just wanted to play in the stuff. So we did.

At a local park, we went down hills so fast that icy shavings flew up from the surface of the snow into our faces:

Then my father tied a rope to a bright orange saucer and he and Keith took turns pulling Finn in circles:

Unfortunately the snow wouldn’t pack at all, making a real snowball fight and authentic snowman pretty impossible. But we did our best to try. We tossed icy chunks at one another…

… and heaped the slippery snow into a mound that was at the most eight inches high. Our “snowman” was pretty pathetic, but he was ours, complete with red berry eyes, little sticks for arms, and a leaf for hair:

This snow will not pack! But we can't leave Michigan without crossing "snowman" off of Finn's to-do list, so...um...

We also relaxed a bit on an idyllic sleigh ride,…

Winter sleigh ride!

…lounged in a comfy chair by the fire with the dog, Willow — otherwise known as “Finn’s pillow,”…

… and at the end of each day, took turns thawing in a lovely claw-foot tub:

Warming up in a claw-foot tub after a cold day of sledding!

Finn’s first snow was, in Finn’s words, “pretty cool.” Then he had to explain with a smile that he meant that “in two ways.”

I agree in both respects, little man.

Camping in the back yard

One of the first things we did in 2014 was to sleep outside. Not outside in the wild, or in the woods, or even at a camp site. Just outside.

Finn had never been camping, and neither had our friends’ girls, so the group of us decided that our back yard would be a good place to start… a test to see how the kids would handle it — and, well, the adults, too. After all, the last time Keith and I had gone camping was in Maine about a decade ago, and the last time my close friend Lisa camped was with me on a road trip we took out west when we were twenty-five.

So we ordered a tent, borrowed another, bought a couple of sleeping bags, special little lanterns, a fire pit, and marshmallows… and then waited for the temperature to drop enough to be comfortable. Luckily, on the last weekend before break ended, it cooled down to 60 degrees — our first chilly night of the season.

We skewered veggie kabobs and set up the tents, first the small one for the kids,

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Getting ready to camp in the back yard!

After the tents were up and the kids had loaded theirs with sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights, stuffed animals, books, and a soccer ball, we tried to enjoy a nice dinner outside…. But the kids ate quickly and then ran off to play, riding a scooter, a motorized bike, and a ziggle around the patio until Finn, in all of his excitement, landed right into the unheated pool. It was a bit of a downer to say the least — something that only a few gooey S’MORES could improve:

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And then it was time to play music around the campfire…

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…although the truth is that it was really about 77 torturous rounds of JUST the chorus of “Jingle Bells” sung around the fire pit Keith had picked up that day from Home Depot.

As if we couldn’t get any more authentic, to finish off their first night of “camping,” the kids watched Wall-E on a laptop inside their tent…

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…and then yelled out non-sensical rhyming couplets past midnight until I finally had to threaten that I would take Finn inside the house to sleep.

At some point things grew quiet and the kids dozed off, but as for me, my shoulders were all that kept falling asleep, and Keith was up in the middle of the night trying to repair a broken well pump that he heard going off on the other side of the garden.

When morning finally arrived, the adults were up early, eager to be off the ground, and I trekked through the yard and back into the house to press some strong coffee and make some oatmeal walnut scones. As I headed back out, I saw Finn darting back and forth between the two tents. Apparently the kids were sneaking things (like my water bottle) out of ours to hide in theirs:

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It was a far cry from real camping, but — clearly — they had fun. A good start to 2014.

Being merry

Finn has REALLY been into the holiday thing this year. I’m talking about the twenty-five self-initiated pipe-cleaner candy-canes that he’s hung up all over the house, the red-and-white striped letters he uses to write out pretty much everything, all of the Christmas tunes that he sings on his own while working at the table or sitting in the bath, the strange things he’s done with holiday wrapping, scissors, tape, and curly ribbon while trying to put his own “packages” under the tree.

I had forgotten that the holidays could be this much fun…

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Autumn weekend in Connecticut

So a couple of weeks ago we left South Florida to experience a real Autumn:

– the kind with trees so intensely red and orange that they put you in a kind of trance…

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Finn, Greyson, and Marlowe

…the kind with so many crunchy leaves that they can be piled up high enough to hide in,

Leaves, leaves, leaves! Nature's toys.

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…the kind where you can wear a full-body orca costume for Halloween and not overheat,

My little orca takes a walk in the woods

…the kind with a chill in the air that warrants actual sweaters…

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…and even coats,

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…the kind where you sit around a real fire pit roasting marshmallows and singing Beatles songs until way past bedtime:

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Now that we’re home again, we’re back to bed on time, back to our very green trees and short sleeves. But Finn knows now what Autumn means.

And I have a feeling we’ll be making s’mores again late one night sometime very soon, even if it’s just in the upper sixties.