Tuesday, January 2, 2018

First Day Hike

It has been one of my goals to get Outside as a family more -- farther than the backyard. We used to be Out all the time. Lately (as in, the last few years), it has been not-so-much. I was frustrated by this, but then I had one of those Plain as Day insights hit me a few weeks ago: it is a huge effort to just do daily life with this large of a group. It doesn't always feel like a huge effort, but that is due to being blessed with a spouse and children who seem to have an endless supply of good humor.

The reality is, many days there is also an endless supply of dirty laundry, meals that must be cooked, and groceries that must be stocked.

There was something comforting in that realization.

So then I could move on.

Virginia State Parks are free on January 1. "That's it!" I declared. "We are going to go to a state park on New Year's!"

No one cheered.

The predicted high was 21 degrees, we have two dedicated nappers who most certainly would be missing their naps, and there is always the issue of What to Eat.

But I was not going to be thwarted. I threw some ham-and-cheese sandwiches in the oven, Miriam (12) put together some trail mix baggies, and Ada (5) and Zebby (4) helped me make S'mores Brownies (proving, once again, that Ashley English and I are from different worlds. She is from a world where you make S'mores Brownies for a winter picnic and then photograph them for a book whose genre is probably best described as Escapism. I am from a world where you should be anticipating the innate problems in making brownies with sticky marshmallows on top to be eaten in a van and nowhere near a sink. I think I gain a point for packing forks but lose about twenty for entertaining the idea at all and another forty for carrying through).

It didn't really matter. The food issue was conquered, and that was the main thing. We would not starve to death on the 45-minute drive to the Natural Bridge. I scarfed down my usual "Breakfast Lunch": two fried eggs with ham and a cranberry muffin, we packed the water bottles and the dog and some low-carb shortbread cookies and the rest of the food, bundled everyone up and then added some more bundling, and headed out.

It was so worth it. Even though the "hike" ended at the bridge (icicles hanging from it prevented the rangers from letting people pass under it), the chance to Do Something Else with the family was golden. (It was at about this spot pictured above that we saw a black lab whose owner said exasperatingly, "Calm down. What is WITH you, Maverick??" at which point I had to ask if her dog's name was Maverick, because that is our dog's name, too...and I think our Maverick was as confused as I was!)

Eve, 2

Zebby, 4

River, 1

Lily (14) caught Ethan sneaking a picture
One of the perks of getting Out, I must admit, is that it is more fun to embarrass your children. When Jonathan (9) saw Ethan's hat, he said, "I guess Papa's job is to make me not feel so silly."

"Oh, yeah?" said Ethan. "What if I do this? Come here, my boy." And then he did this, and I snapped the picture.

And I loved every bit of it. I loved the cold, I loved the napping little one, I loved the warmth when we got in from the cold, I loved that the gift shop featured the artisan who made Ben's mug that I broke a year ago so that I could finally replace it, I loved meeting another canine Maverick, I loved the stubborn, independent two-year old insisting on pushing her own stroller.

(Well, OK. I did not love our Maverick peeing on the signpost just inside of the building, right before you get out to the trail. Maverick, that was incredibly stupid. And also, hurry on up and get out of here before anyone notices.)

It was invigorating, and exasperating (Maverick and sticky brownies and stubborn stroller-pusher), and altogether lovely.

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