Monday, May 21, 2012

Not quite according to plan

Ah, family camping trips. Fun and adventure. Or something like that.

This past weekend, we planned to take our boys camping for the first time. They were beyond excited. In fact, they were so excited that two weeks ago, Beloved Husband and the boys set up the tent in the back yard to let it air out (I was out of town at the time). Apparently, they forgot it was outside, and a thunderstorm hit around 5:30 in the morning. A few hours later, BH dumped several gallons of water out of the tent. I guess Mother Nature thought it needed a good wash. 


For two weeks after that storm, we had no rain. Not a drop. Even the clouds - when they bothered to appear - were half-hearted and wispy. Weather forecast for our camping weekend: sun, sun, sun.

Last Thursday: we get the last of the supplies. Weather forecast for the weekend: wind. Okay. We can handle that. It's always windy here (although to qualify as "windy" with the meteorologists here, it has to exceed about 30 mph). We'll just be sure we've got extra tent stakes. Besides, the tent can't blow away with all four of us in it, right?

Friday: we collect everything we need: tent, sleeping bags, thermarests, yadda yadda. The boys have never been quicker to help than when we asked them to get everything together in one place. Weather forecast: 30% chance of thunderstorms. Hmm. We can take our chances with that, since 30% chance of storms means 70% chance of no storms.

Saturday morning. We pack up the car. The boys are racing to put stuff in the trunk as fast as they can, and they're both itching to buckle up 30 minutes before it's time to go. Just to be on the safe side, we check the weather forecast: 70% chance of storms. Severe thunderstorms. BH and I dance around the issue of whether or not we're really going to pitch the tent and pretend we're going to camp, or whether we're going to crush two weeks of anticipation while the sun is still shining. We give the boys a heads-up that weather might end our trip early.

Saturday afternoon: Keep checking the clouds rolling in. No towering thunderheads, no sign of rain, just a lovely afternoon for fishing, grilling, and other fun stuff. Might be a good night for camping, after all.

Saturday evening: Burgers for dinner, and the first sign of some seriously dark clouds on the way. News from someone with a decent data connection that a severe storm's about an hour away. Twenty minutes later, huge drops begin to fall, each one wetting a quarter-sized spot on the ground (I'm only exaggerating a tiny bit). We scramble to collect our stuff and hike to the car.

The drops are so cold and so big they feel like hail (the 6YO is convinced they are, until we tell him they're far too wet and don't hurt nearly enough to be hail). By the time we reach the car, we're completely drenched. BH starts the car and we head home.

The world turns gray. Wind buffets the car, driving rain in a constant onslaught against the driver's side. Then the clatter-thunk of hail joins the thrum of rain. Hail stones slide down the windows until they're bounced off by splashes of rain. Ahead of us, the painted line on the road disappears. We see an oncoming car's headlights only when it's about 20 feet away. The slightly rutted road starts flooding.

I spot a stand of trees on the left side of the road and tell BH to pull over next to it. He does, and we wait out the worst part of the storm in the shelter of the trees. Once we can see the road again, we continue on. On the other side of the lake, the roads are dry -  the storm hadn't gone that far south.

So much for our sun, sun, sun.

I blame the tent.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Changing, growing

If you've spent any time reading this blog, you'll know I like to garden. I waited ten years to have a garden of my own (container gardening, while nice, only gets you so far). So one of the first things I did when we moved into our house last fall was to tear out the grass along our fence line and put in native grasses and perennials.

Okay, it wasn't just me. Beloved Husband and both kids helped. It was a ton of work, but well worth it, because we now have this:

The neighbors, who thought we were crazy when we started, have all commented on how much they love it. And I love that it will change as the season progresses. By mid-summer, it will have lots of yellow and orange flowers blooming, and by fall, the grasses will be tall and all shades of yellow, gold, and red, some with feathery pink seed heads.

Yesterday, I was pulling weeds (yes, I pull them by hand, more on that in a moment) to the susurrus of baby cardinals begging for food in our lilac. As long as I kept my head down, the parents were content to come and go. I also discovered a bumblebee nest behind that pinkish plant in the foreground (Penstemon, for anyone who's curious).

Weed-pulling: a back-breaking, mindless waste of time, right? Lots of people think so, but I enjoy it. (Now you know why our neighbors think we're nuts.) I like it for many reasons.
  • It's hard work, but at the end of the day, I can look at the planting bed and see the results. There's very little instant gratification in writing.
  • It's back-breaking, but in a different way from writing. it stretches muscles that sit for too long when I write, so in a way it's soothing. Besides, there's something satisfying about going to bed a bit sore from a hard day's work. And I sleep better.
  • It's mindless, which gives my brain a break from constant focus and thought. The inability to sustain focus on something for a prolonged period of time (or the increasing difficulty in doing so as time progresses) is called directional attention fatigue, and studies show that exposure to nature is the best way to allow the brain to recoup and revitalize (source).
  • It's inspirational. A good many of my magazine article and picture book ideas (the non-fiction ones) are based on things I have seen while gardening or spending time outside. Gardening is also the perfect opportunity to figure out what, exactly, that random thing that just happened in my novel really means, and how it will play out later in the story (or if I should get rid of it).
And then there are encounters like these. How can you not love seeing something like this?

eastern swallowtail butterfly
Do you garden? What do you like about it? And if not, why not?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Save a book (and your sanity)

Happy May Day, and congrats to everyone who completed the A to Z Challenge!

Have you seen this lovely image? I love it. Simply brilliant.

*Okay, I can't provide the source for that, because someone emailed it to me. I think it's going around Facebook, and if you happen to know who created it, please let me know, so I can give them credit for it.
On a separate (yet very much related) note, did you know this week is Screen-Free Week? Yesterday marked the first day of an entire week in which kids (in particular, but everyone, really) unplug. No TV, no video games, no DVDs/NetFlix/[insert entertainment media of choice here]. It's intended primarily for children, many of whom watch over 30 hours of TV a week (an average of 32 hours per week for preschool children, and it goes up from there--that's more than four hours a day for 3 and 4-year-olds!) source.

That's a whole lot of screen time, which has been shown to increase obesity and other health problems, not to mention stifle creativity (source). So this week is all about unplugging.

What to do instead?

Get outside! It's spring, go enjoy it. Not only will it allow your brain to process something ... you know ... real, it will also reduce stress, improve your attention span (really!), and help you find a solution to that problem you've been wrestling. Check out more on the benefits of nature in this post.

Go read a book! Recent studies have shown that fiction can have extensive benefits, in particular by stimulating empathy and thereby reducing social friction. If you haven't seen this article in the Boston Globe, go check it out--it's fascinating.

Do both at the same time! You can't lose, it's like earning bonus points for your life: improved social functioning, less stress, and improved cognitive functioning all wrapped into one delicious, engaging novel read in the out-of-doors.

So, in honor of all those fallen books, let's go screenless (not completely--I know we all have work to do). Maybe our collective outpouring of empathy can ease the social friction cause by *ahem* certain television shows.

What will you read this week?