Postcard Every Day

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My daughter is off at camp for a month. The camp is great about making sure campers are off the grid. No cell phones or connected devices are allowed. They can’t even make phone calls on the camp phone for the first week. They do, however, have good old-fashioned mail.

I love mail. Getting a personal letter or card is a small gift. I used to often write letters to many friends. I rarely do that now. We send out holiday cards and I occasionally send a postcard, but I have succumbed to convenience and speed. I use email, text, Facebook messenger, what have you. While my daughter is at camp, however, I mail her a postcard every day.

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I have two rules for these postcards. First, I put one in the mail every day, even if it is Sunday or a holiday. If I do it right, as I did this year, I start mailing them a couple of days before she leaves. That way she gets one on day one. The second rule is that the postcards must be adulterated. Some of them are pretty good postcards. The one above is a painting I love, on display at Shelburne Museum, but it needs captions to fit within my rules.

My daughter comes home next week. That means I stop sending her postcards soon. That takes some pressure off, but it is pretty fun to do so will miss it. My son is talking about going to camp next summer. That will mean possible double duty–two postcards per day if the are away at the same time. It would take some mental wrangling to come up with interesting modifications but, after three summers of practice, I think I’m up for it.

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Good Morning for a 5K

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Yesterday morning my son and I headed over to the high school for a morning run with a bunch of other people. It was the annual Hearts for Hunger 5K to benefit the Vermont Foodbank. We ran it last year and it was a great event, so we signed up again this year.

It was a chilly morning so we ditched our sweatshirts at the last minute. It was about 52 degrees at start time so it was pretty ideal for a run. My son had asked me ahead of time: “Is it OK if I ditch you?” It was, and he did.

He ran ahead and I lingered in the scrum for a bit. Once I was free to follow my own pace he was far ahead. I could see him pretty much the whole time, and we high-fived as I approached the turn-around point and he was heading back. There was a water station there so I slowed to take a drink. That was my mistake.

I kept getting closer to him the whole way back, but at one point he turned around and saw me. I wanted to catch him. I had a little pride I guess, but he was having none of his old man catching him at that point. He had a little pride as well. We ran uphill and we both were getting pretty hot in the bright sun, but he kicked it in and finished before me.

I was kind of out of gas at that point. Too little sleep (my daughter had a late performance last night in Burlington) will do that. But close to the finish line I could hear someone coming up from behind me. I picked up my pace but he kept coming. So I sprinted across the finish line with him close behind. Then I really was out of gas.

I thanked the guy who tried to catch me for giving me a push. I wanted to finish behind my son to avoid any future ribbing from him. So, we both pushed ourselves and felt good about it and ate a cookie and drank some water. We waited around for the awards and raffle and he took home a box of fudge. It was peanut butter fudge (um, what?) but hey, free fudge.

This was our second 5K this spring. We will do more as they come up. The marathon in Burlington happens Memorial Day weekend. Back in the day that was an annual event for my wife and I. Maybe one of these days we can do it with our kids. That, however, will require I have a little bit more gas at the start.

Your Typical Middle School Concert

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A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure to hear my local elementary/middle school band play. Two back-to-back concerts were performed: the beginner band and the intermediate band. It was a fine show.

The beginner band performed first. They did a good job, typical of a beginner band, with clarinet squeaks and off-beat percussion and blaring brass overshadowing the flutes, followed by the older and more experienced musicians who, as expected, had honed their craft a bit more. It was not a concert to be attended by the critics, or by anyone who is looking to get their ears massaged. It was like so many similar performances that happen every year all across the United States. The place was packed with proud (and tired and spaced out and other varieties of) parents, and a passel of school kids did their best and had fun.

I was struck by the timelessness and the typicallness of it. We were assembled in the gymnasium, seated in folding chairs in rows. Students played on risers as well as on the stage at the side of the room. They played under the basketball hoops. There was a state flag and a national flag on the wall. Four students started us off with the national anthem. Gym mats were folded in the corner. How many people have witnessed this same scene?

This was exactly what I did in elementary and middle school. Lots of kids played instruments and we managed to honk out some tunes as a band. Some or these young musicians will stick with it, but most will leave their instruments behind and some day say that they once played the saxophone or the bass drum, just like in my generation. I imagine many of those parents and grandparents attending this time were in that boat. This pageant has been repeated many times in many places. It is a shared experience.

What if we could tap into that shared experience? If we all could know how many others have felt pride at hitting the right notes, or embarrassment at missing them, wouldn’t we be in a better place? I certainly felt pride in my own child for performing, and I am confident I was not alone. Math may not be taught the same way as when these students’ parents went to school, and Chromebooks were not available to the previous generation. Schools and public education have changed in many ways, but band is similar. The clarinets and french horns and cymbals sound the same and work the same way. I think there is something to be celebrated in that.

Music (and other art) programs get cut at many schools. They are not valued as much as things that are typically measured on standardized tests. I think that is a mistake. There is much to be learned by playing music. If you have had any experience playing music, even as an elementary school band member, you know what I mean. And the continuity of it is powerful as well. There are few things that really are the same about school from the last generations to this one. I think we should hang on to some of them.

Not the Ideal Painting Day, but Whatever

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I sat looking out at the sunrise, waiting for it get light. Yesterday afternoon my daughter moved everything out of her room and we prepped it for painting. It was cold out, in the teens. But she really wanted to paint her room this weekend. She asked plenty of time ahead, and was willing to put in the effort. How could I say no?

She had a couple of friends over yesterday and we got to it–taping and cleaning and then painting. The problem is that it was really too cold to open the windows and air the place out. Thankfully, we had gotten low emission paint from the hardware store. This was intentional, due to the season, and it worked like a charm. It smelled a bit paint-ish but was not all that bad. We cracked a window and ran a fan and it cleared right out.

Her room was a mess last night, of course so she spent the night at one of those friend’s houses. All three of them did. The plan was to head back home and paint together in the morning. I, however, as an adult with some time management skills, as well as some experience with teenagers, knew that that was an unrealistic plan. There was no way they could get up in time to paint a second coat and put the whole room back together in time for bed tonight. So I painted the second coat myself before I picked them up.

I admit I like to get it done right. It is an excellent learning experience, however, to let your children take on a painting project. It is a good skill of itself and it is empowering. My daughter can now look at those walls and say “I painted that.” That feels pretty good. My dilemma is that I prefer, if possible, to avoid paint on the beams and the rug and the windows. The second coat was a little more thorough and tidy, but the first coat was more powerful, despite the messiness.

So I sipped coffee until the light rose. Then I put on old clothes and got the job done. I picked up the three girls late in the morning. They painted a dresser themselves, and then I helped them get started on reassembling the room–bed returned to the corner, clothes back in the closet and so on. They took care of the rest.

No, it wasn’t the best time of year to paint. We had to suck in some paint fumes (although not too many) and clean up with less room to work. They had to paint the dresser in the basement rather than on the porch or in the garage, but easy enough. And it is one more project not to be done in the summer. If my daughter had not insisted I would not have done it that way, but it got done, and I got to watch the sunrise, and she is happy. I guess that last one was the priority.

Last Day of the Year

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We finally got some snow here in the valley. Not much, mind you, but enough to make things look bright. We took a trip to the hardware store and they filled the new inflatable sleds we got for Christmas. They worked like a charm. Fast and fun. Until one of them found a stick, got a slice, and flattened right out, with me on it. No more of that sled today.

At the beginning of the year I set a few birding goals. First was to find 50 species of birds in Vermont in January. Check. Second was to make a birding checklist every day of the year. As of today, check to that as well. Total checklists: 562. My third goal was to find 300 species of birds. As of today I have seen 406. A sub-goal was to find 300 birds in North America alone. When the year started I had not planned a trip out of the country, but with a trip to South Africa that yielded lots of species not found in North America, I easily made my goal. North American birds: 279. Pretty far off but not too shabby.

I have been thinking about goals for 2017. One goal is to run more. I have not run as much in the past several years. Out of shape, lazy, injuries, depression–I have all kinds of reasons. But I’m done with that. I am going to hit the roads again. Twice a week at least. I would like to say that I will run a half marathon in 2017 but I have made goals like that before and then gotten injured; so let’s say that is a tentative goal. I am willing to put in the effort–it just might not be an option.

Birding goal? I want to move away from the list a little. One goal is to go birding in half a dozen National Wildlife Refuges. They are always beautiful to visit and offer fantastic birding. I will have to hope no group of fruit loops decide to occupy one when I plan to visit, as happened this year in Oregon. I also would like to add some birds to my life list. How about ten? Can I add ten lifers? That isn’t too many but I will have to get out there to make it happen. So I have a list-based goal after all.

And I need to write more. How about I average one blog post per week? That seems doable. Plus I need to make some progress on that book. I will make that one a sub-goal–get an outline done. Then I can take it from there.

This was a good year in many ways. I watched my children grow and do some great things. I took some trips and saw new places. I watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Mansfield. My son and I visited South Africa to see a good friend, plus zebras and lions ostriches. I heard Hermit Thrushes and Golden-Winged Warblers and Baltimore Orioles and Go-Away Birds. I swam in clear water in summer and skied on fresh snow in winter. I baked dinner rolls and made cheesecake. Lots to celebrate.

2016 also offered up some crap. Some of that is the usual crap–work stress, stupid mistakes (did I really back into that car in the trail head parking lot?), stuff that gets tossed around in the course of your standard day. Other crap was a little bigger–Brexit and the U.S. presidential election come to mind. Hopefully we all will get though that garbage in the next few years and come out with some lessons learned. I have less hope for that than usual but I am not totally hopeless.

So here is to 2017. May it be filled with everyday joy and wonder and beauty and fun. And may the bigger crap be less biggery and crappy than it might be. But mostly let’s go for the first bit. Happy New Year y’all!

Messy Eater

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My daughter romped about in the woods the other day. She got her boots muddy. She left them on the porch overnight. She left them there to dry. She also left them there to avoid cleaning off the mud.

In the morning they looked like this. I just recently hung the bird feeders. I filled a couple of them with sunflower seeds. Someone else did not want to clean up their mess. A squirrel? A chickadee? A mouse? I’m guessing a chickadee was flying back and forth from the feeder to the trellis over these boots. It ate the centers and left the hulls.

I cleaned up after the messy eater. I left the boots for my daughter. I am glad the chickadee wears no boots. I am glad my daughter has some skill with a napkin.

Rain Window

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A couple days ago I went out in the afternoon to look for birds. One of my goals this year has been to try to go birding every day. Sometimes I catch an owl or two in the early morning. Other days I go walk for a couple of hours. I hadn’t found many birds the other day as it was raining all day plus, you know, work. The rain had let up a bit, and it was going to get dark soon, so out I went.

As soon as I left the house, that rainless window started to close. A few drops fell, then more, and pretty soon it was full on raining. I went anyway. I didn’t go far–just down the road to the bridge over the river. I found some Blue Jays, Chickadees, a White-Throated Sparrow, a couple Juncos. It wasn’t a stellar birding expedition, but I got it in. By the time I got back home I was pretty soggy.

It rained yesterday most of the day. We need it. It has been a dry summer and early fall. We have been afraid our well might run dry. It never has before but we have never had such a dry stretch. These past few days should help. Looking out at Camel’s Hump and the Green Mountains south of there, I can see snow up high. I saw a few cars today with snow piled on their roofs–three inches or so. Full on autumn.

My daughter and I ran a 5K this morning. She has wanted to do them as often as possible this fall. She has run a 5K four weekends in a row. I have run the past three with her. It was forecast to be raining this morning, temperatures in the 40’s, super windy. We had the low temps and wind but no rain. It was a beautiful morning–snow up high, leaves still orange and red–if chilly. Apparently not everyone thought so. There were a grand total of seven runners. I feel like a fair weather runner sometimes but sheesh.

Those 5K’s are getting scarce now that the weather has turned. We can squeeze one in the next couple of weekends. We plan to do one on Thanksgiving day. But then it will be hard to find organized events, at least around here. We got lucky this morning and hit the window right to avoid the rain. Sometimes that happens. Gray skies, blue skies, it’s all beautiful with the other fall colors. Rain or sun, I will keep getting out there. My daughter wants to do those 5K’s and someone needs to do them with her. And I need to get in those birding days.

Only 71 more days and I will have done some birding every day in 2016. I need to think about goals for next year. I will have some kind of birding goal again. And 2017 will bring a running goal as well. Whatever I decide they need to get me out there, whether I hit the rain window or not.