Dino S. Aur

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Several years ago the dinosaur came. He lived with some friends but we helped him to find his way into curious locations at their house when we visited. At some point he ended up in a curious location at our house. He has been tucked under blankets and buried in a flower bed. He keeps coming around.

When he ended up here, our duty was to make sure he made it back to their house, and vice versa. One time he was mailed to us baked into a cake. He did not fare so well and had to go into physical therapy. This was documented in a photo book. He came with us on a trip to Utah and joined us in all our adventures, including a zip line, hiking, mountain biking, a trip to get ice cream. He got a girlfriend on that trip. Those adventures were documented in a series of Facebook posts.

The topper to that series was the flight home. We asked the crew if we could take a photo of them with the dinosaur. They did us one better. They took Dino and a camera into the cockpit and, once we were airborne, took a video of Dino and his partner flying the plane. Sweet.

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The last time he left us he dramatically flew from the car as I exited our friends’ driveway. When we next went to visit them he ended up hiding in the glove box of our car for the ride home. Now he is with us again. I am documenting his life in Vermont (Girlfriend status? Couldn’t tell you) on Instagram. Follow him at Dino.S.Aur. Let’s see what happens.

Some Time in the Trees

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For a bunch of years I worked on challenge courses. I was an instructor, I managed a program and I helped to build and design courses. It was great stuff. One spring day a colleague and I were hanging from cables, adjusting an element high off the ground and she shouted over to me “Hey, we’re at work right now!” Not a bad office.

I still miss that work. I gave it up to have more time in the summer. My wife was a teacher so had summers free. I had winters free. That was tough, so I found other interesting work. Today, however, I got a taste of that outdoor world. I headed to Stowe Mountain Resort and tried out their TreeTop Adventure challenge.

I was there with my children and a friend of my daughter’s. We had experienced courses like this before so it was not totally new to them. After checking in at the lodge, and taking the short gondola ride across the road, we found the place to get an orientation. With harnesses strapped on and our primer completed, we headed to the woods.

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The course includes four smaller courses with increasing difficulty levels: yellow (small people only), green, blue and black. After each course climbers have the option to head to the ground and to be done. Smart. We did green through black. The elements were indeed increasingly challenging. It was a lot of fun.

While the kids were focused on the physical aspects of what they had to do, I paid some attention to the course itself. I was curious about how the platforms were constructed, the specifics of each element, the safety systems. I asked myself more than once “Why didn’t I think of that?” New ideas have clearly come about since my days out there.

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The other thing I enjoyed was simply being up in the trees. It was a perfect day, the sun dappling the forest floor, a light breeze. We moved about at the level of the leaves. I felt at ease up there. Years ago I spent hours on platforms like that, helping others through their own physical and mental challenges. Even today, I felt like I could stay up there all day.

After a couple of hours we all zipped down the last cable to end our adventure. We walked back to drop off our harnesses (harni?), feeling a little more tired than when we started, feeling good about challenging ourselves and succeeding. I was a tad envious of those folks in the red STAFF shirts on the ground, but only a tad. I had a good run with that work. Today I was happy to walk back to the car with three happy teens, lunch around the corner, plus a stop at the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Challenge courses have changed, and apparently I have too.

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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Lots of Snow Still Sticking Around

IMG_0069Most winters we get some snow here and there, and the total we get adds up to a pretty decent amount. We also usually get rain, however, or at least a solid thaw. We don’t typically get lots of snow that stays on the ground as the kind of snow one can enjoy. It often turns to slush, or freezes solid enough to walk on. This year we have snow for skiing and it has been sticking around.

This past week was vacation week from school. All of us were home and we did not venture anywhere beyond our local haunts. This meant we went skiing several times. We leased skis for our kids this year, as we have the past couple of years. This is a good deal, first because they our kids are growing so fast that buying skis makes little sense financially; they will grow enough that the boots and skis are too small by the next season. As a bonus with the lease deal each set comes with an envelope of coupons. These include free or discount passes to local ski areas. Those coupons alone make it worth the lease. The amount we save with them more than pays for the lease. This past week we skied at Bolton Valley.

It was cold. It has been a cold winter and last week that cold continued. Some of the days last week we ruled out as ski days just because it would have been unpleasant. When the high temperature is forecast to be in the single digits in the valley, with strong winds, well, skiing just isn’t all that fun. It takes a lot of energy to ignore numb toes and frozen cheeks. It gets unsafe even. But we went when temperatures were in the teens, and the sun was shining. That was way fun. The last time we went was what one calls a Bluebird Day–clear skis and no wind and just awesome. We rode the lift up and skied our way down over and over, breaking only for lunch and heading home in the afternoon. Tons of fun.

When your kids are tuckered and they tell you “I love skiing” on the way home, you know you have hit the winning number. Since we live in a state with many ski areas, it makes sense to take advantage of that resource. The snow was great (not icy at all as it often can be when the snow fails to accumulate enough), the sun was shining, and we all have the skill to really just have a blast. Plenty of people will tell you they are sick of winter, but when we get so much snow, and it keeps piling up, I just cannot complain. I hate to complain anyway. That just seems like a waste of energy to me. Enjoy this now while it is here, I say. Spring will be here soon enough.

 

 

Care to Play?

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We took a trip into Burlington today and visited the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. We go to ECHO often enough that we have a membership. Seeing the fish and turtles and ocean touch tank are interesting pretty much every time. They also, however, have a rotating exhibit. The current one is called Playing Together, which is all about games. They have games on display, such as a giant chess board and hopscotch and, one of my favorites, skittles. All of them are available to play, so whether the ancient game of Senet or the more modern Backgammon, fun can be had.

We wanted to play chess on the giant board, but it was never available. That thing is popular. My children played Bubble Hockey, which is like foosball, but hockey instead of soccer. My wife played hopscotch several times. We did not come close to playing all the games. We will have to go back.

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Skittles uses a top to knock down pins–the harder the pins are to reach the more points they are worth.

I love games. Before children games were a major source of fun in our house. We still play them at home, but different games and not as competitively. One winter night our pipes froze and my wife and I stayed up all night trying to thaw them out. While we waited for steam to do its duty, we played Quiddler. We played hand after hand and got such high scores we were impressed with ourselves with such an amazing display of wordsmithing. Then we realized we had played several hands too many. We stayed up way too late that night, and the pipes never thawed anyway.

I taught my son chess a few years ago, and then gave him a chess board for Christmas. We play occasionally. I don’t cut him any slack but when I stop paying attention he sneaks up on me. I am not all that good at chess so I imagine he will surpass me if we play enough.

We should get back into playing games more often. We have played a few of them this week, as we are all off for the school break. It would be a good habit to keep up. Maybe another visit to ECHO will inspire us again to make it a regular activity in our house. The exhibit was inspiring. There are just so many fun games to play. Games night anyone?

A Little Afternoon Swim

IMG_5829Every winter Special Olympics Vermont holds the Penguin Plunge, a fundraiser that draw all kinds of people who want to take a quick dip into Lake Champlain. My wife and daughter took part yesterday. Each year the sixth grade class at my daughter’s school (led by a motivated and inspired teacher) raises funds and gets fired up to jump in the lake.

It was about ten degrees yesterday. At least the air was that cold. The lake was just about 32 degrees, so clearly a nicer place to hang out than the breezy waterfront. My son and I watched groups run down the boat ramp and get wet. While a few groups of high school boys did swim the short distance of open water the ice’s far edge, most people were in and out of there fast.

I have been in water that cold and I know that it quite literally takes your breath away. It is hard to breathe and one’s muscles don’t respond very quickly. Staying in for long is not a good idea. There were a few people on the dock in dry suits ready to pull anyone out who needed help, but everyone I saw was pretty motivated to make tracks back up to the warming tent.

The event is well organized and has lots of positive energy. There are two changing tents–for men and for women–as well as a staging tent where plungers wait until their wave is called. Everyone who participated got cold, of course, but not for long. Those tents are toasty. It was enjoyable to watch. It was hard to watch and not to participate, in fact. I wanted to get right in there with them. But somebody had to park the car and take the photos. Next year, however, I may have to take a swim as well.

A couple of times today my daughter mentioned that she went in the lake yesterday. I think she was proud of herself. I told her that went swimming just last week and she pointed out that swimming in Florida doesn’t count. True. Really, I was proud of her too.

Apples on a Beautiful Day

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Yesterday was a stunner. Clouds skimming the horizon in the golden light of fall. A warm breeze. Warm but not hot, cool but not cold. The day smelled of grass going to seed and leaves in the corners and apples. So we went to pick some of those apples.

Shelburne Orchards is the spot of choice to pick apples around here. It sits above Lake Champlain so picking apples means walking the rows of fruit trees with a stellar view. We, my daughter and a friend of hers and I, arrived early in the afternoon. The place was as busy as yellow jackets in a cider bucket. Kids, college students, families, older couples. Everybody in the county was represented. And they were all smiling and having a good time in the orchard.

We picked Cortland and MacIntosh. The picking was pretty good but finding the ripe ones was a challenge at times given the crowds that had been through. They have lots of trees, however, so we filled a bag and walked back through the orchard to pay. Of course, they don’t just sell apples, but apple and Vermont products of all sorts–cider (pasteurized and unpasteurized), pies, pre-picked apples (those all look pretty much perfect), maple syrup, and so on. We left the register with half a dozen cider donuts and some cold cider settled on top of our bag of fruit.

We were not ready to leave just yet, however. The girls were hoping for caramel apples but that was a no go–they were not on offer. Instead, we got in line at the Betty Bar. There they served up Betty Cones–waffle cones with vanilla ice cream and warm apple betty layered inside. That was surely the treat to start off autumn. We left with full bellies and enough apples to eat straight up, to cook into jam, and maybe even to make a pie.

There will be apples to pick for a while yet. One pie won’t be enough so I will have to head back, maybe in October for some different varieties. At this point I will even dare to wish for another perfect day.

Breakfast and Biking and Building

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A stop on the Burlington bike path

We slept out on the porch last night. A section of it is screened, so we set up cozy beds on the couch and had our Z’s outside. We woke up later than I thought we would, given that the birds are singing at 4:00, about 7:00. I gathered some things while my son rubbed the bleariness from his eyes and then we headed to town.

First stop was Penny Cluse Cafe. They have the best breakfast around. My son had buttermilk pancakes, which he said were almost as good as mine. Right thing to say. And he wasn’t even after ice cream. I had beans and eggs and corn muffins–not something I typically have at home, which was the idea. Coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice–we were good to go on the meal front.

Next stop was the Ski Rack to pick up my son’s bike that had gotten some service. We rolled that outside, pulled my bike from the roof rack and, with full water bottles and some snacks, we headed to the lake. We passed the waterfront area and headed north on the bike path.

It could not have been a more perfect morning. Sunny, just warm enough, the lake and sky a summer blue. We pedaled our way several miles until we came to the bridge across the Winooski River. We stopped to look out at the river and the lake and the wetlands. Then we went a little further into Colchester.

Looking back toward Burlington

Looking back toward Burlington

We parked our bikes and checked out the lake, just off the bike path. Now that the water is finally low enough we could walk out to the marsh. We saw a couple of great egrets, a great blue heron and I finally heard marsh wrens. Those marsh wrens bring me up to 172 different bird species I have found in Chittenden County this year. I am aiming for 175, at least. I think I’ll make it.

We also saw basking map turtles

We also saw basking map turtles

Then we headed back south and parked our bikes outside ECHO, Burlington’s science center, to do some building. The rotating exhibit currently features KEVA planks, flattish rectangular blocks. There are some amazing structures there on display. We got there just in time for one of their daily challenges. We had five minutes to build a bridge. We teamworked it and did pretty well:

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I had started my own bridge before the challenge started and decided to enhance that one:

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We will be back to build some more this summer while the exhibit lasts. It is way fun.

Back home, my son got picked up to hang with a friend. I got some more painting done once the shade shifted around to right spot. We won’t have quite the blast tomorrow, but I am hoping it will be a decent one. We will sleep on the porch again and wake to the morning sun. No Penny Cluse tomorrow, but I can make pancakes at home. Apparently, they are pretty good.

Poor Snowman

Take That Frosty

Here you can see one of panels to my mock up of my upcoming film, “Frosty Versus Zorro.” I don’t have the full story developed yet. I haven’t decided whether the snowman goes to Mexico or the sword fighter goes to Vermont. Plus, I haven’t quite figured out out how to draw it out long enough. Our masked cape wearer has the upper hand with the steel, obviously.  And Frosty lost his broom so he can hardly fight back. Ah well. Chalk one up for the man in black.