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Summer bucket list

It's the first day of summer. We closed the books on 5th grade last week (or actually, Calvin did, I have a lot of record keeping yet to do) and kicked off our summer schedule with a week of choir day camp. Summer isn't necessarily different for homeschoolers, but summer weather in the lovely state of Michigan is a great equalizer: it only lasts while it lasts. So with the kid away all day this week I've been updating records, late-spring cleaning the house, getting a variety of appointments out of the way, and making summer plans following a "what do you want to do this year" interview with my boys that resulted in a summer that looks like this:

Rooftop fireworks in Chicago

Mini golf

The splash park

Visit our zoo

Rolling Sculptures Auto Show

Kayak the river

Finish the local bookstore reading challenge (Calvin)

History of Zelda course with game play

Watch all the Disney movies in order

Can some summer goodness

Stratford, and Jen and Larry's

More fires and S'mores with our home firepit

Take more pictures


Celebrating 11, a photo essay


Only 40 years to wait

We are just back continental side from an amazing birthday week in the Hawaiian sun. Whose birthday? That would be mine. The 40th. And I can think of no better way to have spent it than with my family, and no better place than Hawaii.

A few years ago I took stock of my lifetime of travel and decided to set a goal of seeing all 50 states by the time I reach 50. At the beginning of this year I had been to 44 of them, so it's a reasonable goal, but the states I have yet to see are strangely strewn across our continent. Alabama and Georgia in the Southeast, Maine in the northeast, Idaho in the Northwest, and the outliers, Hawaii and Alaska. And now, thanks to this amazing trip, I can move Hawaii to the done list.

There are lots of ways to do Hawaii, and I'd categorize our trip as thoroughly relaxing. Our goal was to spend as much time together as possible while soaking up sun and beautiful views, and we accomplished this by renting a house just outside Kailua-Kona, on the west side of the Big Island, through VRBO. I'll say first that the house we rented was amazing. While we've never had a bad VRBO experience, this one outdid all the others by actually surpassing our expectations. The home was updated, the kitchen well appointed, and the views breathtaking. For us the best part of renting a house is having the family living space. We spent nearly every afternoon playing in the private pool, nearly every evening enjoying the sunset on the Lanai before grilling a delicious dinner to enjoy together, and many a night introducing Calvin to the Hawaiian wonder of Magnum P.I.

While some people take on Hawaii with a "collect them all" attitude, coptering from island to island, since our goal was just to relax and be together, we picked one island and stuck with it. We opted for the Big Island in large part because it is less developed, less touristy, and for Volcanos National Park. We wanted to see lava, and boy did we. Our National Park excursion was a full day experience. Driving on the island is a tortuous experience, and nobody is moving very fast, but the scenery all the way there was brilliant, and the park well worth the effort. We arrived at midday and stopped for lunch in the Lodge overlooking the active caldera. Lava isn't visible from that vantage point, but having just arrived we were perfectly entertained by the trail of smoke that was. After eating we spent some time at the Visitors Center so Calvin could earn his Junior Ranger badge before heading to Jaggar Museum where we were treated to a great view of the active lava spouting and roiling. This was amazing. Our next stop was to hike the Lava Tubes, which I found disappointing, but we followed up with a hike across the cooling, inactive crater at Kilaeua Iki, and for those who can swing the incline and uneven terrain, this is a must do. Walking across the now hardened waves of lava and feeling the hot steam rising from still cooling vents was an amazing experience (made even more so by having watched the video in the Visitors Center earlier about the crater's earlier eruption). Our final stop, and one I wouldn't have missed for the world, was back up to Jaggar Museum to view the lava after dark. This, too, is a must do. 

A note about lava in Volcanos National Park. The viewing varies greatly, even from minute to minute. We arrived during daylight hours to see two large tongues of lava lapping at the sides of the caldera, bright orange cracks forming across the black, molten surface, but just a half hour later one of those tongues was no longer visible and the other greatly diminished. Of course the same is true at night, and we were lucky enough to be treated another great spectacle on our after-dark return, but be forewarned: it gets chilly on top of the volcano after the sun sets, and the crowds are something to contend with (think small town fireworks display), but it is totally worth it to see both day and nighttime lava.

Another note, there aren't many restaurants near the park, and the choices become even fewer that late, so it's good to go with a meal plan.

Another goal of our trip was to take in the varied terrain of the Big Island. Dry and almost desert-like on the west side, the east side of the island is a rainforest, and the two are separated by entirely undeveloped lava fields. We took a day, or really a long morning, to drive across the relatively new highway that runs through the middle of the island to see the waterfalls and vegetation that clutter the island's east side. The drive across was alone worth the trip. We saw lava flows of many different ages in various stages of reanimation. we also got a good look at the main peaks of the island, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and the observatory on top. Although you know that you are climbing in elevation much of the way, it is still a surprise to begin the descent into Hilo to find yourself above the clouds. On the day that we drove over, we descended into completely cloud cover that hid the road below us. The effect was at first disorienting, and then completely stunning. Our time in Hilo was spent on light hiking to visit three falls sites: Pe'epe'e Falls, Rainbow Falls, and 'Akaka Falls. The first two were very short walks on paved paths, with optional easy hikes on the side. Rainbow Falls was a longer walk with greater elevation changes, but still a paved path. All three were beautiful, and the vegetation and wildlife (lizards and birds) were an added pleasure.

A final goal for our trip was to attend a Luau. Now, we understood going in that luaus these days are but a dim reminder of what was once a culturally significant part of island life, but arguments about authenticity vs. kitsch aside, we knew we wanted this unique experience while we were there. My dad did his research and made reservations at the Mauna Kea Resort Luau to ensure our place at a highly rated luau on my actual birthday. It did not disappoint. The views alone were spectacular, and the food was great fun, but the dancing...oh the dancing. Authentic or no, it was amazing to watch, and it came with a bit of a history lesson, which I loved. 

Other things we did on our trip included a tour of the Kanaloa Octopus farm, and a tour of Kuaiwi Coffee Farm. I highly recommend the octopus farm if you have any interest in wild creatures at all: the tour was very informative, and the octopi highly entertaining. The visit needs to be booked ahead of time, although we booked ours only a week in advance. In other good news, your visit helps to fund this important program aimed at saving wild octopus populations. The coffee tour was also a complete joy. The plantation we visited was on old one, and today is a very small, family run affair, so our tour was private and unique. The air was cooler and cloudy up in the hills, and when we were there the coffee crop had already been brought in, but the land is planted with a wide variety of fruit and other trees and plants and we were treated to a taste test at nearly all of them. The owner/guide is immensely knowledgeable and very warm. We ended that tour with a sampling of coffee and chocolates on the family deck, that's how private and homey an operation it is. Highly recommended.

Then, like I said, the rest of our trip was an exercise in relaxation. Vibrant, welcoming mornings, long pool afternoons, delicious dinners, stunning sunsets, and restful evenings. It was everything I wanted, and I only had to wait 40 years for it.

The following photos were taken by several photographers, mainly myself and my wonderful sister-in-law, who was too gentle to rib me about my age even though she's nearly ten years younger and I gave her permission to do it all week.


Hello, 2017

A new year, a new start. Actually, there are two, maybe three times each year that I feel the world giving me a chance for a fresh start. January, of course, is the quintessential fresh start month. That's when we all make resolutions that we may or may not keep down the road and flock to the local container or office supply stores in search of that one item that will finally keep us on track and organized. But I feel a similar need to set goals and create order every year in September when a new school year is beginning and a cold snap is in the air. And on occasion I'll feel a similar push during spring cleaning days, when the warmth of the sun is returning and we're all just coming out of hibernation, or our closest approximation of it.

In fact, September might be my biggest "fresh start" month, but January is still a time to look around and take stock of the situation. With so many fun traditions around Christmas and the New Year (and let's be honest, the crazy really starts back around Thanksgiving, what with all parties and performances that happen throughout December), by the time January 1 comes around, I need to take a moment to figure out how many balls I've dropped and how I can real them back in again. There's migrating schoolwork that got missed, updating the now defunct school calendar, catching up on chore lists and to-do lists, putting things back in order physically and mentally.

This year I'm using a newish method for me. I'm using a Bullet Journal. Affectionately known in social media circles as the BUJO, this has got to be one of the greatest organizational tools since the Trapper Keeper. The idea is to take a fresh journal, any fresh journal, and use the first pages to set up an index that you will keep adding to throughout the year. Now use the book to enrich your life. Use it for whatever you want—art, writing, photos, planning, checklists, reminders, recording—and just keep a record in the index of where you've put things. It can be anything, even everything, you want it to be. I joined in the fad last year, actually, with a journal I'd gotten for Christmas the year before.

I've never in my entire life kept a journal for longer than a month or so, and that's being generous, so I was skeptical at first, but as the year went by I found myself using the book religiously. At first I used it to make meal plans and track my eating and exercising habits with weekly logs. Then I drew in a set of calendars and started using it to keep track of the family schedule. By mid-summer I was creating weekly spreads to keep track of to-do lists, and individual pages for meal planning. I used the book to plan our travel, and used it on our trips as a travel log. I used pages for taking notes in meetings or at doctor appointments. And by fall I was creating full pages of art simply for the sake of art. It's a daily planner meets monthly calendar meets scrapbooking kind of deal for me, and I love it.

So for Christmas 2016 I asked for a specific planner and a few art supplies to go with it, and was thrilled open that fresh book and start making it my own. The first few spreads are monthly calendars and record keeping pages for bills, long-term chores, and some fun stuff, like a reading log and a bird log, then I got things going with a spread for tracking chores in January and my first weekly spread.

Because that's where we are, in the first week of January. And I'm read for it.


Carols at the spinet

Caroling in Christmas Eve Eve, that being December 23, is a family tradition three or four years in the making. We start the party with Christmas craftiness, this year it was baking brownies, last year decorating cookies, and the couple of years before that it was gingerbread structure architecture. Dinner is always a must, with some wine to loosen singing throats, and then we retire to the library to sing around the piano. It was the moving in of Jon's childhood piano that prompted the first party. We pulled out our newsprint song books, things that survived from my own childhood, and some music books from my grandparents' house to get us started, and away we went. This year Calvin played some of the accompaniment.