Planes, Trains, and…Buses

Griffin has been taking much delight in all things that zoom lately. If there’s a plane in the sky, he’ll find it. If there’s a school bus coming down the road, you can bet he’ll point it out. I decided it was high time we took a day devoted to transportation.

Let me just begin by saying that I have so much respect for folks who, either by choice or not, get their little ones around using public transportation. A car affords a freedom that I’ve been taking for granted, especially in the winter, and I realized this morning as we were rushing to catch the 9:14 bus that life would be a lot more complicated if we didn’t have our own wheels. That being said, I also really enjoyed taking public transportation with Griffin today. I got to engage with him about what we were seeing out the window in a way that I simply can’t in the car, and more importantly, we got to look at each other and interact with other people, which just doesn’t happen in the insulation of our own car.

Anyway, we received two free Metro Transit passes when we moved to St. Paul (sign up for a land line and, in addition to getting lots of unwanted phone calls for people who used to have your number, you get all kinds of free things in the mail!), and with his sudden interest in zooming vehicles, it seemed like the perfect excuse for a field trip. Fortunately, we live just a block from major bus routes, so arranging to get to the airport was as easy as a web search and walking two blocks to the bus stop.

As the bus pulled up, Griffin waved and said, “Hi, Bus!” We got on and he was beaming with excitement. We rode through our neighborhood, down across the frozen Mississippi, and arrived at the Light Rail station. A small wait afforded us the opportunity to explore every nook and cranny of the station, and then the train pulled up! We got to ride through tunnels, past lots of different colored houses and stands of trees, and finally arrived at the airport, where we disembarked. It took a little creativity to find a place where we could watch the planes (post-9/11 has made it very difficult to find a place to watch, I found out), but a couple of trams and moving sidewalks lead us to the perfect place to have a snack and watch planes take off. It was perfect.

We had a great morning together (and it was free!). Griffin got to explore his new passion, and I realized that maybe we need to be taking the bus more often, not just because it’s better for the environment, but because it might just be better for me and Griffin, too.

First Head Wound

We haven’t had a “first” blog entry in a while, so Griffin decided it was high time. Today as we were readying ourselves to visit the Science Museum with some new ECFE friends, Griffin’s forehead met the sticking out corner near our front door and got himself a nasty gash. It’s truly a wonder that this hasn’t happened yet as he has had plenty of head bonks, but this was the first gusher. I must say, it freaked me out a little and I was struck with mild panic as I realized that one, I was alone, two, Griffin’s car seat was actually out of the car in anticipation of carpooling to the museum, and three, my kid was howling with pain and fear, there was blood everywhere, and there was little I could do about it.

Thankfully, shortly after this happened, our friends were nearly at our house, so they came in and I was able to confirm with another adult that yes, I should take him to the clinic but it’s not an emergency, and my friend was able to watch Griffin (who had settled down by then) while I reinstalled the car seat. Whew.

His wound was definitely deep and big enough for some skin glue (which he did not enjoy in the least, but frankly, they would have had to sedate him to get any stitches in there!) and he already seems to have forgotten about it. His biggest concern after it all was getting some “fooot nack” (fruit snacks) and cheese. Onward we go!

His first major wound all glued up!
Griffin didn't want the bandaid on his head and instead insisted that it go on my forehead. Sympathy bandaids are just my style.

Puddle Stomping

After a week of sub-zero temperatures, we enjoyed a weekend of balmy weather — highs in the 30s on Saturday, and in the high 40s today!  Real spring is still a long way off, but today was our first hint of what’s to come.  It was a perfect afternoon for snowballs and puddle stomping.

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Luminary Loppet

The “City of Lakes Luminary Loppet” is an evening cross-country ski event held annually on the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. (I’d never heard the term “loppet” before, pronounced “lope-it,” but some googling informed me that the term originated in Scandinavia and refers to cross-country ski events… not always races.) We snowshoed the 5k course Saturday night with Griffin in the backpack. The basic course was lit with beautiful ice luminaries and there were special locations around the lake, including an ice pyramid, the “enchanted forest”, and fire dancers! Pretty cool.

Click on any of the pictures below to see the full album.

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Widjiwagan

I returned yesterday from an awesome week at Camp Widjiwagan on the shore of Burntside Lake, way up north on the edge of the Boundary Waters.  I was one of the teacher/chaperons for 35 seventh graders.  Highlights included:

  • Cold!  Snow!  Daytime highs were just above zero for the first few days.  (At 7 am Wednesday, the air temp was -24 as I walked to the washhouse to brush my teeth.)  Snow off the trails was often thigh deep.  Remarkably, it was pretty easy to adapt to the temperatures.  The staff gave a great presentation on how to dress, and I never even used my heaviest down coat — I preferred multiple layers of long-johns, fleece, and a wool sweater (with a windbreaker layer on top).
  • Cross-country skiing. My first time, and I really enjoyed it.  I joined the kids Tuesday morning for a beginner lesson.  On Wednesday I went on a longer ski with the adults.  I generally did alright on the flat trails and climbing hills (awkward, but successful), but going down hills was tough.  I still don’t quite understand how to control speed and direction on a narrow trail.
  • Snow-shoeing. We went out for a fairly long snow-shoeing hike and my legs are still sore.  Next year I think I’ll bring my own snowshoes which are lighter than the ones at the camp (I plan on taking them out for a long walk tonight to see how they compare).  This hike included a spectacular stop for lunch at the top of a bluff overlooking a frozen lake.  We met up with a group of students up there and had lunch around a fire in the snow, with a truly stunning view.
  • Bonding with the kids.  From a teacher’s perspective, this was such a rare opportunity to really get to know kids outside of the classroom. This was especially valuable for me because I teach eighth grade, so not only were most of the kids new to me, but many of them will be my students next year.  It’s heartening to see students surprise themselves when they are pushed out of their comfort zones.  Moreover, I love seeing kids who struggle in the classroom excel in a different setting.  This always makes me think about how I can push myself to make my classroom even more inclusive of different learning styles and aptitudes.
  • Storytelling. The boys in my cabin were super excited about hearing bedtime stories (scary ones, in particular).  On Monday night we all shared whatever quick ghost stories we knew from memory.  On Tuesday they asked me to come up with something for them.  This was a real treat for me, because I love stories and I especially enjoy the art of storytelling.  I began with a retelling of the 1902 classic, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs.  I changed the setting to reflect our surroundings (a cabin in the northern Minnesota wilderness), but otherwise kept it largely the same.  On Wednesday we moved on to one of my favorite horror authors, H. P. Lovecraft.  I retold “Pickman’s Model,” but again moved it to Minnesota and narrated it as if the artist had been real, and I had known him personally.  (When it ended, and I pulled the door shut, a student called out nervously, “Wait, Mr. Roy, did that really happen?”  Yay!)  For Thursday I sketched out a story based on the Native American Wendigo legend, but after the sauna experience (see below), I was too tired to do real improv.  I offered, instead, to read one of the all-time classics, Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu“.  The story, alas, was too long (and the vocabulary too obscure) for a single night’s reading, so I stopped about half way through, with most of the kids asleep on the floor around the wood stove.  As we drove back to Saint Paul on Friday, one of the kids came up to the front of the bus and asked diffidently if I would finish the story for them — they had saved me a seat a the back of the bus!  So, driving through a snowstorm, with faces peering over and between the seats, we all finished the masterpiece together.  (There was a moment in the reading — one of the kid’s foreheads scrunched up, trying to parse Lovecraft’s baroque vocabulary — when I felt a sense of rightness, like this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing with my life.)
  • The Sauna / Dip in the Freezing Lake. This is the legendary culmination of the Widji experience: a hot sauna and a plunge through a hole in the thick ice of Burntside Lake.  I was nervous about it all week, truthfully, and in the moments before the icy plunge I considered it a very real possibility that I would be the first person at Widji to drop dead upon hitting the water.  (I have never managed to outgrow this sort of mental melodrama.)  As it turned out, my first shocked words upon rising above the surface were, “Oh, this isn’t so bad!”  And, really, it wasn’t.  (Some people make the whole experience significantly more painful by jumping in the water before going into the sauna, but that seems excessively masochistic to me.)  Heating up in the sauna first was, naturally, wonderful.  My muscles relaxed and sweat was literally pouring off of me.  After ten minutes or so, I was ready to rinse off, and the icy water was a perfect way to do it.  I wouldn’t want to lounge around in the water, obviously, but it was truly invigorating.  Afterwards I felt almost euphoric, and my body temperature was still high enough that the freezing wind over the lake felt like a warm breeze.  Sitting by the fire afterwards, my body felt as relaxed as if I had just had a luxurious massage.  I wouldn’t hesitate to repeat the experience.

In summary, it was an incredible week!  I’ve told my principal that she can count on me to volunteer for this every year.  (They actually have a hard time getting teachers to go.)

One sad thing: I didn’t bring a camera!  I don’t know what I was thinking, because it was utterly gorgeous up there.  I took a few photos on my iPhone on Friday morning before getting on the bus (and found another one on Google images) just to give you a sense of the place.

Wash House
The Wash House — just up the hill from the four cabins. Note the unbelievable blanket of snow on the roof!
Snowshoe Rack
Snowshoe rack between the two boys' cabins.
Field and Lake
This is from the rear of my cabin. In the foreground is a field where we practiced skiing before hitting the trails. Beyond the trees is the northern arm of Burntside Lake.
Cabin
From my porch to the back porch of the other boys' cabin. (The girls' cabins in the trees, just out of sight.)
Widji Road
The main road through camp. This photo is obviously not from my iPhone, but I'm including it because it captures the beauty better than any of my muted pics. (From Widji's Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/widjiwagan/4341071094/)