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Duffing in D.C.

As my friends no doubt know, I am an avid kayaker.  I’ve loved the sport since I got my first kayak, when I was fifteen years old, and Steve is into it too.  Together we’ve kayaked down the Potomac past the monuments, through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and around the Adirondack lake where my parents have their camp.  But in recent years, it’s been harder to get out, because – well, for obvious reasons.  And if you’ve been reading here for awhile, you’ve certainly seen me write wistfully of my kayak and of happy hours spent gliding along the water, and days I thought were long gone in light of my two little non-swimming munchkins.

That dim outlook on kayaking, I am glad to report, no longer holds true!  Over the Fourth of July weekend, I took both kids out for a spin around the Sacandaga, and they did so well in the kayak that I returned to D.C. determined to seek out the best family-friendly paddling options around the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia – for the uninitiated).  A quick spin of the Google machine led me to Kid Friendly D.C. and their excellent paddling resources.  On their advice, one sunny Saturday, we headed into D.C. to check out Fletcher’s Cove.

Fletcher’s Cove is part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, which is managed by the National Park Service.  Before reading the Kid Friendly D.C. posts, I’d never heard of it – and I was really missing out.  You can rent canoes, kayaks and rowboats, and the park is conveniently located on the C&O Canal towpath and near bike trails.

After some confusion at the entrance, we found parking and headed across a cute little bridge into the park.

The process of renting a kayak was as simple as could be.  We filled out a short waiver form, let the guys working the rental kiosk know we wanted single kayaks for about an hour, grabbed our paddles and life jackets, and we were on our way.

I was glad they allowed us to rent single kayaks.  Both of the kids were duffing, which is paddling lingo for riding along without helping (but hopefully also without hindering).  Most duffing families were renting double kayaks, and seating the paddler in the back and the duffer in the front.  But since our munchkins can’t swim, we wanted them within arms reach – in our laps, really.  The staff at Fletcher’s Cove totally got it, and since the kids are so tiny, they let us forego the double kayaks.  (Although we may change up the arrangement on our next excursion – read on.)

Down to the dock, and ready to go!

Fletcher’s was perfect for paddling with young kids.  Just upriver from Georgetown, it’s in a quiet and sheltered spot, where the current isn’t too strong and the water is peaceful.  Our first paddling excursion was on a very warm and not-too-breezy day, so we saw a lot of like-minded folks out on the river.  Plenty of families were out enjoying the morning together in kayaks, rowboats and canoes, and we also spotted fishermen in boats and on shore, and even a few hikers on trails just next to the river.

Such a gorgeous day.

I loved looking around at the beautiful riverbanks, but of course the best view is always this one:

That’s a happy little duffer!

Peanut rode along with Steve and I’d say she enjoyed the outing, too.  She was a bit apprehensive about the plan until she learned that she wouldn’t have to paddle – ha!  She spent the entire paddle kicked back with her sunhat and shades on, reclining on her Daddy.  Bit of a diva?

Over in my boat, I was having a different experience from Steve.  Far from reclining and soaking up the summer sun, my duffer was eager to help – to the point of snatching my paddle and demanding his turn to “drive.”

We spent a lot of time going in circles.

While Nugget and I lagged behind, zig-zagging along and arguing over the paddle, Steve and Peanut were zipping on ahead.  Eventually Nugget and I caught up.

We made it all the way to the Chain Bridge, which is the boundary beyond which the Fletcher’s kayaks are not permitted to go, then turned back and headed for the dock to turn our boats in.

Saw some gorgeous rock formations on the way back!

Waved goodbye to the piles of canoes on our way out…

Happy days.

I was so glad that kayaking worked out!  I have missed being out on the water more than I can tell you – it felt wonderful to not only be back in a kayak, but to be sharing one of my favorite water sports with my three favorites.  We were slow, and we didn’t go very far, but I think Steve and I were grinning the entire time; we were just so happy to be out there.

 

So happy, indeed, that we were back at Fletcher’s just a couple of weeks later to go out again.  We would have loved to kayak every weekend, but weather and other plans intervened – but we were back at the dock as soon as the circumstances allowed us to be.

(Worth noting – Fletcher’s, and in fact all of the D.C. boathouses, have life jackets available from infants on up.  We brought our own, but borrowing is certainly an option if your kiddos don’t have PFDs.)

Everybody into the boats!  Peanut did really well with standing on the dock and waiting patiently until it was time for her to clamber into Steve’s lap.

We both got flame-colored kayaks the second time!  So pretty.  And nice, because it was a grey day and the bright kayaks were a beautiful counterpoint to the muted river and sky colors all around us.

Same experience the second time around…

Steve’s duffer enjoyed reclining gracefully against his life jacket while he paddled unencumbered.  (He did say that she put his leg to sleep, though.  So we may try out a double kayak for Daddy Team next time.)

While mine insisted on “helping” the entire time.

One last treat as we turned into the cove – a couple of ducks!  Nugget spotted them first and was so excited I thought he might try to join them in the water.

Thanks for a perfect couple of mornings on the water, Fletcher’s!  We’re going to try to come back a few more times before the kayak rental shop closes up for the season.  It’s such a delight to know that we can enjoy one of our favorite activities again, with our two little duffers along for the ride.

Are you a kayaker?

Peakbagging.  When you mention that you’re into it, you are almost guaranteed to get one of three responses:

  • That’s so cool!  Which mountains?
  • What on earth are you even talking about?
  • Oh, peakbagging.  No, thanks.  I hike because I love nature, not to check things off a list.

I count myself lucky that I’ve never gotten response number three.  As luck would have it, pretty much everyone I know either has no idea what peakbagging is, or they are themselves peakbaggers.

To start with a definition, for my non-mountain-chasing friends, peakbagging is a crazy hobby involving challenging oneself to summit every mountain on a particular list.  Think Colorado 14ers.  South Beyond 6000.  Fire Tower Challengers.  Saranac 6ers.

Adirondack 46rs.

I’ve mentioned before that Steve and I are very, very slowly working our way through the Adirondack 46.  So far, we’ve been at it for three years and we’ve summited three peaks: Cascade and Porter, and Giant.  At the rate we’re going, we will finish in 2060.  (We’ll have to step up the pace at some point.)  I suppose we could have started with a kinder, gentler peakbagging chase, like the Saranac 6 or the Fire Tower Challenge.  But go big or go home, right?  And the Adirondack 46 is definitely going big.

So, like I said, I’ve been lucky enough not to run into the anti-peakbagging crowd.  I have hiking friends who aren’t interested in bagging peaks, but they don’t look down their nose at the pursuit, either.  And I have several friends and relatives who’ve already finished the Adirondack 46 or are well on their way (and considerably further ahead than Steve and I are).  But there is a contingent that likes to sniff and act superior.  Or at least I’m told they’re out there.

As I understand it, the anti-peakbagging argument is that hiking should be about communing with nature and growing as a person and celebrating the journey and all of those worthy pursuits, and treating mountains like bullet-points to be checked off is disrespectful or amateurish or something along those lines.  To which I say: pffffft.

There are lots of good lists of reasons why peakbagging is cool.  (A moment’s appreciation for the splendid irony of defending hiking-by-list with… another list.)  My favorite is this one from SectionHiker.  I’m not going to make a list, even though that’s amazing.  Instead, I want to respond to the “it’s about the journey, not the destination” critique of the peakbagging pursuit.

Peakbagging is about the journey.  It’s about deciding to do something big and audacious and then trying, maybe failing, bouncing back, learning as you go, and descending every peak a different person than the one who signed in at the trail register.

It’s about building endurance, starting with the “friendliest” mountain and working your way up to the biggest, baddest summit in your sights.  It’s about brushing off the naysayers and believing in your own capabilities.  (If someone asks you “are you sure you can…” – well, no one’s ever sure they can climb a mountain.  You have good days and bad days and the mountain has something to say about whether you’re summiting or not, too.  But you can give it your best effort and you can ignore the negative voices, whether they’re in your head or outside of you.  As long as you’re smart.)

It’s about views and burning quads and scrambling over granite slabs and climbing waterfalls and calling it Saturday.

Peakbagging is about having the guts to go exploring in the great unknown.  And no, you don’t need a list to go hiking.  (Most of my hikes are not Adirondack high peaks.)  But when you decide to work toward a huge goal, it can’t be about anything but the journey.  Because you’ll reach the destination once – eventually – but you’ll be on the path for a long time before you get there.

Are you a peakbagger?

Morning, friends.  First of all, let me say, I hope you’re all okay.  It feels like we are living in a horror movie and every day a new terrifying ghoul pops up.  I never know quite what to say after awful events like what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend (of course, I’m not the President, who should know what to say).  To my friends who feel targeted by the kind of hate that was on parade this weekend, please know that you are safe and welcome in my space (both my internet space and my physical space).  To Nazis, white supremacists, bigots, and racists of all stripes – you are not welcome; get the hell out of our country.

Anyway.  It seems weird to talk about our weekend now.  There wasn’t much to tell, anyway.  Steve and I went out for an anniversary dinner on Friday night (our actual anniversary was Sunday).  We toasted twelve years of marriage, ate a ridiculously delicious multi-course tasting menu, debated Rey’s parentage in Star Wars, reminisced about past travels and fancy meals, and talked about the kids.  The rest of the weekend was pretty quiet.  Steve had to work on Saturday morning, so I took the kids into D.C. to pass along some hand-me-downs to a pregnant friend.  The rest of Saturday was pretty routine – yoga, then making the fire station – library – playground circuit.  We ended Saturday night watching Star Wars Episode IV with Peanut (who got to stay up late as a special treat).  On Sunday, we laid low at home.  I would have liked to go out for an anniversary hike or paddle, but there was so much to do around the house.  I had to do a little work, and the rest of the day was spent doing laundry, cleaning and getting organized for the rest of the summer.

 

Reading.  Bit of a quiet week on the reading front.  Mid-week, I finished A Room With a View, which I’d been meaning to read for years (literally, years) and carting from house to house.  I really, really enjoyed it, and now I can’t wait to watch the movie.  After A Room With a View I was still craving a classic, but something a touch more modern, so I picked up London War Notes, a collection of the weekly “Letters from London” that Mollie Panter-Downes wrote for The New Yorker for the duration of World War II.  The letters are beautifully written, and alternately funny, sarcastic, sad, and foreboding.  I absolutely love them and am battling between competing impulses to tear through the book and to read slowly and savor.

Listening.  More podcasts this week.  I’m alternating between parenting podcasts and book podcasts.  Best thing I listened to this week combined the two – it was Sarah McKenzie’s discussion with a children’s librarian on how to maximize your use of the library, for The Read-Aloud Revival.  I also listened to a back RAR episode all about G.K. Chesterton, which inspired me to make my two August book purchases be Volumes I and II of the Folio Society’s Father Brown Stories.

Watching.  Still loving my one night of TV per week.  This week, as mentioned above, it was A New Hope with Steve and Peanut on Saturday night.  We had movie snacks – Steve and I had zinfandel and popcorn; Peanut had pink lemonade and Pirate’s Booty – and Peanut stayed up for the entire movie and watched with big eyes.  Both of our kids love Star Wars (Nugget walks around humming “Darth Vader’s Theme”) and I could tell Peanut felt like an extra-special big kid getting to stay up late and watch the movie.

Moving.  Lots of yoga again this week.  I went to power hour on Tuesday and Friday (it’s hard to get up for a 5:30 a.m. class, but once I’m out the door I’m never sorry) and to vinyasa on Saturday afternoon.  I can already tell that it’s having an effect, because I’m looser and more comfortable in general, and I’m getting deeper into the poses in class.  Soon I will need to add some running back into my schedule – I’m doing the MCM 10K in October and I want to be trained for that one – but for now, I’m just really pleased to be back at the studio.

Loving.  We didn’t make a huge deal out of our anniversary this year – other than the very fancy dinner on Friday night – but that’s about right for our current stage of life.  We’re busy, life is busy, and the kids keep us running around.  Still, I think twelve years is darn impressive, and there is no one else I’d want to be in the parenting trenches with.

Blogging.  I have an outdoorsy week coming to you – my thoughts on peak-bagging on Wednesday, and a new favorite kayaking spot on Friday.  Check back!

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Happy Birthday, ADK!

Happy belated birthday to my favorite state park!  The original Adirondack Park was created on May 20, 1892, when New York State Governor Roswell P. Flower (yes, really) carved out protection for 2.8 million acres of the North Country.  The park has more than doubled in size since then, and now covers some six million acres.  It also contains some of my favorite places in the world.

The Great Sacandaga Lake is just “inside the blue line,” as New Yorkers refer to the Adirondack Park.  It’s one of the largest lakes in the park and is located in the southernmost corner of the protected area.

I basically grew up on the Sacandaga – sailing, paddling, swimming, running and playing.  I pretty much had the ideal childhood, and the Sacandaga was a huge part of it.

Not far from the Sacandaga – Lake George!  Lake George is one of the iconic Adirondack places, and it’s awash in beauty.

So many Adirondack icons can be found here.  Like the Sagamore Resort…

And the Minne-ha-ha…

I have fond memories of cruising Lake George on the Minne-ha-ha with my grandparents.  And last summer, my friend Seth and I got up close and personal with it – in kayaks!

Lake George is not “my” lake, the way the Sacandaga is – but it’s still special to me.  It’s where I enjoyed my first ice cream cone (I don’t remember this, but my parents love telling the story), the scene of many wanderings with high school and college friends, and a favorite day trip from Albany.

More recently, Steve and I have fallen in love with the high peaks region.  In this section of the park, most of the 4,000+ foot mountains cluster – beckoning climbers, trekkers and day-hikers alike.  So far, we’ve climbed three of them.  Progress toward becoming 46rs is sloooooooow.  But it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Cascade and Porter.

Giant.

There are so many Adirondack places I’d like to explore.  We haven’t even scratched the surface of all the iconic spots in the park – there’s the rest of the 46 to explore, for one thing, and the quintessential Adirondack non-high peak hikes, like Indian Head and Mount Jo.  There’s Lake Placid, which has always been a special place for me – for kayaking in the summer and fall, and skiing Whiteface in winter – but to which Steve has never been.  There are childhood places I visited with my grandparents – like Blue Mountain Lake – that I haven’t seen in decades.  There are new challenges to tackle, like the Saranac 6 and the Fire Tower Challenge, and waters to explore, like the St. Regis Canoe Area and Tupper Lake.  We could spend a lifetime combing the park and never uncover all of its secrets – and we live hours and hours away.  But no matter how far we live, we’ll always keep coming back to these places.

All that is to say, happy, happy, happy birthday to the ADK.  You’re a gift to the world and you’ve been a gift to me all my life.

What’s your favorite state park?

Summer Spaces

Hello, August!  (Well, it’s been a little over a week, but…)  The other day, an Instagram post popped up in my feed with the caption “August is the Sunday of summer.”  In some ways, here in Virginia, it’s more like the Saturday evening – we’ve got another few months of warm weather and long days (which is just fine by me).  But there’s no denying that August is the last month of high summer.  Back-to-school is only a few weeks away now – and we’re on the later side; we go back after Labor Day.  We’ve still got plenty of summer fun, including our big vacation for the year, ahead of us.  Still, I’m also finding myself nostalgic, looking around me and trying desperately to remember the little things about this season that will escape me, that may be different next year.  (At the very least, the little water shoes and sandals will be another size or two bigger, even if everything else stays the same.)  And because this blog is at least partly about capturing the small things that are mattering to me right now, here are the places that have meant “summer” to me this season.

This back step is where so much of the business of summer happens.  Beach towels and water shoes dry on the mat out here every weekend.  I snapped this picture earlier this summer; all three pairs of water shoes – the kids and mine – are considerably more faded now.  And the back step is covered with a film of sunscreen, since I like to use my Pacifica spray out here on the way to the pool.

Reach out a hand from this spot, and you’ll open the back door.  Just inside is another of my summer spaces.  I call it “the command center.”  It’s actually a key rack, but it’s become the gathering place for all of our summer essentials.  The basket holds three bottles of sunscreen – my Pacifica, mentioned above; Steve’s Coppertone Sport (no chemicals for me, please!); and the kids’ Babyganics.  Hanging from the basket is a little row of hooks where – in addition to our keys – we collect hats (Peanut’s floppy white sun hat, Nugget’s navy bucket hat, and my blue baseball cap), sunglasses (there is always at least one pair of Wayfarers) and Peanut’s camp tote bag, stuffed with beach towel, bathing suit, tie-dye shirt, sunscreen and pine needles.

More often than not, when we head out that back door, lathered up with sunscreen, we’re headed for the neighborhood community pool.  We can walk here, and I cherish our evening strolls to the pool – Steve hand-in-hand with Peanut, me with Nugget.  We have to stop to smell all of the neighbors’ flowers (it’s Black-Eyed Susan season!) but we get here eventually.  The baby pool is the preferred splashing spot.  Peanut has learned all kinds of water skills at camp, and she loves to be independent in the water.  When did she get so big and grown-up?

The pool is only open in the afternoons, so for morning water fun we’ve been loading up the car and driving about fifteen minutes away to our local splash pad.  Splash pads are hugely popular in the D.C. area, and we have found one that we love.  We’ve been here nearly every weekend since it opened.

With the splash pad discovery came the discovery of a new playground.  Of course, the kids love our neighborhood playground most – but the nature and pirate themed playgrounds next to the splash pad have been big hits.  Sea monsters were just made for climbing on, right?

Another summer favorite – we’ve recently discovered Fletcher’s Cove, which is the perfect boating launch point for our family of kayak enthusiasts.  More to come on this soon, but we’ve driven into D.C. twice now, duffers in tow, for serene mornings paddling the Potomac.  Fletcher’s is already becoming one of “our places” – and I look forward to many more summers watching my little paddlers grow into their boating skills.

Further afield, this summer wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Eric in Virginia Beach.  They’re moving soon, so I don’t know if Virginia Beach will be part of the fabric of our summers after they depart for sunny Florida.  But this summer, and last summer – it was.

Of course, at the end of the day, there’s no place like home – right?  I’ve spent quite a few afternoons and evenings relaxing under my big market umbrella, watching the kids dig in their sandbox and the bees buzz around my mint plant.  Living in an area where the summer season is so long, we’ve been able to use our patio as an outdoor living room – and plenty of living has happened on these bricks.

What are your summer spaces this year?

Good Monday… evening to you, my friends!  Sorry for the belated post today.  I had a rough night of sleep and couldn’t get myself out of bed to blog this morning.  Anyway – how were your weekends?  We had a gorgeous one here, and we packed it full of activities.  Sunday morning found us huddled for warmth at the splash pad.  Steve remarked, “You know you’re southerners when 75 degrees is too cold for water play.”  Ha!  He’s right, though.  We moved over to the playground and the carousel, and everyone was happy.  We’d made plans to meet up with one of Peanut’s school friends – the same friend that joined us for blueberry picking a few weeks ago – and the girls had a great time, as always.  Saturday evening found me running a race – a beer mile, which was a first for me.  Let’s just say it was more intense than I was expecting, and leave it at that.  Also, I no longer drink beer.  On Sunday, we were all a little tired, so obviously we went kayaking.  It was a bit overcast, but the cooler weather made it very comfortable out on the river.  I’m hoping to make it out there a few more times this summer and into the fall – as long as the weather holds.  It’s been a lot of fun to mix up our outdoor activities this summer.  I love how many more things we can do, now that the kids are a bit older!

 

Reading.  Bit of a slow reading week.  I finished Behold the Dreamers – which was riveting; Oprah has chosen well, as usual.  Then I started …And Ladies of the Club, which a work friend highly recommended.  I enjoyed the first couple of chapters, but it’s over 1,000 pages long (!!!) and I had to admit to myself that now is not the time.  Back to the library it went – I’ll return to it in September – and I picked up A Room With a View, which I’ve moved from house to house since high school, always intending to read it.  I’ve just finished the first section and am finding it funny, charming and wise.

Watching.  Steve and I are still going strong on our weekly movie nights.  Look at us doing grown-up things!  But not too grown-up… this week, we watched Jurassic World.  (Steve loves dinosaurs, and I love Chris Pratt and disaster movies.)  I’ve also noticed that putting movie nights on the schedule has the effect that I only watch TV on those nights.  I’ve never been a big TV watcher anyway, but one night a week is – for now at least – really feeling like the right amount for me.

Listening.  Still lots of podcast time.  I’m gradually cleaning up the podcatcher – again.  Down to about 11 hours now, and I have about 12 hours in my current Audible selection.  The best thing I listened to this week was an old (from spring!) episode of Sorta Awesome, which had me literally LOLing on my way to work as Laura talked about her pet turtles.

Moving.  I’ve had the most active week since putting this category onto my weekly check-in list!  As you know, I bought a new student pass to my yoga studio.  Nothing motivates me as much as getting my money’s worth (apparently) and last week I went four times.  Tuesday and Friday power yoga at 5:30 a.m.; Wednesday night restorative yoga; and Saturday afternoon flow.  I also ran the aforementioned beer mile on Saturday evening and kayaked on Sunday.  I’m exhausted, in the best way.

Loving.  Is it just me, or does it seem like Bookstagram is having a major Miss Read lovefest at the moment?  My feed recently blew up with shots of vintage Miss Read novels, and I can’t get enough.  I only own one vintage Miss Read – Village Centenary, a sweet gift from my friend Katie – and it’s been such fun to drool over some really gorgeous collections.

Blogging.  Telling you about my “summer places” on Wednesday, and paying tribute to the Adirondacks – which turned the big 125 this year! – on Friday.  Check back in!

Asking.  What are you reading lately?

One Year

As of a few days ago, we’ve been back in D.C. for one year now.  In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been a year.  In other ways, it feels as if we’d never left.  I expected this.

In some ways, it’s strange to be back.  We don’t fit into the life we left behind here.  There are new people living in our house (our beautiful house!) and after the first time driving through my old neighborhood, I have not been able to bring myself to go back there – although we have been back to Mount Vernon many times, and to the garden center near our old place.  There are new babies that weren’t here when we left – which is a joyful change! – and new friends that we’ve met through Peanut’s school.

We’re different, too.  While we were away, our family grew by one person.  When we left, Peanut was just a little baby; now we’re home with a big kid and a toddler, and it’s a whole different experience, living here with little ones.  It’s almost as if we are learning the city again, finding the activities and experiences that we can do with them.  I hope they know how lucky they are to be growing up in the nation’s capital.

As the one-year mark ticks past, we’re content.  It hasn’t been a perfect year – there’ve been bumps, and stressful days, and some tough moments.  But neither Steve nor I have ever regretted the decision to come home.  And it’s nice to finally exhale.  We have a multiple-year lease on our townhouse, so we will be here at least two more years – if not longer – before the moving boxes come out again.  It’s nice not to be planning a move, to have some breathing room and a chance to really think about what we want, instead of buying in a hurry and then regretting it.  And it’s wonderful to be able to relax and know that we will be here for a little while, and that when we do leave this place, it will be for a local move.  No more leaving – this is home.