I have excellent compuper skills.

I’m typing…
I’m at a table and I’m typiiiiiing!
I’m at a table AND I’M TYYYYYPIIIING!

It’s so weird.
How do I use a computer?
Where are all the punctuation marks?
I don’t remember!

After years (years!) without a computer, I finally decided to plunk down some dough and get one again. I have done everything on my phone. Social media. Videos. Photos. Email. Blogging. EVERYTHING.

Tiny screen. Tiny keyboard.
I’ve gotten used to it, really. I know how to do pretty much everything, social media-wise, that can be done on a phone. (An old phone with no storage space and no GPS. Not that that’s applicable here, since the new computer isn’t going to solve the GPS problem. I just like taking jabs at my phone.)

Now I have to get used to THIS. Big, beautiful screen. An actual keyboard. A mouse? A FREAKING MOUSE.

Do I click? Double click? How do I scroll? I don’t remember!

Okay, well, I’ve neglected my children long enough. I really, really hope this is the start of like WAY TOO MUCH BLOGGING. Stay tuned!

Memories of Trees (or Lack Thereof)

I have a very bad memory. I cannot remember what I ate yesterday. I don’t remember anything about the books I read last year. I don’t remember what I need from the store, or the library, or the kitchen, unless I write it down. 

 

I have an excellent memory for late 90’s song lyrics, of course. But anything else goes in one ear and out the other. I am very careful never to tell my kids we will go somewhere or do something because I WILL forget. It is a guarantee. 

 

I suppose sometimes it’s a good thing. You can tell me the same story many times and I’ll never get tired of hearing it. I can watch the same movies every year and enjoy them just like it was the first time. 

 

But usually it’s a bad thing. 

Case in point: Approximately ten months ago, the husband and I allegedly had a post-Christmas conversation in which we decided, allegedly, to throw away our (artificial) Christmas tree. Now, I have no recollection of this conversation whatsoever. I vaguely recall being annoyed with the tree for shedding bits on the floor throughout the season. But deciding to throw it away? When we had no other replacement tree for next Christmas? Doesn’t ring a bell. And how irresponsible of us! 

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But of course I cannot deny the conversation happened. Annoyed with the tree as I was, husband probably said, “Can I throw this away?” And I probably said yes, happy to have the molting green monster out of my space and wishing it good riddance like the Grinch I am. 

 

We still have the tree box, though. I’m guessing in our annoyance, the tree was carted out to the trash fully-assembled. (But oh my goodness I hope not fully-decorated!) I walked past the tree box every day these past ten months, even with fondness, looking forward to the day we’d bring it back up. 

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Well, that won’t be happening. Soon I will be trucking my happy, amnesiac butt to wally world and replacing our old pre-lit, Madison pine (seriously how do fake trees have a species?) with a newer model. It’s time for a new tree, and new memories. 

That I will promptly forget. 

I Hate Free Stuff

Who’s with me? Everybody? Anybody?

Nobody? 

Honestly, there is a time and place for free stuff. 

Clothes for my kids? Please and thank you. 

Books? Pretty much always. 

Toys? Not in my house! 

 

Classes? Sure.

House, car, musical instrument? I’d gladly accept. 

Community event? HECK NO. 

In case you haven’t guessed, I have just come home from another complete downer of a FREE community event. 

This time it was the Pumpkin Walk at Mill Creek Park, but that doesn’t really matter. All free events suffer the same problems. 

First and foremost, if an event is free, it will be crowded. If crowds affect you like they do me (make me want to yell epithets and give me sudden, unavoidable intestinal gas), you know crowds of people are the worst. And all these people have to get there somehow, so parking will be sparse and time-consuming and grassy. (Yay!)

If there is food, it will be a) not free, or b) free but there’s a line, or (my favorite) c) possibly free but possibly NOT free but there is a line and you won’t know which it is until you get up there. 

They will try to Inform you of Services that are Available. I’ll take your magnets, because I have a lot of kids and they make art and it needs to go on the fridge. But I don’t want to give you my name and number so you can call me and let me know about all the Programs I might need because I came to a free community event so obvs I’m poor and therefore cannot possibly find information on Programs myself because don’t you know poor people don’t know how to internet? (Pet. Peeve. Poor doesn’t mean stupid. I can internet. If you want my name and number to contact me about your Programs I will totally fake name and number you. Signed, Penny Phillips.)

And of course no free event would be complete without disorganization. I have helped plan free events before and I know that it is possible to plan an event in the most organized way with the most organized people (hello, twenty-year-old me!) and still find that the end result is not as organized as you’d hoped. Chaos happens. 

But what kind of Pumpkin Walk is it if there are so many people in attendance that they are simply following a pumpkin-lined path like water in a log flume and cannot even see the pumpkins? What is even the point? And if people leave the path to get a break from the endless, pointless herding, they get yelled at by staff! (Not that this happened to me personally… but I heard it happened to some other lady… some Penny Phillips? Idk.)

If the point is simply to walk on a highly-specified garden path at night, why have people carve pumpkins? Why drive to Youngstown in the dark? Why not stay home and eat ice cream and, I don’t know, work on your blog?

I wish I could say I’m done with the free community events, but I’m sort of in a bind. I am (not stupid just) poor and cannot pay $12 per person to go to one of those family farms with the corn maze and pony rides, or the Christmastime equivalent. (I suspect the pricey events have similar problems anyway.)

What do other families do? Stay home and watch Boofest for the thousandth time? Brave the crowds and chaos? Or shell out the dough for the costly events and chalk it up to priceless memories?

I don’t know. I do know that I’m swearing off the Pumpkin Walk in the future (just like I did last year), and I’ll pick up my White House donuts on a weekday. 

Hikes We Like Part 2: Deep Lock Quarry

Just because we like something doesn’t mean we ever want to do it again. Take, for example, our hike at Deep Lock Quarry.

This year for the first time we (my Mountain Sam and I) decided to attempt the Summit Metroparks Fall Hiking Spree. You get three months to complete eight hikes from a list. Once completed, you receive a hiking stick and a shield, and new shields every following year.

Deep Lock Quarry wasn’t one of my top choices because it’s a bit farther away than the others. But I showed pictures to Sam and we both thought it seemed cool and worth the drive.

We were right. It was cool. It was worth the drive. We will never go there again.

Things started off fine. We arrived, had lunch, found a cool stick bug hanging out on the side of the bathroom which the kids poked with sticks though I repeatedly asked them not to.

Several signs along the trail explain the unique features left behind from the history of the area. There are old railroad tracks, building foundations, and mill stones.

But the coolest (and most deadly) part of all is the quarry. (Duh.)

Check this out.

Now, pictures of this thing are totally misleading. From what I saw in other people’s pictures, I thought it was maybe 2 ½ to 3 feet from one ledge up to the next.

Double it.

Immediately the kids started looking for a way to get up there and found this path on the side.

This is NOT the quarry trail.
In fact, this is not a trail at all.
This is, in reality, the road to impending doom.

I’m a grown woman and I’ve done some hiking. I don’t mind climbing some rocks and grabbing hold of some roots and getting dirt under my nails.

But not with a three-year-old on my back. I don’t recommend it.

By myself, I totally would have done it. With a kid on my back, never. The problem here was that my other kids had already started up and one of them was freaking out.

My Mountain Sam was suddenly in over his head.

It is so so hard to direct someone on how to climb when he is seven and panicking and his nose is starting to bleed and you’re trying not to maim yourself or the child on your back.

I must mention here how brave he was. He followed my directions to get to a safe place to wait while I used my super human strength (thank you, Chalene!) to climb up to the top, safely deposit the three-year-old, and then pull Mountain Sam up, too.

Notice who’s smiling. That girl had no troubles whatsoever. Talk about super human strength.

We took a few pictures from the top which I will NOT post here because my mom reads my blog. Just don’t think about it, Mom. Sunshine and rainbows. Anyway, we’re all fine now.

After the harrowing climb, Sam didn’t want to continue but of course we had no choice. We did reassure him that we would NOT need to go back down by way of impending doom. In the end, we all enjoyed the rest of the hike.

All told, I would recommend this hike. Just stay on the trail. Please. Or at least don’t go to impending doom with a baby on your back.

And if you absolutely must, fine. I won’t tell your mom.

38

I decided to go to Presque Isle for my birthday this year. I like to do free things and I like to take the kids places where they can run around and yell and be messy (instead of doing those things in my house).
As with any trip, before we could get on the road, we had to spend $30 at Target because now that it’s August, the dollar spot has been taken over by BACK TO SCHOOL and the only beach toys left are the expensive ones in the toy department. Lesson learned.
Any birthday trip must include yummy food, and I was delighted to discover that Erie has a Krispy Kreme! I’ve had Krispy Kreme donuts from a gas station, but never from an actual Krispy Kreme store! I didn’t know they have so many varieties. I had cake batter!

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We took our donuts to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and enjoyed them (and our lunch) in a nice pavilion.

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Inside there are some exhibits about Presque Isle– its formation by glaciers, the birds, etc. They also have a fifteen minute movie that I can’t tell you about because we didn’t go to Presque Isle to watch a movie. I would guess not many people do.

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We did, however, take the elevator to the top of the observation tower. Check out that view! The tower and the environmental center are free, BTW.

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From there, we went to the beach. I had a little trouble navigating the peninsula because the main road is a one-way loop. The beaches are on the north side but you can’t really see them from the road so it’s a bit of a guess how to get where you’re going. You have to pass where you’re trying to go and then backtrack, like a divided highway with a median. It was tricky. And this is how we ended up on the beach fully dressed.
If we had driven past the beach entrance, we would have seen the bathrooms, changing rooms, and playground. But we didn’t, and I assumed that stuff was on the beach. (Can you tell I don’t go beaching very often?) Once we got on the beach, we couldn’t be bothered to go back and look for a place to change. Plus I had sand in my shoes and just wanted to get barefoot already!

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As we walked back to the car, we spotted the playground. Aha!

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The park offers (free!) pontoon rides four or five times a day during the summer and we managed to get on one. They had a record number of people show up for the evening ride and I was ready to go find something else to do, but the wonderful park volunteers managed to run a second tour. They even provided binoculars. We didn’t see too much in the way of non-bird wildlife, but we did see several kingfishers and five great blue herons (or possibly the same heron five times).

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Before the boat left the dock, we made friends with another family. All the kids were catching toads in the grass. One lucky toad got to go on the boat ride, courtesy of my kid and his shorts. I didn’t find out until after. Maybe I should institute patdowns.

After the lagoon tour we had time to hurry to Sunset Point to close out the day, but everyone else had the same idea and there was no place to park. So, much to the dismay of the thundering pickup behind me, I drove down the road with my turn signal on until I found a good spot. There were a few people on the beach but it was still a lovely view and totally worth getting sand in my tennis shoes all over again. (I might cave and get sandals. Apologies in advance for my ugly toes, America.)

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I had been really debating about dinner. There’s a local place called Sara’s that comes highly recommended but as we drove in through Erie I saw we had lots of other options. In the end, I didn’t want to take a chance on an unknown (even a highly recommended one), and it looked super busy as we drove by anyway. We ended up at an IHOP for fluffy towers of goodness.

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Everyone had plenty to eat and I drove home in the darkness singing along to the radio while the kids dozed. I thought I might regret choosing to go to the beach on my birthday and yeah, I am still finding sand in places and will have lots of laundry to do and my van looks like we live in it. But it was definitely one of my favorite birthdays.

Why Do Libraries Suck So Much?

My eloquent oldest child poses an important question. Why DO libraries suck so much? Over the years we have had some good library experiences, but they have been overshadowed by so many bad ones! And there seem to be more every year.
I love books. I hate libraries.
A library is supposed to be a place where curiosity is satisfied, arts and entertainment are available, the disadvantaged can level up.
Where knowledge is free.
Instead, it’s a money-hungry kingdom of rules, a palace presided over by princesses in pencil skirts and chained glasses sitting on circulation thrones of disapproval as cash registers clang brashly in an otherwise silent oasis.
Are libraries too loud?
That clatter you hear is the cha-ching of commerce.
I bought a book from the library. It cost me twenty-five dollars. What a deal.
It seems a book, belonging to the library, took on some damage while in our possession. The book was deemed unfit for circulation, and so we were forced to buy the book, at full retail price, or my account would be locked.
Unfit for circulation, you say! Let me see this horribly damaged book!

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The first page of damage

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The stain by page 13

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And by page 29, gone

Clearly illegible.
Such damage.
Much destruction.

Also keep in mind, this book is nearly 300 pages long.

Yes, this is the damaged book that the Niles library would rather remove from circulation than allow to remain on shelves bringing countless hours of Lego delight to hundreds of kids.

The young librarian (you give buns a bad name, btw) told us they would keep the book under the circulation desk for 30 days while they allowed us time to pay the charge. If we paid the $25 during that time, the book would be ours. After that period, the book would go… where? She couldn’t tell me. Most mysterious. A book with such ghastly damage as this surely would not go… gasp… back into circulation? Or anywhere else where its ten grievously stained pages might grace the eyes of an innocent Lego fan who would be scarred for life having looked upon its irredeemably tainted contents.

I would never pay $25 for a Lego book. I hate paying more than $5 for any book. Most books I own were bought used. Very, very rarely I will buy a new paperback if I’ve exhausted my library renewals and still haven’t finished and cannot wait until it’s my turn to borrow again.
This is why I have only a random few of the Harry Potter books.
This is also why I sucked it up and paid the stupid fine.

I am a heavy library user. While the Niles library doesn’t have much to recommend it (tiny children’s department, poorly-run programs, treacherous balconies surrounding half the fiction and all the non-fiction), I am a slave to the card. The Niles library is in the same network as Cleveland, and CLEVNET has EVERYTHING.

I especially use CLEVNET for Overdrive, to borrow ebooks and audiobooks. If I didn’t pay the $25, my Overdrive would be locked until I did.

Yes, we did the damage. Is there not a damaged book fee? Say, fifty cents and a shamefaced apology? As much as I disagree with paying FULL PRICE for a slightly-damaged book, I couldn’t live without my CLEVNET. And so I bought the most expensive book I have bought since college (those Norton anthologies will be mine forever!), purely so that my entertainment and education and, more importantly, that of my children, can be allowed to continue. As I forked over the cash, an iceberg of silence passed between me and the librarian in the space where my thank you wasn’t.

Someday, there will be a place where everyone can borrow books and gain wisdom and better themselves without cost. Someday, libraries will be free. That day is not today.

Wide Open Spaces

That song was a hit by the Dixie Chicks right around the time I was headed off to college. And boy I felt it. That whole album was my soundtrack that year. I played them all on my hand-me-down acoustic guitar and my friends and I would listen to them as we went driving around town. 

Where I went to college in Kentucky, you had to drive to go anywhere. Yes, we had a Wendy’s, a Save-a-Lot, and a Bible bookstore, but if you wanted Taco Bell or a 24-hour Walmart you’d have to drive 20 minutes. We got used to driving. In fact we enjoyed it. 

I didn’t have a car for most of my college years, but my friends did. We drove to Walmart late at night in our pajamas, we went ghost-hunting in a friend’s hometown, and best of all we drove just to drive. 

During my four years of college, people would often ask me why I would choose a tiny, Methodist school in the middle of nowhere. One reason was the wide open spaces. 

There were mountains, hollows (that rhymes with callers), farms, rivers, and more stars at night than I’d ever seen at home. I’d hop in a friend’s car and in two minutes we’d be on a road I never heard of, careening into the unknown, over hills and around blind curves, finding ourselves at a darkened, single-stoplight town, just to turn around, turn the radio back up, and return to campus. 

Going for drives has always been therapeutic for me, if you don’t count the times when I had car-hating babies. Those were rough times. All I wanted was to breathe some fresh air and listen to music at 65 mph and whoever was a baby at the time just didn’t want me to be happy. Darn babies. 

But other than those periods, car rides have been a haven, especially in the evenings around sunset. The kids are getting restless (or worse), so I announce, “We’re going for a drive.” Sometimes these drives are Dr Pepper retrieval missions, and sometimes they end up with destinations. (Recently one such drive resulted in half a dozen donuts, much to everyone’s surprise. Mmmm donuts. Scenic.) 

But usually the drive itself is the objective. We start off in relative silence, the sounds of wheels on pavement lulling everyone into a calm, reflective state. While the troubles of the day roll off the back of the van like unsecured luggage, I turn the music on loud enough to be heard over the whirr of an old engine’s reluctant acceleration. 

As the evening falls, we turn back homeward, better people for the fresh air, the music, the inevitable horses and deer and bunnies we’ve spotted along the way, and the much-needed nap the youngest couldn’t resist. 

And just like that, we are transformed. Not permanently, not even for a day. But for the moment, the drive has had its effect and I am renewed for the couple of hours left in my day before I can put everyone to bed and find solitude not just in the front seat but in a living room all to myself.