Nerf War for the Big Six Year Old

750_2433.JPG750_2431.JPGIan couldn’t quite make up his mind for his birthday party’s entertainment this year. At one point he wanted to have another laser tag party, but then a week later he asked to have his party at the Children’s Museum , and then he asked to have his party at the Fun Factory (an indoor bounce house). We’ve already done the laser tag thing, the Children’s Museum is all the way in Chattanooga, and the Fun Factory was a little expensive and restrictive on time and foods. Then a brochure for a local gym750_2367.JPG caught my eye: “Nerf War Birthday Party!” The idea was great, but the cost was still a little high. The facility provided bullets and clean up, but guests would be required to bring their own guns and eyewear. Then Marilyn suggested we look at renting one of the local gymnasiums through Parks and Recreation. The cost there was extremely reasonable, and they were completely open to letting us set up for a nerf party. But then Brinn put in a call to our church just to see if we might be able to use their facilities, and that landed our winner.

With the money we were able to save on the facility, we were able to purchase guns, bullets, and safety glasses for each child invited. Brinn visited Lowe’s to acquire cardboard boxes to set up forts and barriers for kids to hide behind. Ian’s Nana took him to the park on Saturday morning so that Brinn and I were able to meet Joy at the chu750_2336.JPGrch and set up quietly without Ian’s knowledge. Several of Ian’s sweet friends from Kindergarten were able to come, some kayaking buddies, a neighborhood friend, and his best bud from pre-school even showed up for the nerf battle! Everyone was able to keep the secret, and Ian got to show up for his first surprise birthday party!

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Little Ranger Camp

received_1528105160571876.jpegIan spent the first half of his spring break attending Little Ranger Camp, a day camp at Burgess Falls State Park.  Park rangers planned a highly educational experience that walked the students through many biology and anthropological skills this week. Based on the education Ian received while having a blast, I’d say we received a bargain on our tuition for this camp.

On day one, the little rangers began camp with a guided hike over the received_1528105363905189.jpegpark’s trails. Ian has walked the main trail here dozens of times, but this was the first time he got to walk all the way down to the top of the big falls. From there, the hikers had the opportunity to take the Ridge Top Trail to see the Falling Water River from over the bluffs.

received_1528176027231456.jpegAfter a quick snack to recharge some tired hikers’ batteries, the park staff pulled out their reptiles for the educational portion of the day. I’m not at all sad that I missed the opportunity to hold a snake. Ian, on the other hand, has decided that snakes are pretty cool, and he particularly enjoyed the turtle. He came home from his first day of camp spouting all kinds of facts about scaly vertebrates.

I was able to attend day 2 with Ian, when the little rangers started their day with a 20180313_092416.jpgdiscussion about mammals. The park staff focused this lesson on using animal skulls to help children identify the differences between herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. The campers quickly determined that bears are omnivorous. When the park rangers asked the junior rangers what bears usually ate, Ian was the one kid to pipe up and answer: “people!”

20180313_102154.jpgAfter spending the morning handling skulls, the group moved it outside to learn a survival skill. The park staff taught the campers how to use materials available in the woods to build a shelter to help protect you if you are stranded overnight. This kids erected their stick and leaf shelter remarkably fast. I believe you could actually wait out a rainstorm in this shelter and remain mostly dry!

The children were also required to take part in a service project during camp. The staff 20180313_110025.jpgdetermined that the campers were going to help prevent erosion by covering up unauthorized paths were hikers have begun taking illegal “shortcuts” through the woods. Each little ranger was responsible for emptying a bag of leaves over a portion of the unauthorized trail, and then covering those leaves with sticks. By the time they finished, it was hard to tell that there had ever been a trail there!

20180313_093850.jpgBoth days of camp provided Ian with an excellent outlet to burn off some energy, but he also learned quite a bit about biology this week. I appreciated the staff’s education and ability to share that information in a fun way that kept the little rangers engaged. Ian has already decided that he plans to return to summer camp at Burgess Falls!

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Pizza Out

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Most folks who know us think that Brinn’s true passion lies in paddling, but this just isn’t true. While we paddle quite a bit, and Brinn paddles extremely well, skiing will always be his first mistress. In fact, when I first met Brinn he was back in Tennessee temporarily. His goal was to work the Ocoee for the summer while wrapping up his personal affairs in order to move permanently to Colorado, but then he started dating me. Woops. Now he has resigned himself to remaining in the south, with infrequent visits to the mountains.

The unseasonably warm weather last winter made it difficult for the local resorts in Western North Carolina to develop as deep of a snow base as Brinn prefers, and the longer drive to West Virginia didn’t quite line up with Brinn’s surgery dates or my PT schedule, so we haven’t been able to get Ian on a pair of skis until this year. Over the holiday weekend, Brinn finally had the opportunity to share his greatest passion with his little boy, and Ian finally had the opportunity to practice his moves.

Four years ago we spent February glued to our television watching as much Sochi

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coverage as possible. Between watching Joss Christensen clinch the gold in slopestyle skiing, and Shaun White’s infamous snowboard crash in the halfpipe, Ian pulled his little trampoline over to the recliner, and started jumping off the chair onto the trampoline and throwing in spins. Now that stinker is a big five year old, and he insisted that he didn’t need anyone to teach him how to ski, and he was going to work on his 360s at the mountain.

Magic Carpet

So it turns out that Ian wasn’t able to go straight to 360s as he’d hoped. Instead, Brinn started him slowly and they practiced making a pizza wedge to slow down and stop. That may also be about the extent of Ian’s abilities for his first ski trip, but Brinn seemed pleased with Ian’s progress. After a few trips down the bunny slope, Ian mastered the magic carpet, and Brinn deemed him ready for the lifts. I’m 98% certain that Ian will remember the lift more than any other part of the trip, and had the most fun riding it up the mountain. Brinn had to hold and guide Ian down all of his runs, but I can’t imagine a more qualified instructor to help him begin learning edging and turning.

I suspect now that Ian has had a taste of winter sports, we will find ourselves driving

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more frequently to the mountains. He seems to already have big plans for his next trip, and Brinn’s already thinking over Ian’s equipment needs and deciding which size skis he plans to put Ian in for the next trip. It looks like I won’t be burying my ski pants in the back of the closet anytime soon.

 

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A Dry Run

20180104_163339.jpgI bought a drysuit for Ian. Well, for all of us, but more about that another day. Back to Ian. He hates getting soaked on the river. Now mind you, he’s the kid that hates getting splashed and wet in the raft, but an hour earlier he’s swimming at the put-in, then at the end of the day we can’t drag him away from swimming at the take-out. But while he’s on a trip, he hates a cold splash. I’m right there with him. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only chump wearing a drytop in May on the Hiwassee. Ian has been wearing a splash top and pants with hydroskins underneath for a year now, and they have improved his experience quite a bit, but basically they’ve been a spring/fall fix. Winter paddling has remained off-limits for our dude until now.

Kokatat makes a great kids semidrysuit, but the smallest size available is a children’s 20180110_161909.jpgmedium. As far as kids’ sizes go, this is a very generous medium, but Ian FINALLY has grown just tall enough that he just barely manages to fill a suit out enough to safely wear one. As soon as he came sorta kind almost close to the minimum specs, we placed the order and waited eagerly for his suit.

Once Ian’s Kokatat arrived, we suited him up and headed to the creek for a trial run. Our plan was to get our boats in the water and let Ian paddle around to see how it felt to stay dry when water dribbled down his paddle shaft, or if he leaned too far and let in some water around the cockpit rim. It turns out, Ian had entirely different plans for testing his suit.

20180110_162355.jpgI often joke about personality types and use the metaphor that some people (like Ian) don’t like to ease into new things, they just jump straight in. This is exactly what Ian did with his new suit. Rather than wading out and adjusting his body temp to the cool water temp, or floating around high and dry in a boat, Ian took off running across the gravel bar, crossed his arms across his chest, and jumped right out into the water. No need to worry about Ian’s commitment to product testing –he thoroughly put his new suit through its paces.

So far we’ve had a very dry winter for Tennessee, but we’ve had a pretty steady rain 20180110_163547.jpgtoday alternating between downpour and drizzle, so I expect the creeks to actually have more than a few puddles between rocks over this weekend. Maybe Ian will get to take his boat all the way down the creek soon to enjoy his drysuit.

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Winter Is Here

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20180106_144202.jpgHouse Stark’s motto cautions all to remember “Winter is coming.” Winter found Tennessee early this year, and brought a hard freeze that transformed our local creek into an ice covered splendor. After a few days of below freezing temps, we braved the bite and chill of the air to experience nature’s sculptures.

The Upper Cumberland region usually receives its fair share of winter weather, but we 20180106_140541.jpg
infrequently find enough consecutive wintry days to produce a good hard freeze. This year we’ve actually encountered two winter events already, with this hard freeze coming first. It seems that this cold snap hit the entire state, as friends posted beautiful pictures and videos from back home in Wartburg of a completely frozen over Potter’s Falls, all the way down to Tellico Plains with a frozen Baby Falls. Rather than driving people deeper inside to huddle by the fire, this winter event brought more people outside to marvel at the glacial figures.

20180106_141648.jpgWe began our frosted expedition of Spring Creek top side at Go-No-Go where Ian enjoyed throwing rocks across the frozen eddies. The majority of the creek had enough current to prevent a solid freeze from bank to bank, but we definitely found solid H2O in the calm areas.

After walking along the creek back towards the large fall, Waterloo, we decided to walk 20180106_144026.jpgto put-in down below Waterloo to see what sights might be lurking. The chilly walk down the trail and over the metal stars held gratifying results. We found some icicles that hung so low that they had fused with the ice below and formed full columns. Brinn didn’t want us to walk directly below any of the icicles, as stabbing by ice could be a painful way to go in the event that one had detached and fallen, but the outcrop of rocks hanging over the creek bed offered a good defense. Following along the overhang, I was able to walk behind the ice to view it up close. Maybe the non-permanence of the ice added to its beauty, but its magnificence left quite an impression with us.
While I’m not in any hurry to pack up and move to Wyoming to enjoy winter’s opulence more continually, I must admit that I do appreciate the infrequent gusts of arctic air that have moved through Tennessee this January.

 

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You Can Drink the Hemlock

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Christmas came and went quickly this time, and 2017 quietly wound down with time spent at home. January, however, has found us off and going and we’ve already experienced a variety of activities.

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To kick off the New Year, the boys and I participated in a guided hike at Burgess Falls State Park, where we got to see the three falls in all their normal glory, with the addition of some beautiful ice formations. The rangers shared the local history of the park’s formation with us, and also educated us on the park’s flora and

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fauna. Guess what…the hemlock trees we have here in the south-east are not the same as the hemlock that Socrates used to poison himself. In fact, our hemlock is a good source of vitamin C!

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Burgess Falls lies south of Cookeville, just over the White County line. The Fall Water River winds through the park, and crashes over three beautiful waterfalls. On our hike, we learned that the park was originally owned by Thomas Burgess, who was gifted with the land in response to his Revolutionary War efforts. The river at different times powered a grist mill and even a sawmill. Later, construction of a flume line carried water through a powerhouse below the bottom falls. This powered Cookeville with electricity until TVA took over in 1944.

The Kisers spend a lot of time at Burgess Falls. The hike is relatively easy, but extremely

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gratifying. You can’t ask for better scenery. The rangers who take care of this park are always happy to answer questions and work hard to keep everyone safe. They’re constantly making improvements to the park, particularly with improving the footing on the hiking trail. Ian also loves the playground at the main entrance of the park, and splashing in the small streams along the trail and road.

FB_IMG_1516824497923.jpgIf you ever find yourself in the Upper Cumberland and need to kill an hour or two, stop by and check Burgess out. If you’re trying to think of a full day activity for your family, pack a picnic basket and make the drive. I promise that you won’t regret it.

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Christmas Time’s a Comin’

Doesn’t it seem like time really accelerates about mid October? Once the fall festivals hit, it just seems like a roller coaster of events clear through to Martin Luther King Junior Day. We’ve already zoomed past so many fun events that I’ve failed to bookmark. Hopefully during the dreary days of February I’ll get a chance  and find those images to share.

Kid in a binNow that we’ve turned the Thanksgiving corner of the track, we’re hurtling straight toward Christmas and so far, it seems like our plans are right on track. This time last year we were dealing with insurance battles, MRIs, car repairs, and pain. In comparison, this year has been absolutely blissful and my family has been extremely fortunate to enjoy making some great memories early in the holiday season.

We began our Christmas enfestivation with a double duty birthday trip and visited Rock RC3City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights. As always, the lights and views from Lookout Mountain stole our breath and gave us warm fuzzies to inspire Christmas shopping and party planning. We discovered a new favorite this year in the mushroom patch, and Ian set his heart on building a bear in the new area by the gem mining shop, welcoming “Greenie” to the family. Mogwai happily wandered the trail with us but had to wait outside while Ian ducked in to meet Mrs. Clause. The weather remained cool, but not cold, with a beautiful clear sky. In years past, we’ve had to bundle up in giant layers and stumble along awkwardly through the narrow passages, but instead, this time we wore long sleeves and vests and stayed fairly comfortable.

cornbineMeanwhile, back at home we’ve had a few goings on. Ian has been saving his chore money since summer towards the purchase of a John Deer “cornbine.” Through repeated trips to dump items on the compost pile, sweeping the porch, feeding the cow, putting away laundry, and checking the mail, the little man finally saved up the hefty price and we made a trip to Tractor Supply. While it’s awfully close to Christmas for toy shopping, he earned this one, and I would hate to have made him wait another month for the goal he’s worked so solidly towards.

While Ian has worked away at his chore list, Brinn has also been catching up on a few gasket repairchores. Winter paddling season is just around the corner (if it will ever rain), so Brinn has been busy replacing gaskets on drysuits. Our living room has a nice aquaseal aroma to it if anyone needs a whiff for nostalgia’s sake. I’m sure now that Brinn’s removed the shredded gaskets and put nice tight ones on, the skies will open and keep the creeks filled all winter, right? Just like it never rains when farmers cut hay… Anyone else need a gasket replaced? Now’s the time to swing by the house. I’ve been roasting venison tenderloins to tweak a recipe and Brinn’s stretching latex amidst glue fumes…

RC2Tomorrow will find us at another of Ian’s favorite holiday traditions. When we pick him up from school, he’ll join Marilyn and me at Walmart to help us ring the bell while asking for donations to the Cookeville Rescue Mission. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think they shared with us that thirty percent of their operating budget comes from Christmas bucket donations. That’s huge! Think of how many other organizations are out there ringing the bell this holiday season. It might not feel like the loose change rolling around in the bottom of your purse would actually amount to anything, but obviously it does! “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” I think you know the rest of the story.

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