Well, we survived our first year in our new family arrangement. The deep wounds are now scars. If we don't pick at them, we will continue to heal. My go-to balm: a wander in the woods.

By the end of March the little snow we had was a distant memory. My mind was on full-fledged spring, but winter still held the cards. Ah yes, Winter. Winter liked things quiet. Winter liked things drab. Here's to the one rebellious winter resident who broke the icy silence of the woods...

a woodpecker

I was still grateful for the easy hike. No icy or muddy paths. My eyes scanned for a glimpse of color... a sign of spring...

the path through the bare trees

It seemed even the mushrooms were dressed in drab.

a black mushroom

Anna and I didn't let it get to us, though. Spring's optimism was still stirring our restless souls.

Anna sitting on a log

We were delighted to hear a few lone frogs calling out, their lone ribbity-croaks sounding like a teenage belching contest.

a pond

A favorite phenomenon of mine: tree-mirrors.

Many of my woodland wanders have been solo this year. About half the time Anna and Rosa tagged along, though. The boys all have jobs (and a life, I suppose!), so they stayed behind more than not. Nora often wanted to stay and read. Ella would rather just stay home, if there was someone to watch her.

And so off I would go. I needed to get away from it all. To be in among nature. No people. No internet. A way to clear all thoughts of my job from my mind. Time to recharge and refocus on what really mattered.

*WARNING* Motherly babblings follow!
At first this really distressed me. Why were they no longer coming along? Were we no longer a family? Are we drifting apart? Coming undone? They all came along last year. What has changed?
Ah. THE change.
Last year they knew I needed us to all be together. I needed to know (constantly) that they were all on board our little lifeboat.
A crisis is short term. It cannot last indefinitely.
Now we are in survival mode. We've traded in our rickety raft for a more enduring family survival vessel, our Long Term Plan.
And it is working.
We are really making it.
Crisis averted. Or, as they say, life goes on.
And so it has.
I understand that now.
They need to keep on living; growing. It is all right for them to have a life away from the need-to-protect-Mom mentality.
No, it is more than all right. It is required!
It has taken me most of the summer to figure that out, so as I write about these spring and summer outings I am also reliving the pain of rejection I (wrongly) felt about us living our lives not always-together.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled narration.

Another day, another wander. I seized each opportunity, not knowing if or when Winter was going to rear up it's ugly fangs again. What a difference a week makes! The drab colors were giving way to springtime's vibrant technicolor.

Evergreen Trees are really awesome artworks from any angle, but they are especially fun to contrast against the brilliant springtime blue sky.

evergreen branches against the blue sky

The prairie's lake was full of migrating waterfowl. Lesser Scaups took off and landed overhead, their white wings reflecting the sunshine like golden leaves waving in the wind.

a male and female lesser scaup

I was grateful Rosa and Anna had ventured along to experience the phenomenon with me.

Here's a couple cool shots:

scaups in flight

scaups and other migrating waterfowl

April marched in like a lamb. The weather continued mild and snow-free. Alex and Nora joined us for a evening romp. They even were willing to pose in a tree-mirror for me.

the 3 girls and Alex reflecting in a puddle

As we rounded the bay at sunset we noticed some jumping fish. We must have stood there and watched dozens of the massive monsters of the deep continually breech. We quietly discussed the why's and how's of their antics until I finally managed to get a splash on film. (No easy feat, folks. They had the whole bay to flop around in, and neither I nor my camera knew when or where the next leap would be.)

the splash of a fish

My soul contented, I drunk in the setting sun to the point of intoxication.... in which I see faces with an unabashed lack of inhibition.

geese making a face in the lake

Ah yes...

the sunset

My relentless (looking back I could add rude, demeaning, and downright accusatory) complaining about our lack of togetherness finally yielded the result I so longed for: the whole family together for the day.
In retrospect, my intuitive and wise-beyond-their years-children must have sensed the timing of my emotional meltdown was the true cause; it was nothing they were doing wrong, and deep down I must have known that. Thankfully I soon wised up to my negative remarks, and am working on replacing them with up building commendation. I truly have the most wonderful and supportive children of anyone. Hands down.

Anyway, on to our outing: we started out at the Science Museum. Thanks to the Night At The Museum Movies, we all got a kick out of the lobby's "pet."

a t-Rex skeleton

We watched an Omnitheater movie on the National Parks. Ella was a bit apprehensive about the large screen as it lowered over us.

the screen lowering as Ella watches, her mouth gaping open

After the show we hit the hands-on goodies. The girls took a crack at news casting:

Ella, Rosa, and Anna on air

When Ella manages to channel all that energy, great discoveries are made.

Ella looking into a microscope

The giant (three stories tall!) astronaut amused me to no end. Here's space explorer Ella:

Ella as an astronaut

and Anna:

Guinea-pig Caleb tried out all the old outdated "therapies" for the mental patients of the early 1900s. This chair looked downright shocking...

Caleb sitting in a shock-therapy chair

This isolation booth doesn't look very comforting, either.

Caleb in a box

Playing with shadows is algebraic. Who knew?

the girls playing with shadows

Ella takes after her big sister, and is naturally drawn to anything artistic.

Science is God's great art gallery, when one thinks about it.

Proof I am easily amused: Wrong sized objects get me gleefully giggling.

Ella and Anna on a big chair

When Ella gets tired, her body goes into a don't-stop-until-you-drop mode. The ice age never knew what hit it...

Ella climbing on a display

Anna and I both agreed: these would be cool to see in flight, yet we are relieved they are extinct.

pterodactyl skeleton

One last shot: we'll leave with the kids proving art is math. Or is math art?

artistic designs

A couple days later we all went to our community's local wildlife expo. The Raptor Center brought out some birds for us to gawk at. Here's a falcon:

a peregrine falcon

The small Kestrel:

a kestrel

a Great Horned Owl:

an owl

an (of course) a bald eagle:

an eagle

Side note: This is the summer I have decided I really like owls. I mean, really like. Maybe it's the Minion-like eyes. I really like Minions. But that's another whole can of worms...

By mid-April Spring had officially kicked Winter to the curb. Here's Anna on the prairie. The young green grasses are just visible under last seasons brown.


The damage last summer's storms wreaked on the birch groove was painfully noticeable.

a split down the middle tree

Springtime's sweetest victory medal: the first flower. (A Bloodroot)

a bloodroot flower

The woods were still eerily quiet, except for the constant drumming of nature's great drummer...

a woodpecker

Anna and I soon spotted clumps of flowers everywhere, shimmering in Sunshine's warm glow.

a bloodroot clump

This pretty vestige of Autumn puzzled us as it lazily swam along the lake's edge. Perhaps it had been entombed in Winter's icy grip?

a fall leaf

At the end of our romp we met up with Caleb, Nora, and Rosa.

the three of them under a pavilion

They relayed their sure-sign-of-spring find: a snake.

a garter snake

A couple days later the girls and I ventured to our local park for a romp on the playground. Even the small in-town lake was full of colorful exotic migrants passing though.


A massive ant nest caught our eye. We actually have a couple similar mounds in our yard. These ants will bite and climb all over any hapless soul who, say, accidentally rests an elbow on their home while weeding a garden.

a swarm of ants

Here's what Ella thinks about seeing all those squirming ants...

Ella sticking out her tongue

Alex snatched up a drone on at one of those ultra-after-the-holidays-clearance sales. It's really over the top, with a built in full-color video camera. The thing is so mind-numbing awesome to me. I would have used it endlessly as a kid. Just thinking of the possibilities gets me giddy. Just look at how cool looking this thing is:

Alex and his drone

For about a month we got all kinds of cool videos of our neighborhood, aerial shots of the kiddos at play, and hilarious takes of overly passive dog, Bubba, as he aggressive attacks the buzzing UFO. So where does the drone now sit? Top shelf of Alex's closet. It hasn't seen the light of day in half a year or so now. Poor thing.

Sorry, shameless toy-envy rant over, I promise. Back to simpler pleasures: The humble dandelion's biggest fan gleefully harvested a sure-sign-of-spring bouquet:

Ella with some dandelions

My springtime high: the return of the prairie's voice.

a song sparrow

How a conversation with the world's most clueless mother goes:
"Gee, Mom, looks like there is a storm coming."
My auditory system chooses to ignore this as pointless, instead focusing all it's energies on the twits of the many Song Sparrows, the cries of the Crows and Jays, and the occasional melodies of the still-rare Robins and red-wing blackbirds.
"Wow. Those cloud are moving Northwest. They should be right over us soon, Mom."
I become somewhat annoyed. I am the weather expert here. They all look up to me for my unfailing weather predictions. It was I who has been through a rain-wrapped tornado in a vehicle, was it not? It was I who has, time after time, correctly prophesied what any given ominous-appearing cloud might do, was it not? I am the "Mother-nature Guru"!
My eyes roll. I barely glance at the sky.
I loudly sigh. Why do they always try to find a way to cut our walks short?
"It's fine. There's no way that little thing will hit us. Not even any precip in it. Sheesh guys."
The older kids take their cue and take their leave.
I force a smile. "Hey, Anna. Ella. Come over here. You... here. That's right. Yeah! Awesome shot. Hold it..."

The girls pose for a shot on the prairie, with the storm clouds as a back-drop

The darkening sky made the whole golden prairie glisten. What succulent eye-candy!

the swamp

While my artistic/ creative mind compelled my feet onward, my logical/ reasoning mind made a feeble attempt to retake control of the situation.
What a cool shot!

red winged blackbirds in a bare tree

Hmmm.... birds only gather to roost in a large group like this at dusk or when there is an impending-
oh shut up!
Why does my logical side always side with outsiders? Can't I just enjoy the moment here? Why am I such a worry gloom-and-doom kill-joy? Honestly!
Just then, the perfect distraction...
"Mom! I found one!"

Ella holding a turtle

Ha! Didn't I tell her we'd find her a turtle? See? Everything's under control.
"Hold it up so I can take a picture of the little guy..."

the turtle

"They sure are beautiful aren't they?"

the underside of the painted turtle

Thunder rumbles.
Total bliss. Now there is a sure sign of summer knocking on the door!
And here you are, genius, out on an open prairie...
"Hey, gals." I deliberately show a calm no-big-deal smile.
"Let's head for the woods. I'll bet we'll find some fresh flowers there!"
"Cool Mom!"
So far it's working out perfectly. The still-bare trees are thick enough to block out most of the light rain. And, sure enough...

a purple violet

The rain intensifies. My camera takes shelter under my shirt. Anna pulls her hoodie up over her head. Ella just gets wet, but she loves it. My stubbornness has resulted in our being a good mile from the vehicle.
I find a pine tree. Nature's perfect umbrella. Anna graciously lends Ella her hoodie so she can continue frolicking in the rain.

Ella in the hoodie

It will let up soon.
Except it doesn't. Sigh. I text the rest of the crew.
"Yes Mom, we are safe and dry."
A weight lifts off my conscience.
"See anything worthwhile?"
"We found an old friend coming out of the lake..."

a big old snapping turtle

"Awesome! How is she doing?"
"As feisty as always."

the turtle again

Dang, I missed her! And here I am, stuck on the other side of the woods.
"Mom, when are you going to get back here? We're getting hungry."
Well, then.
I lead the girls onward, skittering from a pine tree here, a large maple leaning just the right way there. Not in a big hurry, really. We still took the time to stop and ogle at the flowers.

a wet blood-root flower

The forest seemed to turn greener before our very eyes.

a green-lined path

We finally reunited with the gang. Time for some brats and s'mores! The available kindling was a bit wet (understatement), so I threw in an empty Sponge Bob fruit snack box to assist. The results were rather freaky.

SpongeBob's face burnt into the charred box

I felt awful when it started really raining again. The kids were all good sports about it, even just standing out in the rain, eating their supper, which made me feel even worse. (As wimpish me took shelter under a pine tree...)

the kids eating in the rain

Ah well. Have chocolate; it's all good, right?

Anna eating a s'more

Needless to say, we all decided to cut our losses and head for home. If you've ever had the pleasure (cue eye-rolling and evil laughing here) of traveling any length of time with our crew you are surely familiar with our pointless "points" game.
Quick run-down: A school bus being called on you is bad. Puts you in the negative points zone. Only redemption is seeing a Slug-bug or a Prius. (One horrid winter I was in the hole like 100 plus points. Took me all summer to dig myself out of that one...anyway...) My point (no pun intended) is this Prius sighting not only earned me a point, but got my funny on with it's indecisive license plate.
(As well as earned me a parental bonus point for thoroughly embarrassing the kids by taking a picture of someone else's car. That is apparently a Cardinal Sin or something.)

the word umm on the license plate

With the school year limping toward the finish line, I seized the opportunity to have the girls play hooky... I mean go an an educational field trip. A neighboring county was having an open house at their recycling facility.
First we stopped at a nearby park for a picnic lunch. This budding tree heralded spring, even though the day's cold wind cut our picnic short.

flower buds on a tree

Here's a dandy of a face.

two dandelions making eyes

Monkey wannabe Anna did her thing:

Anna on the monkey bars

Ella kept busy taking her harvested treasures on a tour of the playground.

Ella with some dandelions

Rosa was on a roll...

Rosa on a rolling drum

The recycling center was really neat. We kept expecting to see Wall-E round a corner. We learned a lot, like just why throwing a plastic bag in our recycling bin is so bad (just don't do it!). If you ever get a chance to tour a recycling center, I highly recommend it. It was a real eye opener.

the recycling center

That evening Anna and I wandered the wood. April was drawing to a close, and the eye-candy was in full bloom. It wasn't as plentiful as last year, but the violets were easy to spot.

a yellow violet

purple violets

Those cool twisting flowers I discovered last spring were more plentiful this year (Whoever christened them with the ugly name Bellwort has no idea what beauty is).

a bellwort

This seemed to be a good year to be a woodpecker. Sure seemed plentiful in our woods, anyhow. I suppose all the storms of last year made for lots of wounded bug-ridden trees.

a woodpecker

These awesome little flowers looked like little butterflies frozen in time. They are called Dutchman's Breeches. (Must be an interesting story behind that one, pun intended....)

Dutchman's breeches flowers

I believe these are Elderberry flowers. Pretty cool little whirligigs. Smell heavenly, too.


We ended the day with a lush sunset.

a glorious sunset

Anna and I topped it off with our selfie tradition:

Anna and Shannon

Sunsets: the original pinnacle of perfection in artistic expression.


Anna and I fell into a routine. She was my go-to gal for a wandering companion. We both walked in silence, mostly.
Who exactly is this little marvel? This high-IQ wizard of a girl? She seems so solid, so grounded, yet so fragile. Rabbit lover. Avid reader of novels meant for ones much older than her tender age of 8. She has a lot going on upstairs, no doubt.
She and I are very similar, perhaps. Ours is a bond of unspoken.

We explored a park the others deemed unworthy of their time. A hidden grove of birch trees showed off their newly clothed white arms.

looking up at birch tree branches

The path rounded a small pond. The stillness made for quiet reflections, both literal and mental.

the still pond

What time is it?

Shannon and Anna selfie

That bald baby who was quick to smile, hardly ever cried, and loved just quietly observing the surrounding chaos hasn't changed much at all. Well, except she now has hair.


We will end with a beginning: May 1st. Looking forward, we anticipate a scenic journey of flowers, greenery, and freedom from the confines of school drudgery.
Here's Ella with some treasures of the day.

Ella with some dandelions

Treasure it all.

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