The Secret Life of a Happy Hiking Heart.

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My children, particularly the youngest, have a propensity to whine when I tell them we’re going on a hike, which is a once or twice a week occurrence, especially in the fall. But forced hiking is the mother of invention, and my children are never as brilliant as they are when the mood hits them to turn a hike into a video game.

They created their favorite game a while back, titled “Super Bonus Power-Up”, but last week they advanced and perfected it so drastically that it deserves recording. So that all children in all the world can learn to enjoy forced hikes.

In the past, this game has consisted on them running up to trees, slapping them, and saying “Super Bonus Power-Up!” to get extra energy for the hike. Using a rather rudimentary version of Parkour, they would bounce off the trees, therefore giving them the magical feeling of being more energetic.

But the Super Super Bonus Power-Up game really amps up the imagination volume.

Here’s how to play.

First, determine what recurring trail markers and features are available.

On this particular hike (our first time to hike the beautiful trails at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve), the children noticed that there were blazes, or trail markers,

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Trail posts,

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And an extra special and unique trail find, diamond signs that seemed to not have much use except to greatly add to our game.

Blog 171005x Turkey Creek Nature PreserveIMG_3770Are they to let bears know that the delicacy of hikers are available in this area? No one knows.

The blazes replaced trees for energy boosts – no longer could any old tree give you a power-up – you had to slap a blaze.

The signposts were extra super power-ups – because obviously.

And the diamond signs became Mystery Boxes.

(It was so Mario up in there.)

Hiking Mario Game

Mystery boxes were extra valuable – too valuable even to fully comprehend.

Me: “What’d you get in your mystery box?”

Noah: “I don’t know – it’s a mystery.”

Noah realized he couldn’t reach all the Mystery Boxes, so he began collecting large acorns, or, as he told me, Bombs. Throwing bombs at a mystery box multiplied the amount of mystery treasures you could receive. This created the need to stop every now and then as he counted slowly to ten while throwing acorns at the poor sign, but totally worth it.

(He did try once to throw a bomb at his sister to slow her down, but she quickly clarified that bomb-to-other-player combat was DEFINITIVELY against the rules.)

So then he tried The Force.

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But she seemed immune, I’m sure due to her superior gaming morals.

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For this particular hike, I further forced them to carry the backpack of snacks and water (as I was carrying my camera backpack.) They swapped it every half a mile. To incorporate it into the game, Noah named it the “Ten Pound Slowdown.” It’s a rough penalty, but you just have to roll with it.

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We made it to the top of the hill, where we found a lovely pollinator garden in which to have our snacks and water.

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(And for me to stop and take a few pictures – my own personal favorite hiking game.)

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After our snack and drinking of most of the water, Noah jubilantly exclaimed “The Ten Pound Slowdown just got reduced to the Two Pound Slowdown!!”

Talk about raising your experience points – everyone loves it when they earn lighter armor.

Their game became so fantastic that they both thanked me multiple times for me bringing them on the hike, and were shocked at how fast it had gone by.

But pictures don’t do their enthusiasm justice. Here’s a bit of terrible video I made for my Instagram Story that day, including a slo-mo stomping of a particularly power-draining puffball mushroom.

So. If your kids need help turning their video games into actual reality (or if you do – because who among us didn’t dream of entering into our Nintendo games??), my children are available as trainers and counselors. But if you ask them to take you on a hike, expect at least a little whining on the front end.

Mario Hike Pipe

The Summer Ticket.

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Summer began this year before I completely realized what was happening. Usually the first day of summer is a day of huge fanfare and excitement (me celebrating raucously because I don’t have to teach my children anything of great import for a couple months), but this year it was sandwiched between mine and Chris’ anniversary trip, our last field trip, and the kids going to day camp for a week. So it took me a few weeks before I was able to slow down, breathe in, and recognize the glories of summer.

The kids, in the meantime, asked “When are we going to have our first of summer clock tower meeting?”

It’s amazing how quickly they can turn a one-time thing into a guilt-wracking tradition.

I didn’t have any great ideas or incentives for this summer – despite my attempting to employ my brain on the topic. Chris had suggested a few summer guidelines, but nothing worthy of a grand clock tower meeting.

Finally, it was at lunch with Not-Crazy-Renee where I was given THE brilliant idea of summer. I was bemoaning how many questions my kids ask every day (the recurring torture of my life) and how many of them are TOTALLY UNNECESSARY.

She suggested the most fantastic idea ever concocted.

“Why don’t you give them tickets for the number of questions they can ask a day?”

TICKETS.

MY KIDS LOVE TICKETS.

It was so staggering that I reached for my phone that very second to order tickets on two-day Prime shipping. But then caught myself because we were at Olexa’s and people do NOT order tickets while eating quiche at Olexa’s.

(I learned via self-imposed torture about what people do and do not do in the palace that is Olexa’s on my last visit. Four and a half years ago.)

But I remembered to order my tickets that night. When they came in, I quickly hid them from my kids because the mind-blowing sight of rolls of tickets would create SUCH A BARRAGE of questions that I might have to hop a flight to Brazil just to survive. (At least Brazilian kid’s questions are in Portuguese.)

Sunday night, we went to The Clock Tower – right at sunset for optimal meeting magic.

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We sat down and went through all the boring stuff first. Summer bedtimes, amount of shows/iPad that could be enjoyed per day, what must be completed before shows/iPad were watched…

Then Chris unzipped the high-security bag and pulled out the most glorious roll of tickets our kids had ever seen up close and in person.

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They were both immediately bewitched. Ali was probably in the middle of asking a question about the tickets when I snapped this picture.

We carefully explained to them that all questions aren’t bad. But most of the questions they asked were completely unnecessary, and many of the questions they asked they already knew the answer.

They would get 15 tickets per day. They would have to give me a ticket every time they asked me one of these unnecessary questions which included but was not limited to questions starting with…

“When can we?”
”How many days until?”
”Can I have?”
”Will you buy me?”
”When will we?”

When they saved up 20 tickets, if such a miracle could be accomplished, they could trade them in for a prize.

They both loved this plan. Plus, tickets. Tickets are marvelous. Tickets make all of life more fun.

The ticketing plan began on Monday morning. Chris sat the tickets up on an easel in the kitchen and it was the children’s responsibility to get their own tickets each morning.

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Ali was a quick and determined learner. Halfway through Monday she said, in awe, “I’m realizing HOW MANY questions I ask you that I already know the answer to! I’ve caught myself so many times.” She managed to slide through Monday and Tuesday while only giving me two tickets per day.

Noah soon realized how challenging this game would be for him, and began planning ahead for his next infractions.

<Silly question>
”Bring me a ticket!”
”I’ll go ahead and bring you two – one for next time.”

<Silly question, silly question>
”Bring me two tickets!”
”I’ll go ahead and bring you four.”

Noah was out of tickets at 2:20pm on the first day. At which point I realized that I hadn’t exactly figured out what to do when that occurred. Did subsequent questions count against tomorrow’s tickets? Do I not speak to said child for the rest of the day? Perhaps Duct Tape could be in order…?

I kept count of his overage for the day – he got to negative 11 tickets by bedtime. Chris the Merciful Summer Consultant declared that “Ticket Mercies should be new every morning – he gets 15 tomorrow morning.”

And so he did.

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I rolled over to see two tickets lying next to me in the bed. I squinted, confused for a moment. Ah yes, I vaguely remembered Noah coming into my room before I was awake to ask me questions.

But despite the early start, he made his 15 tickets last until 4:40pm on the second day, and I noticed a significant amount of silence and a lovely peace about him. He was clearly trying his best to not let all of those questions come tumbling out of his mouth.

By Wednesday, Noah ended the day having performed a miracle true enough to warrant sainthood in the Catholic Church. He had five tickets left over.

My summer is going to be amazing.

Hands-On Alabama History: The Conclusion.

From the beginning

1st-Day-of-school-2016s-3 I promise this was from the beginning of this school year. Ignore the wrong dates. I’m a qualified teacher really I am.

To the end.

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It was an absolute adventure.

And my most ambitious and longest school year yet is finally over.

Although we’d finished most subjects, we officially ended it all on May 24, toward the end of a two-day field trip to Huntsville when Ali and I mutually agreed that although we did not go to all the places in my giant Alabama History plan, we were both officially done. Two days later, after she finished her field trip reports on said trip, we were DONE done.

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We did a total of 36 field trips, some(crazy)how, over her fourth grade year. (Some were multiple trips on the same day, so it’s not quite as insane as it sounds.) The book she wrote about those visits…is substantial.

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It was a remarkable year – one that we all learned more than usual and we will all remember extraordinarily fondly, but also a busy year. And oh by the way, Ali grew just a bit.

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(Noah grew too and also Noah learned to read this year but poor kid – gets overshadowed by our giant history project. Someone clap for Noah! He can read! Hooray!!)

(Okay thank you. Now let’s continue.)

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I didn’t get all of our Alabama History adventures written about during the year, but Ali’s reports are so much better than mine, so I’ll just let her cover the ones I never got around to:

Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens: This was our least favorite trip – we went in December and it was really cold that day, so we didn’t enjoy the grounds. The admission price was high, and there wasn’t that much to see. The Christmas decorations were pretty, though, and the “A Christmas Carol” theme was fun. Ali and Noah made the best of it and slid down the very uneven floors in the Antebellum mansion. (The floors were uneven because plumbing was installed post-construction. Makes for a fun indoor slide.)

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Tuscaloosa – we went to the Bear Bryant Museum and the Children’s Hands-On Museum. The Hands-On Museum wasn’t exactly history related, but it was my favorite museum when I was a kid, and I wanted them to enjoy it again. As expected, Noah now asks me to take him back there at least every other day. This was our last field trip with Carla Jean, so it was a delightful, yet bittersweet, final opportunity to enjoy our perfect symbiosis of friendship and education.

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Southern Museum of Flight and the Birmingham Public Library Maps Exhibit: we took my Dad along to the Southern Museum of flight, which was fantastic, because he was able to teach the kids so much about the planes he’d worked on in the Air Force. Like their inappropriate nicknames and the fact that the switch that drops the missiles is called the “Pickle Switch.” Important information. The kids really enjoyed this museum – they had many planes to play in and several hands-on areas. The education director, Mr. Charlie, was a wealth of information and really fun to make and fly paper airplanes with.

Southern Museum of Flight and Maps Exhibit

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: This was one of our most important visits, but also ended up being one of our most risky visits. It is definitely geared more toward teens and adults, yet I was brilliant that day and invited friends to come with us. Needless to say, our group of 11 kids ten years old and under were greeted at the front door by a museum curator with strict instructions on how to behave and respect the museum. They did well, considering, but I wished I had left Noah with someone and just taken Ali. It was a grave experience, and there’s so much Civil Rights history that happened right here in Birmingham to absorb. The videos are quite graphic, as are the exhibits. It’s both a vital and painful piece of understanding Alabama’s history.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

U.S. Space and Rocket Center: Alabama played an important part in the Space Race. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a fantastic campus (it’s way more than a museum) to learn about and appreciate that impact. They have actual vessels that have been on the moon – that alone is worth the drive. The staff there was extremely helpful and voluntary with their loads of information. They made the kid’s visit so much more fun.

US Space and Rocket Center

The Double Helix Park, EarlyWorks, and The Huntsville Depot – We did a triple take for our last field trip day (maybe that’s why we were so done by the end of it) – we first walked The Double Helix Trail in Huntsville, which is a really excellent .8 mile walking trail in the shape of a double helix. Along the way, you learn about characteristics that are on each genome and how they affect our genetic makeup. They also have an app that you can download and turn the walk into a Scavenger Hunt, which we did and the kids adored.

EarlyWorks is a Children’s Museum in Huntsville that, instead of being a science-based hands-on museum like McWane in Birmingham, it’s a history-based hands-on museum, specifically focused on Alabama History. It was an excellent place to spend an afternoon – the kids loved playing Mercantile, running through the River Boat, and setting off dynamite. Oh and their pile of stuffed dogs is AMAZING.

The Huntsville Depot had a fantastic collection of train cars that could be played on, and even had working buttons and switches that made thrilling noises. They also had a museum of old cars and a train museum. We didn’t make it in time to go into the train museum, but the kids enjoyed the rest of it immensely.

Huntsville Field Trips

Interviews – we didn’t do nearly as many history interviews as I’d hoped to. The fact that all the interviews would be in the latter part of the project (nobody’s still alive from the prehistoric days, after all) contributed to my failure in that area. By the time we got to the end of the year, I was just trying to desperately finish the field trip part of our project. We did have one interview event, however, that was seriously tremendous. Our famous meteorologist James Spann came and spoke to us and a group of about 40 other people who have been participating in our Alabama History project, or that just wanted to come and hear him speak. It was very off-the-cuff, and he talked about all sorts of fantastic Alabama stuff (such as the route one would take if they wanted to turn the four hour trip to the beach into a four day trip, going through every little town and eating at every tiny bar-b-q dive along the way.) He took questions from the kids, as well, which was really fun and quite hilarious. We talked about tornadoes and racism and small-town Alabama and everything in between. He was the perfect person to single-handedly handle the interview portion of our project.

James Spann Interview

And that’s it. I’ll see you again in four years, Alabama History.

If anyone wants the last version of my spreadsheet, they can find it here. I do plan on doing a seminar later in the summer for anyone interested in the details of how we made this year work. I plan on having a curriculum guide written up and copies of my spreadsheet ready to go, so let me know if you’d like to be a part of that.

I mean, I plan to do all that, but it is summer. And it’s been a mighty long school year. So feel free to nag if you don’t hear from me. Until then, I’ll be making like Noah and taking a nice, long, nap.

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