Journal Memories

Potato Gun

A couple weeks back I found a mysterious device while cleaning out the basement: A black pistol grip with a red plastic barrel fused to a full-hand trigger.

I found it on Rich’s workbench, amid a pile of electric drills, flashlights, and hammers. It immediately jogged my memory, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Being there in a mess of tools, my mind went to grease gun… low temperature hot glue gun… maybe a broken soldering gun?

I set it aside and forgot about it.

Until yesterday morning, when I went down into the basement to get a screwdriver and saw the mysterious tool again. It sat alone on the workbench, which Barb and Alli had cleared to make room for the plumbers to work… and this time it clicked.

It is a potato gun.

I haven’t thought of potato guns in at least twenty years. I had one when I was Walker’s age and remember blasting through dozens of potatoes as I ran through the Maine woods with my dog.

When I finished laughing at myself for being struck so suddenly by memories, I went to find a potato… it was time to tell everyone in the house what I had found. Or rather, it was time to show them. It didn’t take long for Barb to start laughing as I shot Alli in the chest and she responded by putting a bit of potato between my eyes.

Eventually, Walker got his hands on the potato gun and spent a good while blasting potato bits into the bay… until he heard that his Daddy was coming to visit. Then Walker found a spot behind a bush and proceeded to sit more still than I have ever seen him, waiting patiently to shoot a wad of potato at his father’s knees.


Heart Full of Sky

Tonight we stood at the bank of Kerr Reservoir and watched in silence the glimmer of the stars reflecting on the water. Dozens of points of light, only occasionally twinkling at the passing of a ripple caused by a fish striking at a water bug.

We looked up, and Alli laughed.

“Go tell Walker he was right,” she whispered.

I stood there a moment longer, captivated by the expanse of stars. It has been a very, very long time since I saw so many stars. Possibly as long as twenty years. When I worked at Scout camp we saw a lot of stars, but with Williamsburg right across the river, much of the brilliance was lost in a pall of city lights rising up to make the horizon glow white. A couple of times I packed blankets into the back of my Honda and tried to take my first wife stargazing, but inevitably my efforts were hampered by cold weather and the even brighter glow of Norfolk, which was visibly anywhere we went within an hour of our house.

For twenty years I haven’t been able to see this many stars.

Eventually, I retrieved Walker from a the Mothership. Together, we stood beside his mother as she pointed upward.

“You were right,” I said.

Walker gasped as he saw, for the second time that night, the faint wash of the Milky Way churning across the night sky. He had claimed to have seen it earlier, but when we walked out to the field at the center of the campground, the western horizon was still faintly awash with the last glow of sunset and, to our aging eyes, the Milky Way was nothing more than a whips of cloud still catching the reflected sun.

But now we couldn’t deny it.

Arching away above our heads and drawing repeated gasps of “wow” from the boy child, we could see stars by the thousands. He sat at our feet for at least a quarter of an hour, searching the sky for constellations, asking his mother questions about mythology, and repeatedly craning his neck back so far that he nearly toppled over in his effort to see more of the Milky Way. I pulled up an astronomy app on my phone and we took turns searching for satellites and planets until the battery ran low.

Life has taken some strange turns in the last couple years, and just when I thought it was settling down 2020 threw a handful of bolts into the gears, but I have never been happier. Standing with my best friend as we look at the stars with her son, I know that I am finally on my way to where I belong.

2020 Journal RoadSchooling RV Living

Saved by the Mothership

It’s tough being a mother. It’s tough being one even in the best of times. But these times? Times with pandemics, terminal diagnosies of family members, and a husband who goes out to sea often? It adds to the stress exponentially.

I see many of my fellow parents (its not just mothers, obviously, who are under stress!) expressing their frustrations, exhaustions, and fears over many mediums. Their attempts to mitigate them are shared, and some work. I will admit that I have tried many a thing to bring my stress level down. Only one thing so far has made me completely forget my worries (without being foolish or careless)-

Being in The Mothership.

I don’t know what it is about this camper, but it brings me a strange feeling of control. Because we can all admit that when anxiety comes knocking its due to our lack of control of our environments or circumstances. This little house on wheels is something I feel like I can keep clean because its small. Something that, if all heck broke loose in one place, I could move on to another. Something that, instead of my kids rattling around the four walls of a house and peering through the windows at their friends longingly, they are leaping through woods and staring through windows at changing landscapes.

It’s giving us stimulation where there was none.

The hard parts are missing my husband. Missing my gardens. Missing my big bathtub. But he is often on ships, so I don’t see him often to begin with. My gardens are a struggle on our current property, so I am somewhat relieved at not having to chase them. And my bathtub? Well… I will get back to it.

For the time being I am not questioning why this is working. We don’t stay on the road constantly. We have to go back to Maryland to check in and help with my father. But I am giving myself something new to look at and think about (read here- obsess over) by planning our trips and adventures.

In the next few days we will be in North Carolina, and then deep into Tennesee, seeing more and more of these awe inspiringly beautiful mountains. I am watching my children not be stuck on electronics all the time, because there is so much to be done outside and to see.

…and there is something to be said about feeling like a super quirky family that is traveling around with two dogs and a rabbit in a motorhome!

Bandit and Sir Kip enjoying the view


Journal RV Living

into the woods

Over the weekend we took the kids into the mountains of Great Cacapon, West Virginia for a four day camping getaway with their great grandparents. We borrowed a cabin from a family friend, piled our supplies into the RV, and headed up into the mountains.

Verizon’s coverage map… not 100% accurate.

We’d heard mixed reports on whether internet was available at the cabin, so I checked the Verizon coverage map for the area and was surprised to see that there was supposed to be full LTE coverage for the length of the road we would travel. Well… that turned out to be wrong and I had to end my last class of the day ten minutes early. That lack of coverage turned out for the best though, as the lack of cell signal meant that the kids had to find alternative forms of entertainment all weekend.

Ellie and her wife became childless millionaire police officer authors. I had a couple kids with my wife and made a comfortable living as a teacher turned entertainer.

The very first night saw Ellie breaking out a deck of cards and the Life board. Over the next couple days she groused about learning to shoot pellet guns, spent hours whittling, went on hikes along the river, and seriously revived her love of nature photography. She also spent a lot of time sitting and sketching while chatting with her grandmother and great grandmothers.

“That’s a cool tree. Get a picture of us by it!” A phrase I heard repeatedly all weekend.

Walker didn’t quite catch the shutterbug, but he did reveal his inner naiad. Within a couple hours of arriving he was splashing around in the river and he barely left it except to eat or shoot BB guns the entire weekend. He hunted crayfish. He built piles of rocks. He skipped stones. I’m not a strong believer in intrinsic gender differences when it comes to play. Sure, adolescent boys have a bit more aggression due to a flood of testosterone hitting their brain, but much of the difference we see in play is more due to cultural indoctrination. That said, Walker was in full on BOY mode most of the weekend. Water! Bugs! Fire!

A rare moment when I was able to keep him out of the water for a short hike.

For all the wonders of technology and joys of digital entertainment, there is something to be said for taking time away from it to connect with family and, if possible, commune with the natural world. Tech has its place. The photos we took were captured on smartphones (iPhone X for me, Galaxy Note 8 for Ellie) or my decade old Nikon D3100 digital camera. We also recorded a few videos for the OTTO MAKES YouTube channel. But the key is that instead of focusing on our screens, we were using our devices as tools to capture nature and family, and to find the best moments we had to keep our eyes and ears tuned to our surroundings.

I caught a crayfish! And another one. And another!

There’s plenty more from the weekend and we’re on our way to Tennessee next, but let’s pause here for now to reflect on the simple joy and privilege of being out in nature. If you have any favorite experiences taking your family out into nature, go ahead and share them in the comments or over on our Facebook / Instagram.

Until next time…