But you would be wise to not take this as a sign that I am done with my work. I am simply done working on the train. I still do a little work every other night, but I am cutting myself some slack on the train here. Plus, I feel tremendously guilty that so much of Owl’s early experiences are considerably less documented than Penguin’s at this age. For instance, did you know that he points to everything now, but in a very cute way. He arranges his hand like one might a childhood finger gun and then waves it menacingly in the direction of the thing he desires. Perspective is everything. Were he a grown man on the street, he’d be in jail. As it is, he is tiny and adorable and therefore so are his actions. Owl can also couple toy trains together now and creates his own little convoys that he drives down the tracks.

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This weekend, I craved the outdoors. The older I get, the less content I feel being cooped up inside. I find myself doing a bit of a reversion back to some of the simpler joys of childhood, and I am liking the change. In my late teens/early twenties, I slept all day and spent all night in various restaurants, bars, clubs and hang-out spots.  Never spent time outside, never enjoyed the sun. Once Penguin was born, I realized that would have to change, since I wanted him to take full advantage of nature. Well, urban nature. So I have become something of a broken record with my weekend refrain. “We need to get out of the house, shake out some energy and take part in an activity.” In the spring, summer and fall, I try to make those as outdoorsy as possible. On rainy days, we always have our museum backups. But I digress. My point is, I search for any and every opportunity to get the boys outside enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, mud, plants, sand and anything else that catches their fancy.

On Saturday, the boys and I participated in my employer’s service day. We worked on a community garden project, prepping the soil and getting the plots ready for planting. I didn’t know if we would be a lot of help, but I could not think of anything more fun for all of us than playing around in the dirt. Penguin has a natural inclination towards plants and gardening, so he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He was turning the soil with his trowel, picking rocks out of the ground and throwing them in a bucket and raking the earth with a small rake to aerate the soil. Owl was helping here and there. I brought his little plastic sand trowel and he sat down in the mud and poked at it here and there. He spent most of him time picking up little rocks and then throwing them back on the ground. He also rather enjoyed playing with the dandelions in the adjacent, unprepared plot. About 30 minutes into our adventure, a group of photojournalism students that had been taking pictures for an assignment came over to take pictures of the community garden. At precisely that moment, Owl decided to take a handful of rocks and throw them into the bucket and instantly 10-15 cameras were trained on Owl as he dropped the rocks into the bucket. From that point on, every move that the boys made was documented by the students.  Children make great subjects, so I can’t blame them. And Penguin and Owl can be a little hammy in front of the camera, so they were willing subjects. It was very sweet and I am going to try very hard to track down information about these students so that I may request copies of some of the pictures.

The boys stayed for the entire event. I expected that we would only be there for about an hour, tops, but I could not get them to leave for about two-and-a-half hours. It was Owl that finally became too cold and started to want to be held all the time. On that note, we packed it in and headed over to a sandwich place for some lunch. After our nap that day, we headed to a park for a last little dose of fresh air and then called it a day.

Yesterday, inspired by the digging, I thought it would be fun to go to some sand dunes. Penguin was thrilled by the suggestion, so we gathered together all our sand toys and placed them in the car. I made us a picnic lunch and we headed off. Now, you are thinking to yourself: “But it’s late April. And you live in the Midwest. It’s not, you know, warm.” And you are correct in your thoughts. And, not only was it not warm, it was fantastically, impressively windy. Knock you off your feet windy. We started out by the lake, which was instantly recognized as an error because we could not open our eyes for fear of 2,625 sand particles mercilessly scratching our corneas. The wind was literally whipping the sand into our eyeballs and we were blinded. The boys stared at me in disbelief and I cannot blame them. At 32 and 35 years their senior respectively, I should have predicted that fierce wind and sand equals eye pain, but it didn’t register until we were all feeling the effects of sand in eye. I gathered the troops in the stoller and set back up the beach ramps to a quieter patch of sand. The nice thing about dunes is that you can find places in which the dunes are high enough to block the winds coming in off the lake. We found such a patch of calm over by the picnic area. We tucked into our food and, after a brief rest, pulled all of the sand toys out of the stroller basket and settled in for a good play. Yes, it was still chilly. Both boys had to wear coats and their noses were running a bit, but it was beautifully sunny. Yes, it was still windy, but it was very manageable and not getting sand into our eyes and mouths. In spite of these conditions, I can’t think of a time recently when I heard the boys giggling cavorting about as much as they did yesterday. It was just a thoroughly delightful time. We had a huge patch of sand to ourselves, as well as a massive sand hill that was perfect for climbing and then gently rolling/sliding down. The boys could scream, shout, laugh, run and throw themselves to the ground and no one was admonishing them to keep their voices lower or to watch out of they would get hurt. They were like little spirits freed and for a long while there, I lost myself in the enjoyment of it all. I lost track of time, of the stress of schooling and work and our cramped little apartment, and became one with the experience. It was glorious.

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I used to read Outside Magazine for the writing. The writers are surprisingly good and the stories generally captivating. I never quite got their passion for the outdoors, though. I could appreciate it, but it never quite hit home for me. I think it did as a child and then I lost what bit of that I had for a while. This weekend, though, I felt it all come back, surging powerfully as though a wave of water over a wall. It wasn’t there and then, suddenly and without warning, it was.

I think this needs to be part of my new reality – this outdoors life – but I am not sure how. I am not sure what that even means. All I know is that I really found myself on a little impromptu jaunt to a sandy dune on a cold, April afternoon. Further, I like what I found.

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