Graupel, Great Books, and Growth (aka: Don’t Stand Still)

Last week, something bizarre happened where I live. It snowed. Okay, fine, it wasn’t exactly snow. More like an enormous amount of hail that dumped all over the city ground during an intense thundershower. But there was so much of it, that it blanketed the streets, piled up on the sidewalks, and led to car spin-outs and a very long commute home.

On the news later that evening, the weatherman referred to the weird snow/hail/white stuff as graupel. Small pellets of soft hail. All around town, people were shoveling grapuel from their walkways. Kids — and adults — were throwing grapuel balls and forming little graupelmen and making grapuel angels on the ground.

Graupel

I had so much fun saying the new word I’d learned, that I kept repeating it. “Hey kids, did it graupel at your school today? Don’t forget your gloves — it might graupel again today!” (Seriously, it’s fun to say. You should try it. Graupel graupel graupel).

Learning new words still gives me a little thrill. In fact, learning almost anything gives me a thrill. There is something so satisfying about downloading new tidbits of information into my ever-expanding database of knowledge. Some of those new skills and ideas get lost in an overcrowded folder somewhere. But others invade my mind like a virus, affecting the way I once thought and acted.

When I read a good book — not just entertaining light fiction, but good, hearty literature — I am often presented with new words, or esoteric phrases, or ethical dilemmas that challenge me, forcing me to dig in, to question and refine my own beliefs. Same goes for a well-made documentary, film, or other work of art. These experiences won’t let me stand still. I can feel myself stretching until I have reached such dimensions that I could not go back to being my old self if I tried.

New Dimensions

It is easy for us to stand still, to grow complacent with our stagnation, to drift through the routine of our days while allowing ourselves only the passive entertainment of cat videos and humorous memes. Even I am prone to that, nodding my head to cheap pop music, or absorbing myself in shallow reading. It is like lying on a warm beach, licking an ice cream cone. Panacea to the everyday stresses that afflict us all. It is not a bad thing.

But something burning inside me refuses to allow myself to stay the same. Train yourself, it says. It will not allow me to be content with an outdated inner database, watching graupel fall and calling it snow. Eating sugary, processed foods and convincing myself that it’s good for my body. Doing nothing at all and saying that I am becoming a better version of myself.

gears turning thinking ideas

Today is Tuesday. Some say it is the dullest day of the week — not bleak enough to be a Monday, nor hopeful enough to be a Friday. I say that Tuesdays should become our most productive day. We have shaken off the sleepiness and are ready to learn, ready to challenge ourselves, ready to shine. So let’s log back into those free online classes we’ve been ignoring. Let’s buy ingredients and actually try to cook that intriguing Thai vegetable soup recipe we found last year on Pinterest. Let sunlight fall on the pages of a new Great Book filled with ideas and words we’ve never heard before. Try a new piece of equipment at the gym. Read some opposing political viewpoints and let it shake up your own prized worldview. Let’s get out there and help each other grow toward our fullest potential.

Just don’t stand still.

Think Fast! (aka: Improvisation in the Great Outdoors)

3 paddleboarders

What would you do?

One idyllic summer morning, you’re rowing your paddleboard across the middle of a large, sparkling blue lake. It occurs to you that you and your children have around 30 minutes left to return to shore and turn in your rental equipment. You row toward two of your children and give them the signal, and they begin rowing back. That’s when you notice that your youngest child has drifted away to the farthest shore. You call him back, but he is unable to turn his paddleboard around. He is stuck. You paddle hard in his direction and show him how to steer his board.

“I can’t do it!” he wails, drifting further away.

Time to think fast. Do you:

  1. Give him kind and loving encouragement (Come on, kiddo, you’ve got this!)
  2. Turn it into a fun adventure (The pirates are after us! We’ve got to escape the island!)
  3. Transform into a drill sergeant (Failure is not an option, soldier! Now row, row ROW!)

My answer: All of the above. Because sometimes you have to improvise until you find the best way to solve the problem. Sadly, all of these ideas failed, so in the end, I deserted his paddle board at a nearby marina and rowed my distraught little sailor back to safety twenty minutes after our time was up. But still, I tried.

What would you do? BearImprovisation. That is one of the great things about going camping with kids. In our complacent suburban lives, we don’t often come across so many opportunities to put our improvisational skills to the test. Sure, we have small moments when we have to make decisions on the fly (Pizza or hamburgers? Comedy or action film?), or minor breakdowns that cause us inconvenience, like when a tire goes flat (Stop and replace it or call roadside assistance?).

3 happy kiddos Mount Shasta

My 3 actual kiddos in front of said idyllic lake. Yes, this location was pretty-much perfect. Except for the thunderstorms.

But while camping many miles from home and supermarkets and people that we know, we have to learn to rely on ourselves. When things go wrong, especially when you are the only adult, you have to be quick on your feet. In the wilderness, the ability to reach into your mental (or physical) toolbox and problem solve can be a matter of life or death.

Okay, not really life or death. Unless there are bears and you’re out of bear spray. Because yeah, you could totally give up and go home. But quitting and going home is for losers.

Here are a few times when improvisation saved our most recent camping vacation:

Problem:         One of the fiberglass tent poles for our screen house splintered, rendering it unusable.

Solution:         Duct tape. Lots of duct tape. Duct tape can fix pretty much anything while camping. And if it doesn’t, then use more duct tape.

Problem:         We accidentally forgot to pack two meals’ worth of food.

Solution:         Our camp store just happened to sell eggs. Do you realize how many great meals you can make with eggs? Egg sandwiches, breakfast burritos, French toast… If that hadn’t worked, well, there were a lot of ground squirrels around. Just kidding. Kind of.

Problem:         Our tent zipper broke. As in, it came off completely.

Solution:         You thought I was going to say duct tape, didn’t you? That was plan B. We ended up using clothespins to clip the door closed. It did the job.

Of course, we had no way to solve the problem of our noisy campsite neighbors with their obnoxious kids and loud mariachi music. (Geez, did it have to be mariachi music? Talk about torture!).

I probably could have improvised – you know, talk to them and ask them to tone it down. Or offer them egg sandwiches. Or capture a few ground squirrels and set them free in their camp. But for all I know, that family could have improvised, too, by chasing me away with a can of bear spray, or worse, cranking up their mariachi music even louder.

That’s when we would have called it quits and headed home.