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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Camp Pain (July 31, 2012)

The world can be divided into two groups: those who do and those who do not. I speak of camping, of course. Actually, let me amend that. There are campers, glampers (those who need glamour in their camping) and non-campers.

Personally, I’m not sure the glampers really need their own category. If you need luxury in order to “rough it,” you’re really a non-camper in denial. Isn’t luxury camping a contradiction in terms? Camping is supposed to be about minimalism. It’s about packing only what you truly need, and leaving the comforts of home…at home. Glamping involves perks like outdoor hot tubs, spas, champagne on ice, Louis Vuitton suitcases, mani-pedis. If Ivana Trump were to camp, she’d glamp. She’d bring essentials like a butler, personal chef, $500,000 custom RV, diamond-studded hiking boots (for image only, not actually to be used on a trail), and 24-carat gold lantern.

And I don’t throw this gauntlet down because I see myself as a rough, tough camping maverick. At best I’m a reluctant camper. If I have to choose a side, I’m a camper, but only just barely. I’m willing to rough it in various ways but I also need enough food and sleep so that I’m not the poster child for Camping Gone Wrong.

I dread the thought of missing a good night’s sleep. Sleep is one of the only things that makes this busy mom’s juggling act semi-manageable. When this camping trip first was mentioned, I immediately flashed to all the terrible nights of sleep I’ve had camping. My mouth went dry. They wanted me to camp (not sleep) for three nights? Impossible. I put my foot down. In my semi-timid way. And insisted that it be a two-night trip, rather than the three nights they proposed. I’d won the battle. But the war scared the life out of me. I knew the others wanted to go, so I decided to be a good sport and join the gang. I want my kids to have happy memories of family campouts, so I agreed to make the trek into the wild. Was I truly excited about packing up every belonging we owned, leaving nothing behind (except good sleep) and heading for the mountains? Well, let’s say I had mixed feelings.

On departure day we divided the pack list. Hubby gathered gear that lives in the garage and I tackled all the indoor stuff: clothes, medicine, food, pillows. Despite my misgivings I felt a little excitement as things came together. As we pulled out of the driveway to embark upon our adventure, I began to scribble notes on camping. I asked the family what they most looked forward to on the trip. I jotted memories of camping trips taken with my grandparents. Nostalgia washed over me. I realized how much those memories of camping trips decades ago meant to me. A blog post formed in my head during our drive to the dirt. Er, campsite. I knew anyone who had ever tried camping would be able to relate to the glories as well as the grime of my camping tale.

As each mile passed, more camping memories popped into my mind. I pondered what camping entailed. Before we had the kids, Hubby and I had camping trips that involved no cooking whatsoever. It seemed like a lot of trouble to schlep cooking equipment and a cooler packed with a thousand pounds of ice and food, and to try to cook on a Barbie-sized stove. So we slept in a tent and bought food that didn’t require cooking, or in the case of camping in Catalina’s Two Harbors, went to the snack shack for nibbles. After all, at its most basic level, camping requires sleeping in nature. It’s the sleeping element—not the cooking part—that separates camping from grilling.

Yes, we were on our way to a true camping adventure. We had tents for sleeping, a camping stove for cooking, and mountains of gear. Traveling circuses probably don’t pack as much gear as we did. But when you camp with kids, you need to be prepared. Hubby and I could bring a tent and two sleeping bags and be okay (well, we could survive—I’m not saying it would be amazing) but when you have little kids you need a lot more stuff for camping. There’s the usual stuff (bedding, clothes, food) and there’s stuff that might not be so obvious to you if you haven’t camped with kids yet. I’ll share a secret: you need tons of band-aids. For camp pain. There may be very little blood actually shed, but camping with kids means they will stumble over rocks, get scratched by trees, trip on tent tethers, fall off picnic benches, and amass countless tiny scratches requiring giant supplies of band-aids. If for no other reason than the comfort a band-aid seems to bring them. Fine. I brought some. When that supply ran out we raided the First Aid box for more band-aids.

For me, the worst camp pain is trying to get comfortable enough to go to sleep. Many times we’ve camped with just a thin thermarest between the rocky ground and us. In more recent years we upgraded to an inflatable mattress but I still found myself waking up. Maybe it’s simply a byproduct of trying to sleep in an unfamiliar place.

Speaking of pain, the presidential campaign is in full swing, in case you are (somehow) unaware. You’d have to escape to the mountains to avoid mention of the candidates, the character attacks, and the economy. Escape to the mountains we did, where the country is not described as red or blue, but many shades of green. And yet we still talked about politics!

Since I’m already on a snarky note, here are the worst parts of camping:

  • Rough ground under the sleeping bag
  • dirty…everything
  • dry hands
  • bad sleep
  • car alarms

And now for the best parts of camping:

  • sixty-foot pine trees
  • sunlight shining through oak leaves and pine needles
  • Birds chirping
  • The rush of the breeze through the trees
  • The scrunch-crunch of dried pine needles under foot
  • Breeze on my skin
  • The rough bark of pine trees
  • Pine trees
  • Campfires
  • Toasted marshmallows

I feel like I must acknowledge the uncomfortable parts of camping but there were many good parts too. I liked seeing the woodland creatures: robins, blue jays, a bunny, a lizard and many scurrying chipmunks. Plenty of butterflies, too: yellow ones, white ones and Monarchs. Orange, white, yellow and purple wildflowers dotted the meadow nearby.

I asked our group what they liked best about camping and here were their answers:

  • Being with family.

  • Playing with my toys (!).

  • Going into nature.

  • Having fun.

  • Sharing nature with my family.

  • Waking up in the trees.

  • Cooking outdoors.

  • Remembering happy camping trips from the past.

Camping is different from regular life in various ways but one thought I had while we packed up camp is that we were very much guests of nature. You try hard to return the campsite to the condition it was in when you arrived. Of course, we weren’t in the condition in which we’d arrived. We desperately needed showers, the dusty car seemed to be packed with every item we owned, and I yearned for a good night’s sleep. But we’d done it. We’d camped, we’d bonded, we’d oooohed and ahhhed over nature and we’d created memories. Plus, we hadn’t been rained on!

I’ll close with several camping quotes I found online. One is by a renowned conservationist, the next is courtesy of a comedic author, and the last is by someone like me, someone who has camped (maybe the hard way). I think this rounds things out.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”                                                                                                                       (John Muir, 1901)

“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.”                                        (Dave Barry)

“I thought YOU packed the toilet paper!”


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Unsolved Mystery (July 25, 2012)

Does anyone know what these are? Recently I noticed these pointy things growing on some trees. I wish I'd paid better attention to the kind of trees they were. I was near some Eucalyptus trees at the time but who knows? The remind me of spiked wrecking balls. My online searches aren't yielding anything when I search under "acorn cluster."

The moment I saw these I knew they would look cool painted in a metallic color. It brings out all their points and shapes. Now it looks like a cluster of birds. Gold birds? Sure.

If you have any info on these mysterious plant ornaments, please notify me immediately. I'm SO curious!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Delightful Dahlias (July 22, 2012)

The colorful plant princess: the gorgeous dahlia.

Today while driving I spotted a corner house with a beautiful garden that featured dahlias. Naturally, I stopped to take a few photos. Here’s what I saw:

Inspired by the dahlias, I just did my first Google search on these flowers. Did you know there are hundreds of kinds of dahlias? I didn’t. I knew that there were different sizes and colors and types. But hundreds of kinds? Wow.

Below is the aptly named Pom Pom Dahlia, which has 360 degrees of saturated color.

Some dahlias have spiky petals, reminding me of sea anemones. Some are multi-colored. They look like they’ve been painted by someone with a patient hand. Each one is a work of art. Some are giant (these would be Dinner Plate Dahlias). I like dahlias for their various shapes, their dramatic size and their bright colors. They are full of life and they dazzle.

Maia has been a good friend since we were eleven, and she loves dahlias, too. She knows a lot more about them than I do, but everyone has to start somewhere. Her dad also loves dahlias, and gave me a few last summer. I’m happy to report that his dahlias are growing again this summer in my yard. Just leaves for now, but almost daily I see more growth, and I’m excited about the blooms on the way.

Dahlias first came onto my radar a few years back when we were visiting rain-abundant  Vancouver Island. In twenty-four hours we saw three things that I had not seen before: logging trucks, a bear climbing a pear tree, and huge, dramatic dahlias. Toto, we’re not in San Diego anymore.

Obviously, dahlias can grow in San Diego. But maybe their hearts are in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Canby, Oregon claims to be the dahlia capital of North America. They do a big dahlia show there each summer. Maia, you interested? 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Big and Small (July 21, 2012)

The garden I joined is really coming along. It’s amazing how quickly it was turned from a patch of grass and ivy into a growing garden with raised beds, irrigation, and plants and vegetables of all types. Ground was broken only 2 months ago. We shoveled dirt and drilled boards to make beds over the course of five or six Saturdays. Some people did a lot more work, staying extra hours to coax the irrigation system to life. We planted a few weeks ago and already some people are harvesting vegetables. I picked my first one today, a single yellow pear-shaped tomato.

Only an inch long but it had good flavor. Is it worth blogging about? Sure! My garden is growing and there’s edible stuff in there. Nature really is amazing.

As for the big things in the garden, as of today there is a composter that is almost the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Seriously. It’s an 80-gallon tumbling wonder. The photo below shows how giant it is (with a gallon of paint next to it for size comparison).

I’m painting a wall that frames one side of the garden. Right now it has beige primer on it (the wall has only slightly more primer than my hands do! I started out with plastic gloves but I ditched them when they got hot and uncomfortable.) Stand by for photos of the mural when there’s something on it besides primer.

This garden is really special to me. It came out of nowhere, just when I was ready for a project and a connection to neighbors with similar interests to mine. It’s such a friendly group of people, do-it-yourselfers like me, who don’t mind shoveling dirt on their Saturdays, who lend tools and share plants. One lady helped prime the wall yesterday. She loves to be involved and she helped make the raised beds, too. She’s in her late 60s, and while she’s small in size (less than five feet tall), she’s big and mighty in her enthusiasm. She embodies what this garden is about. When faced with turning a wedge of rocky land into a garden, some might say, “Why bother?” But like my gardening-and-painting friend, this group said, “Why not?” And they made it happen. It’s about community. We’ve learned new skills and made new friends. Our plants are growing, and so are we.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Room with a View (of its own Endless Clutter) (July 9, 2012)

Today I tried to tackle one of the most grueling, daunting tasks one can face in this lifetime: I attempted to clean a child’s room. (And by “clean” I do not mean spending ten minutes with a duster and a vacuum. This room is as packed as a storage unit. I’d been avoiding this dreaded task for several weeks but we could not get across the room anymore, as the stuff on the floor was…hiding the floor. Time to face the mess, er music.)

This particular room has suffered for several years from a condition that often goes undiagnosed. It’s called IFS (Invisible Floor Syndrome). The floor is there but you can’t see it under the debris covering nearly every inch.

Part of the problem is that this room is the smallest in the house. If we’d been able to anticipate this issue earlier perhaps we would have reassigned rooms, switching their contents as it became clear whose collections would be best matched with which rooms. The real-life equivalent to the computer game Tetris (which, for those who don’t know, involves turning geometric pieces to fit into shapes left by other geometric pieces, all within a limited time). With Tetris, you need quick thinking to anticipate which shapes will fit where. I’ll admit freely that I was never a great Tetris player, and I seem to suffer from the same lack of skills when it comes to fitting people’s stuff into their rooms. In my defense, when this room stopped being my art studio and became a child’s room, all the other rooms were already taken, so it wasn’t that I thought, Oh, we’ll never fill this gigantic room. It will remain prison-cell austere. It was our only choice! At about this time a neighbor who works with young kids laughingly labeled my youngster’s tendency to hold many things at once “squirreling.” She explained that some kids like to gather as much as they can, all at once, perhaps readying themselves for winter, just like squirrels with their acorns.

No good deed ever goes unpunished, right?! I soon realized that my plan to unearth this room was a much bigger task than I’d anticipated. My first idea was to sweep (perhaps literally) the stuff back into plastic boxes, just to get it off the floor, so we could reach the closet again. But I realized that a dresser that gobbles up space could be moved out and that if I moved a few pieces of furniture, the room could have more usable space. First I needed to move the dresser. But in order to do this I had to move the heavy wood bed (because the dresser was anchored with an L bracket to a stud, which was just an inch or two behind the bed). Had to clear the floor at the foot of the bed in order to move the bed. Did that. (Boy, this is a good workout! I’m sweating and my heart is beating). Finally I unfasten the dresser from the wall. Found a library book under the bed. It’s been there so long I think it predates libraries.) Now I need to move the shelves that were in the closet to the new vacancy next to the bed. Must unload the stuff from the shelves (really only a half a job as the child in question had removed most of the contents for me, sweeping them onto, yes, the floor.) Now I have an idea of how to make the closet more efficient. Some sawing. Drilling. Might need to paint. Won’t bore you with the details but I can’t find the longer screws so this part will have to wait. Sigh. Stare at mess again. I’m overwhelmed. There are moments where I nearly hyper-ventilate as I look at the endless piles of stuff I need to sort. So I repeat like a mantra, This room is going to be GREAT! But reality and fear set in and I find myself alternating between nearly hyper-ventilating and the occasional moment of confidence about how amazing the room will look if I ever sort through the ocean of stuff on the floor.

Eventaully I realize I should have brought a trash can into the room. I call for help and someone brings me one, realizing that I am trapped behind quite a mess. The trash can helps. I make a giant “Keep” pile as well as a recycling box. I also start a crayon pile. I use a new purple crayon to scribble a list of things I’ve found. This seems like a creative way to get through the annoyingness (yes, it’s a word) of my current task. I realize this is prime blog material. My friends (especially those with kids) will howl with laughter and nod with commiseration as they read about today’s discovery of a Mt. Everest-sized mishmash of broken toys parts. So here, my readers, is a partial list of what was found in my child’s bedroom today:

·         Crayons, broken and whole

·         Pencils and pens (some no longer working, having been separated from their caps)

·         Drawings

·         Paperclips

·         Confetti-like pieces of broken Styrofoam peanuts. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them.

·         Single socks in various sizes

·         Clothes

·         Toys (both broken and intact)

·         Puzzle pieces I’d wondered about for years

·         Buttons

·         Kitchen gadgets

·         Plastic bags

·         A partial deck of cards

·         Uncooked pasta (Rigatoni, in case you’re wondering)

·         Band aids

·         Empty gift bags

·         Hair bands (I’d wondered where that new package of 20 bands had gone)

·         Cotton from a formerly stuffed toy animal

·         Flash cards

·         Beads

·         Sequins

·         Books

·         1 Elmo slipper

·         Shells

·         Coloring books

·         Halves of plastic Easter Eggs

·         Flossers

·         Christmas tree ornaments

·         Wrapped candy

·         Leaves

·         Stones

·         Pinecones

·         Mr. Potato Head’s Ear (no sign of Mr. Potato Head himself but we remain hopeful)

Not Found: the book How to Declutter for Dummies

If you were to point out that I should have managed this dangerously big accumulation of stuff before it reached avalanche status, I would not argue with you. But I do the mom thing, I sometimes work, I do service hours at school and during the school year I was just too tired and overwhelmed to tackle this project. Every once in a while I’d clear the middle of the room, putting stuff into plastic boxes, but I rarely had the time or stamina to sort the stuff into groups of like things. Despite my hopes, the mess did not sort itself into boxes. Well-intentioned people gave us gifts or toys their kids had outgrown. And like rising bread dough, the mess increased in size while I was busy with other things.

Where is the fine line between being a curious soul who likes to look at stuff, and plain old hoarding? If anyone has thoughts on this, please let me know! We may need an intervention.

Well, it’s time for me to get back to the room. I’ve made some progress (after all, I’ve been at it for quite a few hours) but there are more papers to sort, toy parts that need reuniting with their friends, debris to vacuum up and the closet that needs its rod back. I’m somewhat hopeful about the potential. But if I haven’t surfaced by the time school starts this fall, would you send someone to the room to see if I’m still picking up Styrofoam confetti?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth: Flags, Fireworks, Food, Fun, Freedom! (July 4, 2012)

Another Fourth of July. In some ways it was different from other Independence Days. But there were familiar elements, including fireworks. Love those. They’re only once a year, and skipping them is not an option for me. I look forward to them all year long. At dinner we used the red and white gingham table cloth that always reminds me of my grandparents and so many July 4th barbeques at their house.

It’s almost July 5th and this patriotic party animal needs sleep. But I had to post today, one of my favorite days of the year. Before signing off, I’ll share two photos of the edible art creations I made today. On thematic holidays, you’ve just got to make food festive. It’s so fun!

Happy 236th Birthday, America. You’re amazing, and you don’t look a day over 185!