Happy Camper

I love camping. Fresh air, campfires, afternoon naps in the sun. The blissful escape from routine.

Back in the days before kids, hubs and I camped all over the state. We weren’t very adept when we started out—on our first trip we forgot pillows and other essentials and had to drive to a nearby mega store. (Incidentally that was not the only time I forgot pillows on a camping trip and had to drive to a store to buy them; somehow pillows are not high on my list of necessities for sleep).

I remember trying to cook in the pouring rain, hunched over the propane stove, umbrella in one hand, utensil in the other, and then eating our meal in the car. After that we purchased a simple canopy, which took off down the hill in a strong gust of wind and retrieved right before it landed in a nearby creek.

But the misadventures were part of what made camping great, the stories I tell when people ask why I love it. During a visit to Letchworth State Park, we arrived to discover the campsite was full. The ranger directed us to a nearby campground which turned out to be one of our favorite places to stay.

Enter children.

When our oldest was two, we took him to the above mentioned favorite campground. He had a blast despite the rainy conditions. However, I fretted for most of the weekend and did not enjoy the mountain of muddy laundry on Sunday night.

Next we tried to camp on the beach. Readers, you should NEVER CAMP ON THE BEACH. A strong wind collapsed our tent in half on itself (there is no way to fully stake it in the sand), the lack of distinguishable sites meant our neighbors were all on top of us, and when we got home after leaving early because of previously stated reasons, SAND WAS EVERYWHERE.

EVERYWHERE.

At first I laughed. “Hey, everything’s sandy, like me!” Two years later I used one of our sleeping bags as a prop in a play and my student commented on the sand still stuck in the bag. I had stopped laughing.

That ended camping for a while. When our youngest joined scouts, we started going as a family to overnight cabin trips, and took the boys to summer scout camp. The camping bug returned, and I remembered why I loved it. This despite the constant rain during summer camp, a car that smelled like wet feet, and a kid so covered in mosquito bites I needed to dump him into a bathtub full of calamine lotion.

Through scouts we found a great group of friends with similar aged kids who also loved to camp. Moms who don’t mind getting dirty and being without makeup or running water. We took them to our favorite spot and had an amazing weekend. But camping with two kids is a lot of work. The prep, the execution, the cleanup. I do most of it on my own. Also, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of sleeping on the ground.

So when an opportunity came along to buy a small cottage on the lake, we jumped on it. Hubs calls it glamping because it has all of the things we love about camping—nature, fire pits, no technology, without the things we hate—sleeping on the ground, washing dishes in a plastic tub, dealing with drunk neighbors. I love waking up early and watching the sunrise. Sitting around the campfire and playing board games with my family. Curling up with a good book and taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. No TV, no video games, the responsibilities of life left at home, at least for the weekend.

Camp NaNoWriMo kicked off on Sunday. We were out at the cottage, and despite the sweltering heat I was able to get back into my WIP and make forward progress. Last week I took the first chapter to my critique group and they loved it. Told me I needed to keep writing. When camp started I set a modest goal and made a commitment to myself to sit down every day and write. So far so good. We’re back out at the lake and I am sure my muse has found me here. (She likes to go places with no wifi—who knew?) Our friends are coming up for the holiday and I hope they love it as much as we do.

camping

Ready to write on the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo

Sometimes I think the secret to life is as simple as this: find what makes you happy and do it. Adjust as necessary to accommodate children and bad  backs.

Why I simultaneously love and fear small creatures

I love nature and animals and have been known to carry on many a one-sided conversation with the creatures who visit our backyard. But if they try to come into the house, I freak out. And if they end up dead anywhere on the property, I freak out even harder. Which occasionally happens out here in the suburbs and which inspired me to write a piece called “Carcass”. I entered “Carcass” into the Pennwriters In Other Words contest, an annual contest with three different categories: non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. Pieces must fit on one single sheet of paper and are posted on the wall for participants to vote on during the conference. My first year in attendance (2015), I took third place in both the fiction and poetry categories but haven’t had success since then.

Until this year. My friend/traveling companion and I both entered, and we wanted to stick around for the results but decided to leave early so that we could be back with our families by dinnertime. We asked the coordinator if we won. She looked at our name tags and shook her head. Disappointed but still full of positive energy from the weekend, we returned home.

Later that day, someone posted on Twitter that her friends had won. I sent a message of congratulations, and she said, “heard you won one yourself”. Say what? Turns out I earned second place in the non-fiction category, and my friend won second in fiction. We were thrilled, but a little sad we missed the excitement of receiving the award. Thankfully, the coordinator contacted us and sent us our certificates in the mail.

cert

I’m pleased to have placed in all three categories, and will keep writing and aiming for that first place spot!

Without further ado, here is my piece:

CARCASS

 There’s a dead mouse in the basement.

I walked down there to look in my high school memory box for my not-quite Rubix Cube because the youngest spent all afternoon trying to solve the actual Rubix Cube. I went down to the basement and there it was.

Dead.

All sad and mouse-like on the freshly vacuumed carpet. Carpet, I might add, that until last week was covered in piles of boxes, tissue paper, unwanted toys, and tons of other crap. We spent the afternoon cleaning everything out and uncovered scattered mouse poop who knows how old. My 40th birthday cards were in that pile. I turned 41 three months ago.

Now the space is clean, the rug mouse-poop free. But not mouse free. Because as soon as I saw it my heart started to pound in the way it does when I come across dead things, and I did an immediate about face. Headed back upstairs and pretended I had never gone down there in the first place.

Hubby comes home late tonight. He’ll come across the mouse. Eventually. He’ll take care of it. The question is, do I wait for him to notice it or tell him I saw it and didn’t feel it was within my realm as chief house cleaner to do anything about it? When he sees it will he clean it up without saying anything?

I think back to the last mouse, the one that squirreled away cat food in a rolled-up rug and caused Mia to pee all over the house in anger. We put out poison but never found a body. The tiny green pellets housed in innocent looking cardboard triangles remained scattered throughout the basement. Leftover poison. We killed this mouse. And it took the liberty of dying right there in the newly cleaned room.

Sadness weighs on me, like steel.

Is it sadness I feel, or something else? And why do dead animals bring trauma to my soul? I remember the suicidal crow that landed in our back porch back in Corning. Hubby was away; I had to carry it into the woods by myself. Scooped up its body with a shovel and carried it back there on our rickety wheel barrow. When I think back to that day I can still feel my pounding heart.

And the bees I found when I unscrewed the switch plate in my parent’s living room. Oh Lord the bees. Vacuuming them out from across the room after a panic attack that lasted much longer than one should panic over a pile of dead, harmless bees.

I think there might be something wrong with me.