Sticker shock

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In a moment of insanity, The Pilot and I let the kids choose our next vacation. We’re not completely crazy, of course, so we gave them only two choices. Option A was to take the Fun Finder on a two-week camping trip through Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Option B was to spend a few days at Walt Disney World. I’ll let you decide which I was rooting for. And I’ll let you decide which the kids chose.

Yep. We’re going to Disney World in a few months. I am not excited by this idea. Not one little bit. I tried my hardest to make a long camping trip sound exciting and adventurous, while maximizing the tedious lines and heat of inland Florida. But that stupid mouse won in the end. Going to the Happiest Place on Earth is a good idea in theory but I am not a people person. While I do enjoy the occasional social outing with a select few friends, even grocery shopping in the middle of a weekday can make me irate. Add in hot, whiny, bored kids and I’m already annoyed.

Two of my trusted friends have assured me that I’ll have a good time despite my crappy attitude and told me I should fully embrace the experience. I let myself sulk for a few days that I wasn’t getting the trip *I* wanted then decided to take their advice. My initial plan was to spend no more than two days in the parks then drive to the Everglades. I’ve seen the Everglades in passing but haven’t spent any time there so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. The kids would get to see their damn mouse and I’d get some nature therapy.

As I started planning our trip, however, I realized that it was nearly as expensive for just two or three days as it would be for a full week. Carpe Disney, I thought, and planned for a whole week. We have to make sacrifices for our kids, right? Isn’t that what being a parent is all about? A week at a crowded park with little chance of recharging my batteries with solitude is really stretching my willingness to sacrifice, though.

I quickly realized that putting together a trip to Walt Disney World is more complicated than planning a wedding. Which section of the park do you want to stay in? Do you want a value-, moderate- or deluxe-priced resort? Which hotel within that price range do you want? What type of room in the hotel do you want? Do you want to be able to visit multiple parks on the same day? Which dining plan do you want? What flights? What type of ground transportation do you need? And we haven’t even gotten to choosing specific restaurants yet. I was ready to throw in the towel before the price was even calculated.

And then the cost was revealed. I came very close to ruining my computer because I choked on my wine. Trust me, you will need some type of alcoholic beverage to navigate the planning process and stomach the cost. I could have a really nice solo Australian getaway for the cost of this week in Florida — even at off-season prices. But we’ve promised the kids and it’s a one-time only trip so we sucked it up and booked the trip.

In the end, I most likely will enjoy the trip and the kids will definitely have a good time. We are going off-season because I draw the line at visiting during the busiest times and the grayness of winter in northern Indiana will be wearing on me by then. Besides, I’ve been told you can drink around the world in Epcot and the margaritas are to die for. That’s where you can find me when it gets too people-y for my sanity.

Thanks for letting me use your photo, Elizabeth, and avoid being sued for copyright infringement.

Sand, sand and more sand

Little SableLast weekend we took the Fun Finder to the west coast of Michigan for a quick getaway. Silver Lake is in sand dune country on the shores of Lake Michigan. Silver Lake is a smaller lake between the dunes and the campground of the state park. We got there late Friday night, well after dark even though we took the kids out of school early so that wouldn’t happen. Somehow we end up behind schedule no matter how much we plan ahead. I don’t get it because the only things we need to pack and haul to the camper are our clothes and food. Everything else we need for a camping weekend is already in the trailer.

We weren’t even 15 minutes into the trip when The Girl tells us she has to go potty. Of course, she does. Since she’s only 6, we take these pronouncements very seriously lest we end up with a puddle in the back seat. Then we had to stop for dinner because we would be getting to the campground too late to fix dinner there.  Then we had to stop for gas because the fuel mileage in our Durango is atrocious when we’re towing the camper. Then we had another potty break before finally arriving at the park. What should have been a four-hour trip became a more-than-five-hour one.

Now it’s time to fill the freshwater tank. We can never remember which side the fresh water is on and which side the black and gray water pipes are on. I think I’m going to make a sign that says “fresh on the right, gross on the left” to keep in the car so we don’t have this debate every time we take the camper out. Every campground we’ve been to with the Fun Finder has all the water spigots on the left. Silver Lake was no exception. Great. A little maneuvering and all is good. We have water and get the camper parked on our site.

Did I mention that Silver Lake is made of sand dunes? This became important as we tried to level the camper around the drainage ditch that ran through the middle of our site. We have those snap together blocks to drive the camper onto to level it. After multiple attempts and using pieces of wood to keep the blocks from sinking into the sand, we gave up and said “good enough”.  It was actually fairly level but I think that may because the whole trailer sank into the sand.  The kids fell asleep pretty quickly that night so Daddy and I enjoyed a couple of adult beverages with some of the people we were camping with before calling it a night too.

Some of the reviews we read about Silver Lake before we left said the DNR staff was very strict about noise levels. I believe one review related the staff to the Gestapo and stated that people were forced to gather in the restrooms to hold normal conversations. It was a pretty quiet campground but the only issue we had was when a ranger asked us to turn off the outside speakers because it was officially quiet time. It was well after 10 p.m. when the ranger came by so I don’t think Gestapo is really a fair description. “Rules enforcer” would be more accurate.

Despite our late night, the kids were up bright and early the next morning. The Boy, using his 8-year-old logic, decided he’d let Mom and Dad sleep a little more and get his own breakfast. That would have been fantastic if he hadn’t taken a box of Rice Krispies into his bunk and spilled them everywhere. His bed, the floor, the bunkhouse dinette seats were all covered in little crunchy bits of cereal that were crushed underfoot as he tried to clean them. A little help from Mom and all the Rice Krispies dust was swept up.

The Girl has a love of the beach and begs to go every time we’re near one. We relaxed at camp until after lunch when we decided to give in to The Girl’s pleas and head to Lake Michigan. We followed the signs for the lighthouse and found ourselves on a beach. Little Sable light house offers tours and you can go all the way to the top for a 360-degree view of the area. We did not take the tour because neither of the children wanted to and I didn’t feel like listening to them whine all the way up. I’ve been to the top of a Great Lakes lighthouse (Au Sable in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) and The Pilot is afraid of heights, which is a pretty odd phobia for someone who flies airplanes for a living. I think it was $5 per adult and maybe $3 per child for the tour but I’d check that if you want to go. There was a small gift shop on site too.

There’s a roomy beach at Little Sable and it wasn’t very crowded. I’m assuming it would be much busier before Labor Day but the weather in mid-September was perfect, mid-80s and sunny. The water on Lake Michigan was a little rough. A few people were trying to surf but they weren’t having much luck. The kids played in the cold waves for a little bit before we decided to head back to Silver Lake for calmer, warmer water.

Silver Lake has a nice beach too and there weren’t many people there. Again, I’m sure it’s a different story during the peak summer season. Silver Lake is a large lake that can handle speed boats and Jet Skis. The beach is really shallow for a long way out, making it perfect for my less-than-perfect swimmers. I didn’t have to worry they would accidentally step into deep water. I was even able to lounge in the sun on the beach while the kids were playing in the water. We spent several hours at Silver Lake and there’s a playground available for the kids to enjoy while drying off. The park has a picnic area with charcoal grills and clean bathroom/changing facilities.

We had a potluck dinner that night with the rest of our group and called it a night pretty early. The sun takes it out of you, ya know? Part of our group had spent the day SCUBA diving a shipwreck in Lake Michigan and the others went to a nearby winery, the Fox Barn. Yes, I had them bring back wine for me, including a delicious blueberry one. The divers said the shipwreck was neat so if you’re into that sort of thing you could check that out too. Silver Lake has a designated off road vehicle area so people are able to play on the dunes with their ORVs. One member of our group took her four-door Jeep Wrangler out.

Sunday morning was spent relaxing over breakfast and packing up to head home. Check out time for Silver Lake is 1 p.m., which we missed by a few minutes. The campground was pretty empty so I don’t think the rangers would have enforced it even if we’d left a little later. All in all, I’d recommend Silver Lake as a fun getaway, though definitely be prepared to have sand everywhere. It was in my teeth, my hair, the camper and we’re still finding pockets of sand at home. I would recommend an off-season visit as it would be pretty crowded with summer travelers.

For more information, you can visit this website: http://www.michigan.org/property/silver-lake-state-park.

 

Suffering

It was a lazy holiday weekend and I haven’t done much work on my latest short story so I’m sharing a piece I wrote for a creative writing class I took a few years ago while (finally) finishing my bachelor’s degree. This assignment was to write a nonfiction piece in second person. I had a hard time writing in second person but I think it works well for this story. It wasn’t just the point of view that made this assignment so difficult for me. This work details the helplessness and fear that I felt while my then-2-year-old son was fighting leukemia but before we had a diagnosis. That 2-year-old is now a healthy 8-year-old and cancer-free. Re-reading this work brought me to tears. It is impossible to tell anyone what the time Before Diagnosis was like but this comes close.

Suffering

Three in the morning. Even the insects are asleep at this hour. But not you. Not you and not your little boy. Neither of you has been to sleep yet. Neither of you has slept more than an hour or two for days. The grit of sleeplessness is embedded in your eyes and you think you could sleep for days. But there is a whimpering two-year-old on the couch and there will be little sleep again this night.

Night turns the windows into mirrors, and a hollow-eyed specter stares back at you from the darkness. You shift your focus to the blackness beyond the windows so you don’t have to confront the worry so evident on that face. Stars dot the sky and a sliver of moon is just visible above the pine boughs dancing in the wind. On the bushes just outside the glass, tight flower buds that are hot pink in the daylight appear gray right now, the color washed away by night.

The playroom has become a makeshift sick bay. The boy whimpers and cries when you try to pick him up so the sofa has become his bed and a nest of blankets marks the place where you pretend to rest on the floor next to him. Your attempts to give soothing cuddles simply cause more pain-induced wails so you can only hold his hand to comfort him. How much easier it would be if he could tell you where it hurts, you think.

“It’s going to be OK, Pumpkin Pie. You’re going to be OK,” you whisper as you smooth the blond curls from his blazing forehead. “Let’s take your temperature again.” He doesn’t resist the cold thermometer under his arm and that passivity tells you that his temperature is going to be in the stratosphere again. Wide blue eyes, their usual smiling brightness muted by fever, search your face and you can’t help but think they look at you accusingly. “Why don’t you make me feel better, Mommy?” they scream at you. “I hurt so much. Help me.”

Holding the boy’s arm tight against the thermometer, your thoughts drift back to just a few weeks ago when he was a happy and healthy child, running through the grass with shrieks of delight. So perfect at bedtime and so sick the next morning. The fevers that come and go and the permeating pain he feels seem to have no cause, at least no obvious cause. This boy has had more medical tests in two months than you’ve had your entire life. Blood chemistries and spinal taps are inconclusive. Ultrasounds and MRIs and X-rays show no abnormalities. You’ve scared yourself silly looking it up online: his vague symptoms fit everything from meningitis to juvenile arthritis to leukemia and lymphoma. You send up a silent prayer to a God you don’t believe in. “Just let us find the cause. I just want to know. I need to know.”

The chime of the thermometer is as familiar to you as your ringing telephone. You dutifully record the temp, 103.7, in the chart you’ve been keeping. You’ll read off the numbers to the pediatrician’s office in morning and hope they will finally refer you to whatever specialist the boy needs. You think you will start swearing at the doctor the next time he says the word “virus.” It’s far more than a virus, and your intuition knows it. Cliché or not, mothers do know when something isn’t right.

The carpet is rough under your bare knees and the air conditioning puts a chill in the air. You can’t take away his pain and you can’t hold him but you can’t leave him either, not even for the few minutes it would take to change to warmer clothes and adjust the thermostat. Resting your forehead on the nubby fabric of the sofa so he can’t see your tears, you hold tightly to the soft pudgy hand and hope that your love and presence are enough comfort for this frightened and hurting little boy.

First drafts

“The first draft of anything is shit,” said the great Ernest Hemingway. Those words hold a special meaning for me these days as I work to polish my first manuscript. I’ve dreamed of writing a book for as long as I can remember and I have at long last achieved that dream. Now the real work begins: editing, rewriting, creating a synopsis and a query letter, editing and rewriting again and again and again. My beta readers have the second draft in their hands and I’m anxiously awaiting their reviews and suggestions. When I need a break from editing, I research the path to publication. One suggestion that keeps popping up is that agents and publishers like authors who already have an online presence. And so Camping and Other Ways to Stay Sane was born.

As the title of this blog suggests, there’s more to me than writing. I find myself inspired by nature and my writing reflects my love of the wilderness.  I find that I am happiest when I am outside or when I am creating something. This blog will likely be a reflection of the usually scattered aspects of my life. Here’s a short of list of topics I may write about:

Camping: Our family bought a camper this year. I enjoy getting away from the suburbs and spending time around the campfire. I may detail camping trips we’ve taken and review the campgrounds we’ve visited. I may even include the littles’ reviews of the camping trip.

Writing: I’ve been writing (or trying to) for most of my life. I remember getting a manual typewriter for a birthday, the kind with the plastic cover to keep dust out of the keys when it wasn’t being used. I spent hours pounding out Detective Becky stories because I was a huge Nancy Drew fan and wanted so much to be like her. When I need a break from editing my manuscript, I’ve been working on a short story that I may post here when it’s finished.

Crafting: I am a creator and sometimes the words just aren’t flowing. When that block happens, I work on making crafts to break through. I find that turning my mind to something else lets the story percolate in the back of my brain and I’ve come up with some of the best aspects of my works that way.  I make wreaths, signs, t-shirts and work with vinyl decals frequently. You may see some of my projects here.

Family: I’m the wife of a commercial pilot so I spend a lot of time solo parenting my littles. Some days are great. Other days, not so much. You may get to hear about the great days and the bad ones. Probably the bad ones.

Adventure: Since I spend so much time solo parenting and my kids are still too young to be home alone, sometimes I escape to an adventure. I’m usually backpacking when on an adventure but not always. I have had adventures on horseback and on the water too. My adventures always include the outdoors, though. I can’t imagine any blog of mine without adventure posts.

These are the some of the ways I stay sane while trapped in suburbia. I look forward to sharing these with you and hearing about your methods of sanity.

Cheers!