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What's the Point?

Okay, so we know how I’ll benefit from this endeavor. I’ll gain experience in the great outdoors that will help me write a better book set in the Adirondacks. But you, my dear reader, may well be asking, “What’s in all this for me?” Hopefully you’ll gain a little knowledge, have a few laughs, and vicariously enjoy a sense of adventure. Think of it as a modern-day Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where you get to sit comfortably at your computer screen – much like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance behind some bushes. I, on the other hand, will go out into the wild, ala Jim Fowler, and do all the heavy lifting in an effort to entertain you.

            Well, on second thought…

Friday
May022014

Rainbows and Unicorns

 

Or, My Eyes Are Playing Tricks On Me Thanks To The Polar Vortex


Okay, full disclosure. The events described below don't actually take place in the Adirondacks. But they could have, so please don't go calling the blog police on me. It's been a long, cold winter and I've spent the last 17 (give or take) months inside, where it's warm. And where, in the privacy of my own home, I could safely shake my fist while cursing the polar vortex without fear of retribution from the weather gods. Oh wait, that might have backfired a bit. Have mercy, y'all (I picked up the southern accent this winter after spending so much time wishing I were somewhere warm).

 

 

Anyway, on with my story: When I was a little girl, I thought it would be fun to ride my unicorn through the Elysian Fields while looking for rainbows. Once we'd spot one, I dreamed of galloping to the end of the rainbow where I would catch the leprechaun, eat lots of me Lucky Charms, and collect my reward. It was an impossible dream (cue Man of La Mancha), because everyone knows rainbows don't exist.

 

But the other day I was driving home from the Elysian Fields with my unicorn sitting beside me in the front seat of my minivan (it turns out unicorns really don't like it when you try to ride them. Who knew?) when we saw it. Plain as day, arcing across the sky, was a big, beautiful rainbow.

 

"They do exist, they do exist," we said (you knew unicorns can talk, didn't you?) as I sped toward the rainbow's end. I could practically taste the Lucky Charms and I was already thinking of all the ways I could spend the gold. But when we got there, all we saw was this:

 

I thought they said there'd be a pot of gold, not a port-a-potty of gold. I must have heard wrong.

 

 

Friday
Oct182013

An Epic Camping Adventure


Despite my best efforts to change the subject or feign deafness whenever he brings it up, my son still insists we go camping in our back yard. He thinks it will be fun. He thinks it will be exciting. I think he’s crazy.  And I’m seriously questioning whether we are actually related.

My son had guilted me into backyard camping once before and he enjoyed it so much he’d been begging me to do it again ever since. Seriously, what is wrong with him? The last time we camped out, I’d set the tent up no problem in a spot in our yard that looked nice and flat. Turned out it was neither nice nor flat. I’d unknowingly oriented the tent so it was parallel with our backyard’s gradual downhill slope. Realizing too late I was in the uphill half of our tent, I spent the whole night trying not to roll over on him. Now that I think of it, I should have just let go and crushed him – he probably wouldn’t have thought camping was so great after that.

And I was naïve enough to think those nice puffy sleeping bags are enough to guarantee a comfortable night’s sleep. Apparently you also need some type of pad to sleep on so every blade of grass doesn’t become magnified to the size of a tree branch as your weight bears down on it all night long. Gravity can be a bitch. After that night I finally understood what that princess in The Princess and the Pea was complaining about. My son, on the other hand, despite having a lot less natural padding than I do, slept like a log. (Did I mention I think there’s something wrong with that kid?)

His heart was set on doing it again. But it was already fall and the nights were getting shorter. And colder. Winter would soon be here and that left me with three options: 1) Try to convince him that camping was now prohibited thanks to the federal government shutdown; 2) Invest in a seven-month supply of earplugs so I wouldn’t have to listen to him whine all winter long about not getting to go camping again this year; or 3) tell his father he owes my big on this one and just do it.

So we set the date on a Friday of a three-day weekend, giving me an extra day to recover and giving my husband a chance to take advantage of Columbus Day sales to try to make it up to me. I knew the key to any successful outdoor adventure is preparation, so we immediately set out to Target for supplies.  But we decided to get what was only absolutely necessary – popcorn, beef jerky (my son felt this was essential for camping authenticity) and a DVD to watch on my laptop. And the most important supply of all:

 

I think the people pictured on the box are smiling because they know, come nightfall, they’ll be heading inside to sleep on an actual bed.

 

Yes, the queen-size air mattress was crucial to camping success. I didn’t care that the box indicated the mattress dimensions were too big for our tent. I was determined to cram it into the tent then blow that sucker up until I was sure no part of me would ever touch the ground during the night.

We also made sure we had warm sleeping bags and warm clothes to wear because the temperature would be going down to 40 degrees that night. On the plus side, that would keep my chardonnay nicely chilled. Don’t judge, we all have our own survival techniques.

My son and I then settled in to watch the DVD. We’d chosen Epic because neither of us had seen it before. It’s a story about a woodland area very much like the one bordering our backyard and it’s filled with all these little creatures, some of whom are evil. A human gets pulled into their world and then has to battle these now-giant bugs and critters to survive.

Looking back, that probably wasn’t the best movie choice considering we were about to spend the night at the edge of woods that looked an awful lot like the woods in the movie. Sure enough, there were plenty of nightmares all night long. My son, on the other hand, slept just fine.

When the bad dreams weren’t making me toss and turn in my sleep, I tossed and turned while awake, listening to the night sounds around our little tent. Sounds like screeching tires, car alarms and sirens. It sounded more like urban jungle than tranquil forest. Or at least like one of the few remaining patches of suburbia that hadn’t been bulldozed for development.

Unfortunately, those sounds were eventually broken by the sound of coyotes howling. I was shocked to realize we have coyotes in the suburbs and had no idea why they were making all that noise. Maybe they were upset by American Eagle Outfitters’ “no returns without a receipt” policy over at the mall.

Morning took its sweet time in getting there. After several false starts trying to roll my body off the air mattress and onto the ground outside the tent (okay, so modeling grace and dignity for my children is not my strong suit), I hobbled inside to get warm.

I figured our little backyard adventure would satisfy the camping bug for a while, but my son wants to know when we can do it again. Would it be wrong to request a DNA test?

 

 

No, that’s not a scene from the movie Gravity. It’s a picture of our tent in our backyard at night. But our house might as well be as far away from our tent as Earth is to Sandra Bullock and George Clooney (who would be excellent casting choices if my life were made into a movie. I’ve been told if you squint from a distance of 50 yards, my smile is a little Clooney-esque). They say in space, no one can hear you scream. You can hear plenty of screaming in our backyard. Just ask the neighbors.

 

Tuesday
Jun042013

Hit the Trail

In my never-ending quest to understand the complexities of the world we live in, there’s one part of the newspaper I rely on to help it all make sense. The comics page. But there’s one strip I always skip. I’ve tried reading Mark Trail from time to time, but it’s never managed to hold my interest.

It doesn’t help that everything about it seems dated. Even the clothes look like they’re from the Johnson administration. The Andrew Johnson administration. Despite my best efforts, I’d inevitably abandon it in favor of a faster-paced activity. Like watching my fingernails grow.

Recently the Times Union rearranged its comics section and Mark Trail was given a special spot below the puzzles. With its presence nagging at me as I worked the Sudoku, I made a more concerted effort to read it. But the storyline was too boring. Even the Jumble, with answers like “snooze-fest,” “yawn” and “molasses” seemed to agree.

But it occurred to me the problem may be more than the slow pace. Mark and I, it turns out, have nothing in common. He loves seeking adventure in the great outdoors. I, on the other hand, believe if God had intended us to go out and experience nature, He never would have invented the Discovery Channel.

Then, while doing the cryptogram one day, I noticed something different about the strip. A man was bringing breakfast on a tray to a woman propped on pillows in bed. Now here’s a storyline I can relate to.

It turns out the man, Wes, was trying to convince the woman, Shelley, to go camping. Shelley tells him she doesn’t care for the outdoors. Either Wes is hard of hearing or else he’s fond of the celibate lifestyle because he insists she go camping anyway. Then he enlists Mark Trail and his wife, Cherry, to help. I’ll bet if they showed the next panel, Shelley would be trying to smother Wes with one of those pillows.

The next day’s strip shows a plane flying over mountains. Apparently Mark’s idea of a great camping spot is one that’s hours from the nearest first aid station. Or restroom. There’s a bear watching the tiny prop plane as it lands. I can’t help but notice it’s salivating like someone just rang the dinner bell. Good thing we can’t see inside the plane, because poor Shelley’s frantically searching the bottom of her purse for a stray Valium.

Shelley spends a lot of time at first complaining about being unable to use her cell phone. Which means room service is totally out of the question. Things quickly go downhill when, for some unknown reason, Wes and Mark fly off in the plane, leaving Shelley and Cherry alone at the campsite. At least Cherry has the decency to offer Shelley a drink. Unfortunately for Shelley, the drink turns out to be tea.

Then the plane crashes. Now, that is fun! The two men are forced to spend the night in the woods without food or shelter. A pack of wolves begins howling. It’s hard to believe Shelley would rather have stayed in the city than miss this. Wes is too injured to move. Given the luck they’re having, gangrene will soon set in. I’m sure they’ll all look back on this one day and have a good chuckle.

Another pack of wolves is howling near the women’s campsite. Shelley nervously calculates her chances of survival. Meanwhile, somewhere in the woods, Wes is calculating the size of the diamond he’s going to have to buy Shelley when they get home.

Soon, I’m tempted to forego the word search in favor of finding out what’s happening to Wes and Shelley. This week, the wolf pack chases two moose through the campsite. The moose knock a propane tank into the smoldering campfire. Suddenly there’s a huge explosion and everything is burning. Incredibly, Shelley still isn’t having a good time. Boy, talk about a stick in the mud.

 

Considering how hard the cartoonist is working to portray camping as a fun and safe activity, I can only wonder what Shelley will encounter next. Rattlesnakes? Avalanche? Sasquatch? I’ll have to keep reading to find out. Right after I do the crossword.

 

 

Friday
Oct122012

Don't Bug Me

Whenever I venture outside in the summer and have the audacity to speak, yawn, or God forbid, breathe, there’s always some gnat with a death wish that flies into my mouth. I try to spit it out, but can’t, and I’m left dry heaving on the front lawn until my neighbors call to complain. Which is one of the many reasons it’s better to stay inside (and I’m talking about both suicidal bugs and complaining neighbors here). So it probably comes as no surprise that I’d never intentionally eaten an insect.

All that changed recently, however, at my book club meeting. The book we were discussing, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, was set in the Amazon rainforest, so our hostess, Sheila, decided to serve refreshments in keeping with a Brazilian jungle theme. Now you’re probably thinking that we had bananas or mangos or even Brazil nuts. But you would be wrong. Sheila decided to go with something a bit more exotic and serve us something the Amazon has plenty of: insects.

Crickets, to be exact. Now I don’t know if there are actually crickets in the Amazon and I don’t feel like looking it up, but if there are you know they’re going to be some pumped-up-on-steroids type of cricket. The kind of cricket that would burrow into your inner ear and chirp endlessly until you jumped into piranha-infested waters just to end your misery.

The variety Sheila had were too small to be Amazonian crickets. Plus, they were dead so I was pretty sure their ear-burrowing days were over. They were actually called Crickettes and came in a small rectangular pack. Given their name and their packaging, I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to eat them or smoke them. Not surprisingly, they sat untouched until Sheila asked who was going to try one.

 

 

 

I don't know why I volunteered to try one, but alcohol may have been involved. Wait a minute. What am I saying? I was at book club - of course alcohol was involved! In my defense, we humans have a long history of consuming disgusting critters when we've been drinking. Don't believe me? Just ask the little worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle.

But I can’t blame just the alcohol. The box said the crickets were bacon cheddar flavored. I assume the flavor was added after the crickets’ demise because if living crickets are naturally coated with bacon cheesy yumminess I wouldn’t have waited so long to eat one. There was also the fact that no one else was brave enough to try one so this was the perfect opportunity to claim I’m the baddest ass mother on my cul-de-sac (and when I say mother I’m not using some gangsta slang. I mean an actual minivan-driving mother).

 

Truthfully, though, I wasn’t the only one to take the dare. Sheila’s 15-year-old son also volunteered. Since the judgment portion of boys’ brains aren’t fully formed until they’re 25, he had an excuse. I’m not a boy and I’m well-past 25, so I don’t know what my excuse was. Oh yeah, someone had just refilled my wine glass.

 

 Now, if you’re going to eat a cricket, here are a few pointers:

1.     Make sure it’s dead. Dead ones don’t put up much of a fuss.

2.      Whatever you do, don’t look at it. You’re not eating a frosted cupcake with sprinkles on top. Better to just pop the cricket in your mouth with yours eyes clamped shut.

3.     Don’t expect it to be delicious. Crickets have the consistency and taste of wood shavings. “But wait,” you say, “wood shavings don’t taste like bacon and cheese.” That’s right. And neither do crickets.

4.     Chew as little as possible. Otherwise you’ll end up like I did – with a cricket wing stuck to the roof of your mouth. And take it from me: no amount of dry heaving in your friend’s living room is going to dislodge it.

I did learn one important lesson, though. It turns out crickets are the perfect diet food. You really can eat just one.

  This is the "before" picture.

Trust me - you don't want to see the "after."

Monday
Sep242012

Happy Camper Is An Oxymoron

 I come from a long line of people who consider the phrase ”happy camper” to be an oxymoron. To put it simply, we Bitners are inside folk and I made sure to marry a man with similar proclivities. I assumed, then, that my husband and I would beget children who appreciated the value of memory foam pillows and indoor plumbing. I was wrong.

 

 

Recently my youngest has become fixated on the idea of camping outside. With me. In a tent. An item that, due to our love of the great indoors, we have conveniently neglected to own. Every time he brings up camping, I try to get him off the topic by offering him candy or turning the TV to Sponge Bob. Not a parenting technique I’m proud of, but one I was willing to resort to if it meant sleeping in my own bed. 

That is until the day my parental guilt took a direct hit from the Internet. I’d received an email announcing LL Bean was having a sale on all camping equipment.

            Malls I can do. They’re climate controlled, bear-free and the most dangerous part is looking for a parking space. Plus, the only equipment I needed was the piece of plastic in my wallet. So it was a no-brainer to head to Colonie Center for an adventure my nature-phobic DNA is better suited for: shopping.

            I was still on a buyer’s high when I returned home with my purchases – a tent, two sleeping bags and a self-inflating pillow. I only bought one pillow because I wasn’t sure it would work. If it did end up inflating, my son I would have to wrestle for it, but I was confident I could take him.

I also purchased a first aid kit and something called a Pocket Survival Pack. I bought the pack because it had seemed cocky to look at it in the store and then put it back like I didn’t need it. With my lack of camping know-how, I was in no position to tempt fate. I could picture rescuers one day discovering my lifeless body in the woods and lamenting, “If only she’d bought that pocket survival pack.” Besides, it was on sale.

            I decided I’d better figure out how to use the stuff while I was still safe and secure in my own home. It took me about ten minutes – no lie – to figure out how to open the survival pack, which turned out to be a simple zippered plastic pouch. This did not bode well for my chances in the wild.

            The first thing I noticed when I finally did get it open was that my pack was defective – no chocolate. Second thing I noticed was it was full of cool stuff I hoped I would never have to use – like a rescue whistle, signal mirror and waterproof fire starter.

Then I came across fishing line and fish hooks. I searched in vain in the pouch for the little tiny fisherman that will use them. Good Lord, I’m never going to survive if I have to catch my own food. There was also a scalpel blade, which, if I used it for slitting my wrists, would be a faster way to go than starving to death. There was even a pencil and notepaper.  Although it says you can use the paper when it’s wet, I’ll try to remember to write my farewell note before using the scalpel.

            Then I checked out the bonus lifesaving instructions. The first instruction said: Don’t Panic! Too late. Especially if I was reading it while stuck on the side of some mountain. Come to think of it, instead of a zippered plastic pouch, the whole thing should come in a brown paper bag so I’ll have something to breathe into to stave off the inevitable panic attack.

           

 With any luck, this retail excursion will be enough and just owning the gear will satisfy my son’s desire to go camping. And maybe if I stick the stuff in a closet, we can forget all about it. At least until the Visa bill arrives.