Monday, May 30, 2016

First Family Camping Trip

Note: Click on pictures if you'd like to see them larger.

Everybody in the semi-rural Midwest goes camping at some point. Some go more than others. It's a rite of passage, really, if you live anywhere outside of major cities. Over the last twelve years, Julie and I kept saying that we wanted to go camping, but we clearly didn't want to go badly enough to make it happen. Then our little man came along, and ain't nobody wants to go camping with a 2yr old. Now that he's nearly four, however, it seemed like the appropriate time to introduce him to this national pasttime.


We began with books, subtly mentioning the topic, and discussing how FUN it was to sleep in a tent and cook over a campfire. We started telling our friends we were going to do it, and looking at local campgrounds. Then for Mothers' Day Julie and I gave each other expensive camping stuff - a fancy tent and a double sleeping bag. Now we'd guilted ourselves into HAVING to do it. If we chickened out, everyone would know. So we picked a date - Memorial Day Weekend - and started picking up supplies. Suddenly, the forecast was predicting rain. What!? Everyone knows it can't rain over three day weekends! After a lot of wishy-washy beating around the bush, we sadly planned to go to the Discovery Depot Children's Museum in Galesburg instead.  Saturday evening it rained nearby and when the wind picked up and the skies got dark we patted ourselves on the back for making such a responsible decision.

Sunday dawned with bright sunshine and a text message from my friend: "Going to camp? No rain in the forecast today or tomorrow."  Crap.  No, we'd made our choice. I responded, "We're going to Galesburg today and camping in the yard this evening."  We were going to "camp," just not off our property.  Best of both worlds! Then Julie called the campgrounds. Apparently it was going to be $60 to tent-camp, and there weren't many spots open. She told me to make the decision, so I said that we'd stick to our much cheaper Galesburg plan.  Just a few minutes later, she told me that she was overruling me and we were going camping. WELL, OKAY THEN.  We hurried to get everything together, eat lunch, and get out there. We still didn't make it until 2:30pm, an hour after we'd planned to be there.

Pretending we're not terrified

Boy this place was busy. Every spot was taken, and even spots I hadn't realized were spots were taken. I'd never been out there during a busy weekend before, and had no idea it could even be that full. It did not look like fun, it looked like a family-friendly Woodstock. Jasper was missing his nap, it was hot and muggy, our car was packed full, and we didn't even know if we'd have a spot to camp. We pulled into the host camper spot, and Julie knocked on the door. And waited. And knocked. And waited. Finally she pulled out her phone and called them. It turns out that the host campers were busy with a golf cart parade and we needed to wait patiently for them to return. No. Lie.

My golf cart is more festive than your golf cart

They finally came back and asked us if we wanted electricity or not. We said, "Sure" (gotta plug those phones in, amirite?) and they took us (we followed their fancy golf cart) to the sunniest spot in the park. It was completely out in the open, no trees at all, surrounded by campers, and looked to be roughly the temperature of the surface of the sun. "There's a plug over there by that camper you can plug into," they said, pointing over to another campsite.  We decided we didn't need electricity after all. We said as much, and they told us they'd show us another spot. This spot was also awful, and they were pointing out more electrical outlets in other camper's spots.  With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I assured them that I was incredibly grateful for their thoughtfulness in trying to find us an outlet, but we really didn't need one after all, and could we pretty please have a spot with shade for our ginger boy? Oh, of course, they reassured us. They understood.  "Wasn't there a guy who just left on the dam?" they asked each other.  Oh. No.

We headed out of the camping area. As in, no more camping people. Just boats, water, and the dam ahead of us.  They were legit going to make us camp on the dam.  Suddenly, they pulled up in front of a hidden camping site. It was the only camping spot on this side of the lake, secluded, a bit hard to get to, and PERFECT.   We said we'd take it.  With Jasper asleep in the back, we unloaded as much as we could and then Julie drove off to pay for the site and pick up some firewood.  "Get that up while I'm gone!" Julie shouted as she headed off, pointing to the 8-person tent we'd never set up before.

L. O. L. 

Did I mention that I hadn't gone camping in 23 years, and for her it had been more like 3+ decades? This was a recipe for failure.  Well, I gave it a shot, and nearly gave myself heatstroke in the process.  This is as far as I got before she returned, shocked I'd even attempted it:

Jasper didn't think much of my efforts.

Oh my God she expects me to sleep in that?

Luckily, we worked better together. Jasper chipped in as well after seeing what it would look like if I were left to do it all by myself.

Thug Life

Jasper was pumped to try out his Paw Patrol camping gear

We sat down to congratulate ourselves on managing to get the tent up without having to call in the authorities, and relax for a moment.  I asked Julie how much the site ended up costing, and she sheepishly admitted that she had misheard the host camper on the phone and it was apparently only twelve dollars for the site.  Not sixty.  My poor, deaf wife... When we realized it was close to 5pm and Jasper hadn't eaten anything all day but a grilled cheese and some loose cereal, we thought maybe it was time to unwrap the new camping gear and cook something besides nacho chips for the kid.

Do you know how many marshmallows this thing could hold?

Now, Julie had been telling me for several days about this AMAZING treat she'd seen online.  Apparently if you get some pie filling and stick it between a couple pieces of bread and then toast that over a campfire, it tastes JUST LIKE PIE.  Well, of course we had to try it. After we finished our hot dogs, Julie got out the brand new can opener and opened up the cans of pie filling. She got apple, and I got cherry. We debated putting butter on the outside of the bread but decided that would taste too much like grilled cheese, so we went plain.

Step 1:  Fill the bread

Step 2: Cook it like a pro

Step 3. Admire toasted "pie"

Mine wasn't terribly attractive
Julie's was fantastic looking

Step 4: Consider filling

Step 5: Reaction face

How the heck am I going to put this into MyFitnessPal?

This is her "Meh" face

Verdict: Meh.  It didn't taste like pie, it tasted like pie filling on toast.  Those cooker things would have made bitchin' grilled cheeses though. We were looking forward to lunch the next day.

With dinner under our belts and no electronics to distract us, we set about enjoying the peace and quiet. Julie and Jasper played a little Tee Ball, and I went around taking some pictures of the campsite.

Finally Julie left to go give our cats their medicine, and pick up a few things we'd forgotten (pillows, toothbrush, etc.) I peed in the woods and then took Jasper on a walk.  We saw some geese, played "Going on a Bear Hunt" a few times, and generally spent the next few hours hanging out and having fun.

If I make this face enough she'll stop making me pose

Finally it was time to settle down and head to bed. 

Jasper was so tired he conked out on his own after reading a few books, and eschewed the s'mores we offered to make. If he'd been a teenager and in town we would have assumed he was attempting to sneak out, but as it was he was just really tuckered out and excited to use his Paw Patrol stuff.

If only every night's bedtime were this easy

Julie and I spent a few hours chatting and eating s'mores - at this point all notions of diets were out the door - and enjoying each other's company. It's been a while since we just sat down and chatted, and it was nice to have that quiet time to ourselves. We congratulated ourselves on our procrastination, as if we'd arrived earlier and on time we never would have managed to get the sweetest spot in the campground.  Hooray for dumb luck! Also, can you request camping spots? We want that one EVERY TIME.  And we do want to go back. It was so nice.

Well. I mean.  Until we woke up to thunder (Julie insisted it was "a jet" - for 20 minutes) and a kid who'd gone above and beyond the bedwetting call. Once I got Jasper awake I got him completely naked and then put into a new shirt. Before I even considered putting pants on him I walked him outside to pee. He didn't want to wake up, he didn't want to get changed, and he REALLY didn't want to go outside to pee in the bushes.  He demonstrated his annoyance at me by swinging around and peeing on my bare feet. Thanks kid. I'll get you back someday, just you wait.

We packed up as fast as we could, but still ended up getting pretty wet.  We were really disappointed, as we'd been looking forward to a camp breakfast and grilled cheeses for lunch. Still, we'd done a lot of packing up the night before in order to secure the campsite from any critters, and it didn't take as long as it could have. 

Bungee cord gathering in the rain (AKA Karma for peeing on Mama)
"No rain in the forecast" ;)

Naturally, as soon as we had fully packed up and backed the car out to head home, it started clearing up. By the time we were leaving the park, it was sunny again. Like, brilliantly sunny, gorgeous, would have been fine if we'd been staying another night, perfect.  Oh well.

Not even out of the park limits yet
We got home and unpacked, then got the stuff out to make a great brunch. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, milk, and juice! Jasper even finally tried bacon for the first time, and he really loved it. He also loved the bath he needed after such a wild adventure. Mama and Mommy couldn't wait to take their own baths, either... we needed ours almost as badly! Check out Mama's curly hair after that rain!

Julie and I had set some stuff out in the sun to dry up, and after brunch we put up the tent so it could dry out. Jasper discovered we'd put the tent up, and suddenly couldn't wait for naptime. He evidently thought we were going to allow him to chill out in the back yard for his nap while we stayed inside.  In a few years, I'm sure we'll be perfectly happy to do that, but I doubt he'll be as happy to take naps! Luckily, he's got his very own tent to use, and we set it up in his room for his nap.

What a great time, even though it rained!

Before Camping
After Camping

Thanks, Spring Lake Park, for being a wonderful place to make memories of our very first camping trip as a family! We'll be back!!!

P.S. Check out Jasper's thoughts on the trip here.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Feeling Panicky

New things scare me. They scare the pants off of me. In fact, I usually just avoid new things so that I don't have to worry about losing my pants in public. Sometimes, however, those things are necessary. Like actually giving birth to the baby I got myself pregnant with.  Apparently once it's in there, it has to come out one way or another... The pants really did come off in public that time...Anyway, I digress.  Three years ago I started thinking about graduate school. My employer offers this amazing benefit of 6hrs of in-state tuition EVERY semester.  That's incredible. At first I didn't avail myself of this opportunity because I had no desire to be back in school.  I needed to focus on just having a "real job" for a while.  Then I was focused on having a baby. After I finally started sleeping again after the baby arrived (a year later), I realized that I'd actually fallen in love with librarianship and I really wanted to be an official one. I wanted to be able to say I was a librarian without getting the stink-eye from people who had the real degrees. And there was a way to get a (nearly) free degree.  I would be stupid not to take them up on it.

So I applied, got accepted, and then had to go through with it. Two and a half years ago, in January of 2014, I left my baby for the very first time ever and spent a week with strangers in what my program calls "boot camp."  And oh boy, was it. There was an incident at the end that I kind of hope I'll have forgotten about in another decade or two that involved hysterical crying in front of the entire cohort after my final quiz essay got deleted right in front of me, two minutes before the time was up... I was fairly sure there were bets on whether or not I'd be quitting the program. I was sure thinking about it myself. But that was after staying up all night long to finish a paper (turned it in at 5:45am!), and I decided to give myself at least a semester to see if I could handle it.  And I could.

In fact, this program turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  Only taking two classes a semester allowed me to really focus on each class and give them the attention they deserved. I turned in every assignment (with only a few extensions), and after that darned boot camp class gave me a B+, I got straight As (even a few A+s), leaving me with an overall GPA of 3.98.  I am incredibly proud of myself.  I accomplished this feat while working full time, parenting a toddler every moment I wasn't working, and often on my own as my wife works several jobs to make ends meet and is usually gone in the evenings and weekends, especially in the fall. On the other hand, now my kid knows how to play on a computer better than I did at the age of 15. Hey, cheaper than the babysitter we used to have to get on my school nights. By the end of this program we had a real routine down pat.

Now, however, I am facing a new challenge. Graduation.  I'm terrified.  It was scary enough in high school, with people holding my hand at every turn, and a practice session.  In college, it was pretty horrifying, but at least I was familiar with the campus and had sat through a couple previous ceremonies for friends.  Now, though, I have to travel three hours to the campus, pick up my cap and gown from a building I've never been to (in person, I sure as hell stalked that place on google maps and with pictures and building blueprints), assemble at another place I've never been to, and then yet another place.

This is a three day event for me.

  • Tomorrow we'll drop our son off at daycare where he'll wait to be picked up by one of his dads for the weekend. We'll drive to our hotel that is half an hour away from the city (because when I booked six months in advance everything within a half hour radius was booked solid), then drive to the city to pick up my cap and gown.  Then back to the hotel to steam it and finish freaking out for the evening. 
  • Saturday we'll wake up excruciatingly early and drive to .... some... parking spot.... on a super crowded campus... and join the thousands of people who will be there to see their undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral candidate student graduate.  This place is so big that I won't walk that day. I'll just stand up in a big fat group of my friends. My poor wife will likely be sitting alone in this stadium.  Then we're free for the rest of the day, hopefully to meet up with friends for lunch or dinner, and probably to do some tourist-y type graduation pictures. 
  • Sunday we have to do it all over again, except on a smaller scale. This one will be my program's convocation. This one I'll be walking in. This is the one that will make me feel like I've really graduated, I think. Then we'll probably have lunch and head back home to pick up our son where he'll have been dropped off at our friend's house.  Then I will be able to relax.
Did I mention it's all going to be on live feed?  If I fall down, ERRYBODY'S GONNA KNOW. I have to go through with this. I have to do it. When it's over I'll be so glad I did it.  But holy crap am I scared.  I took today off to basically clean my house and calm myself down so I'm not rushing around having a panic attack tomorrow. Ha. Who am I kidding? That's exactly what's going to happen anyway. Send me a kind thought if you have a moment this weekend.  Or, if you want to watch me fall on my face, here are the links to the graduation ceremonies:

Part 1: Saturday, May 14th at 9:30am (Campuswide ceremony, I will be standing up with my fellow graduates in a large group, 2hrs)

Part 2: Sunday, May 15th at 9:30am (Smaller ceremony in which I will cross the stage, 1.5hrs)

P.S. I'll be wearing a dress so my pants can't be scared off of me.