Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Retro Camping

I feel like I'm a bad parent if I don't take the kids camping at least once a year. And yet with the start of school just around the corner, we hadn't yet trekked to the woods to make the annual ritual offering of our bodies to the mosquitoes. So I packed up the car a few days ago and we headed out to nature.

Speaking of packing the car, look how crowded it is with everything jammed in there! Keep in mind this was only a one night camping trip.

All that stuff packed in there, and yet I feel like I'm forgetting something. Oh yes! The kids!

I would just like to take a moment to draw your attention to the the giant sleeping bag rolled up and stuffed between the kids. That is David's sleeping bag, and it dates back to when he was the Boy Scouts, in approximately 1923. I think it's made out of cotton -- since they didn't have man-made fibers back then -- weighs about 20 pounds, and sucks up water like a sponge if it rains or is damp, or is even just kind of humid out. The bag also sports a charming variety of stains. This is definitely a piece of camping equipment you don't want to leave home without.

We had hoped to camp at a nearby state park near the Wisconsin Dells, but all the camping sites were full. So instead we went to a private campground, chosen more or less at random, where I put up the tent. I PUT UP THE TENT! Successfully, with no swearing at all. Sure, it's an easy-to-assembly pop up tent, but I have the spatial intelligence of an inebriated duckling, so I am pretty proud of myself.

Man, my kids love a tent like a golden retriever loves a tennis ball. Before I even had it halfway up, they had scurried inside and were pretending to be mice, in their little hole.

The campground we were at was like a slice of old Wisconsin life, frozen in time. There was a tiny swimming pool, a playground that hadn't been updated since -- well, since about the time David was a Boy Scout, and lots of ashtrays. There was a grumpy old guy manning the front desk. You just know that people were drinking brandy old fashioneds somewhere on site. The campground had very little to recommend it, and yet it was perfect for us.

The playground alone was a big draw for the kids, especially because it included a teeter totter. Nowadays, playgrounds don't have teeter totters, and after I got over my wave of nostalgia, I understood why. Both kids were crying from teeter totter-induced injuries within three minutes. And after we returned home, one person in our party discovered a good-sized splinter in a very sensitive part of his or her body, inflicted by the unpainted wood of the teeter totter. Basically, it was a menace all around and so of course that's mostly what the kids wanted to play on.

(Note the metal slide in the background of this picture -- the kind that heats up to the point where you can cook an egg on it in the hot sun -- and the world's simplest monkey bars. It's like a museum of ancient playground equipment.)

We rotated between the playground, the tiny swimming pool, and playing cards in the tent. We also ate the occasional s'more. The kids love s'mores but they find it stressful to actually roast them, what with the possibility of the marshmallows catching on fire. So I roast them, and if they catch on fire, then I get to bite out the burnt part of the marshmallow, to "fix" it for the kids. Of course I love the burnt part, but make sure to act like I'm doing the kids a big favor.

That stuff you have to eat before you get a s'more
After 24 hours of camping fun, which included about 3 hours of sleeping, we headed back to town. Walter fell asleep in the car as soon I turned the engine on, and I think Stella napped too, with her head on the vintage sleeping bag that took up the whole back seat. I knew that sleeping bag was good for something.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 2 of Costa Rica: A Volcano, I Think

Today we drove to our first destination in Costa Rica, and already I am very grateful to David for doing all the driving. David lived in Los Angeles for years, and as a result can drive in all sorts of difficult conditions, whereas I start crying the minute somebody doesn't let me merge.

I heard that it was difficult to navigate in Costa Rica, and boy, people weren't kidding. There are virtually no street signs, and we got lost multiple times. We had a GPS unit in the car, but that seemed to be in on the game, directing us to take left turns when there wasn't a left turn within 20 miles. I'm thinking Costa Rica should change its slogan from "Pura Vida" to "Sure Hope You Know Where You're Going."

We eventually made our way to Arenal, where there is apparently a picturesque volcano that I haven't had the pleasure to actually see, since it was kind of rainy today. The kids had a lot of fun in the rain. Here they are standing under a downpour from a roof. And then we spent the rest of the day in the pool and watched hummingbirds. A good day.

Day 1, No Goats

We made it to Costa Rica! Well, so far we made it to a airport hotel in San Jose, which is right next to an enormous casino, with a huge flashing neon sign that says "FIESTA." But still! Costa Rica!

Yesterday we spent mostly in transit. I was excited that we had a layover in El Salvador, because it just seemed so exotic. What does the airport in someplace like El Salvador look like, I wondered? Do peasant farmers bring crates of chickens on the plane and tie them on top?

 But you know what? The El Salvador airport bore a strong resemblance to the one in Harrisburg, PA (which I fly to all the time because my mother lives there). And there are never any chickens in the Harrisburg airport. The occasional goat, sure, but no chickens.
Not a goat in sight
 Despite the lack of chickens, there were one interesting things about the El Salvador airport. This lovely poster, for instance, which urged us to contact health officials if our kids have a rash. I'm curious what disease it is that health officials are protecting against, but maybe it's best if I don't know.

 And this poster, which the longer I look at, the more I wonder about. I don't know if you can tell his from the picture, but the "victim" underneath the tires is a doll. What's that all about?

Today's plan: head to Arenal. And keep an eye out for goats.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Oh, right. Forgot about the blog there for a bit.

Next week I turn 40. As part of reaching a landmark birthday, I've been thinking about how I want to spend the time that makes up my life, and how to do more of things that I find enjoyable. As part of that stock-taking, I remembered that one of the things that I like to do is write about my life here. So perhaps it's time to blow the dust off the blog, or since I have little kids maybe a better metaphor would be that it's time to wipe off the smeary something-or-other that might be peanut butter, but is probably refried beans, from the blog.

For the record, the other things that I want to do more of are (a) playing the piano and (b) data visualization. I'll just apologize upfront for using the word "visualization," because I think it's one of the most annoying words getting tossed around right now, along with "infographic," "persuadables," and "robust." Oh! and "eatery." (Later tonight I'm going to the eatery to show my infographic to the persuadables, hoping to make my viz a little more robust.)

Since I last wrote here, a hellacious winter has come and gone. We had the coldest winter in 30 years, and we're talking Wisconsin winters here, so you know things got cold. The cripplingly cold temperatures this winter made me think of the pioneers and Native Americans who lived in Wisconsin a couple hundred years ago, who had to feed themselves and keep themselves warm through the winters despite not having central heating or advanced man-made fabrics. Those people were brave. And TOUGH. And maybe not quite all there, because who would want to trudge through a foot of snow to go hunt a deer or milk a cow in -10 degrees?

Get out there and do the milking, boy.

I also went to New Zealand since I wrote here last. My father lives in New Zealand, so I try to take the kids down there most years. And we happened to be in New Zealand for the coldest days of this insanely cold winter, which I think happened because God is smiling on me for letting the girl that sat next to me in 8th grade copy my German homework all the time. He took His sweet time coming through with the reward, but it was definitely worth it.

I can still conjugate many irregular German verbs.

Thank God spring is here, which means that the giant piles of snow are mostly gone and it only occasionally snows and every third day or so it gets above freezing and we all rejoice. Spring also means by birthday is here and  yes, I'm turning 40! More on that after I clean the refried beans off my keyboard.