Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: family life

The “Black People”: A Camping Story

boys on trail

We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.

The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.

We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.

This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.

Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.

We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.

We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.

At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.

We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.

A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.

When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.

I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.

“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.

Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.

“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.

“Jake.”

“Jake!”

He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.

“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.

“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”

Without looking away, “The black people.”

I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”

“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.

“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.

“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”

A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.

“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.

Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.

Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.

Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.

“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.

The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.

Party Anxiety Strikes Again

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It’s dark and I feel something small and light jump up onto the bed, a mew or two and then paws walking up the length of me, a sniff in my face, and a gentle push against my shoulder. I roll over and pull the covers over my face. He mews again, walks up onto my side and nests between my arm and side.

Just as I’m about to fall back asleep, he gets up, walks over my head and mews again. That’s Abe’s way of telling me it’s time to get up. 4:15 a.m. Sometimes he lets me sleep until 4:30. I’m not sure why I need to be up with him at this hour, but he’s relentless.

As I pull the covers off and swing my legs over the side of the bed, he leaps off the bed and strolls into the bathroom. I follow.

Today is the big day. The holiday my family has been looking forward to for months. I cleaned up the house extra all week, went shopping for party supplies, pre-cooked the meatballs, potatoes, and cake yesterday. Everything is ready. But I’m not, at least not mentally ready.

I started dreading the day earlier in the week but tried to set the feeling aside. I always feel this way before people come over. It’s just anxiety, I tell myself. It will pass as soon as people start to show up. But the feeling builds all week and I have yet to learn to let it wash over me and fade away.

I remind myself that I love having people over. I love cleaning the house, getting food ready, inviting everyone over, and seeing everyone arrive. I love going from one end of the house to the other, talking with friends at the pool table, jumping into the kitchen and bringing out more food, watching my friends’ kids pull out all the games and toys from the shelf behind the couch. I even love cleaning up after the party the next day!

So why do I get more and more nervous as the date approaches? Why is that I wake up the day of the event, dreading the next twelve hours? I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what might make me feel this way, but I’ve come up with nothing other than I might be a bit on the crazy side, slightly unstable shall we say.

I follow my cat as he leads me through the kitchen to his food bowl, meowing and looking back to be sure I’m there, as if it needs to be filled but jumps up and eats happily once we’re there…together. I grumble and get a drink of water and a hot cup of coffee, grab my book off the counter and head to the couch. My husband, who’s been up for an hour already (I swear the man barely sleeps), greets me as I come in, “Ready for the big day?”

“Maybe. Or maybe no one will show up and we can just eat meatballs in peace.”

“Maybe! But I doubt it. At least three people have confirmed they will be here.”

“Three. Seriously.”

My anxiety peaks here. It’s where I start to wonder, why do I even bother trying to keep friends? It seems that everyone is always too busy to visit. Everyone is wrapped up in something so important that they can’t make time to play. Or is it just me? I think I’ve had two or three invites to parties in the last ten years. It’s strange to me. Hosting parties is the fun part of life to me and it seems no one else wants to do it, and they rarely want to make the time to go to any either. Or, again, maybe it’s me.

Ugg. This sucks. I if I would only stop inviting people over, I wouldn’t have to deal with this. I tell myself I only need to get through the next twelve hours and then I’ll somehow never fall for this “Let’s have a party!” thing again. Why do I do this to myself?

Because I love it. Because once people start to arrive, I’m having the time of my life. I’ve learned over the years that my feelings aren’t trustworthy; anxiety lies to me on a daily basis. It tells me that no one likes me, that they don’t really want to be around me, that they have far more important things to do than come over and play with me. I know this isn’t true. In reality, I’ve experienced the opposite too many times to count.

I sink down into my spot on the couch and sip my coffee as Abe jumps up, rubs against my arm, curls into a ball beside me, and goes to sleep. Why couldn’t we do that in my bed?! Stupid cat.

I’ve got everything prepped and ready to go and my “day of the party” to-do list is very short, so I have plenty of time to relax this morning. I open my book and settle in to read for a few hours before the sun comes up.

The party doesn’t start until 2pm but I’m ready at noon, so my husband and I shoot some pool and have a couple of beers on our own. I love hanging out with that guy. If he were the only friend I had, I’d still be happy. We don’t always have a lot in common, but we do have this; we both love each other very much and want the other to be happy. Even if no one came to the party, between us and our teenagers, we’re enough. I decide right then to stop the downward spiral. Fuck this, poor me attitude!

After a couple games, I look at my watch 1pm. I can’t believe it’s only been an hour. My son arrives with the strawberries he promised from the Farmer’s Market, so I head back to the kitchen to clean them up and arrange them on the cake. My other son shows up with his girlfriend a few minutes later. He’s brought Red Vines and Rice Krispie Treats, party staples since he was a kid. When your kids start recreating things from their childhood, you know you’ve done well.

Before I knew it people began to show up and I relax into the “hostess with the mostess.” It wasn’t the biggest turn out we’ve had, but it was certainly fun. It was just what I needed, a small gathering of friends, eating, drinking, and playing games. Once everyone was gone, I sat on the couch and sighed.

“See?” my husband said. “You always pull it off as if you were born for it.”

Every year I say I’ll invite people over more often and every year I start to do just that. Then I get discouraged or overwhelmed and let it slide. Then winter comes and we get busy with other things. Here we are in Spring again. The weather is getting nicer and we aren’t as busy with the kids as we used to be. Will I start to open up the house again? We’ll see. I need to recover from this one first!

Laundry Magic

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

“Clothes don’t clean themselves, you know!” I heard my mother’s exasperated voice make that statement more than once growing up. She was always so despondent about it and I could never understand why. I mean, seriously, what is so difficult about gathering laundry, throwing it in the washing machine, and then getting it out again? Then I had children.

Laundry is best done daily. That is a plain and simple fact. In a family of six people, if you let a day or two go between loads, you’ll never get on top of it again. Imagine a lumberjack walking a log in a river and you’ll get the picture. One wrong step and the log rolls out from under you. Splash!

It starts with gathering the clothes. You’d think that would be the easy part, but children seem to love a good game of “Hide the Socks” or “Stuff the Favorite Sweatshirt in a Corner.” And the good Lord help you if she manages to put her best jeans in the laundry and they aren’t out of the dryer before her date.

Every morning, I pull my trusty pop-up laundry basket from under my bed, push out the bottom so that it’s fully extended and make my rounds gathering the load of the day. I start in the kitchen with the damp towels, cloth napkins, and wash cloths from the day before. Nothing smells worse than damp towels in a laundry hamper, so I have kept them out on purpose. I make a quick glance around the livingroom as I pass by just in case a pair of wet socks or soaked jacket was left by the fireplace to dry.

The kids’ bedrooms are next on the agenda. A pair of jeans, a piece of a work uniform, or sweaty gym shorts may be hiding from me in there. I grab them up and throw them into my basket. Sheets and bath towels will be gathered another day.

There is a laundry hamper in their bathroom. Thankfully most of their clothes are in there. They all share a bathroom and usually throw their clothes in the hamper after they shower. I reach in and pull out the items I’m going to wash that day. Dark cottons, white socks and shirts, blue jeans, or uniforms, get tossed into my basket depending on the day.

Last on my list is our hamper. My husband and I have our own bathroom and it has plenty of room for a nice big hamper with partitions for sorting laundry as we change our clothes, that is if my husband thinks of it as he gets ready for bed. I frequently find a white sock in the dark cotton bin and wet towels from a garage project stuffed in with the jeans. Ahh…the life.

With my rounds done, my basket full, I make my way out the laundry room. The laundry room for our house seems to have been added on to the back of the detached garage as an afterthought. City water and power didn’t come to our rural area until the 80’s. This house was built as a small cabin in the 60’s. It has been added on to over the years and I can just see the previous owner and his wife’s conversation.

“Wilma, the county is going to run a water line to our property next year. What do you say about adding a bathroom and a kitchen to that house and living there full time?”

“Sounds wonderful Fred, but I’m not going unless there is a washer and dryer indoors like our house in the city!”

A year later, he leads his lovely wife into the upgraded house. The kitchen is small but lovely. The bathrooms are functional and stylish for the era. She searches the house for the laundry room he promised and can’t find it.

“Fred, what did you do?”

“Right back here, dear! You said indoors!”

She follows him as he excitedly leads her out the back porch door, across the driveway, and around to the back of the garage, pushes the door open in front of her and says, “Surprise!”

It’s a bit of a walk but this is the desert and rarely is there ever any bad weather. I doubt that’s what she meant when she said “indoor laundry room” but he’s so proud. How can she be anything but excited?

I make that trek across the driveway and around the garage myself several times a day. I start my daily load of laundry early in the morning after my shower. I open the sliding glass door with my laundry basket on my hip and head out. Cottontail bunnies that have found the tufts of grass growing around my drain scatter as I walk by.

The laundry room runs across the entire back of my two-car garage. It’s an impressive laundry room. It doubles as a storage room. When you walk in you see the wall to the left of the door covered with built in storage cabinets filled with my holiday decorations, old files, and boxes of unwanted toys that my kids just can bear to part with. Fishing poles and tackle boxes, extra chairs, and an old dresser filled with wrapping paper line the wall to my right. And at the end stand my lovely bright aqua colored front-loading washer and dryer.

That set is a story in and of itself. When we moved here the house didn’t come with a washer and dryer, so we drove down into town to the big box hardware store to see what they had. There were boring white and silver sets, but the aqua one was so beautiful. I had to have it. My husband loves me very much, even if I do get a tad over excited about colorful appliances.

I drop my loaded basket to the floor in front of the washer and start throwing in the clothes, double checking for any forgotten change, papers, and pens left behind in pockets. I slam the door shut and open the soap drawer at the top. I have my liquid laundry soap container conveniently located on top of the washer right above the soap drawer. All I need to do is open the drawer and push the button to fill the cup the suggested “serving” of soap line inside the drawer. I slide the drawer shut, set the washer dial to “Perm. Press” and the water temperature to “cold” and press the start button.

Before I leave, I wait just a minute to be sure I hear the door lock and the water start to run before I head back into the house. My washer takes about one hour to run through its wash cycle, so I have some time to get a few things done before it’s time to come back out. I plant myself down on the couch with my book and a cup of coffee. It’s still early and there are no children up yet to beg for a tasty breakfast or ask me to help them construct a wild project in the back yard.

An hour later, the alarm on my phone starts to ring and I shut my book and head back out to the laundry room. The bunnies haven’t come back but a roadrunner flicks his tail and flies up into a Joshua Tree as I pass by.

The washer isn’t quite done with its spin cycle, so I take a seat on a folding chair next to the window and watch the desert as a quiet meditation as I wait. My washer’s sweet musical notes startle me when the cycle ends. I must have been deep in thought, but most likely I just dozed off for a moment.

I open the washer door and transfer the wet clothes into the waiting dryer that stands open and waiting. Damn. I missed an ID card that was in my son’s pocket. Luckily it’s hard plastic and unharmed by the washer. I slip into my back pocket and finish putting the load in the dryer.

I slam the dryer door shut and spin the selector at the top to a timed dryer cycle, “60 minutes” and “low.” The dryer has so many different settings for every kind of clothing you might have. It looks like the cockpit of an airplane with all its dials, settings, and buttons. They’ve never been used by me. I’m a simple girl!

Once I press “go,” I’ve got another hour before these clothes need my attention. I head into the house as I set the timer on my phone again. I always set the timer. If I don’t the laundry will never get done. I’m notorious for losing track of time. My children are constantly on me about how long things take when I’m in control. They’ve heard “It’ll only take a minute. Come on!” and “I’ll be home in an hour.” a thousand times. They know how I operate and usually add on another hour to however long I say it will take.

I take the long way around the garage and through the front yard to the front door this time and enter the house through the kitchen. While the laundry is drying, I’ll wash the dishes and listen to a podcast, and then make everyone breakfast. Pancakes sound perfect for a day like this!

The alarm goes off on my phone and my youngest follows me out the laundry room to help. We move the basket to the front of the dryer and he pulls all the socks and underwear out into the basket while I pull out the shirts and lay them neatly across the top of dryer so they don’t get wrinkled. Once the dryer is empty, my son pulls out the lint trap and taps the piled up lint into the trash can waiting beside the dryer. He has trouble putting it back in but gets after a bit of work. I lay the shirts across the top of the basket and lift it up to my hip. My son gets the door and we walk back to the house to fold and put away our clean stuff.

My sons love to sort out the socks when I bring in a clean load of laundry. I get the shirts off the top of the basket, lay them out on the bed, and get some hangers from the closet. While I hang them up, they dump out the rest of the basket and grab up their own socks, match them up, and take them to their rooms along with the underwear.

An empty basket sits on my bed, so I flip it over and collapse it upon itself, drop it to the floor and slide it under my bed. Another morning load of laundry in the books. Let’s get a cookie!

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