January 26, 2010

Lessons learned from Lake Pleasant

As I mentioned in my last blog when my daughter wanted to spend a fishing/camping weekend with my, I was very honored that she considered spending time with me as a reward. I was also very nervous. I had gone camping alone in the past, but I going camping on your own is totally different from going camping with a daughter. There are expectations that your child is going to have. In addition, my daughter wanted to catch fish and eat it for dinner. I have NEVER done any fish processing. She also wanted to roast marshmallows, which meant starting a fire. I don't think I have ever started a fire by myself. I was a girl scout, but only for a few years and we didn't learn that kind of stuff. We learned macrame, sewing and baking and skills "more suited" to girls. I always wanted to be a boy scout because they seemed to do cooler things, like learn how to survive in the wilderness with nothing but a swiss army knife, a compass, flint and a water canteen. Besides those two practical issues, I also wondered how well we would get along and whether we would run out of things to say. My daughter and I frequently butt heads because we both have definite ideas about how things should be done and we don't always agree on the method. We had been arguing a lot lately as she seems to be honing her skills for the teenage years. I really wanted to have a great weekend, but I was concerned that it would be filled with bickering which would ruin the weekend.

With all this in mind, I decided to honor her request to go camping, though I warned her that it would have to be delayed until after the holidays. She seemed okay with waiting and was fairly patient. I decided so quickly on the date and the place to camp, that she was delightfully surprised when I told her we were going. Immediately, she pulled out some paper and we started menu planning and planning our activities. We had to work out a few disagreements, but we each submitted to each other in certain areas--I agreed to have sausage with oatmeal even though it wasn't appealing and she agreed not to cook anything for breakfast on Sunday. She was pretty definite on fishing all morning and then hiking in the afternoon. I decided to bring along a book to read while she was fishing. She was going to do it all because I don't care for fishing, apart from the appeal to my survival skills and because she can fish for free, whereas I would need to buy a license.

The big day arrived and we left to set up camp with her brothers and sister and dog in tow. I felt really foolish when we got there and I realized that I had forgotten the hatchet, which is frequently used to pound tent stakes. However, the foolishness gave way to a feeling of primal power when I started using the rocks as hammers. My first choice was a little hard on the hands, so that I had to try a couple of others before I found one with the right weight and shape. It still managed to wear away a layer of skin before I managed to stake the tent down. There is a certain, healthy pride that comes from doing something by yourself, especially when you have to overcome hurdles to accomplish it. It was also so windy as we were setting it up, I had to use rocks to keep the tarp and tent on the ground as I was staking it. When the tent was raised, I also had the kids get intothe tent to make sure it would stay down while I put the rain flap over it. Just to make sure it would stay, I put rocks over the tent pegs to hold them down and put our clothes in the tent, though I knew they weren't

Just as I finished that job, I looked around for our dog, Jacques. Jessi had tied him to a post when I asked her to get inside the tent, but she didn't tie it very well because he was nowhere to be seen. I felt scared and sick all at once and realized felt that it was all my fault if he had run away and been run over by a car. We bought him from a shelter that had a similar policy to the one Ellen Degeneres used when she had her crying episode on TV. Over the course of two minutes of not finding him, I pictured him dead, wandering around limping on all the burrs that he picked up and being permanently blacklisted from adopting dogs. Fortunately, Jacques is a sensible dog and was sitting patiently by the van waiting for us to finish so that he could get back in the comfortable, not burry van. He was happily surprised when we all descended on him with hugs and rubs. We ate lunch, spent 30 minutes in the Visitor Center viewing every single item they offered and then went home. LZ, wise girl that she was, picked up as much free information about fishing that she could, since she knew I knew virtually nothing.

It was close to nightfall when LZ and I returned, which meant that we had to set up the camp light and camp stove by flashlight. It wasn't going well. Fortunately, the campground has excellent cell phone coverage, so I called my husband to get some pointers about hooking up the propane jar to the stove. It was not starting out well. However, eating food had remarkable properties in improving my outlook. Until that is, I realized that I forgot the dish soap. Recriminations started playing in my head until I remembered Kathy's great phrase: "Oh well". I used hand soap soaked in the water to clean the dishes, trying not to think about soap scum. It wasn't great, but it meant NOT eating off of dirty dishes the next morning. Then, we just relaxed and talked about all sorts of things and looked up at the stars. I know Orion's Belt and pointed it out to her. That was enough to impress her. Woo Hoo! Then we looked at all sorts of stars with some small binoculars and found one cluster that looked like a question mark. We talked a lot about great camping memories, like walking around Smoky Mountains National park together and seeing a baby bear foraging, and walking across the Mississippi River at it's source, and the time we camped for two weeks traveling around the southern side of Lake Superior, dipping into Lake Huron at the end. And we goofed off, which is the greatest thing to do with a child. On the way from the bathroom as we got ready for bed, I spotted a bobcat, which was cool and a little scary at the same time. We put the food in the car, snuggled into our sleeping bags and I tried not to think about the bobcat. It was very windy, so I spent a lot of the night wondering how well I really staked the tent, though I was pretty sure that it would not carry us off in the night. The biggest problem is that I thought I kept hearing the bobcat prowling around our campsite. I even "jumped" out of the tent at one point to suprise the animal and and by "jump" I meant that it took me two minutes to open the door, slip on my shoes and unzip the flap so I could "surprise" any animal that was checking the place out. However, there was no animal. At some point in the night, I finally figured out that the "crunching noise" was the rain flap hitting the ground from the wind. It is interesting, however, how your mind really plays tricks on you when you are sheltered only by a thin layer of fabric.

The next day presented three challenges, of which I "passed" two of them: fixing LZ's fishing pole, kayaking with her and starting a fire. Fortunately, LZ never caught a fish at all, so I wasn't presented with a fourth challenge of trying to prepare a fish to eat. All of these were challenges because I had never done any of them before on my own. I only failed at one of them, which was trying to fix her pole. Since she couldn't fish, she wanted to go on a boat. If we had been able to fish, we might have tried the fishing boat. The flyer for the boat rental only mentioned "kayaks" and I pictured the two of us in one of the those narrow boats where you are literally stuck inside the boat with an opening just big enough to get your derriere into, going out on the lake, capsizing, not being able to get it rightside up, and drowning both me and my daughter. Then I would be standing in front of the Pearly Gates with Peter saying to me, "What WERE you thinking?" Fortunately, they only rent sea kayaks which are much wider. They are actually more like plastic rafts with a seat attached to the top. The lack of sides was not reassuring, but I figured that we would follow the guy's advice to the letter when he said "Don't stand up." It turned out to be really wonderful. There are so many things you can only see in the middle of the lake. For instance, we could tell that the lake was down several feet because we saw a water line--a layer of rock near the lake which was a pale, washed out taupe suddenly turning cinnamon brown with lots of green brush and cactus covering it as you looked higher. I hadn't brought the camera with us because I didn't want to chance it falling overboard due to the lack of sides. We had no accidents and had a lot of fun drifting, talking, rowing fast and steering. It was LZ first time paddling and she did a great job.

In a way, I "passed" the challenge of fixing the fishing pole, by taking her to the Visitor's Center when a fishing expert was present. He fixed the fishing pole and gave her a lot of great advice, most of which I can't remember at this point in time. I guess that I am not meant to fish.

My last challenge was to start a fire. I think every other time that I had been camping, I was either with someone who knew how to start a fire, like my husband, or I brought along one of those self starting, no-fail logs. However, maybe because LZ saw how my husband made a fire, I thought I had to do it like he did it. So we bought logs at the marina store and headed to the campsite around 4 in the afternoon so that I could start the fire, now knowing how successfull I would be. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that if I failed, there was a burger joint at the Marina. However, my daughter was looking forward to roasting marshmallows, which the burger joint couldn't provide. Therefore I was determined to start one. Starting a fire meant creating kindling from the logs, which was the main reason that I brought the hatchet. I silently sent up a prayer to God that I would finish this exercise with the same number of fingers, hands and feet while I set up the first log. I banished fleeting mental picture of me bringing down the hatchet on the wood to have it bounce off, like some scene in a light beer commercial. I was overjoyed when the hatchet did stick a little bit on my first swing. It took me about 30 minutes to create kindling, but I managed to do it without any major injury. I scraped some skin off and pulled out a few splinters out of my hand in the process, but I was successful. If nothing else went right in the firemaking process, I was content. And I made a mental note to bring leather gloves next time. I then gathered the kindling, placed it on the paper that LZ had wadded up and used a butane lighter to start the fire. I know, at this point, you are thinking "Butane lighter! What a wimp!" To my delighted surprise, it started immediately and the big log I had put on top of it all also caught fire! Bwahahahahahah! Fire!!!!!! I have never felt so accomplished before. Now my daughter's dreams of sitting around the fire, toasting hot dogs and marshmallows would be realized. I was totally pumped. As many of my Facebook friends can attest, I took many pictures with my cell phone and posted them on Facebook. I think God was cheering me on also because the sunset that night resembled a fire with clouds of smoke billowing from it. Seriously! The rest of the night was great, except for the game of war, which I was winning a lot. I think God is trying to teach LZ how to be a good loser and me to be a gracious winner. We were pretty tired, so we fell asleep pretty early. Nothing woke me up that night except the cold. I was actually cold in the sleeping bag while wearing socks, long pants, a T-shirt covered by a long sleeved shirt! I grabbed and extra blanket we had brought along "just in case" and fell back to sleep.

During the whole time, none of the fears I had going into the trip came to pass. Even if some of them had, I am sure that it would have only been a momentary blip in our overall happy times, creating a great story of "suffering" which we could relive over a campfire at another time. We had a great time talking and it felt so good to be able to goof off with her for a majority of the time. When we homeschool, I try to do goofy things, but sometimes, it is hard. And I have to be the one that keeps them on task. I don't always like being the 'taskmaster'. I also realized that my kids, strangely enough, do like hanging out with me, even though they are with me all day, every day. And I have determined that I will have "hang time" with each child individually as much as possible. So I need to get off my derriere right now to hang out.

January 17, 2010

Mother-daughter camping trip

This trip started in September last year, after the girls competed in the regional Bible Bee. There was no worries about them making it past regionals, since they did not demonstrate the fire of desire to learn all 200 Bible verses and 200 Bible facts necessary to win the competition (no I am actually NOT exaggerating this time). In fact, when we received the two reams of paper with all the Bible verses to memorize, their enthusiasm for participating really waned. However, we worked through 3o verses or more and I wanted to reward them for their effort. When I asked them what they wanted, they both listed some kind of activity with me. My oldest asked for a fishing camping weekend. She had received a fishing pole from Grandpa D and was itching to use it again. While I was honored that she would consider time with me a reward, I knew that it would take a while to achieve because we were in the middle of football season with Kyle, which led up to the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's holiday season. Has anyone thought about calling it New Thankschristmas? I also had to work to research where we would go because I am not familiar with the campsites in Arizona. In Illinois, it would have been Illinois Beach State Park, 45 minutes from our house and right off Lake Michigan.

The weekend before our trip, as I was perusing Maricopa County Parks web site, I discovered Lake Pleasant Regional park. Doesn't that sound like a wonderful place to go camping? It is a man-made lake formed by damming a river and filling it with fish, located a little more than an hour from Mesa. Since it wasn't Kyle's birthday yet, I thought it would be the perfect time to fulfill my promise to Elizabeth. Because, Arizona is living in opposite world compared to the Midwest, I knew that I would be able to camp and have a fairly pleasant experience in the middle of winter. I discussed it with Eric who agreed and I gave LZ the joyful news that I would fulfill my promise to her. The campsites are available on a first-come/first-serve basis, so I decided to take all the kids to Lake Pleasant on Friday morning to stake out a camping site.

We packed a clothes bag on Thursday night and pulled the camping equipment out to make sure it had everything we needed (imperfectly, of course). We had already determined our menu and I bought the necessary items to accomplish it.

Friday morning, after some brief schooling, I loaded kids, dog, some supplies and the tent in the van and headed for Lake Pleasant, which is a little more than an hour away from Mesa. We found a campsite just off the water, which allowed LZ to go fishing any time. I worked on getting the tent set up, asking LZ to help now and then. I even have a picture of my son helping me. However, as soon as we pulled up, I realized that I had forgotten to bring the hatchet to use as a hammer to pound the tent stakes into the sand. For those of you who don't live in Arizona, sand packs down into near cement quality status. Eric had to use an impact hammer to get a hole deep enough in the ground to support our bird feeder hangars. Fortunately, Arizona has a lot of big rocks, too. I surveyed the copious rocks around our campsite and finally picked one that looked like it would not shred my hands as I pounded it on tent stakes. Thirty minutes later, we had the tent set up. It took that long because I had kids helping me, I had to stop and make sure the kids who were not helping me were staying out of trouble and to stop and help the kids take about fifteen burrs out of Jacques' hair and paws. Because it was pretty windy, I placed big rocks over the stakes to "help" them stay down, because I am not totally sure of my abilities to stake a tent well. We ate lunch, checked out the teeny, tiny visitor's center, and returned home for the final preparation--packing the cooler and the food bag. When Eric returned home, I packed the car and LZ and I started on our adventure. We cooked gardenburgers (LZ' choice) over the fire and munched on them and salad while drinking milk. At that point, I realized that the kitchen bin did NOT have dish soap packed. I used hand soap, since that was all that we had. We looked at stars and talked about past camping trips before going to bed. The night was very windy, and I kept waking up wondering if the stakes would hold. We also had people who felt the need to blast CCR at midnight for a bit. At least they have good taste in music. I didn't get much sleep.

Our alarm woke us up at 6 a.m. the next morning so that we could watch the sun rise and so that LZ could start fishing really early. It was cold! We wrapped ourselves in blankets and brought chairs down to the shore, along with her fishing pole. After the sun rose, I started making breakfast: sausages, apple cinnamon oatmeal in packets and hot chocolate. We ate the sausages right off the pan to limit dirty dishes. The hot food and drink was welcome. I was wishing I had some stronger caffeine, though. After clean-up, LZ went down to fish. Unfortunately, something happened to her fishing pole and it wouldn't retract the line, so she had to give up pretty quickly. To stave off dissappointment, we went back to the Visitor's Center, where I made purchases for her and the rest of the family. We toured the marina, found a boat rental place and then left for lunch--sausage, cheddar cheese, and sugar snap peas dipped in Rondelle cheese spread. Can you tell that we like cheese? We returned to the dock and rented a sea kayak for a few hours. This was LZ first time paddling. I would have to say that that was the best part of the trip. We talked to any friendly fisherman on the lake, enjoyed the mountains rimming the lake, paddled to see how fast we could go and to see how quickly we could stop. We also allowed the kayak to drift when our arms tired out. LZ paddled like a pro. We returned to the Visitor's Center, where a fishing expert fixed LZ' pole and gave her a lot of information about fishing along with a fishing poster. We returned to the campsite so that LZ could continue fishing and so that I could start a fire for dinner: roasted hot dogs, potato packets and roasted marshmallows. We played a couple of card games, but, honestly, by 8:30, we were tuckered out. It was getting pretty cold, so we bundled into the tent, got into PJs, put on a couple extra layers and read a National Geographic article about supervolcanoes before going to sleep. It was quieter this night than last night, but it was also colder. In the middle of the night, I actually had to use the extra blanket we brought!

Sunday morning, we crawled out of our sleeping bags well after the sun rose and only because our bodies were telling us that we needed to visit the bathroom. We ate zucchini bread which I had baked on Friday and drank hot chocolate. It was so cold and windy that we ended up sitting in the car to eat breakfast. LZ returned to fishing while I broke down the tent and washed the last of the dishes. We managed to fit everything back in the car and was home by 10:30. We had so much fun, it was hard to return to reality.

Lake Pleasant rating: It is about 30 minutes north of Carefree Highway. Basically, the lake has not affected the desert habitat at all, except to provide an area for fishing. There are three or four different campgrounds, but some people just pitched a tent near the shore. Most of the spots are set up for RVs, but the tent sites are pretty nice. The bathrooms are well maintained and there are showers. The nicest thing is that each campsite has its own water source, which was really appreciated. Most of the places where we have camped in the past have a few central water sources, which involves lugging water in water bags or big pots several hundred yards. It has one hiking trail and another, much smaller trail, linking one campground to the Visitor's Center. There is also a mini trail near the Visitor's Center going down to where some desert tortoises are currently hibernating. I can't really comment on the quality of the hiking trails since we really didn't go hiking. The Visitor's Center will occupy kids for ten minutes, max. Most of the "stores" around the campground have junk food and firewood, so if you forget an essential, you have to travel 30 minutes or more to civilization to get the item--or you just adapt without it. Really, the main reason to camp at Lake Pleasant should involve water--fishing, boating or a combination. It is a pleasant experience.

January 4, 2010

My two dads redux: the in-laws

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (at least that is what it seems like to me), I started a tribute series and, at some point, wrote about my two dads, in Another tribute--My Two Dads. It turns out, I also happen to have a father-in-law and a step-father-in-law, though that was not always the case. My mother-in-law, Momma Sue, remarried when our oldest was a little over a year old.

Jim, my father-in-law:
The Bible writes this about Jesus: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being..." In other words, Jesus was a Chip of the Old Block. I can say the exact same thing about Eric and his dad. They look very similar, have voices that are almost identical and have a lot of the same habits. So, basically, I can thank him for making the wonderful man I married, though I think God made a few improvements over time. These are some of the things I admire about him: After many years of marriage, he still refers to his wife as "his bride", which I really love; He has a great smile. He is incredibly calm. I don't know if this is the result of raising five children or if it is more of his nature; He works hard and does his best in even the most minor of jobs, like washing dishes. He is a formidable opponent at games, especially cards, which he enjoys playing. He make a killer cup of coffee.

Dick, my step-father-in-law:
I made a brief mention of him when I wrote about my mother-in-law in Tribute series resumed--Momma Sue. He is a hopeless goofball. And I mean that in the highest honor. The kids all love him because he loves to pretend things, especially if they are silly, like the time he pretended to be a ballon that was blown up and then released. I am sure that he seriously regrets starting THAT trick, since it became their most requested trick. He can inject humor into a serious conversation that will prevent it from become a serious debate, although he does seem to enjoy watching people debate at times. He will break out in song, for no apparent reason, making it seem as if we are living in a muscial. He brings out everyone's inner silliness, which is a wonderful gift, especially for those people, not naming names, (me) who take life a little too seriously.

Both men are very liberal in their love for people, especially family and extended/grafted family. I really enjoy spending time with them when we visit the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Thank you, Jim and Dick, for being such great in-laws.