Friday, July 28, 2006

6 families, 6 tents, 6 kids 6 and under: should camping be this hard?

This past weeked was our annual camping trip to Big Basin. We started out in 2004 with just our 4 friends (no kids) and our family - 8 in total. This year, we are up to 18 people - 12 adults and 6 kids, age 3-6 years old. As we approach the weekend, I am always a little anxious about the details and logistics, but at the end of the weekend I always think about how much fun it has been and how we are definitely doing it again next year.

The thing that makes this trip the hardest is that camping is not as easy as it once was....

When I was a kid, my Mom would take us camping 2 or 3 times during the summer. We would sleep under the stars (yes, I am a California native), no tents for us. We would eat sugar cereals with milk my mom would buy every other day. Dinner was something from our favorite childhood culinary wizard, Chef Boyardee. It was not until I went camping in my early twenties did I realize you could actually have real food camping. You know, fresh food, the kind that needs to be transported in coolers or else it spoils. With my Mom, camping was a more spontaneous and carefree undertaking, requiring no more planning than picking the weekend, throwing the sleeping bags in the trunk and getting the heck out of dodge.

Nowadays, you have to book your campsite 6 months in advance, and at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, that does not even ensure you get a good one - you need to show up right at 2pm check-in to nab a decent site. There are so many folks interested in this trip back in time that I think the campsites are actually getting smaller, in an effort to cram in more wilderness-loving folks. In order to ensure we have all the creature comforts of home, it takes us a station wagon with a rocket box to haul all our crap. Back in the day (am I old enough to say that?), we put everything for 3 weeks of car camping and vacationing into the back of my Mom's Buick Skylark.

When you get there, it seems as though every moment needs to be filled with activities designed to maximize your experience in the wilds - hiking; birdwatching; visiting the nature center; going to the ranger-sponsored campfire. Not many opportunities to contemplate your navel, or poke the fire as one of my friends likes to say. Because meals are so complicated (think French Toast with sausage and fruit or grilled New York strip steaks with homemade baked beans and firepit roasted potatos), so is the clean up, and it seems as though when one clean up is finished, you need to start preparing the next meal. In my desire to channel my inner girl scout, I also bring along Bessie, my 12" Dutch Oven, which is good for all sorts of cooking adventures, including brownies, sweet rolls for breakfast and my now famous oven 'o beans. We extend the day into the night by bringing a battery of batteries to power our flotilla of lanterns. This allows us to play Mexican Train and Speed Scrabble and Backgammon well past lights out. No moment goes wasted.

Even the s'mores are more complicated - used to be that you would whip out a coat hanger, do some fancy bending, cram on a marshmallow, burn it, and then squeeze it between two graham crackers pre-loaded with Hershey's. Now, we strive to find the best chocolate - 62% is good, 70% is better - buy organic graham crackers and homemade marshmallows. We buy special roasting sticks and we don't actually let the kids touch them, too dangerous. All of this works out to be the most complicated two day adventure ever.

So, why do I do this, you might ask? Wouldn't it be easier and less complicated to put the tent in the backyard? Couldn't I get the same feeling by staying in a hotel or experimenting on the BBQ at home? Using my pop-psychology degree, I have lots of thoughts on why I do this - I like to expose my kids to new things; I like to challenge myself (and some of my friends) to get out of our comfort zones; I like to plan large, logistically complicated activities; and I like to camp. I like to sleep in tents; I like the smell of camping, the fire mixed in with the redwoods; I like all the dust and dirt and showering in community showers that take quarters; I like cooking over the camp stoves and organizing the kitchen boxes, trying to anticipate everything we might need. Mostly, I like to go on these adventures to remind myself of adventures taken with my Mom, as I know these are the kind of trips my kids will remember long after I am gone. Hope when that time comes, they will remember these adventures as spontaneous and carefree too....

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Frequent Flyer Miles and the reality of our trip to Hawaii

We have been thinking about our trip to Hawaii since we returned from our last one in 2004. My dad has a time-share in Maui and we get to use it every 3 years (my siblings get it the alternating years). Our next turn in 2007. To make this trip possible, we are using frequent flyer miles that my husband and I have been hording like kids with ice cream cones. We have enough saved for 4 super saver tickets!

The trick with frequent flyer (FF) tickets is that you book them 330 days before your trip. You figure out what that day is and then you start calling around 12midnight Eastern. They don't have many tickets - the last time we tried this, the family before us got all the 7 allocated seats. We no longer mess around.

Husband called the airline about 4 weeks ago to confirm the date that we could start calling for tickets. It was July 16th. Since we were not sure when they would be released, we started calling at 9pm.

When you call, as you are waiting to talk to someone on the phone, you get the message that you could save $15 by booking the tickets on-line. What they don't tell you is that the on-line system is not programmed to allow this to happen, thereby ensuring that you need to talk to a live customer service agent to make it happen. $60 for 4 tickets to Hawaii is not bad, I rationalize.

At 9pm, the person on the other end nicely told us that the flights were not yet in the system. But, did we realize that we could not actually book our return at the same time, because they can only hold the seats for 3 days and our return is going to be 14 days after we leave. Huh? I suggested we call back and get someone better on the phone.

At 10:15pm we call again, the tickets are still not ready, but the person was way more helpful, and said it would not be a problem to book the return flights.

Husband goes to bed (I had a 2hour nap in the afternoon, I was not tired). 11pm, I call again, still no seats available, but the person on the other end is very helpful and I wish the seats were available because I think she would be nice to work with.

1:30am - Husband gets out of bed to go potty and decides to call again - gets through - I hear a lot of "yes, yes, 4 seats, yes, June 13th, yes, yes"...sounded good to me. The whole conversation took 8 minutes, felt like forever. He gets back in bed, we do a little high-five and go back to sleep.

When I talked with him this morning, he said he had the best, most helpful person on the phone who confirmed that we just need to call back in 2 weeks to confirm the return portion of our trip.

So, now I can begin the dance of joy over our trip to Hawaii in 2007!!

Sunday, July 9, 2006

A Day in My Life

At the request of the nice lady at Paper Napkin, I am documenting my life for one day. Don't get excited folks, this is nothing to write home about.

I would also like to preface this post by saying that this week at work is pretty slow. Since it is a holiday week, and because it is the middle of summer, I am between projects and not that busy. After re-reading the account of my day, I did not want y'all to get the wrong impression!

5:55 a.m.

We live in a pretty quite neighborhood. Since we are unincorporated San Mateo County, the parking restrictions are pretty nonexistant. A new neighbor moved in a couple months ago, and has a ton of cars. The new pain my neck is where they chose to park these cars. At 5:55am, I hear one of them park in front of my house. Not a good way to start the day.

6:15 a.m.

My alarm goes off - it is my day to get up early and go in to work. My husband and I share days. M/W/F, he gets up early and goes to work; T/Th are my days. Whoever stays home is responsible for getting the kids breakfasted, make their lunches and then drop them off at summer camp. We have been doing this since I went back to work 3 years ago, it saves me.

6:31 a.m.

Actually get out of bed.

6:55 a.m.

Leave for work on my bike. Notice that at the house across the street (the one with a lot of cars) there are no cars parked in their driveway or in front of their house, only in front of mine. I get more annoyed. I spend the ride to work strategizing how I can get them to stop parking in front of my house. It makes me feel clausterphobic.

7:25 a.m.

Arrive at work (ok, so I ride slowly!). Read my email. See comments from my fellow nursery school auction chairs that say that we should in fact accept a Phil Mickelson signed picture, even though I have pointed out to them that he recently lost a major. They are going for quantity not quality.

I continue to answer email and listen to my iPod. I love my pink iPod. Right now, I am listening to Jake Shimabukuro, Allison Krauss and the Cool Crooners of Bulawayo. I also use my iPod for occasional morning meditation, although lately I have been tired in the morning to take the time.

I will check email until 8am, and then I think I better go shower and put on work clothes. My cute biking skort can only be worn so long!

9:15 a.m.

Had a call with my new career coach. In May, I had a realization that I either need to get my butt in gear and get a career going, or stop thinking about a career and focus on a job that allows me to concentrate on my family. I feel as though I am getting to be of a certain age where if I am going to have a career, now would be the time to figure it out. Otherwise, I need to come to some peace with myself over the idea that my family comes first and what I do during the day is a job, not a career. Today's phone call was mostly an in-take assessment, with lots of questions about who I am, my family life, my personality and values. BTW, if you are interested, I am an INTJ.

10:12 a.m.

Met a friend/colleague for coffee - discussed my call with the career coach. Friend indicated she has the same feelings about her career; maybe I am not totally alone.

11:00 a.m.

Did real work - had a meeting with the head of the department that has taken over a part of my job function. We discussed ways to move our database system to a new platform.

11:46 a.m.

Came back to my office to blog about the last 2 hours....

12:05 p.m.

Eat my lunch that I brought from home - leftover orzo spinach salad, yogurt, tomatoes and apricots. While eating, I research some options for using the big box of nectarines I bought at CostCo last week. I am thinking some sort of jam, possibly with the apricots I bought, also in a huge quantity. I have found an interesting jam idea with fresh ginger. One the way home, I will stop and get the ingredients. This past weekend, I made plum jam, about 24 jars worth....

12:55 p.m.

Have a brief conversation with my manager on the way out the door - we agree to meet tomorrow so she can hand some stuff off to me....

1:10 - 2:10 p.m.

Exercise class! I am taking a circuit weight training class twice a week. For the month of July, if I went to all my scheduled work outs (weight training, Master's swimming 3x a week, and one day in the rock climbing gym) and rode my bike to work, I would be pretty buff. I don't think it is going to happen.

2:35 p.m.

Get home from work, greet the dog. She is so happy to see me. Always. Everyday.

3:00 p.m.

Hop in the car to seek out the ingredients for the nectarine plum ginger ham I have decided to make. Normally, I get home early on Thursdays to take my daughter to gymnastics, but the gym is closed for a couple weeks for cleaning, so I find myself with a free afternoon. Did you think I was going to spoil it by picking up my kids early? Hah! Remember how I said my dog is happy to see me all the time - not always so with the two kiddies.

4:00 p.m.

Three stores later I am now in the possession of 2 boxes of 1/2 pint wide-mouth canning jars and a 10lb bag of sugar. Almost forgot that last part.

I get home and start chopping and measuring like a mad woman. I have also decided to make a torta for dinner (you know, the Spanish dish with potatoes and eggs - we will have it with a salad - hope the kids like - too bad if not) so I get that started too.

5:17 p.m.

Stop making jam long enough to go pick up the kids from camp - son is on his bike today, daughter has her scooter. Son rides his bike home quickly, daughter decides half way home that she is tired of scootering and wants me to carry the scooter and all the accoutrement. Figures.

5:46 p.m.

Finally get home (camp is 5 minutes from the house, as I walk; 30 minutes with two kids and their wheeled vehicles). Put the finishing touches on the torta, just as husband walks in door. He works on the salad.

Tonight my son is supposed to set the table. These are new "chores" we instituted. One kid feeds the dog and one kid sets the table and we trade off every day. Tonight, my son decides that he wants to rearrange the seating pattern. Daughter gets upset. I send my husband in to mediate while I get dinner finished. BTW, I am still working on a batch of jam (my third so far), and so have a couple pots boiling on the stove.

6:10 p.m.

We sit down to dinner. Daughter throws a fit about where she is sitting. Insists she sit where I am

Rather than being a good adult, I stoop to her level and whine about not wanting to move and how much she is hurting my feelings by making me move. Then I pick up my stuff in a huff and move to the other side of the table. My 4 year old daughter then proceeds to tell me I am awful and says I have to go on a time-out. That sounds great to me, so I grab my dinner, my glass of wine and head to my bedroom. Wonder when I can come out of my time-out.

6:47 p.m.

I am released from my time-out.

7:00 p.m.

While my husband puts the kids to bed, I finish up the jam making. I also manage to empty the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, unpack the kid's lunch boxes, make 3 more batches of jam, and wipe down the counters with Windex. Windex is my favorite cleaning product. Oh, and while I am doing dishes, I also play one of my favorite games - seeing how high I can stack the dish drainer before things start falling off.

8:10 p.m.

Jam is done - total count, 4 batches of Nectarine-Plum-Ginger Jam and 1 batch of Apricot-Nectarine Jam, from Freezing & Canning, from the Food Editors of Farm Journal, dated 1963. Inside the front cover, I found a voided check from what looks to be my Mom's first checking account as a married woman. Cool. Mostly cool because my Mom died in 1991, and finding these little reminders of her life are super important to me.

8:15 - 9:45 p.m.

Husband and I watch the rest of Ray and the latest Entourage.

9:57 p.m.

I finish up my day of blogging, and after I shut down the computer, I will get my jammies on, go kiss the kids one more time, read a couple pages of Bee Season, and its lights out by 10:20pm.

10:03 p.m.

Computer is put to sleep, ah......

Monday, July 3, 2006

The Wave

Let's bring back the wave.

No, not the audience wave that you do at a football game. I am talking about the wave that you do to folks as you drive by in your car.

Last week we were visiting family in Minnesota (another post, I promise you!) and with my in-laws, I had a lively discussion of this little bit of community acknowledgement.

In my cousin's hometown of Fargo, ND, folks wave to each other as they pass in their cars. In Randall, IA, where my husband's parents live, you wave to everyone as you cruise through the town of 180 residents. My aunt told me about a community where the waving is so automatic between the pedestrians and cars that the pedestrians do not even look up anymore, they just walk along, bringing their arms up like elephant trunks everytime a vehicle appears.

Why do I think we need to bring this back? Well, for some folks, I imagine it has never left, but here in Silicon Valley, we are more likely to use a different form of salute to a passing motorist. When someone waves to me, acknowledges me, it makes me feel like I belong to a community of people who care about each other, and less like another harried mom on the way to pick up her kids. It makes me feel as though California has a culture and depth that extends beyond the size of your house and which private school your kids go to. It makes me think about a time where there was still cherry and apricot trees on most corners, back doors were left unlocked and kids spent the summers running around the neighborhood with their groups of friends.

On this July 4th weekend, I would like to propose that we bring the wave back, in whatever form that works for you - the two fingers up from the steering wheel; the straight up palm ; the arm-out-the-rolled-down-window greeting; something of your own choosing. Wave to other parents with kids in the car. Wave to the friends who live down the street. Wave to someone who drives a car like yours. Wave to a stranger.