I love the city, or why we only camp once a year, Part II

You decide to escape the insanity of suburban life and commune with nature by way of a camping trip. So far, it hasn’t been going well . . .

“Smile for this picture or else.”

You shut off the propane lantern and dive into the tent before you can be followed. Then you try to sleep under the stars.

Because you are actually sleeping under the stars; the tent roof is made of mesh and the over-cover makes it too stuffy, so you’re really out there. It seems all romantic until you realize that there’s not a whole lot between you and nature and rainstorms and bear claws and things that go scritch scratch slash yum yum in the night.

You roll over on the uncomfortable air mattress, which has deflated quite a bit. It’s either roasting hot and burning cold, and the scratching on the edge of the tent sounds dodgy. You manage to doze off but are awoken by a mosquito whining about your ear. You jump up to try to kill it and somehow fall against the side of the tent, rocking it dangerously. The flashlight clatters to the ground as the 4 am birds start singing. Your child sits up and eagerly asks whether it’s morning.

It isn’t really, but the early sun streaming into your tent convinces your offspring otherwise. Sweaty, grimy, and sleep-deprived, you crawl out of the tent to face the day.

But with a smile, for today is going to be the Day You Get Camping Right. You decide that the best antidote to a bad experience with nature is spending even more time with nature.

So you try hikes.

You start out with a super-simple trail to see a waterfall. Your child’s enthusiasm wanes after the first five feet into the trail. She’s tired. Can she go back to the campsite? Can she have a snack? What can she have after she’s finished the snack? After that? Geeze Mommy, don’t you have any good snacks?

You distract her with nature: “Look! That’s poison ivy! Beware!” Which lesson your Real Camping Child takes so much to heart that she plants herself in the middle of the path, screaming that she can’t move or the poison ivy will leap out and throttle her in its three-leaved grasp.

She refuses to move from her spot and you think you might have to airlift her out, when a ranger comes along and very kindly explains that poison ivy won’t bother you if you leave it alone. Also, the rest of the group is half a mile away, so would you like to catch up?

Finally she’s convinced enough to press on to the waterfall, which is pretty much nondescript after all that effort to hike one measly mile. You try to take a family picture, but the younger side of the Camping Family is already trying to head back to the air-conditioned visitor’s center. To be honest, you kind of sympathize.

The visitor’s center seems like the perfect mix of nature and civilization, until you realize that it supports its conservation of nature by plying bored camping children with the promise of stuff for Mommy and Daddy to buy them.

Inevitably the quaint dome becomes an arena where you valiantly attempt to learn about nature while fending off requests for books, yoyos, and yet another stuffed animal. The problem is that you’re exhausted from simple living and not up to the fight. In other news, we now have a new member of the Kaleidoscope family, a bear most creatively named  “Smoky.”

By the time you leave the center, you know a little about nature and a lot about your breaking point. You wonder what to do next, but everyone is tired and cranky and hungry. It’s time to head back to the campsite for another burned meal and sweaty sleep.

But fear not: you’re living the simple life. And the next day, when you return to your house and crank up the AC and glory in refrigerated drinks and ovens and laptops and TVs and even CD players because that’s the only electronics Mommy will let you have–

Well, you’ll have a renewed appreciation for the complicated life.

And maybe that’s what camping is all about!


I love the city, or why we only camp once a year, Part I

The good part of camping.

Every year, the Man and I look around the living room and cringe. The piles of paperwork and laundry and books and toys and the crap the Maiden left in the entryway again are lurking in the shadows. The garbage needs to be taken out and the fridge cleaned and the leftovers frozen before they turn moldy, but first the dishwasher has to be emptied because the sink is so full of dishes and dang it, I need to make the Maiden’s lunch for tomorrow and the whole process of living feels backed up like traffic on I-95.

And so we get two stupid ideas. First, that the solution is to abandon it all and experience the simplicity of nature by taking a camping trip. Second, that this time it’s going to go much, much better.

Continue reading

Dear Shreveport

Four and a half years ago, we got an unexpected phone call.

Actually, the Man got an unexpected phone call. The Maiden and I had taken a bus to a giant outlet mall an hour away and we were shopping until we (or rather, I–bringing all the stuff home on public transit while towing a 20-month-old was always an adventure) dropped. It was 7:30 at night before we finally rolled in the door, to be greeted by this question:

“How would you like to move to Louisiana?”

Backtrack a minute. At the time, we were living in a temporary apartment in Arlington, VA, where the Man was working for a four-month stint. Our house and stuff–and cars–were back home in Alaska, where we’d been stationed for two years. We’d be returning there in June and for all we knew we would be staying another year until our term was up in 2009.

And yet here someone was asking us if we wanted to trade snow for sun and move to Shreveport, in the northwestern corner of Louisiana.

The only thing I knew about Shreveport was that the meteorological station–at the airport, I guess–was labeled “SHV.” It had been part of a case study on the final exam for a meteorology class I took in college, though I don’t remember much else from the class. Still, even basic weather knowledge suggested that Shreveport was one heck of a lot warmer than Alaska.

It wasn’t a hard decision.

We were excited, because we hate being cold. Not everyone was enthusiastic, though. “Shrevepit,” someone said, and a few people called it “dumpy” and sympathized with our plight.

So although I blithely started buying sundresses for the Maiden, we had the teeniest bit of pause whenever we talked about the move. We’d like it . . . wouldn’t we? It would be a good experience . . . surely? We could be happy there . . . right?

And yet it’s become home like no other place we’ve lived.

Was it that “Southern hospitality”? Good weather? Friendly residents? Local color? Welcoming moms’ group? Familiar faces? Great kids’ activities? People, both long-time Louisianans and transients like us, embracing us as one of their own?

Four years. Four happy years.

I’m so incredibly glad that, four years ago, we took a chance and said “Yes.” Glad that we came here with hopes and a smile.

Does this place have its faults? Of course it does. Are there attitudes, practices, policies that bother me? Sure. No city’s perfect. But I’m not going to get into any of that, because in the end, it really doesn’t matter:

This place was home. And in a way, even when we’ve long since moved, it always will be.

This morning, which is exactly four years after we left our home in Alaska, we’re packing up the car and setting off for the state line. But before we cross it, we’ll stop along the side of the road. We’ll release balloons, and as they float away on the breeze, we’ll head north for good.

And someday we’ll feel just as settled into a new home, a new community–but we’ll never forget our time down here.

Thank you, Louisiana.

It’s been great, y’all.

Moving blues

Three days. Three days until the move. We don’t have a house yet. Our stuff’s not packed. We don’t even have hotels booked for our trip. There are a million things I need to think about, but something–or rather, someone–is particularly on my mind.

Whether it’s her age or the fact that she’s lost a few friends to relocations over the past few years, the Maiden has suddenly hit that level of maturity where she understands–really understands–that moving doesn’t mean a new chapter in life for everyone. Back at your old home area, life keeps on going and cool stuff happens without you and somehow everything’s the same, but you’re not there.

That’s not an easy thing to accept.

Mostly she’s been a closed book. She says things like “Talking makes it worse. Can I have soup for dinner? Hey, look at that weird car!” Sealed, shut, locked with a key. I can’t get in.

Then a week or two ago, something happened. Continue reading

Weekly wrap-up, July 13

What’s going on in our corner of the world–or what will be our corner of the world for the next week, anyways. I can’t believe this move is actually happening!

1.) To those following our house drama, our home inspection last weekend turned into a bit of a circus when the buyers and their entire extended family showed up for the event. (We wonder what the harried inspector thought.) Inspection came back okay, though we’ll have to cough up several hundred to fix problems created thanks to the builders’ shoddy workmanship. Thrilling, right? Continue reading

So grim grows the laurel

Snuggling up to a book.

The Maiden’s always had a mild taste for the macabre. Now part of this is our fault. Dinner topics frequently revolve around the weird–perhaps motivated by the Maiden’s digestive system posters on the dining room wall–and we have spent many enjoyable hours making up zombie versions of Christmas carols, kids’ songs, and fairy tales.

But it’s not all us. The Maiden has, er, unique interests. She wants to be a surgeon. It used to be a brain surgeon–hence the magazine photo of a brain on her bulletin board–but after seeing the disturbing Bodies Revealed exhibit and loving every minute of it, she decided she’s more interested in hearts and blood.

Also, she likes Ancient Egypt. And mummies. And tombs with curses. And forensic archaeology. And World War II. And Greek mythology.

You get the picture. Continue reading


Have you ever been in a situation where time moved at once too slowly and too quickly–and yet not slowly or quickly enough?

This poetry is in response to our upcoming move–and to this week’s Write on Edge writing prompt, “sand.” Continue reading

Boy-dating eyes

Interested eyes.

Once upon a time, the Maiden was obsessed with princesses. And fairies. And frilly tutus and pink tiaras and floufy uber-girly everything.

She’s still into tutus–dance has become a big thing for her–and she does pop on a tiara from time to time. But the interest in the other has faded as she’s gotten older.

I’m not the biggest fan of princesses, so I thought this was a good thing. Then I saw the substitute.

Apparently, once you outgrow Disney princesses, the next step is bigger-girl toys. And of these, almost everything has those stupid “boy-dating eyes.” Continue reading

Five things your realtor won’t tell you

Home on the market? Here’s what to expect:

1.) Staging: You will be informed that no one wants to see your crap, so you need to put it all away. This means that your house is neater, but it also means that everything you want to use is in boxes up in the attic. You’re too lazy to pull them down, so you end up watching TV and buying takeout a lot.

2.) Showings: You will be given a one or two-hour window of time in which a home showing can take place. You are supposed to be gone from the house during that time, in order to make it a more comfortable experience for the buyer (not for you, who will be busy biting your nails at the nearby Starbucks).

Invariably, however, a sloppy realtor will “accidentally type the wrong time” into the automated appointment scheduler, and people will show up on your doorstep unannounced. Then you have 25 seconds to get your #%$^ together and rush to the front door to let them in (and yourself out).

If you’re really, really lucky, your house key will suddenly decide to break off in the front door, right in front of everyone. You will have to indicate in sign language through the glass that the realtor has to open it from her end. You hope that all parties will think it’s due to technology fail and not the fact that your key lock sucks.

3.) Maintenance: Since the house needs to be showing-ready, it must constantly stay neat and clean and tidy. This means that you will spend the day madly fighting the encroaches of entropy, and by the evening you will have nothing left to do. This is a unique experience. You will wander around the empty rooms looking for tumbleweed as you try to figure out what you’re supposed to do with your life since for once you’re not behind on cleaning. You can’t even enjoy yourself, because most of your stuff is up in the attic (see #1 above), and bubble baths are probably out of the question (see point #5 below).

4.) Unexpected company: In order to keep the house perfect, you will constantly be washing floors, windows, mirrors, cupboards, etc. Yet despite the cleanliness of your house, it will attract a giant bug, which will somehow cross the chemical barriers you had put down (against your better judgment) and die a spectacular, leg-waving death in the middle of the bathroom floor.

Naturally, said bug will make his debut (and exit) after you’ve stepped out of the house. You wonder what reaction he evinced from his audience. You hope they were open-minded, but the absence of forthcoming offers suggests otherwise.

5.) New lifestyle: Everything becomes a cost-benefit analysis, or a cost-mess analysis. Exhausted? Need a nice soak in a bubble bath? No thanks, because then you’ll have to clean the bathtub. Care for a gourmet dinner? Not if you have to scrub the pots immediately afterward instead of leaving them to “soak” for two days.

Heck, it’s tempting to just go on an extended vacation for the duration of the selling process so you no longer have to smooth out the bed or clean the shower.

So how to cope? Well, you try. You think positive thoughts about buyers. You get nervous and excited every time you get a call for a showing. You hover over your email in case realtor feedback comes in. You get annoyed and frustrated when it doesn’t. Your excitement degenerates into panic. You wonder why the heck these morons won’t just buy this $^#$*&#* house already.

You can’t handle it, so you write a blog post about it.

Then you sit back and wait for the next showing . . . and the next story.

Oh, @#%^*

My name is Christina, and I have a problem. I am a compulsive editor.

I constantly edit everything I write. (I’m not a very efficient writer.) I silently edit everything I read. (I’m not a very efficient reader. I also have the bad habit of not finishing books, because there are days when I cannot stand one more “defiantly” used instead of “definitely”–or another misuse of the word “disinterested.” SERIOUSLY, it means unselfish/not having selfish or personal interests, NOT “uninterested”! AUGH! AUGH! AUGH!)

Er, sorry. Maybe I’m not so silent after all.

Anyways. When presented with an editing problem I can’t solve, I go crazy. The problem is that there are many, many editing problems that can’t be solved, exactly, because there are as many answers out there as there are editors.

One thing that’s particularly on my mind? Swearing. Continue reading