Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Camping Hunting Island

I believe when we last spoke I'd said I was going to write about Ranger dog and, believe me, I have plenty to say about him (that endearing sumbitch), but there's been a Vacation--a CAMPING vacation--between then and now that demands to be chronicled. 

It's a hobby of mine to research campgrounds, especially in the darkest most depressing days of winter, and so it was that way back in February I settled on Hunting Island , South Carolina as our next and most distant and ambitious camping destination yet.  This was a trip to be embarked upon a full nine months hence (you may recall that between then and now, our original pop-up died jeopardizing the entire plan until we bought another camper five minutes later).  After acquiring the new camper, we planned a weekend excursion about a month prior to the Hunting Island trip to Land Between the Lakes, our closest camping destination (our camping "home" if you will), about forty miles east of here, in order to vet the new camper for any kinks or issues that we would not want to discover for the first time 750 miles away in South Carolina.

Pippii on her maiden camp at LBL

I had planned to blog about that weekend, our first with "Pippii" as we've named the new camper, but alas, the winds of time are making that more and more unlikely.  To sum up:  It was cold, it rained, Ranger got loose in the dark instantly turning our blood to terrified ice water until we re-apprehended him via a clever stunt of loading the other two dogs in the truck and pretending we were going out for ice cream (Ranger, unable to help himself, leapt into the backseat of his own accord thus sparing either of us the need for defibrillation), the wind blew and blew and it stormed, we went home one night and the next day was beautiful.

But MOST importantly, we did discover a problem with Pippii: we could run the lights or the air conditioner, but not at the same time. 
The view from Site Six, LBL
This was, of course, a very annoying discovery and one that would have changed the negotiations leading to Pippii's purchase.  Hindsight, etc.!  We threw money at the problem, a faulty power converter, and it went away. 

The trip to Hunting Island began on a rainy Friday night the first week of October. We faced between an eleven and thirteen hour drive with the snarling traffic bitch of Atlanta between us and camping nirvana. Our goal was more like "get out of town" than "make good time".  Which is lucky, because we sure as hell weren't going to make good time towing a fourteen foot pop-up with two bikes on the back in the dark with an SUV drinking gas at approximately the same pace a pre-liver transplant David Crosby did drugs [read: insatiably!].

Fortunately, I was in possession of the perfect antidote to many hundreds of slow going miles: the unabridged audio version of Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson.  That's right, TWENTY-FOUR cd's on the minutia of Jackson's last years  and the complicated legal aftermath of his death. 

And if you think that would be a boring and interminable 24 hours you'd be right and wrong. 

The book is, as its length would imply, nothing short of an exhaustive account. So much so that as the writer relates the dramatic details of Doctor Conrad Murray (ineptly) performing CPR on a dead or dying Michael Jackson, he feels the need to toss in information on the origin(s) of Murray's Trinidadian accent. Beside the point? Absolutely. But also, strangely mesmerizing.

We became fascinated with the oft repeated names and places that comprised the landscape of the last act of Jackson's life:  the "Carrolwood Chateau" (the LA residence where Jackson was living during rehearsals of the ill-fated "This is It" tour and where he would eventually die), Neverland Ranch (of course), the Hayvenherst Estate (Los Angeles residence of the Jackson family headed by matriarch Kathryn). A truly bewildering cast of characters inhabited Jackson's reality most of whom were a part of the juggernaut that was his unprecedented musical career--people managing, profiting, and manipulating. Few, if any, come off as innocent in his demise (or at least in the regular disturbance of his tenuous peace of mind), with the list headed by Jackson's own family, a group of money hungry jackals so relentless in their pursuit of a piece of the action that Jackson often literally physically hid from them weeping in response to the pressure they applied. Only Kathryn, Jackson's mother, consistently comes off as an appropriate source of support and comfort though even she at times fell victim to the manipulations of her villanous husband, Joe Jackson, and the demands of her other children to assist them in their endless quests and various harebrained schemes to part Jackson from his bankroll.   

Bobby Driscoll and the nose MJ never had.

The portrait of Jackson himself that emerges is complicated.  A guy with, literally, a large glass jar full of fake nose tips that had to be adhered to and blended into his face with make-up, his original nose having long since collapsed into little more than gaping nostril holes, a guy astute enough to buy the Sony-ATV catalog after a chat with an unsuspecting Paul McCartney (during the recording of "Ebony and Ivory") who advised him that song rights was the best investment going.  Jackson would purchase the catalog, that included a hefty amount of Beatles tunes, for $47 million in 1984, an investment that is now worth in the neighborhood of $2 billion (McCartney would later come to resent having given that advice).  A guy who clearly manipulated Lisa Marie Presley into an ill-advised marriage in the hope she would act as a brood cow and little else, a guy who very likely had a sexual relationship with minor Jordan Chandler (the extent to which Jordan's parents were a part of and in collusion with the situation is hotly disputed, but it seems likely that at least Jordan's mother turned a blind eye until she thought there was money to be made), a guy so stunted by his father's abuse and any semblance of a normal childhood, that he "never" wanted to grow up.  So wedded was Jackson to this idea, that his nose surgeries were, if the book is to be believed, in pursuit of a "turned up" nose like that of Bobby Driscoll, the 1930s version of Peter Pan (Spoiler: that, ahem, didn't work out).

The ever widening group of music industry executives and lawyers that surrounded Jackson became our own merry cast of imaginary friends as we drove through the rainy night into Tennessee, headed for first Monteagle, then Atlanta and then the next day, on through Georgia and South Carolina to the coast.     

Do you think we should stop at this exit?

Not sure, we should probably get some advice from John Branca.

And later:

I'd like to have dessert, but I really need to get back to Kenny Ortega and the "This is It" rehearsals.

Despite these hefty distractions, I'm not going to lie, the trip was long.  By the time we were dragging the camper around Atlanta, boxed in with three stalled lanes of traffic on each side, I had to ask myself if the whole idea wasn't just the teensiest bit cray, if perhaps, exploring campgrounds within, say, a mere 250 miles from home (of which there are many) as opposed to a trek of 700+ might be a better, even saner, idea.

 But here's the thing.  Hunting Island has something those other campgrounds haven't got:  

If you click and look close, you can see shrimp boats in the distance.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you THE BEACH. 

A vast, beautiful beach available only to other island campers, a short bike ride or hike from your campsite (you can camp nearly on the beach if you don't mind close quarters with other campers or excessive wind--we do mind both). 

We spent a full day and a half of our five days luxuriating on this beach in absolutely perfect weather (mid-80's) reading, staring off into space, and chomping on the occasional apple. I'm not much of a sun worshiper, but this set up with the umbrella and the breeze was the absolute shiz.  I daresay "Not that Kind of Girl" was the perfect vacation read (If I could take what I’ve learned,” she writes in the introduction, “and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine was worthwhile.”). Thus entertained, and fully anesthetized by the waves and the wind is absolutely what a camping vacation--any vacation, really-- is all about, in my book.

Our campsite itself, exhaustively researched by yours truly, number 158 to be exact, was perfect.  My strategy and criteria is thus: a site on the extreme edge of the grounds, so as to minimize the number of sides on which the site borders other occupied sites, still not more than a two-site walk from the facilities, and shade. MUST be shaded. 

Site 158
I'm happy to report site 158 met or exceeded all expectations. My usual worries about shade, I discovered upon arrival, were laughable as the entire campground is nestled in a Jurassic park like jungle that whiffs of toasted hickory mixed with beach wind.
Site 158 is just beyond the bend on the right.
A creek separated us from the campsite to the right, and the landscape provided a plant barrier and a bit of a berm of huge palmettos on the left (most sites are a bit less private overall). A walk straight ahead from the picnic table would land one at the beach if there was a path (and I'm not saying you couldn't get there that way, just that we preferred riding our bikes via the roads). 

The view if one is sitting at the picnic table

Our days settled into a pattern of breakfast outside, then daily adventure (beach or day trip), then a nightly spin on the bikes around the campground at dusk to survey all other sites and camper situations (because we're nosy like that). 

The perspective tilt on this photo is a bit wonky, but you get the idea. Dining alfresco! Dinner amongst the palmettos!
I've said it before and I'll say it again, even the humblest of foods take on an extra flair of deliciousness served outside (or on a stick, but that's another blog post). 

A home in the Beaufort historic district
We were absolutely charmed by Beaufort, NC, the small city nearest Hunting Island. We spent a day on our bikes exploring the town which is adorable. There were many historic tours in progress conducted in large open horse drawn carriage (buses?). We quickly learned we could surreptitiously take free advantage of these by following at a discreet distance on the bikes. We spent an entire afternoon shopping Beautfort's picturesque downtown, and whiled away a half hour on one of the porch swings available for dawdling on the city's waterfront.     

A Beaufort side street.

 Also?  Please note moss in the trees.  Hello.    

Since we were only about 60 miles from Savannah, a trip there would be another day excursion. And while I had high expectations, the day was far less than I had hoped.  While all the lovely squares are still there along with great restaurants, etc., the town, in my opinion, is no longer the bike-able semi-sleepy southern city a generation discovered reading "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."  Apparently, all those readers picked up and moved to Savannah in the ensuing years.The place is now so choked with people and traffic that the day, while not a total waste, was a fight to do or see anything start to finish. Still worth visiting if you've never been, but expect delays, unpleasant crowding situations with loud sweaty tourists, and don't take your bike (except to ride in Bonaventure Cemetery). Hrmph!        

Speaking of which, we did enjoy a visit to Bonaventure (I mean, you HAVE to visit this cemetery, it's the law). Since it was, after all, October, I'd hoped to benefit from the Halloween effect of the situation, however, in sunny Savannah that day the mercury was well north of ninety, and it's a well known fact that ghosts don't [bona]venture out in such weather, preferring instead to languish in the cooler recesses of their crypts until at least dusk. We could have repeated our trick of surreptitiously joining walking tours in progress all around us that day, however, I don't (as I'm fond of saying) "do well" in the heat. We mostly stuck to brisk biking and an occasional photo.  

Overall, we were blown away by Hunting Island. This is the camping experience against which all others will be measured, friends.

A few caveats if you're considering a visit: I think the mosquitos would be off the charts unbearable there March-September, as in do not visit this campground during those months (the campground is open year round). The mosquito problem is well documented on Trip Advisor. We were bitten some in October, but came prepared with Off and citronella candles that we burnt constantly while hanging around camp at night. As always, leave no food accessible, the raccoons are as bad as anywhere and possibly more brazen. One loped disgustedly through our campsite in broad daylight, clearly annoyed at our proclivity for keeping the food locked down and in search of greener pastures. Lastly, book well in advance, this place is (deservedly) popular! 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Site Six: The Glamping (Part Three)

Part two is here

And so Pippii was ready.  We were ready.  I booked a campsite.  And that campsite was the eponymous Site Six.  Site six is, by far, the most beautiful and desirous campsite in the campground we favor. Since we've had a camper, we've been trying to reserve it to no avail. Camping enthusiasts apparently book and pay for the site and then can't be bothered to camp there. They just want everyone else who is actually camping to feel bad that the primo waterfront spot is both empty and unavailable. I wrote about Site Six here.    

 And, because we like to complicate our lives even further, we says to ourselves,

"Hey!  Why don't we take ALL THREE of our dogs?!"

Which brings us to...Ranger. 

I've written about all my dogs here, but the latest adoptee.  Well, almost all.  I've spared you the sad story of Gatsby the Hospice Dog who was with us but briefly approximately October, 2012 to August, 2013 when she met her maker. Believe me, you are glad.  Poor Gatsby, an adorable Wire Fox Terrier, abandoned in the wilds of Reidland most likely by an owner without the wherewithal (nerve?) to put the dying dog down, hobbled into our lives like everyone else does these days: via Facebook. A picture post by the local Vet who found the dog attracted a certain more sympathetic resident of this household to her cause.   

Wait. I'm telling the Gatsby story, aren't I?

Gatsby and her champion.  This is the sight that met me that first day in October.  "Can we adopt this dog?"  Would you say no?  NO, no you would not. But I wanted to. And I probably should have. Disclaimer: Gatsby had a singular ability to photograph as if she were a MUCH younger dog.  I assure you she is 115 years old and very nearly on her last leg here. Her less than stellar condition was much more apparent when viewing the dog as a whole.   

Anyway, the Gatsby story brings into sharp focus the fact that we are a house deeply divided when it comes to doggie adoption.  I, personally, am Team Give Me a Bouncing (preferably) Purebred Puppy and in the other corner is Team All Dogs Must Be Adopted From a Precarious Situation And Their Resulting Foibles Dealt With. I realize mine is probably the more politically incorrect position at this point. And, guess what? I don't care. I have hand raised two marvelous, exceptional, loving, loyal dogs from puppyhood. They trusted me implicitly in large part, I believe, due to our early association. The bond that results from rearing a dog from babyhood is nothing short of sublime. It has produced some of the best relationships of my life, and I have no regrets about the origins of these former and current family members (I speak here of the departed Isabelle and my precious Westie, Tallulah). I would, in fact, purchase a puppy again. Suck it.

On the other side of the fence is: Hey, want a dog? How about that one-eyed dog over there chained to a dumpster howling crazily at the moon? He's lonely! 

Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a tad.  But you understand my point.

I have written before of our other dog, Vance Shepherd, a Katrina rescue who has spent the majority of his life convinced we will murder him in his sleep. Which isn't to say I don't love him. Or that he doesn't have redeeming qualities. I do love him. But, Lord, there is an easier way if a person has a choice. And if you ask me we do collectively have a choice. (Somebody, please tell me we have a choice?)

Despite my philosophical opinions about adopting dogs and personal misgivings about the health of this dog in particular, Gatsby limped into our lives that Fall an adorable, if failing, addition. It was clear from the beginning that, in a previous life, she'd been To the Manor Born.  She considered car rides her royal due and assumed a queenly, if vaguely disinterested, pose when driven about. She appreciated but also obviously expected her treats. She immediately took to her new soft bed as something she'd never doubted would be provided ("Thank you, you may go now"). She blended with the other two dogs seamlessly forming an easily managed three-dog pack. 

All would have been well if not for, as previously mentioned, her extremely advanced age. The vet cautiously confirmed it at "probably twelve" which I considered generous. The dog was fifteen if she was a day. Plagued with cataracts and a terrible case of arthritis in her back and hips which made her entire rear half increasingly unstable, the dog had tooth problems that made us all cringe, and, oh, did I mention that Gatsby grew tumors as a hobby?

True story. 

All this did not, in the beginning, impinge upon Gatsby's sunny (if imperial) disposition.

We became a regular stop on our Vet's home visit rounds. Gatsby was placed on an arthritis med which gave her some relief and increased mobility. We traded some furniture (I'm not kidding) for a series of acupuncture treatments for the dog also aimed at easing her arthritis symptoms (and they did for a time!). We took to dressing her in baby tee-shirts to treat an itchy rash she'd developed. Her tumors were surgically removed. And, in response to this shitstorm of food, shelter, love, cash, furniture, attention, medicine and medical treatments--surprise--Gatsby did improve.     

But we all knew it was temporary. Of course it was. 

The winter hit Gatsby hard. The benefit curve from her medicine and treatments, fairly sharp in the beginning, began to level out. The cold was an insult that, as the months went by, ground down her tenuous early gains. It was a beautiful Spring morning when we began to have The Discussion. 

It looked like, maybe, it was time. 

As we were talking, the dogs assembled for their morning potty and the back door was duly opened for them.

What happened next was that Gatsby, clad in her K-Mart baby tee-shirt that graphically invited everyone to "Get Funky!" staggered out on the deck at the exact moment that a baby robin living in a nest tucked above the door decided to test its newly minted wings. The effect on Gatsby of spying the struggling baby bird as it floated to the ground was galvanizing. Her cloudy eyes cleared in an instant, the formerly feeble dog hurled herself toward the bird, leapt off the deck, and covered the last few steps between her and her prey at a full gallop, pouncing on and killing the bird in one swift, ferocious motion. By the time I got there in response, to screams of "WHAT JUST HAPPENED??" I found a near hysterical girlfriend, a dead bird, and a reinvigorated Gatsby, her mouth smeared with blood looking twice as perky I'd ever seen her. The murder had erased a good five years from her visage and her eyes sparkled and snapped with the renewed energy of a conquering Hun. 

The remarkable medicinal benefits (who knew?) of baby bird blood was a wave Gatsby would ride throughout that spring and early summer. But even that boost was not enough to allow her to outrun her significant deficiencies forever. By that August, she was gone.  

I could tell you the details, but then I'd cry and you'd cry and we'd all cry and it's bad enough as it is.

My point is (and I think I have one) is that by the time Ranger would become a possible new addition, I was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic.     

(To be continued.  Apparently forever. And in directions I myself do not anticipate.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Site Six: The Glamping (Part Two)

Part one is here.

By the next day, I'd lined up a trip to Mayfield to check out a promising pop-up for sale there and we'd received a flood of tips on other campers for sale in locations ranging from Mt. Vernon to Fulton. Our specifications were simple: Must have a/c.  Must be weather-tight. Must be [relatively] easy to crank (we were tired of nursing our hernias). We aren't, and may never be, prepared to move beyond tent camper as our primary "wilderness" residence. For one, we aren't able to camp enough for a huge (or, let's say, even huger) expenditure to make any economic sense at all, and secondly, I do not relish the thought of, as I'm fond of declaring, "Driving down the road with my own poop sloshing around in a tank behind me". What can I say? I'm a big fan of the public sewer system and leaving that sort of thing behind whenever possible.

As it turned out, the Mayfield camper was bought from under us five minutes before we arrived. 

We were not deterred.

In the end, we found Pippii crouching sadly in tall grass in a small yard in Lone Oak. She hadn't been camped in in a very long time and less discerning buyers may have overlooked her stellar qualities or mistaken her (very) slight ant infestation for a deal breaker. In fact, Pippii boasted a roomy bonus storage compartment in front. Safety features such as additional bracing for the four retractable metal columns that support, once cranked, the roof (we learned that day that, apparently, we were in constant real and imminent danger of being pancaked in Pippa without these, especially in light of the retrofitted a/c unit on her roof, the main cause of our twin cranking hernias). Stabilizing feet similar those of a lunar lander raised and lowered with the effortless turn of a tiny jack--this as opposed to Pippa's obstinate rusty feet which often had to be kicked, beaten and cursed into place. 

Finally, we put Pippii to the ultimate test: we each cranked her.  She was awarded a five out of ten hernia points for ease of cranking up (Pippa was a fifteen) and two out of ten hernia points for ease of the down crank (Pippa was a nine). Couple that with her age, a full decade younger than Pippa, and Pippii was, most definitely, THE ONE.

After playing the Kentucky game (a social process that starts with "who's your mama/who's your daddy" and ends when each party identifies a mutual acquaintance) with Pippii's current owner, he agreed to come off the asking price slightly, slapped his knee, and invited us to come on down to the Legion for a beer with him just any old time.  

We sealed the deal with hugs all around.  

Our new camper secured, we turned our attention to the sad task of retrieving the now completely obsolete Pippa who is at this point, recall, still marginally set up at the lake at the campsite where we'd abandoned her to search for her replacement a few days before. It was a sad and beautiful Spring day when we cranked her mildewed canvas down for the last time. The loons called to each other across the lake. Wild monkeys screamed in the distance. We did not speak of Pippii as we hitched Pippa to the truck for the last time and drove the 40 miles home.  

Pippa had been an effective, if difficult, camper while she lasted. And, in fact, she changed hands again. I'm told Pippa is currently serving out her declining years as a makeshift hunting shelter somewhere in the wilds of Ballard County.  

Or somethinglikethat.

Maybe it was my imagination, but Pippii looked a bit perked up when we arrived to take her home. Now cleared of her former owner's gear, she was lighter, brighter and seemingly eager to move on. She spent some time set up in the driveway while we banished the ants and replaced a portion of the floor that we'd learned--too late to use as a bargaining chip--was spongy. Pippii basked in the glow of our attention. To our delight, we discovered the custom banquette cushions we'd salvaged from Pippa fit perfectly at Pippii's table. We transferred our gear which more than fit in Pippii's more roomy interior; we were able to eliminate a large chuck box we'd been lugging around for years. A small decoupage project was completed on Pippii's removable outdoor shelf, a small homage to Pippa's larger "Great Gatsby" table project.

Finally, Pippii stood ready for her inaugural camping trip.  

Unfortunately, we would not be able to get away for another four months.

(To be continued...)     

Monday, September 15, 2014

Site Six: The Glamping (Part One)

When last we spoke of my camping adventures, I wrote of a lovely trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee, taken--could it really be?-- two years ago in our erstwhile pop-up, "Pippa".  

Much has changed since then.  After the Fall Creek Falls trip, we would enjoy one more extended trip in Pippa to Natural Bridge State Park seven months later in May of 2013.  It was fun, stuff happened, I zip-lined across Red River Gorge, but unbeknownst to us at the time, the most important detail of that trip would only reveal itself in hindsight.  Because on that trip it rained.  And it rained.  Usually at night, but, significantly, it rained several nights in a row.  At the time, all it meant to us was a few pre-bed time hours each night watching "House of Cards" on the laptop and eating Cheetos instead of taking in the night air outside the camper.  Pippa, her seams having been sprayed and reinforced with sealant, was quite weather proof and the sound of rain on the sturdy canvas only added to the fine sleeping weather that damp, cool central Kentucky spring.  

When it came time to return home, we cranked down the top with the usual difficulty--Pippa being an ancient and contrary contraption, this often involved cussing and sitting on the thing in various spots as one would a bulging suitcase in order to get the top to at least somewhat successfully meet and properly latch to the bottom.  We drove the five hours home and backed Pippa into place without incident in the driveway where she was to sit, covered and untouched, for almost exactly one year.  My desire to plow  through school at an accelerated rate meant that I would not take off a semester or even a Christmas break from that time until I would finish in May of this year.  

And so it was with great anticipation in May that we again (finally!) booked a spot at LBL, the place we consider our camping "home base".  It would be our first trip in a year and we were eager to get back to the business of battling the elements while enjoying a constant internet connection and the glowing convenience of Jeff & Emily's IGA less than a quarter of a mile away.  

Our joy was short lived, however.  We had strained only half our guts out over the crank before noticing Pippa was emitting a less than fresh scent from her interior. A full dual hernia inducing crank revealed the whole horrible truth:  Pippa had developed a chronic and irreversible case of mildew.  Likely due to lingering (if only slight) dampness from the rain a year before and the extremely long period of compression without airing.  The canvas was perhaps a fourth covered in the dark creeping mold and in the worst spots, was peppered with small holes.  The smell was intolerable.

All was lost.

Dejected, we left Pippa in her partially set up state, and drove home.  Like a woman obsessed I pushed back against my feelings of sadness and loss by launching an immediate internet scouring search for a replacement.  I checked local for sale listings and dickered with a dealership that sold pop-ups as far away as Indianapolis.  We put the word out to all our friends:  FOR GOD'S SAKE WE NEED A POP-UP CAMPER.    

And, before you go pointing out the obvious, let me just say that on the face of it, it might not make too much sense for a woman who hasn't camped in a year to be searching for a new pop-up life her life depended on it.  I get that.  But here's the thing about having a pop-up in one's driveway:  there IS a pop-up in your driveway.  The possibility of a camping adventure lives and breathes, right outside your front door, every day, just steps away.  Those cold, crappy depressing Monday mornings backing out of your driveway can be interrupted, if only for a moment, by the seductive lure of the pop-up.  A brief ray of outdoorsy sunshine suddenly beamed into your work week.  It whispers:  really, if you wanted to, you could just hitch up and GO.  Of course, you can't and you won't, but the thing is... you could.

Unless, of course, you don't have a camper.  

A situation that I was determined would be rectified.  And quickly.       

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Five Post Challenge (#1)

I'm finished. 

Finished with school, temporarily finished with work, finished with all those pesky things that demanded time away from this, the thing I used to like to do most in the world. 

Well, almost most in the world.

Since last we spoke I've been on camping trips, had a big birthday, had travel adventures, written a thousand papers, adopted (another) dog, made friends, lost friends, been happy, sad, surprised, discouraged and overjoyed.

I am riddled with anxiety and hope in almost equal parts. 

In short I've continued to marvel at the big jokey metaphor that is life and shared none of it here.

And that, my friends, isn't going to work for me anymore.

For a while I thought I couldn't access this site again, thanks to Google's takeover of Blogger and additional swipe at taking over the interwebs by chaining everything together and forcing one to log into absolutely everything with only one email and only one password. I announced as much over coffee (OH MY GOD Y'ALL, I ALSO BECAME A COFFEE DRINKER ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE) at Etcetera coffee shop to my friend, Nikki May:

I can't get into my blog.

What do you mean you can't get into your blog?

Because, you know, Google and stuff.  


[I've meant to get back to this little project all along. Of course I have!  However, I've also recently decided that after, oh, a mere nine years, the site needs a redesign.  Blog pillows must be fluffed, new paint colors chosen, furniture rearranged, tchotchkes slid one inch to the left, irrelevant and unfashionable pieces discarded.]  

(Brightening suddenly)
You should design me a new blog!

(Another sigh; this time that of the weary, tortured, perpetually annoyed web designer.)
Five blog posts.


Write five blog posts.  And I'll design a new blog.

Seems extreme.

I can migrate all your old stuff into the new blog.

She grinned evilly. 

Of course, that's the kicker.  All my old stuff?  Just hanging around with my potential new stuff?  All in one place?  With a shiny new cover?  


I sped home.  Fired up the laptop.  Unsheathed my internet machete.  Hacked my way through Amazon, Facebook, online spades.  Ruthlessly chopped down the other forty-seven open windows open on my desktop.  I turned off "Property Brothers".  (Sorry Jonathan, it just wasn't meant to be.)  I turned off "Say Yes to the Dress" (Step away from the Pnina).  I slogged through swamps of online applications and half completed forms, online banking. I swiped away the Joan Didion.  Finally, I dove into Google. 

By God, I'd blast my way in if I had to.


I took a deep breath.  Entered my old email address, my old password.

HEY!  How YOU doin'?!

(Four to go.)

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Top Ten Things I Learned from my Father

For my Dad's birthday this year, in lieu of a fancy gift, (because who wants a fancy gift anyway--okay, don't answer that) I'm writing a little essay, an essay that's a month and change late. An essay about the top ten lessons I learned (but don't always in all cases heed) from my Dad. 

Number Ten:  Take care of your shoes.
I don’t really do this. 

And, I’m sorry.

And I know I should be. 

Especially in the case of expensive boots.  Y’all know how I love my tall boots. And when they fall apart for lack of oiling and polishing I’ll be sorry. DAMN sorry.  My father, on the other hand, held a shoe polishing party every Sunday afternoon.  Wingtips were hauled out and inspected.  Strong smelling polish assiduously applied.  Thorough and enthusiastic buffing ensued. 

The shoes. They always looked good.    

Number Nine: For GOD’S SAKE, know your multiplication tables.

I was not a problem child in terms of my school work. Ahem. Grades were not an issue, really, and so my Father stayed largely checked out of my scholastic situation UNTIL: 

multiplication tables. 

Once he learned multiplication tables were upon me, it lit a parental fire.  Starting with my two’s, grilling sessions were held each night.  Once I became reasonably proficient, I was randomly grilled.  Ultimately, races were held with his adding machine.   I needed to demonstrate the ability to come up with the answer faster than the machine. 

Once I could do this reliably?

He could go back to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Forever.  

Number Eight:  Never use regular boring old words when a pithy phrase can be substituted.

That’s not just a big pothole in the road.

“Bridge out!”

The guy wasn’t just nervous.

“His butt was working buttonholes.”

That person didn’t just spend way too much for that insert major purchase: [house, car, boat].

 “He has more money than sense.”

  A girl is not simply unattractive. 

“She’s so ugly she has to slap herself to sleep.”

They person isn't big or large.

"He's/she's big enough to hunt bear with a switch."

You're not flat broke, you're...

"Financially embarrassed"

You get the picture.

I believe it's safe to say I’ve mastered this skill. At least to a certain degree. 

Number Seven:   Chew with your mouth CLOSED.

I spent my entire childhood wondering why my Dad was so obsessed with me doing this and my entire adulthood being embarrassed for and wanting to slap the shit out of those who didn’t learn this important lesson.

Hear me now believe me later: there is no substitute for table manners. Tell all your friends. 

But especially tell your kids.

Number Six: It’s all relative.

I’ll never forget, during my starter divorce (cringe), when I was enumerating to my Dad the egregious wrong that had been perpetrated upon my poor defenseless person as a result of the marriage from which I now sought to extricate myself, what he said. 

And it was this: 

You think the situation is really bad because, in your experience, it’s the worst thing that’s happened to you.  But it isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened.  And it’s not even the worst thing that ever will happen.
Can I just say?

I get that now.
Oy vey.

Number Five:  Car Maintenance, Car Maintenance, Car Maintenance.


(I’m very good about changing the oil.) 

Number Four:  Debt is BAD.

Get a low interest rate.  Pay it off as quickly as you can.

 Number Three:  Be skeptical.

The ol’ if it sounds too good to be true?  It probably is. 

My Dad is a skeptic, people. 

Nowhere was my Dad’s skepticism more in evident than in church.  Oh, he went, don’t get me wrong.   He himself was brought up in the church and I think he felt duty bound to warm a pew on Sundays.  But it was way more a sociological study than a religious exercise in his case.  Annoyed first of all that it meant forgoing a Winston for a sizable chunk of time, and second of all that, well, let’s face it, there were more than a few pompous asses in evidence, my Dad spent his Sunday mornings Observing as opposed to Believing.

Albeit fairly quietly.    

But it set the clock ticking for the inevitable collision:  the Pastor would eventually have to pay us an in-person visit and ask my Dad that age-old, dramatic question. In a voice aquiver with righteous concern, brotherly love, Pastorly emotion, and religious fervor,

“Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?”

At which time Dad was forced to point out,

“No.  And neither do you.”


Not…THE TRUTH, God's sake!  ((cringe!)) 

Anything but that!

The battle for Jesus that followed there in the living room on Truman Drive, the space we hardly ever sat in, the room with a floor clad in glorious golden shag a full inch in length (I ought to know I vacuumed it enough),  was arduous, hard fought, and at least an hour in length (I was a youngster at the time, it seemed to me to go on forever).  The Pastor would eventually throw out all the tools in his big bag of Jesus:  bible verses, fear of hell, peer pressure, prayer, pleading, ye olde Roman’s Road, what I’ve now come think of as the “Patrick Swayze Argument”:
Jesus is like the wind.  ‘Cause you can just FEEL him! 

The one thing the Pastor didn’t have in his big bag of righteousness was this:  proof.    

As my Dad put it,

“Unless you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who has managed to die, go to heaven, and then somehow reappear, the truth is you don’t know where you’ll spend eternity.  And you’ll never know.”

This sort of bare naked truth was clearly not part of the Pastor’s everyday reality.  He was unused to thinking of his sizable Sunday morning congregation as “one thousand voices all singing together about a heaven they have no real reason to believe exists”.

That is not how the Pastor viewed his world.

But he had to at least glance through the lens of reason on that day.

Did his shoulders seem a little stooped as he was ultimately forced to accept defeat and head back out to his brand new expensively appointed Lincoln Continental (purchased for him as a birthday gift by his deacons) after shaking hands and stepping off the golden shag, never to return? 

I think they might have.

I can still see the Pastor that day now, through the panes of the big bay window, heading off down the driveway. 

Only now my mind adds a quiet phrase,

“girl, BYE.”  

Number Two:      WORK

As explanation:  WORK.

And the Number One Lesson my Dad Taught me: 

[While sliding with him driving an out of control Mustang driving on a Midwestern road that had frozen into a solid sheet of ice, as I cringed in terror and braced myself in anticipation of the impact that was sure to occur at any second…]

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, Bizzy!”

[Yah, we didn’t wreck.]
HAPPY BELATED SIXTY-SECOND BIRTHDAY TO MY DAD!  I'm trying not to sweat the small stuff.   

(And--don't tell me-- it's mostly all small stuff, right?)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Falling for Fall Creeks Falls in the Fall (Sorry 'bout that.)

Heading out

And so I am back from Fall Creek Falls Tennessee. I had hoped to write about the trip much sooner upon arriving home (September 23rd), but as I may have not mentioned here, I am once again working full time and in school full time. It is a pattern for me to be either utterly unoccupied or obligated every minute. Either way is actually fine with me for some reason.

Camp Pippa, FCF (click for larger version)

For anyone who might not be my three regular readers, this camping excursion would be our second in a new/old somewhat renovated pop-up tent camper named "Pippa" and this trip follows on Pippa's recent maiden voyage (in August) to the nearby camping paradise of Land Between the Lakes more commonly known as "LBL" some thirty miles southeast of here on I-24. For this trip, With a week off work, the original plan was to take Pippa pretty far afield and camp in or around the Smoky Mountains, but alas, I could not weasel out of my (three hour) Tuesday night class. This meant we could not set out sooner than Wednesday morning, and so after a considerable amount of research, we settled on Fall Creek Falls as a destination, some four hours away. As it happens, Nashville marks midpoint of the the trip. 

Despite our earlier difficulties with the dreaded trailer backing (related classic quote, "THERE'S  SOMETHING WRONG WITH THIS MOTHERFUCKER"), we got Pippa positioned in only three tries. 

Down from a high of twenty-seven thousand. 

We were quite pleased with the uncommon levelness of the campsite, practically on the bubble. This couldn't possibly have been a coincidence considering the drastically uneven terrain of the park. Thank you, park planners! We're also becoming wildly efficient with Pippa's set-up and breakdown, and I predict we will achieve McGuyveresque-level proficiency by our next trip. We keep forgetting to time ourselves until we're half way through the process, but we can certainly get the job done in under an hour start to finish and that's including setting up and breaking down everything else (like camp chairs, stove, blah, blah...). While still not the easiest task, cranking (har) has become considerably less difficult thanks to an enthusiastic lube job by a tragically misguided and smitten mechanic who shall remain nameless. Said smitten mechanic spent quite a while, I'm told, up under Pippa's business smearing grease on all the cranking mechanisms (no extra charge of course. *wink!*).

Since we arrived on a Wednesday, we had our whole section of camp to ourselves, certainly no one on either side or behind us. Thrilling, to say the least.  After setting up, we still had daylight left to burn and managed our first visit to the eponymous Fall Creek Falls.

The view from the top of Fall Creek Falls.
 While I can tell you, with certainty, that the picture above is of Fall Creek Falls, that's where my ability to name and recognize falls on sight ends. We would hike to at least four more falls, likely Piney Falls and Cane Falls, Cascade Falls, and (other?) Falls, but since there wasn't (thankfully) a banner sign draped across each of them, I don't know which one is which.  I can tell you that the Fall Creek Falls gulch you see here is two and a half football fields deep and we resolved to hike to the bottom first thing in the morning. Right after...

The makings of breakfast burritos: onion, peppers, corn.

The MOST wonderful PART of the trip!  Camp breakfast! 
This is the little-used camp stove that came with Pippa that I spoke of in my last camp post. While Pippa is fifteen years old, I'm not sure anyone ever hooked up this stove before we did. It works like brand new,  running  off a propane tank that is stored inside the camper. A hose is threaded through a hatch to power the stove. The only thing even very rustic about it is that the burners must be lit with a match. Otherwise, it cooks as well as any indoor gas range.

Essential camping gear: your own personal squatch tee.
Except everything tastes better outside. Have I mentioned?

The only way FCF State Park could have been any more lovely would have been for us to be there a few weeks hence for fall foliage. As it was, the weather was PERFECT, 70s to 80's during the day and 30 to 40 degrees at night. That may sound a little brisk, but it's really nothing a puffy vest, a campfire, and a roasted marshmallow can't cure. Though we brought a heater, once still and covered in the camper, it was actually perfect sleeping weather.  Though I will say it was a bit of a chilly hike to the potty, some 150 feet or so away. It was the price we paid for having our camp well away from the knot of what I call "friendly campers" or people who want to camp up each other's asses and chat with strangers, of which I am most certainly NOT one (surprise!). I generally pre-bring people with me that I like to talk to. 

Perhaps most importantly, the showers were clean enough AND there was plenty of hot water to be had. While I've evolved quite a long way as a camper and outdoorsy person, you won't find me pooping in a hole of my own digging nor sponging off with wet wipes as a means of cleaning myself nor wearing stank absorbing clothes (though I'll admit they are ingenious) as a matter of necessity any time soon. Nope. 

Beginning the hike to the base of Fall Creek Falls. This wide, stepped path in no way represents  90% of the trail which was narrow, knotty with three roots, and a heavy dose of rocks ranging from boulder-sized on down.
The hike to the bottom of the falls was steep as one would expect and, while wearing my hiking boots is far more often than not a fashion statement, that certainly wasn't true of hiking FCF Park. While hiking/climbing back up is harder on the muscles and more winding, heading down is scarier because of the very real possibility of grandma taking a header to the bottom.

I'm very happy to report that never happened.

Looking  back.

Looking down.

The base of FCF.

We were rewarded at the bottom with a beautiful view and a nice sprawl on a huge, flat rock thoughtfully placed by the Almighty (orsomethinglikethat) at the bottom for just such an activity. Eventually we had to give it up, though, because for some unknown reason there were... "other people" (?) on the trail.

We found it convenient between wilderness adventures to eat out only at lunch time at the one restaurant that necessarily monopolized the FCF meal-time trade located in the (state-run) hotel. The building had the "executive inn syndrome" meaning it looked like a prison. The dining room was cavernous, could have easily seated hundreds, and, in the midst of a Forest paradise, was inexplicably dotted with a bazillion fake plants suspended from the soaring ceiling (?). I have nothing good to say about the food, which was served buffet-style, and included way too much iceberg lettuce, sadly. Everything was labeled with calorie content (?) and cooked within an inch of its life. The carrots melted in your mouth. Literally. I will say I was delighted to discover a passable chili-like substance offered up day #3.   

Also, not sure what's up with this: (?).

We suffered our first wildlife attack on Night #2.

Ye olde raccoon.

My romance with raccoons, much like my first marriage, was short lived. It went something like this:

Stage One
"Oh, look! A raccoon, isn't he he ADORABLE?"

Stage Two
 "Ohmygod! Raccoons are attacking camp! We're all going to die!"

Stage Three
(Raccoons amuse themselves by sneaking up behind my camp chair in the dark until...)
(They do this repeatedly always resulting in...)

Stage Four
"If you'll pass me that lighter fluid and a match? I'm pretty sure I can herd that sumbitch into that storm drain and blow him straight to hell. Not kidding. "

In the case of the FCF attack, "someone" (me) repeatedly suggested to "someone" (not me) they MIGHT want to lock the food filled cooler in the truck for the night (bears, anyone?).  However, "someone" (not me) has taken to amusing themselves by engaging in raccoon warfare by leaving the food cooler in plain sight but bungee cording (with 19 bungee cords) the lid closed so the coon is driven mad by the inaccessible, yet tantalizingly close, supply of snacks.

We lost our hamburger to this little game. A perfect nasty little coon print pressed into the ground chuck.

I was, however, ASSURED the coon did not touch anything else in the cooler.

And how do we know this, you ask?

Because "somebody" (not me) actually claims to have actually heard it the very first time the coon's mangy disease-ridden little coon hand touched the cooler. In the dead of night. While the hearer was only seconds before asleep. With the cooler, of course, being located outside the camper.

Why, yes, people are frequently wakened by the sound of a coon hand hitting plastic.


Day two found us at the riding stables. We met a friendly older married couple from Georgia who, as we were getting signed up, enthusiastically clued us in to the knowledge that Friday night was "Seafood Buffet" night back at the fake plant dining room. I wincingly nodded, imaging the man enthusiastically tearing into limp, overcooked shrimp and thousand year old crab legs following an iceberg salad smothered in Thousand Island dressing.  
Mr. and Mrs. Crab Leg

We had to sign so many liability release forms that I imagined them saddling up a mighty  steed I would be charged with the responsibility of managing, but "Hank" was in fact a mild-mannered fairly disinterested brown horse on the short side. Any remaining apprehension I may have had about riding evaporated as I watched the stable worker swing her four-year-old daughter onto a horse, sans helmet, and send her off on the ride with us.

We may not have ridden to the hounds, but it was lovely just the same.

This may or may not be "Elvis"
Once we returned, and better than the ride, almost, was the fact that they told us we could visit all the horses in their stables if we wanted to. There must have been twenty or more of them in all shapes and sizes. We spent as much time petting (or trying to pet) all the horses there as we did on the ride.  I have a terrible fear that these kinds of "amusement" animals aren't treated well (too much "Black Beauty" as a child), though I saw no evidence of this and we had all kinds of fun giving them some love and attention.

The dreaded interspecies crush.

Back at camp that night, we experienced our first real bout of adversity when the loons at Camp 217 decided to listen to a little preachifyin'.  On the radio? Recorded? No idea. Problem was, Camp 217 wasn't satisfied to have just their own souls saved and ponder the implications of hellfire and damnation all by their theirselfs. They figured, I guess, that all us heathens at camp that night needed a dose of proselytizing. And so, for the better part of an hour, we were all treated at top volume to the booming, paranoid ramblings of some preacher or another. Recall, also, that our camp was located somewhat more remotely than the others so I can only imagine how miserable it was for the majority of everyone else, located as they were much closer to the madness.

We considered our alternatives...complain? have a conversation with 217? as we sipped delicious ice cold beer by the campfire and the rantings of Preacher X (?) continued to insult the night. 

We did nothing, in the end. The crazy leaking out of Camp 217 and polluting the fresh air around it was pretty palpable, honestly. Peering over there through the darkness at their campfire made me shiver. And not from the cold.   

Can I help you?

We discovered what might well be our favorite FCF hideaway the next day: Buzzard's Roost. Located at one of those marked scenic vantage points, you have to take a short hike below and around and down a trail to get to the actual point, but the breathtaking vista AND 3G's made it well worth the effort. Almost nobody else ever went to the trouble to go beyond cheesing it up at the photo spot. 

Here's a shot of it from a distance.

What little Facebooking we managed took place here because, for the most part, there are no G's to be had elsewhere at FCF. (Which is, I guess, kinda the point? Even if it seems a little excessive). I spent some time laid out on the rock at Buzzard's Roost wallowing in the luxury of all 3 G's, my head propped on the binocular case, my butt tucked into a gentle indentation in the rock, obviously once again engineered by nature for this very purpose, the banjo picking strains of "Rocky Top" echoing in my head, wondering if Tennessee is, in fact, the most beautiful place on earth.

It was that day.

Lookie! An unidentified falls! PWETTY!
Thursday night brought all sorts of fresh hell to the campground...PEOPLE.  And backing in their camp trailers IN THE DARK!  Show-off bastards.

Although, I'm happy to report they did occasionally run into things. 

And I know this because I've taken to sipping beer by the campfire and smugly watching people back in their camp trailers now that we're genius and can do it in three tries. Anyway, the dreaded PEOPLE brought their dreaded kids, one group of which took to "blood curdling screaming" as a means of amusement. Haha!  Yah!  Good times. And I would have been really mad too.

Except that I was distracted from all my problems by the sudden emergence of a skunk from the woods. A big, wide, kind of silvery one likely driven from his lair by, oh, I don't know...maybe (I'm guessing) BLOOD CURDLING SCREAMS?  He looked none too amused and while we thought surely he'd deviate from his course of heading STRAIGHT FOR US, he did not. Unperturbed by us jumping from our camp chairs and waving our arms about, he continued his steady progress in our direction.  I suppose if I had any sense, I would have tried a blood curdling scream of my own (and I'll admit to briefly wondering if there was any way we could possibly herd him to camp 217), but I was too frightened by my extensive knowledge of skunk spraying gleaned entirely from that one Brady Bunch episode.  You know the one, right?  Where everybody has to take a bath in tomato juice and they STILL stink?

TWO falls.
Not a fate I want to experience. We shut ourselves up in Pippa and the skunk was gone by morning. 

But Friday would blow us a a much iller wind than skunks or screams.  Because Friday was the day the plague of JeffChrisandDrew arrived. 

Along with sharing the beigest and most middle class American names possible on the planet, JeffChrisandDrew were all decked out in North Face and heinously ugly Teva "show your whole damn ungroomed manfoot" sandals. And I would know this about JeffChrisandDrew because they rolled into the camp RIGHT NEXT TO ours. Worse still than JeffChrisandDrew and their manfoot sandals was what they brought WITH them.  You see this coming, right?

Their five kids: Loud, Louder, Loudest. Oh, and the twins, Bitch and Moan. 

The forest!

Not one of these kids was over the age of five.  Not. One.  All boys.

Clearly, JeffChrisandDrew, at some point, had taken leave of their senses.  

 While the kids screamed and cried and, especially, bitch and moan (in pull-ups, no less) bitched and moaned, JeffChrisandDrew went about the exhausting business of pitching THREE tents on ONE campsite, corralling five kids, and making endless trips to the bathroom (which, recall, is rather far away, especially if you're an unreliable toddler). Once unfurled and set, the tents left JeffChrisandDrew and loud, louder, loudest, bitch and moan about five square feet to stand in although, helpfully, one kid was often dangling from the top of a short pole on the site. I'm telling you, that place was like the Superbowl during hurricane Katrina.

A hot screaming desperate mess.

The descent to the bottom of (Cascade?) Falls

We were never so glad to set out for another day of hiking as we were on JeffChrisandDrew day.     
Suspension bridge over (Cascade?) Falls. Only six people at a time could cross.
 And I'm happy to report we found FCF was otherwise as serene and lovely as ever. 

Cascade Falls (?). You can see the suspension bridge over the falls at the top left of the photo. Also, if you click for a larger version, you can see the swimming family dad just to the left of the falls.

 The hike down to Cascade Falls was perhaps the steepest thus far in a land of very steep hikes. There was listed in the guide a hike so steep it required one to actually cling to a cable, but we opted to save that excursion for another trip. 

As an aside, at the base of these falls, we found "the swimming family" stripped down to their bathing suits. This was a family with a mother and baby in a sling and a father and their two, perhaps 7 and 9 year old daughters. For some reason the Dad and daughters felt compelled each time they encountered a body of water, to strip down to their bathing suits and wade in while Mom photographed the whole bizarre unseasonable process. This though it was rather too cold for it and, er, nobody else was doing it? 

We first noticed the swimming family the day before shivering and balancing precariously on rocks in a stream on one of the trails, but finding them wading about at the base of Cascade falls among prominently posted "NO SWIMMING" signs was a little shocking. The Dad was coaching the girls (who were clearly nervous and freezing) from slippery rock to slippery rock to nearly the actual ROARING falls and back again. I spent some time pondering what the Dad's overall message to these kids might be?  

"Girls! Wear your bathing suits at all times!  Whenever you see a body of water... STRIP DOWN! WADE IN! CONQUER IT! Find a slippery rock and cling to it with just your toes! You'll be a better person for the experience!"  

Back at camp, things with JeffChrisandDrew had not improved.  Several of the children were in full "I want my Mommy" meltdown crying stage and the others were beating the hell out of each other with sticks. The squealing, screeching and squawking continued until nearly 10 pm and we were awakened at six o'clock sharp the next morning by the musings of Loudest, who picked that pre-dawn moment to try and have a top volume discussion with his father about his favorite song at a location that sounded to be about three inches from our sleeping heads.

From there, the cacophony began anew and the demon spawn of JeffChrisandDrew tuned up for another day of misery. I fixed a delightful breakfast as the squealing and screaming grew louder and higher in pitch and intensity with each passing moment. Just when you thought it couldn't get any louder?  It did. When Loudest took to shout/screaming at the top of his lungs, I'd had enough. Plugged my iPod into the truck speakers and rolled up the volume on some Notorious B.I.G. until we could no longer hear the pandemonium emanating from camp super dome over the smooth song stylings of Biggie Smalls.


JeffChrisandDrew, in their first wise move of the weekend, decided it was time to take the kids out for breakfast (lucky for all those unsuspecting bastards at the restaurant, eh?!) and we decided to break down camp before they could return. Truth be told, we'd considered going home then anyway and it was as good a time as any. 

Not gonna lie. I can hardly wait for our next excursion!
(Is there something wrong with me?)