Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Summertime Dreaming, Part 2

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about life in the cave for four and a half years. Four and a half! That’s a long time. It is interesting now, to look back on what life was like four years ago, and to see all of the ways that things have changed. Our family. Job. Schools. As always, Time keeps marching forward, arm-in-arm with her sister, Change.

I came across this one post, Summertime Dreaming, which I published almost exactly four years ago. It was amusing to read the fun, mostly superficial summer goals I’d set there. Let’s see how I did:

Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Haha…it has been a loooong time since I’ve had a good real-time online battle. A part of me misses the days of Age of Empires or CyberNations. But maybe I’ve outgrown my thirst for virtual world dominance.

Wear a Bikini

I totally did it! So rad, right? At the age of 36, I hit my weight-loss target and spent my first (and last) summer traipsing around the beach in a cute little two-piece suit, like a true California girl. Now I can happily move on with life and not have to wonder what it would be like to wear a bikini.

summer splash 031

Drink a Beer

I’m proud to say that I have drunk a grand total of five beers since I posted that goal. No, not all at once. Yes, I enjoyed it (though I still prefer a glass of good wine).

Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

Yep, did it. Then we moved to a new house.

Write Write Write

I wrote, wrote, wrote.

writing creative stuff

Setting goals does not always have to mean the big, serious plans in life, like career goals, fitness goals, or financial goals. Sometimes, you can take great pleasure in setting small goals that are all about enjoying life, having fun with your family, or growing and learning in tiny ways. Meeting these little goals can result in great joy.

And now to set some small goals for the Summer of 2016. I would like to:

Do a fun programming project

Maybe design a fun new website for readers of Young Adult fiction, or design a relational database of our family’s book library. Okay fine, maybe this does not sound like summer fun to like, 97% of the world, but it does to me.

Try a new water sport

My kids and I already love kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Learning to surf would be fun. Maybe waterskiing or wakeboarding? Even floating down the river in inner tubes is still on our haven’t-tried-it list.

watercraft fun

Learn to do something new with my hair

I’ll admit it. I am pretty dull when it comes to styling my hair. Wear it naturally curly and short, or wear it straight and shoulder-length. Ponytail or no ponytail. A couple of times, I had it highlighted, and years ago, I even wore it in dozens of mini-braids. But now what? Learn to French braid? Try a hair weave? Dye it some daring new color?

Shop at farmers’ markets

farmers-market shopping

Now that I’ve decided not to grow a veggie garden this year, I would like to make a habit of heading to some of the great farmers’ markets we have in our region. The kids will enjoy this one, too.

Write, write, write

Specifically? Finish something and start sending it off to editors for publication.

Hopefully, whether or not I am still blogging away four-and-a-half years from now, I will be able to look back on this tiny list of tiny goals with a huge smile, knowing that even if I didn’t complete them, I had fun along the journey.

Adrift in the Sea (aka: Summer Vacation)

School’s out, school’s out, teacher let the monkeys out!

schools out

No, not my kids’ schools – they are still eagerly counting down the days. However, my college classes have ended until fall semester. It should be a relief, I know. College students everywhere are probably cheering in celebration, making plans to spend the summer relaxing with friends. I, on the other hand, am counting the days until classes begin again.

waiting for school to begin

Maybe I am a naturally restless, goal-oriented person. Or maybe, after years of being adrift, it just felt good to be on the boat, motor cranked up high, aiming toward something. Toward good grades. Toward IT certifications. Toward a rewarding career, where people will pay me to use my brain.

adrift paddlingAnd then – freeze. The motor cuts off in the middle of the ocean. I am adrift again until summer vacation ends. Great. Well, luckily, there are oars in this boat. It’s kind of a pain, because time moves slowly when you’re paddling a boat all by yourself, never quite knowing if it will get you where you want to go. But paddle you must. Because somewhere out there, land awaits. And sitting still is simply not an option.

Summer Goals (aka “Oars”):

  • Self-study for IT certification exams (N+ and MCSA)
  • Continue career-hunting
  • Learn at least one scripting language well (Perl, JavaScript, PHP, or Ruby)
  • Play around with virtual machines
  • Get to know Linux better
  • Read a fiction novel or two
  • Continue writing novel
  • Learn some new recipes with the kids
  • Grow a second garden just for winter squash and pumpkins
  • Organize the house
  • Build a computer with Teen #1 (if the budget permits)
  • Encourage my kids to practice coding
  • Swim a lot with the family
  • Improve soccer foot skills

Simpsons family summer vacation

Summertime Dreaming

Less than two weeks of school…let the countdown begin! We educators are not very different from children when it comes to summer vacation. As the last day of school approaches, our eyes begin to glaze over, and our brains turn to mush. Really. It’s true. Right at this very moment, all I can think of is that theme song from the movie Meatballs. “Are you ready for the summer? Are you ready for the hot nights? Are you ready for the fireflies, the moonlit skies, and a whole lot of fooling around…” How can I possibly make it through these last few days? I have so many plans this summer, starting with:

1. Engage in some nice, relaxing Global Thermonuclear War

Ahhhh! While outside, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the air is filled with the fragrance of summer jasmine (well okay, smog), I will be parked in front of a computer screen, creating armies and trying to take over the world. I still haven’t tried Age of Empires Online. Wonder if it’s any good?

2. Wear a Bikini

Oh boy, I am still not so sure about this one! I have never ever worn a bikini. I have never had the body for it, and to be honest, I still don’t think that I do. But at the age of 36, this may be my last shot to try it out and get away with it, right? Geez, I am blushing already. Maybe wearing a bikini requires a kind of I’m Sexy and I Know It attitude, and I am just not there.

3. Drink a Beer

I know, I know, this one is completely ridiculous. How could I have gone so many years without ever trying a beer? I have nothing against beer. It is just that my choice of alcoholic drinks is usually a fine wine, or some fancy mixed drink. But good old, humble, reliable beer…never! I am still searching for the perfect opportunity to try it. Maybe during the Olympic Games? 4th of July? My 37th birthday?

4. Remodel My Sons’ Bedroom

My 12yo finally decided that he has outgrown the bright blue walls and cartoon vehicle wallpaper I put up when he was two years old. Now he would like olive green walls and cool decor, something suitable for a soon-to-be teenage boy. Unfortunately, he shares a room with his 7yo brother, who wants bright orange walls and a space theme. We’ll see if I manage to merge the two somehow.

5.  Write Write Write

Sure, I can make time to write blog articles or poetry. But the truth is, I am a fiction writer. Thanks to a busy school year, I have a huge backlog of stories to write or revise. At last, I will have time to sit at the computer and type. Well, after my three kids finish playing Roblox and Minecraft and Zoo Tycoon. Okay, maybe it is really time to buy another family computer!

Of course, there are also the usual activities, like camping, and swimming, and day trips with my kids. But who needs to plan such things? Summer is not a time for packed schedules and full calendars. It is an opportunity to kick back with the kids, watch movies, read books, and grill everything we eat. Yes, I am ready for the summer, and oh-so-ready for school to end. Then I shall don my sunglasses, pop open a Diet Pepsi (or a beer?), and cue the music: Summertime  by Will Smith. Ohhh yeah!!