Family · Life · My Local World · Nonsense · travel

The Camping Trip

For our 29th anniversary weekend, Gary and I went camping. We have only camped once before in our entire marriage, and that was years ago in my parents’ travel trailer with an eighteen month-old toddler. This time, I wanted to sleep in a tent, in a sleeping bag, and cook on a camp stove. I wanted to really get out there with nature. So we did.

Being a planner, I researched what gear we absolutely needed, what we already had, and what we could get by without. I researched where we should go as newbies. It needed to be somewhere far enough from home that we wouldn’t be tempted to pack it in early, but close enough that we could if circumstances became dire. We settled on Cheaha State Park which is about an hour and a half from home, and has beautiful lodges and campgrounds built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. It is at the lower end of the Appalachian Mountains and the park surrounds the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain at 2,413 ft.

Let me say, that NO map provided of the park and the campgrounds is accurate. I picked a campsite in what they call the “Lower Campground” because it seemed a little more remote than the tent sites up on the top, and also was more shaded and better fit my idea of getting out with nature. It was the correct choice, but only because we were stupid lucky. What looks on the map like one continuous campground with a lake and a bathhouse and several nice amenities is actually two campgrounds separated by a paved road that has a pretty good amount of traffic during the day. And of more significance is the fact that the bathhouse and lake are located inside the State Park (behind a gate where you must buy a pass) and our campsite was located outside the park. So popping over to the bathhouse with the actual flushing toilets was not an option. More on the toilet facilities at our campground in a minute.

Everything I read about camping for beginners said don’t try to set up your brand new tent in the dark, so of course we did exactly that. It really wasn’t that hard. Our tent is a simple Kelty 4 person dome, and it went right up easily. We got our campsite set up, sprayed ourselves with insect repellent, and then it became obvious that we were going to have to visit what was preciously described on the campground map as the “modern outhouse.”

Now, I am no delicate flower who has never used an outhouse before. I grew up in the country. My elementary school had an outhouse for the first two years I attended. The algorithm for using an outhouse is not something you forget:

It is: T(P-B)<t(Sa-Sb)

The T (time) you can P minus B (where B= breathing) must be less than the t (time) S can travel from a to b (where S=spider, a=anywhere and b=your body.

It’s science.

Also, in this particular “modern outhouse” the girl potty and the boy potty are right next to each other (as in the same space) so it provides a unique bonding experience for couples who might be in somewhat of a rut about these things after 29 years of marriage.

After that adventure, we relaxed in our camp chairs and munched on snacks of M&Ms and Wheat Thins and watched other arrivals until bedtime. That is how we realized that we had really lucked out in our choice of campsite. Although we could see the paved road, it was far enough away that the noise was minimal. Best of all, our site was sheltered from the others by a hill, so that we could only see one other site. We were secluded from other campers, and this turned out to be a good thing. By morning, the campground was full of tents and trucks and kids. But we were secluded from all of them. Not that we are anti-social, but this was camping. I wanted to be out where it was dark and naturey.

Except for the fact that it was Alabama hot, we slept pretty well. All the websites were correct that a good inflatable mattress made for camping is a must. Ours has a battery operated inflater, and it worked great. We slept on our sleeping bags rather than in them, and a little battery operated fan hanging in the tent made it tolerable. We folded back the rain fly so it just provided a little privacy on one side and left the rest of the tent uncovered. We could see the stars through the trees. It was wonderful.

The next morning, we made sausage and eggs on the camp stove, and then set off on hiking adventures.

Cheaha Mountain is rocky. Like, I can’t begin to tell you how rocky. The trails are well-kept and well blazed, but you really have to pay attention to where you are putting your feet. I always hike in boots, because they make me feel more secure. I was certainly glad I had brought them, even though we did not hike any significant distances. I wished for my hiking poles, which I didn’t bring. Gary and the boys make fun of me for using them, but I like them, and I don’t care if they make me look elderly.

First we hiked out to Bald Rock. It’s a short, easy hike out to a high overlook. there is even an accessible boardwalk if you choose to go that way. We took the ground trail, and it was nice. The view is incredible. The drop-off is perilous and there is no railing, so the folks with kids were nervous. I don’t like heights, but this one did not bother me, because no one was getting too close to the edge. The danger was obvious, and people had a death grip on their kids.

We walked back on the boardwalk, which is elevated ten or twelve feet above the ground, and gives a different perspective. There are seating areas along the way, and the whole thing is sturdy and nicely maintained. Best news: there are actual flushing bathrooms at the parking area to Bald Rock!

We went back to the campsite and made some lunch. Hot dogs cooked outside are really delicious.

After lunch, we set out for a hike to the other high overlook in the park, Pulpit Rock. this hike was shorter, but significantly more difficult. There is a steep descent at the beginning, which means a steep ascent when you come back. Saying this trail is rocky doesn’t even begin to cover it. You are often just stepping rock to rock. It was dry the day we were there, so not slippery, but still requires constant attention to where you are placing your feet. There were not nearly as many people on the trail as the one to Bald Rock. We passed maybe three groups each direction.

Pulpit Rock is spectacular. It is a huge boulder, seemingly balanced on another, with a large part of it just hanging out in space. I didn’t go out on it. Duh. There were, of course, two young males sitting out on the edge, being cool. I heard their friend, standing back on solid rock behind them, say, “Y’all my anxiety is up there with those clouds right now!”

Amen, brother.

DSC01056 - Copy
Do I look nervous?

We made the hike back to the trail head, including the killer steep part, and decided we were ready to go back to the campsite and chill. We stopped by the little store and grabbed some more water and ice and a bundle of firewood, and spent the late afternoon hanging out, dozing and snacking and watching some sort of emergency over by the lake that involved ambulances and sheriffs and a LifeFlight helicopter. We never did find out what happened.

As dusk approached, I made our dinner (foil pouches with chicken, peppers, onion and potatoes) and Gary started a campfire. It was 80 degrees, but it is not camping without a campfire.

And you know what? Men love sports, and they love cars, but they really, really love fire. A campfire can entertain a man better than a 60 inch Hi-def color TV. We had a good evening, me with my wine in a coffee cup and Gary with his fire.

On Sunday morning, we slept until it was light, which we never do at home. The lack of showers and the heat combined to make us sort of offensive, so we decided to pack up and head home. We were missing our cat, too.

We broke camp like pros, packed up the car, left no trace, and headed down the mountain. The GPS thought we needed to see more nature on the way home, so it sent us along super-uninhabited back roads that were barely paved.

IMG_3114
Really, GPS?

We saw a car, empty, parked on the side of the one-lane road. Gary said, “What do you think that’s about?” I said, “Well, disposing of a body, obviously.” I mean, you know you are FAR off the beaten path when your GPS looks like this:

IMG_3116
No roads, just trees.

Eventually, we reached something like civilization, and the little town of Munford, which sits beside I-20, familiar territory.

We got home by midday, enjoyed the comforts of air conditioning, refrigeration and running water, apologized profusely to the cat for our absence, and napped.

The verdict on camping? I liked it. I want to go again.

Entertainment · Inspiration · My Local World · Nonsense · Writing

Things I Love

I am blatantly ripping off this idea from Angie at Freckled Foolery, because I enjoy reading about what other writers love and how they spend their time. Note that Things I Love is about things not people. That is a whole other post. Also, I’ve been struggling a little with negativity in my writing ideas (who hasn’t, these days?) and Angie’s post lifted my spirits and made me smile.

I love:

  1. Cats. The only reason I still use Facebook these days is for pictures of people’s kids and cats. I am a bona fide cat lady, even though I only have one of my own, and she likes my husband better than me.
  2. Reading. I own WAY too many books. I need to purge, but it’s so hard. I love how social media allows us to feel as if we know writers personally. I love Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. I read a lot of non-fiction, too, like Naomi Klein and Ari Berman. I like to read books about physics, although I struggle with those ideas, it feels like good exercise for my brain. I love a good book controversy, like the one going on about American Heart. The arguments over it have gotten crazy heated, and wild horses could not keep me from reading it now. (It comes out in January.)
  3. Notebooks, journals, note paper, and pens.  My bad memory requires that I write everything down that I really want to remember, so I always have a small notebook and pen in my purse. I write my longer writing on computer, but I am a fanatical list maker, and typing a list into my phone is laborious, so I keep paper and pen handy. I am constantly searching for the pen that writes just the way I want it to (and somehow makes my messy handwriting better.)
  4. Stone walls, fences and bridges. I love how they blend in with nature, and how they last forever. I love them covered in moss, and surrounded by fall color. My dream house would have a stone foundation and stone walls in the yard with wildflowers spilling over them.
  5. Spider solitaire. It is the most soothing game. It takes just enough concentration, but not too much. I only compete with myself. It is my version of a fidget spinner. It is impossible for me to sit with nothing in my hands, so I can play on my iPad while I watch tv. (I have become my mother.)
  6. Pasta. Angel hair, bow tie, penne. If I had to pick a food I could not live without, it would be pasta. Chocolate glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts are delicious, but I would be okay if I could never have another one. Fresh strawberries would be missed. But life without pasta is unimaginable.
  7. Coffee. I don’t think I need to say more about that.
  8. Analyzing data. I can go for hours. Give me a set of data and I can mess with it for days, looking for patterns, outliers, correlations. Spreadsheets, graphs, visualizations – I love it all.
  9. Snow. I doesn’t snow much anymore where I live, but I still get excited when those first, fluffy flakes come down, even if it means the streets will be paralyzed and the power may go out.
  10. Group Me. My husband, sons and I have a family Group Me chat, and we use it to pass along important family information, but more often to share jokes and stupid memes and funny videos and comments on Game of Thrones. And of course, pictures of our food when we’re not all eating together.
  11. Yarn and knitting. My mom was a knitter, and I learned at about age ten. I love knitted sweaters and afghans and hats. Sadly, it is mostly too warm here to wear them, but I take advantage of the cold when we have it. I have an almost completed fisherman knit sweater that I have been knitting on and off for about 12 years. It is a complicated Alice Starmore pattern, and all that is left is part of one sleeve. When I finally finish that, I will wear it if it is 100 degrees!
  12. Craftsman houses. I would buy one and fix it up in a hot second, if there were any in my city. Birmingham has lots, but Hoover is a fairly new city and didn’t exist at the time they were being built. We have tons of 60s and 70s ranch houses, and there are some newly-built, fake Craftsman houses, but sadly, no real ones.
  13. Milk glass. I am not a collector, at least not of one particular thing. The knick-knacks in my house are mostly kitchy, non-matching things I inherited from my mother and grandmother. I have a set of Russian stacking dolls that someone gave my grandmother, and a Hull pottery pig bank that my daddy won for mother at a county fair when they were dating in the 40s. I treasure all these things, but especially the couple of pieces of milk glass that were mother’s. There is a flower bowl that sat on our dining table and almost always had fresh flowers in it. There is a tall pitcher that she used for daffodils in the spring. It has a chip in the base, but I don’t care. I love these things because they were part of our house when I was little.
  14. Libraries. We make it a point to visit the public library in the cities we visit. We’ve seen Seattle and New York this year. Those are two awesome ones, and completely different.
  15. Strong Wi-Fi. Yeah.

Well, that’s a lot, but there are so many more things. Writing this did the trick of putting me in a good mood, head cold and all. I may have to do a Part II later!

My Local World

Wherein we have opinions on car parking

For those of you who are not from Hoover, or are not in the Facebook Group “Hoover Vote,” I’ll share a little background. There has been a discussion going on for the last few days about parking ordinances in residential neighborhoods in Hoover. This was triggered by one of our city councilmen who was approached by citizens asking for an ordinance prohibiting overnight parking on the street, and also prohibiting parking on front lawns. He asked what people thought. And wow, did he get responses!

People get bent out of shape about cars being parked on the streets. Bent. Out of shape. Except for the people who park on the streets, that is.

Hoover is a sprawling suburb and we have no public transportation, so almost everyone has a car. Some families have more cars than licensed drivers. Two-car garages are probably the most prevalent, but some houses have more, and a lot of houses have carports, and a few have none. Our streets are narrow, and there are no marked parallel parking spaces in any residential neighborhood I know of. But neither are the streets marked with “No Parking” signs.

Anyway, the parking on the street issue is not one the city can legislate with a blanket ordinance. There are too many cars. And most people are not going to deal with musical moving of cars when the kids are home from college, or the grandparents are in town.

But the other issue, the one about parking on front lawns, is the one where the rubber meets the road. Or the grass. You know what I mean.

The most interesting comments are the ones from people who say, of course, we must allow street parking sometimes; my kids come home from college, and we have friends over, or there are parties, or Bible studies, and so on. But parking on front lawns? We get really judgey about that.

My homeowner’s association (which is not one of the very strict ones) occasionally mentions in the newsletter that it is unsightly for cars to be parked on front lawns, and please don’t do it. As far as I can tell, that has no effect. The people who do it continue to do it. It doesn’t bother me because I can clearly see that their only other choice would be parking on the street. If they want to park on their own lawn, rather than on the street, who am I to complain?

But the interesting thing is the different rationale for why people should not park in their own yards. It is not unsafe or unlawful.

It’s tacky.

Yes, people in my town want to outlaw tacky. It sends a chill down my spine, because I get my life from tacky.  I grew up in the country, where people had lawn art, and sometimes lawn chickens, and our house had no fence between the yard and the pasture and we ate breakfast with the cows staring in placidly at us from three feet away. We parked in the yard, the dogs ran free, and we had numerous “outbuildings” and disabled vehicles. My parents grew up during the Depression, and they didn’t get rid of things. We hung our clothes out to dry on a clothesline. We didn’t have these, because my mom came from town, but if other folks did have those half tires painted white and set in the ground to form a border, it meant they CARED about their home and their image in the community. Uppity.

So I accept the possibility that my “tacky” meter is calibrated differently.

I love bottle trees, and flower pots hanging on fences, and tomato plants in the front yard, and bird houses made from gourds. I love a profusion of mixed, crazy wildflowers, sidewalk paths inset with multicolored shards of broken dishes, and ivy tumbling over stone walls. I love those old metal gliders from the 40’s like my grandmother had on her front porch. My neighbors got a new toilet the other day and set the old one out by the street. I drove by it several times before it was taken away, thinking that in Red Hill, Alabama, that baby would have been a flower planter in a heartbeat. Morning Glories. I sort of grieved for it.

glider2

I just can’t help feeling, when I read some of these comments, that some folks would really like it best if everyone in the neighborhood was more …how shall I put it…homogeneous. Fewer wildflowers, more begonias. There is a lot of concern about the “older neighborhoods” like mine, where the houses, and the people, are not so new and shiny anymore. We’ve aged, kids have grown up, and we’ve had illnesses and knee replacements. Maybe our houses and yards show it a little. Or worse, maybe we’ve moved to a house better suited to our health and abilities to keep it up, and have relegated the house with the big yard to ………. (yeah, I’m about to say it)……….renters. (Duh-duh-dunnnnnh!)

I swear, you would think renters were about to cause the collapse of civilized life in Hoover. They park on the lawns, people say. The live too many to a house, people say. They don’t care, people say.  And sometimes they are black or brown, but people don’t say that.

Personally, I don’t really know how you spot a renter. It’s not like you can bring it up when they move in and you go over to introduce yourself. “Hi, here’s a cake I made to welcome you to the neighborhood, and, by the way, are you buying or renting this house?”

My mother taught seventh graders for over thirty years, and she had a saying, “Let every tub sit on its own bottom.” The seventh graders liked it because it had the word “bottom” in it, which made them snicker, but what she simply meant was mind your business and don’t tattle on each other.

I think we need that advice now. I see no evidence that property values are affected by the parking habits of my neighbors. I think what makes our property valuable and our homes sought after is that our neighborhoods are nice, welcoming places, where we know each other’s names, and are aware when someone on the street is in the hospital, or has a new baby, or gets a new son or daughter-in-law. Let’s not judge each other from afar, but try to be the kind of neighbors we want to have.

I know my neighbors reading this are thinking, “Is this that Hermit Woman on Russet Cove Circle writing this?” Because I am. I own it. I am an introvert, and an inside person. Coming over to introduce myself or inviting everyone over to grill out is SO out of my comfort zone. But I know you all. I know your names and your children and who leaves for work at what time. If you are renters, I couldn’t care less. I DO care if your car won’t start and you need jumped off, or if your dog or cat is lost, or if you need eggs or sugar, or a ladder or long extension cord. I am right here, neighbor.

Just please don’t judge my weedy yard.

My Local World

I tend to get carried away

For Christmas, I bought myself hiking boots. They are lovely boots, comfortable and light, yet sturdy. I wore them around town for several days, getting used to the feel of them and making sure they didn’t have any spots that hurt.

Last Saturday, on one of those rare winter days when the weather is the perfect mix of warm sunshine and brisk breeze, Gary and Ben and I went out to Oak Mountain State Park and hiked part of the yellow trail.

My out-of-shapeness was clear, but the guys were patient.

“You better not be taking pictures of my butt,” she said, hearing the clicking shutter as she bent, hands on knees, sucking in oxygen.

“Nah, I’d have to changes lenses,” he replied, focusing on a hawk in the distance.

“Ha. Ha. Wide angle?”

“Fish eye,” he commented solemnly, adjusting the camera’s settings, and not looking at her.

We only hiked a few miles on a fairly easy trail, but there were streams with bridges, ferns, fallen trees covered with moss, and hawks circling. I am a notoriously indoor person, but it was beautiful and I am hooked.

I want to hike all the trails, and learn about the plants and trees. I want to recognize the hawks, and I want to see the owls that we only heard before.

And I want to sleep out there. I want to backpack in, with a tent and a sleeping bag, and food for our dinner, and sleep out there in the terrifying darkness.

Most of my family are risk-takers. They run marathons, race boats and cars, they ski, they jump off high places into water. My son went to Europe at 13. My other son randomly takes off on road trips with friends, with no worry about where he’s going to sleep. If there’s a sign that says “Danger,” my husband is going to do the very thing that it says not to do.

I am not so much a risk-taker. I am a bookworm, a studier, a dreamer, a learner. I am always the one who knows what foods are a salmonella risk. I carry hand sanitizer. I am the one who has a whistle in my day pack.

But I want to go into the woods, carrying my stuff on my back. And one of these days, I want to do it alone.

So, this is a goal of mine now. I plan to day hike ever increasing distances until I am in better shape. I am going to start collecting the appropriate backpacking gear. And some time this year, I am going to load my stuff on my back and walk into the woods and set up my little campsite and sleep out in the wide, wild world.

I am 58 years old. I figure it’s time to get out of my comfort zone.

 

My Local World · Politics

The direction of my dreams

One of my favorite quotes is: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. ~ Henry David Thoreau

I have recently learned that it is a misquote. The entire quotation comes from Thoreau’s Walden, and is: “I learned this, at least, from my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours… In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Damn, Thoreau.

That is MUCH more deep. And does not fit on a coffee mug. Continue reading “The direction of my dreams”

My Local World

We embrace our weirdness in Alabama

I just read a traffic tweet that says the right lane is closed and there’s a 15 minute delay “at the devil will get you sign.” It doesn’t even have to say what highway they are talking about.

If you’ve driven much north or south through Alabama, you know the “Devil” sign off Interstate 65 at Deatsville. I don’t know who owns the land, but everyone knows the place.

The message is pretty blunt. No beating around the bush.

GotoChurchORtheDevilwillGetyou

My Local World

Good news

A chic local brunch place is serving chicken and waffles Sunday morning. That’s what I feed the little girl I babysit every time I keep her. I didn’t know it was a thing, I just thought I was a bad babysitter with no imagination. Who knew she’s actually a cool, hipster toddler?

I wonder if Bottletree Cafe has thought of giving a purple Peep to customers who clean their plates?

My Local World

It’s tough out there for a clip-art guy

Will no one think of the clip art people? How would you like to always have to be good-looking, smiling and interested in whatever BS cause or promotion someone decided to cut-and-paste you into? I weep for them, and how used they must feel.

This made me snort.

Now, someone in the comments pointed out that clip-art-minority man is supposed to represent “Everyman,” happily reaping the benefits of the wonderful works of all the dead conservative visionaries looming above him (and bonus Asian clip-art female). And good point.  I mean, I know how concerned Jesse Helms was about young black men in America, but to see it visually depicted in a massive banner backdrop really brings it home.

My Local World

The Yellow Letter “G”

Okay, Gawker is a gross site, and I do not approve of people being outed in this “gotcha” manner, but it came across my Twitter feed and I clicked.

Sue me.

Yes, another self-righteous “ex-gay” blogger is “caught” cruising for dudes on a gay social networking site. Not exactly earth-shattering news, but what did strike me was how most of the comments showed so much sympathy and compassion for this young man’s situation.

I guess I should not be surprised, really. Everyone knows a LGBT person who is living, or has lived, a false life. So it is not surprising that many of the commenters wanted to say to this guy, “Stop hating yourself. Stop trying to please a church that will never love you and will never accept you as God made you.”

I understand completely the desire to be accepted, particularly by one’s church, which is often connected to acceptance by one’s family. There is so much affirmation, so much delight, when a “sinner” comes back to the fold and “sins no more.” It is hard for any person  not to just go with it, please everyone, play the part, be the good girl or boy and be one of the accepted group that God loves best.

But how heartbreaking. He blogged about feeling “overwhelming loneliness.” Imagine feeling that, as well as feeling like a fraud and a failure every day as you are praised and rewarded for your supposed strength and godliness in turning away from homosexuality. I can’t believe in a God who wants that kind of pain. I don’t want to attend a church that praises and condones living a lie.

The older I get, the more adamant I am about being who I genuinely am, and the more important I think it is for young people to be allowed to be who they are.

In tenth grade, while studying “The Scarlet Letter” my son had a project in which he had to choose a word he felt described him, create a decorated version of the first letter of that word, and wear it around his neck all day. He had to explain to anyone who asked what his word was, and how it described him

Image

His word was GENUINE.

And I loved that, because he is. Kind of brutally honest, he has the freedom to be who he is: quirky, funny, over-sensitive, good, but not perfect. Not gay, but if he was, he’d be just as free to be himself, and just as loved.

How much would I like to say to Matt Moore to just let go of the false glory of being an important person in a church that will never, ever allow you to be genuine. Find a church that accepts LGBT people and affirms your faith and accepts that God made millions of different kinds of people, and some of them are gay. Make friends who like you for everything you are, who will forgive you for trying to live a false life because they’ve probably done it, too. Maybe you’ll find someone to love who shares your faith, but even if you don’t, you won’t spend every day lonely and hating yourself.

I know, easy for me to pontificate from my suburban marriage with the 2.0 kids. But one of the biggest regrets of my life is an event that happened when I was attending a small, Southern Baptist college and I was accused by some of my sorority sisters of being a lesbian. They required me to sign a statement affirming that I was not homosexual in order to remain a member, and they threatened to notify the University and my parents if I did not sign. I was 19 years old. I am not a lesbian. But I was terrorized into signing the thing.

It will shame me until the day I die that I didn’t remove my pin and walk out. When it came to being a genuine person, and standing up against something I knew was wrong, I failed miserably.

But one failure, or many, does not define us. Matt Moore – Move on, you’re already out. Embrace who you are, while holding tight to the faith that is obviously important to you. Stop visiting creepy dating sites and find genuine love. And most of all, love yourself.