Tuesday, October 8, 2013

(mostly) happy campers

well, we were happy most of the time we were camping this past weekend.  i count that as a rousing success.

shortly after we moved here at the end of april, a new friend put me in contact with a very local homeschooling group, which has served as our base and source of many new connections for friendship.  when i learned that there would be a group camping trip, i waxed nostalgic about our camping with california homeschool friends and signed us up right away.

it was tougher than i expected to get out of the house.  not that any enthusiasm was lacking - the kids have been excited since i told them about it months ago and have been counting down.  unfortunately, though, ander had been sick since the prior saturday.  we worked hard all week to get him rested and recovered enough to be able to go back to school by friday.  snowball's extended illness (wry neck) and prince ivan's recent eye injury meant that we could not leave them on their own in the house; i didn't feel comfortable interviewing a new petsitter to see if medications and injections and assist feeds could be comfortably managed, so i got everyone and all of their stuff to the veterinarian's office for a very expensive, attentive weekend.  i had made a list of things to pack, so that part went fairly smoothly.  steve came home early from work and we left immediately after picking up the kids from school.  then we had the traffic.  ugh.  but we eventually made it to the rolling hills and quiet roads of cunningham falls state park in time to set up the tent and cook dinner before sundown.  mostly.

diana ran off right away to join her friends in a digging expedition & rock exploration. ander hung around camp for while during the unpacking, where he discovered some bubble wrap. ahh, bringing the joys of home into nature.

he was so excited with the bag of cooked elbow macaroni that he had to take it around to show it to friends

i'm fairly certain he roasted the first marshmallow of the evening. well, at least the first monster-sized marshmallow from the bag i brought to share. they were huge and dwarfed the other s'more ingredients.

hot dogs by lantern-light. i remembered to bring spicy mustard, at least.

i had some excellent s'mores that night at the community campfire.  in addition to the giant marshmallows, which i dramatically set on fire to get a burnt texture all around (not that i like them that way so much, but it was fun to do and get comments from the on-lookers), i brought dark chocolate and pretzel thins.  it was a delicious alternative to the milk-chocolate-and-graham-crackers version that literally stuck to diana's face.  i must credit my tweeps for inspiring this idea; someone had used potato chips and noted how the salty crunch enhanced the eating experience.  naturally i had to try for myself.

i could tell it was fall by the way the leaves were gently joining our table for meals.

ander adorned our closest tree with what i can best describe as a tail

the kids frequented "the rocks" for all sorts of play and storytelling.  adults rarely went up. i felt a little like i was trespassing in a sacred space, but i remembered that i was invited by ander to come and see his rock bed.

a view up the hill from "the rocks"

it was a perfectly-sized indentation for him
view from our campsite. the grassy hill led up to "the rocks" on the left.

my handsome husband, who made this adventure possible for us

'tis i, the mama

i liked this one so much that i made it my current social media profile picture
the first of our caterpillar finds over the weekend: ander in his sleeping bag
yes, this is an actual sunspot, not a camera effect

looking straight up from within our campsite

on saturday, it was all the rage amongst the kids to find wooly bear (isabella tiger moth) caterpillars and keep them as pets for the weekend. designing the improvised habitats for them was half the fun.
i'm pleased that i followed a young camper's advice and did not touch this cute fuzzy guy, who turns out to be a hickory tussock moth caterpillar.  they are venomous and can cause quite an irritation, especially to those who have sensitivities.  ander and i just watched the busily-moving creature, whom ander named "carlon."

i think we're going to need to get a hammock for ourselves

another actual sunspot. i like these.

a quiet, enchanted spot along the path of my solo walk to the camp store

no maps were given out when we signed in to the park, but a kind attendant at the camp store allowed me to take a picture of the one map they had on the wall. we were in the catoctin creek circle. the bathrooms had hot running water and flush toilets so we didn't have to rough it too much.
yup, definitely need a hammock

our fearless leader. i adore her hair, as does ander. it currently sports two shades of blue. reminds me of a peacock's brilliance.

adding artwork to our camp banner

treasures come in all sizes
one of the much-anticipated highlights of the weekend was the hike to The Falls.  there were two ways to get there: we could drive down to the more-accessible paved path and join the crowds or go with the group and follow a slightly more treacherous arduous rigorous path for the campers.  we hemmed and hawed and decided upon the latter.  ander started to get anxious at the beginning because it was a new experience and he didn't know the way, but the group kindly allowed him to be at the front of the line most of the time.  this was his big explore adventure and i wanted it to be memorable for him in a good way.

heading out with daddy at the forefront

having my camera at the ready, i stopped periodically to take photos of curious creatures for later identification, like this one:

fairly sure this is a robberfly, aka assassin bug

i wonder what kind of nooks we could have explored in here. no time, though - we were on a mission.

this photo is pretty washed out, but something about the effect of the fallen tree against the rocks captured my interest

we made it to the falls mostly without incident.  diana twisted her ankle once but was able to get up and moving again.  adrenaline will do that for you.  she didn't want to miss out or be left behind.

immediately upon seeing the water, ander was out of his shoes and socks and wading inside. he didn't want his water shoes - he wanted to feel the slippery surfaces of the rocks under his feet.

diana bypassed ander's activity and followed her friends up the rocks of the waterfall

it's been very dry, so the usually impressive falls were down to a relative trickle, allowing for safer climbing

after inviting me in to wade with him, which i gladly did, ander took a quick snack break and decided he wanted to climb to where daddy and sister were

apparently, my son is part mountain goat. he didn't hesitate at all and knew just where to find hand- and foot-holds that worked for him. i had to ask him to stop and wait for me several times. he told me i needed to have strong muscles like he does. oy.

a short stop about halfway up, if i judge distances correctly (which i don't)

looking back down from that stop

steve said the only reason he went up after diana was in case she needed help back down, which she did not, as it turns out, need after all. her mountain goatiness had emerged, too.

i managed to convince ander to pause here by the water and steve captured the moment

a view of the falls from our seated position

diana, triumphant, halfway back down

who climbed a 78-foot waterfall? she did!
i am not much for heights, but i couldn't very well let ander go up by himself, nor could i really ask anyone else to spot him.  and there was no telling him that he couldn't go.  getting back down was rougher than going up.  it was particularly difficult for me, as my depth perception, or lack thereof, channeled my visual focus solely on the smooth surfaces that ander seemed to be practically running down with ease (gasp - holy heart-stopping moments!)  his desire to do it by himself crashed up against my perception of what was safe for him, and we struggled to maintain a stable position on a steep slope until we had a plan worked out and could calmly execute it.  steve waited below to catch ander, who, again, seemed not to need any of the well-meant assistance.  i strive to assume physical competence in both of my children, but my anxiety over disasters-waiting-to-happen can take over at inopportune moments.  he really wanted to show me and his father and his sister and his friends that he could do it by himself and i interfered with that.  ok. lesson learned, the hard way.  mostly by me.

what goes down must come back up, and so it was with the hike back to the campsite
once we were back, ander invited me to lie down in the tent and watch the leaves fall down on us as we sang songs from signing time episodes.  i suppose that meant i was forgiven and i appreciated the chance to rest and recollect myself.

steve built us an excellent campfire over which i cooked macaroni and cheese and heated water for chai & hot chocolate. i was very pleased with my new camp kettle.

i'll have to bring even more cheese next time
playing in the warm water of our new camp dishwashing station

ander spelled out a favorite name with his own pretzel font
we saw diana in bits and pieces from the moment we arrived until the moment we left.  mostly she hung out with taryn, or taryn's family, or taryn and other young homeschooling friends.  she would periodically stop by our campsite to get a snuggle and let us know what she was up to: exploring, nature trading, climbing, caterpillar-collecting, reading, game-playing, flashlight-tagging, fire-gazing, s'more-making, spooky storytelling, and so on.  she knew some of the kids before the weekend.  by the end, i think she knew almost all of them.  it's an easy group of people to be with, it didn't seem like there were any rough edges requiring smoothing over.  people gave each other space or support when it seemed appropriate, sharing smiles and interests.

apples to apples really is the best game ever.

ander seemed to like joining in some activities, too, like playing monkey-in-the-middle.  a small group of girls playing cheered for him and easily accommodated a little twist - he's a better kicker than a thrower, so we incorporated that for his turn and the players scrambled to catch his foot-propelled launches.  mostly he did his own thing near others, happily humming to himself as he scaled the rocks or created zen-like paths in the gravel or went off in search of his sister or taryn or taryn's family or their hammock or just hung out at our table or tent, eating lots and lots of bread and kettle corn and pretzel sticks.  and marshmallows.

the hike and plenty of playtime really used up ander's energy, so when the sky started to darken after dinner, he announced his desire to go to sleep, which he promptly did.  steve encouraged me to join the larger group at the community campfire while he stayed near our tent to be available to ander, but i declined that in favor of the rare opportunity to sit quietly with him by our own fire, watching the mesmerizing flames, talking, holding hands, gazing up at the stars.

we left the tent uncovered that night to look at the sky.  it was a pleasant distraction for me to experience the outdoors through mesh, feeling cool breezes and hearing the cacophany of crickets while i repositioned my aching muscles on the very hard ground.  i'm spoiled by our bed at home with plenty of cushions.

the kids had no problems sleeping, tucked securely into their sleeping bags

by sunday morning, steve and i were in agreement that we needed to pack up and head home right after breakfast.  i could feel the beginnings of something very uncomfortable in my body other than simple sore muscles; by the time we got home just before lunch, i was ready to collapse with a fever and whole body aches.  thank goodness ander was better from whatever illness he had had the week prior, but now it is my turn (and steve's) to succumb to it.  diana was sorely disappointed to have to leave her friends but came away from the weekend full of wonderful moments.

this spider had freaked out some of the campers when they went to take a shower in the morning. another mom captured it and the kids showed it around before releasing it to a safer (for it and for us) location

as steve was folding up our tent, he found this vivid creature for me and ander to proudly display to the other campers. i did a fair bit of web-searching to finally identify it as a poplar hawk-moth caterpillar.

diana said farewell to her pet-for-the-weekend, named "kindle," and released him back into his native habitat

here's some of what i learned:
  • i can burn bacon by two different methods. i may have to abandon trying, or get different bacon, or experiment more.  because bacon.
  • grilled cheese sandwiches do not require the "high" setting on a tabletop propane grill, unless one enjoys blackened bread.  i did not merely overtoast them, i completely obliterated them back into elemental carbon.
  • the plastic containers to hold eggs probably are worth it. i will not snicker at them again while i browse amazon.com for camping gear.  i will quietly order one and be done with it.
  • i don't need to pack quite so much snack food.  apparently i could just supply ander with a plain loaf of bread and a large bag of kettle corn and he'd be fine.
  • if i get everyone all excited about a newly-acquired piece of camping equipment, i'd darn well better use it.  i remembered how much fun it was in my girl scout days to make pies with a pie iron, so i bought one, filling diana's head with visions of gooey grilled cheese and piping hot cherry pies.  i forgot the pie filling and didn't plan well enough to make the sandwiches.  that won't happen again.
  • my smartest move was bringing the bag of sand toys: buckets, shovels, rakes, sieves, plastic containers, all tools of the trade for young explorers.
  • the camp store has all. the. things.  i'll bring an empty cooler next time and fill it up with groceries and ice when we arrive.
  • diana is ready for a pup tent of her own to have camping sleepovers with her similarly-aged girl friends.  reading by flashlight and whispers and giggles in the dark with a dear friend are experiences i want to make sure she has.
  • despite her public school adventure this year, i believe diana still has her heart in homeschooling and more self-directed learning, as do i.  this group is our physically local tribe, where we find acceptance and support.  diana can be herself, express herself without concern for being considered odd or quirky or not following "the rules."  she finds other kids with similar interests and learns from and with them.  she discovered the spellbinding storytelling talents of another young lady, who offered tips on overcoming the dreaded "what do i say next" moments by replacing "um" or "uh" with "and what do you think happened next?" and inviting audience participation to keep them engaged.  diana also found herself complimented and appreciated for her own story topic ingenuity and inventiveness.  these are people she really enjoys spending her time and energy with, as do i.
  • i need a really comfy, fluffy cushion to sleep on.  or a hammock.
camping is a fun getaway, though i am happyer at home.  i'm already looking forward to next year.


  1. Fearless leader?! Thank you. I will try to embrace that description.

    I'm so glad you all joined our group, and that you went camping with us!

    A side note about the robber fly: he is not in the assassin bug family at all (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduviidae), but does have the nickname of assassin fly.

    I cannot help with the spider ID, but I like this site for caterpillars: http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?guide=Caterpillars

    1. ooh, thanks for the catch! i must have misread my info or stopped reading after the word assassin.

      i'm really, really glad we went. your family made it extra special for us.

    2. I have some of your sand toys! I forgot to drop them off with D on Monday.

  2. Yes, indeed, we ARE an easy group to be with! Glad you had fun - Larry said it was a blast.

    1. it was!

      it was your eldest daughter who diana thought was an especially excellent storyteller, and both of your girls who happily included me and ander in the ball game. they were charming and delightful.

  3. :) i really do love my camping trips! plus, i bet kindle is going to be happier hibernating through winter in a soft tree nook instead of my plastic woolly bear home. i think he did like me though.