Monday, July 27, 2009

Mom & Boys Camping Adventure Phase I: "It doesn't get any better than this!" a.k.a. "I should've known that things were going too smoothly" or "The calm before the storm"

The boys and I headed north to Elk Neck State Park in Maryland on Friday afternoon for a weekend of camping and quality time. My motivation for this trip was two-fold: 1. I wanted to spend some special time with the boys, which I haven't been able to do as much since Marley joined the crew, and 2. We're not taking a big family vacation this summer, so I wanted to get a weekend out of town before Dave leaves on his week-long trip to Oregon in early August.

So Friday afternoon, with a car full of camping gear and a great deal of excitement, we hit the highway to start our great adventure. Our 2 1/2 hour drive ended up taking 4 1/2 hours (3 accidents on 95, 2 pit stops to pee/get milkshakes), but the boys were content and we were happy to finally arrive at our campsite. Keller & Casey helped me get the tent, camp chairs, etc. set up, which was fortunate because I had been struggling with pretty bad lower back pain for a week already and I needed their help more than usual. The campsite was in a beautiful spot, near a pond and with a huge playground in view. A brief thunderstorm rolled through the area, but the kids were happy to have an excuse to eat sandwiches in the tent for dinner, and once the storm passed, we made a campfire and had delicious s'mores. Casey did drop a burning hot, goopy marshmallow on my flip-flopped foot, but the damage was minimal and things were going really well. Casey crawled in the tent and fell asleep around 9:30, but Keller and I sat up by the fire and had nice talks until about 11 when we went to bed.

Saturday morning, we met up with a naturalist and hiked to a cool pond for some fishing. We didn't have any luck, but the girl next to us caught 3 nice-sized fish, and it was her first time ever fishing, so we were pretty excited for her.

After fishing, we had lunch at the campsite and meandered around a bit. The kids found some other kids to play with and it was cool to see Casey actually seeking out a boy his age, rather than trying to keep up with Keller and the bigger boys who were playing football. We packed some snacks and headed to the beach. The kids enjoyed it, but it wasn't really my type of beach--big, painful, pointy rocks to walk on pretty far out into the water, goose poop along the water's edge, etc. There was also a ridiculous amount of sea weed, hence the swamp monster photo. We did have some luck finding a few fossils and an arrowhead, which made it worthwhile.

Around 2:00 we hiked out to the Turkey Point Lighthouse. The hike was challenging for Casey, and considering it was in the low 90s and there wasn't much shade, I can't say I blame him for lolligagging and whining a bit. But then they came across this vine that just begged for them to swing from it Tarzan-style (or Diego-style, depending on your generation!). I was a little worried that the vine would come loose and they'd fall, but they were only about a foot off the ground anyway, so I figured the worst that could happen was probably worth the fun they were having.

We finally made it to the lighthouse, after I promised the boys they'd be rewarded with an ice cream cone from the camp store later. The light house was open and we were able to climb the winding stairs and ladder up to the top to get a really cool view of the Elk River, Susquehanna River, and Northeast River meeting at the Chesapeake Bay.

After the hike, we went back to the Nature Center for the "Skull Detectives" session with the naturalist. It was cool! We got to hold skulls of several mammals, birds, and fish that are native to the park. The boys were totally in to it. We finished the session, had a nice conversation with the naturalist, who was just about the sweetest lady in the world and made me feel really good about my choice to take the boys on this adventure, and then headed to the camp store for some cotton candy flavored ice cream (which is obviously a huge departure from our normal diets, especially Keller's artificial color- and artificial flavor-free diet).

And then suddenly, Murphy's Law reigned supreme and everything that could go wrong did.

Mom & Boys Camping Adventure Phase II: "It doesn't get any worse than this!" a.k.a. "How did I anger the gods?" or "You've got to be freaking kidding me"

Immediately following our ice cream bonanza, we mellowed out at the campsite for an hour or so, but apparently not quite long enough. I had the fantastic idea that we should head back over toward the beach so I could take some sunset pictures, the kids could play on the cool recycled tire playground, and then we'd head back for a late dinner of hot dogs and mountain pies cooked on the fire. The kids loved the playground.

(There are no pictures to document the remainder of our adventure. Just trust me, you wouldn't want to see them even if they existed).

Casey really loved spinning on the tire swing. . . and spinning . . . and spinning. . .and throwing up cotton candy ice cream all over the place. As I ran to the car to get him some water and a towel, he promptly sat directly in the former contents of his stomach. He was so nauseated and dizzy that I couldn't risk putting him in the car, so Keller and I had to sit there with him while he moaned and groaned on the grass next to the playground for about 20 minutes. When he finally felt ready to take the mile ride in the car back to our tent, I made him take off his shorts before he sat in his car seat. However, the stench Keller and I will forever refer to as "vomit shorts" invaded our entire car and had us all gagging the whole way back.

Once at the campsite, I sent both boys to the showers while I scrubbed Casey's clothes and got everything ready for our delicious campfire dinner. Within 5 minutes of building my most amazing campfire ever, thunder started to rumble in the distance. Then it rumbled in the not-so-distance. Then the rain started, and the lightning. I rushed through roasting hot dogs, marshmallows, and got one mountain pie made before a torrential downpour overtook the whole area. The boys and I scrambled to get everything into the trunk and hunkered down in the car to wait for it to pass. Twenty minutes later, after watching several families pack up their gear and head out of the park, it finally occurred to me that I might be able to find a weather forecast on the radio. I turned on a local station just in time to hear the weather woman say "damaging winds, hail, and dangerous lightning expected for the region through the night into tomorrow." Hmmm. What to do? Is it safer in a tent or a car? Ah yes, forgot to mention that I fell asleep Friday night with a horrendous sore throat and woke up Saturday morning with what felt like the worst sinus cold in recorded history. So, between the weather, my increasingly painful back, and my cold. . . I realized it was probably time to make an alternate plan for the night.

At this point, Casey had fallen asleep in the car and Keller was getting exceedingly anxious about life in general. I made five trips from the car to the tent, about 10 feet, to get out the thermarests, sleeping bags, and to take down the tent. Each of those trips was perilous as lightning was flashing so close and it was raining so hard I could barely see. My predicament didn't particularly help Keller's anxiety, to say the least. He was sure he needed to get out of the car to help me so I wouldn't have to keep going out into the dangerous weather, and I had a "mother of the year moment" when I yelled "If you don't stop opening the car door and distracting me, you're going to make me get hit by lightning." I stuffed everything into the car and as we pulled away from the campsite, I quickly realized I had forgotten to close the valves on the self-inflating camping mattresses as I saw the mattresses inflating in the truck and completely obscuring my view out the back window.

It gets worse, or better, depending on how much you enjoy hearing of other people's misery.

We drove 20 miles to the nearest hotel, where I had to carry Casey in to the lobby to register. Lugging 45 pounds of dead weight was just about the straw that broke the mommy's back. Keller could only find one of his flip flops in the car, and I could only find one of Casey's. . . so Casey barefooted the hotel check-in and Keller wore his left flip-flop on his left foot and Casey's LEFT flip-flop on his right foot. If you think we were moving fast through the downpour, you are wrong, oh so wrong. We hobbled up to to our room where I dropped Casey on the bed, turned the TV on for Keller and headed back down to the car to find pj's, toothbrushes, etc. amongst our soaking wet and hastily-packed gear. After 3 trips to the car, in the rain, I had things fairly organized and the car was repacked in a reasonable fashion when I finally hit the sack at midnight.

Casey woke up at 9:30 a.m. and had no idea where we were or how we had gotten there! He thought we were somehow in a bedroom at the campground and worried when I said we didn't need to go back to get the tent. It took a lot of convincing to make him believe that we were actually pretty far away from the campground, and that the tent was safely packed in the car already. Keller wanted IHOP breakfast as a 'reward' for enduring the previous night, so we looked it up in the yellow pages, punched it into the GPS, and left the hotel behind us. After driving 14 miles (thankfully in the direction of home) we arrived at IHOP. Boarded-up, out-of-business, for-sale building IHOP.

I decide it's time to introduce the kids to the joy of McDonald's breakfast and they definitely enjoyed the hot cakes, sausage, and biscuits. The McD's was conveniently located in a BP station (sarcasm here), so at least I was able to pay $4 for tissues, $4 for cough drops, and $2.50 for two pills of Tylenol Sinus medicine---my first medicine other than Luden's 'throat drops' (which are just plain candy, I don't care what anyone says) which I had bought at the camp store.

With our bellies (and arteries) filled, we head back on the road for home at about 11am. When we reach the tunnel in Baltimore, I realize that I have not a penny of cash on me and need $2 to pay the toll. The toll guy is very nice and gives me a little card I can use to pay the toll on-line within 48 hours to avoid getting a ticket. Why they can't just take credit or debit cards at the toll booth is beyond me, but at least I had the option to pay once I got home. We go through the tunnel and I'm feeling like we're in the home stretch. I have visions of collapsing into a heap on the couch while Dave take the kids on some adventure to the pool or the movies or anywhere that I won't be required to assist with any parenting duties while I catch a nap and rest my back.

Here is where the shit really hits the fan.

Mom & Boys Camping Adventure Phase III: "Please just put me out of my misery" a.k.a. "What did I do in a former life to deserve this?" a.k.a. "I really should have gotten my deodorant out of the cooler (where I was protecting it from melting) prior to heading out from the hotel"

The guy in front of me on 95 loses his entire load of living room furniture out of his pick-up truck. I am able to swerve and miss most of it, but the ottoman gets clipped by the truck in the lane next to me, flies across the road and hits my right front tire, which immediately goes flat. I steer my shuddering, shaking car off to the left shoulder of 95 and sit there, in complete disbelief for a moment. Keller moves into rapid anxiety mode and starts to cry, while Casey announces that he needs "TO PEE RIGHT NOW!!!" The furniture hurling guy comes running back along to the shoulder to see if we're okay and then makes several suicidal dashes onto 95 to retrieve his completely destroyed brand-new furniture. I send my back into unimaginable spasms yanking every piece of camping gear, including the heavy cooler, out of my car to get the spare and jack, although I am completely terrified at the thought of changing my right front tire right next to the fast traffic lane on a major highway, not to mention the fact that my back was hurting so bad I had no idea how I'd even bend down to do anything with the tire. At this point, the furniture guy and I discover that the jack is securely bolted inside the trunk and I have no tool to remove the bolt. I call 911, where a really pleasant Baltimore City police dispatcher proceeds to practically scream at me for using an emergency # to report a non-emergency. She transfers me to the Harbor Tunnel police dispatcher, who informs me that there is no exit sign on 95 that says "Coppin State College Exit 50B" although I am sitting in my car staring directly at the sign. She insists that I need to get out of the car, leave the boys, and walk along the highway until I find a mile marker. I refuse to do it, which totally pisses her off, but eventually she agrees to send road side assistance out to search for me. I tell the furniture hurler that he can leave, give Casey a bottle to pee in, which he immediately loses the lid for, and try to attend to the most pressing concern in the boys' mind, which is the fact that one of the screens on our portable DVD player has suddenly decided to go blank. Say what you want about kids watching DVDs in the car, but until you've lived my journeys to and from our camping adventure, you have no idea how critical the DVD player can be.

Eventually a police officer pulls up behind me and I say to the boys "Oh, the police man is here" which sends Keller into another mini-panic because he automatically assumes that we are somehow in trouble with the law. The police radios in and confirms that roadside assistance is indeed on the way, and then offers to wait with me until they arrive. So, I'm standing along 95 with two whiny kids in the car, all of my stuff sitting on the side of the road, and I'm looking at the cooler, wondering if the cop might think I was really crazy if I reached in there and got out my deodorant. The temps had reached about 90 outside and I was sweating profusely. I decided not to do it, for fear that the copy might have me committed. Surely I looked like a crazy person and unfit mother already.

The guy finally shows up to change the flat and he really couldn't have been nicer. No sarcasm at all. He put the spare on, helped me load everything into back into the truck and then noted in a concerned tone that my spare looked really low and I needed to get off the highway to get air in it immediately.

It gets even worse.

I get off the Caton Avenue exit. If you are familiar with Baltimore at all, as I am after having lived and taught in Baltimore for 5 years, Caton Avenue is not the place you want to be getting out of your car to get air in your tire. I also needed gas, as our detour along 95 had burned through quite a bit of gas and we were below a quarter of a tank. I put just enough gas in the car to drive it home, while being entertained/scared shitless by the two drunk guys who got out of their car and proceeded to threaten each other with their empty bottles about 5 feet away from me. I squealed tire over to the air machine, and was smacked with the realization that I didn't have any change to pay the 75 cent fee for air (something you think would be fresh in my mind after not being able to pay the toll at the tunnel). There was absolutely NO WAY in hell I was getting money out of the ATM machine in this particular part of the city, so I drove on my nearly-flat spare tire to a slightly safer part of the city. I got cash out of the ATM, treated the boys to a snack and a drink, and figured I deserved an unhealthy treat, too, after all I'd been through. Surely the ice cream from Saturday and McD's breakfast from earlier in the morning weren't enough junk for the boys and I to consume in one weekend. So, I bought a "Tranquilo" flavored Vitamin Water (which is Spanish for "calm" if you didn't know) and a bag of Combos. When I checked the air pressure on the tire, it was 15 pounds of pressure---should have been inflated to 60. No wonder Casey had asked me "Why is the car still tilting that way if the man changed the tire?" when we were fleeing the ghetto in search of a safer gas station. I filled the tire and we headed out for the last stretch of our journey home.

One final kick in the pants for me--I opened my bag of Combos and reached in, ready for a yummy treat of the type I don't often allow myself. To my unpleasant surprise, the pretzel-filling machine had apparently broken the day they filled my bag, and I found what resembled a giant pile of dog poop made up of cheddar cheese laying in the bag. By the time we reached home, almost 5 hours after leaving the hotel, I was almost completely paralyzed with back pain, hadn't been able to breathe through my nose in about 36 hours, and was beginning to worry about my general well-being. I finished the night with a percocet, some Nyquil and a very entertaining but drowsy game of Monopoly with Keller on the patio.

My hope is that the kids will remember the awesome parts of the weekend fondly, and will laugh hysterically about all of the non-awesome events finished off our grand adventure.

Can you top that experience? If so, please add a comment because I'd really love to know that someone has had it worse than me. Human nature, right?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On the road again. . .Marley CAN wait to get On the road again . . .

So...we figured out on our drive to Pennsylvania (and had it confirmed on the return trip) that Marley is not really into road trips. She doesn't sleep well in the car, so after maybe a 20 minute cat nap, she feels the need to cry for about an hour. Thank goodness the boys eat up the screen time they get on long trips--they zoned out on the DVD while Marley bellowed her woes. This was only her second road trip with us, and probably her third ever in her life (the first being the 4 hour drive from her orphanage to Nanjing the day we met her). The first trip with us was back in February when she'd only been with us for a little over a month and was still pulling the wool over our eyes by playing the sweet, docile baby role. She is more than comfortable with us now, and there is no doubt she feels 'safe' enough to let her temper flare and show us a little high drama when she's in the mood.

Other than the actual drive, the trip to PA was great. The kids got to spend time with grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They swam in Gram & Pap's (FREEZING) pool twice, played on playgrounds, ate yummy Fox's pizza and watched entirely too many episodes of the Sponge Bob Sponge Bath marathon on TV.

We got to visit with one of my nearest and dearest friends and her family, which included jumping on their trampoline, drinking some brewski (adults only, of course!), and making s'mores over the gas stove in the kitchen (which is my new favorite alternative when rain prohibits campfires). We watched fireworks with them, too, and Marley kept yelling "Ha-Ma, Ha-Ma" over and over in response to my yelling "bang-bang, bang-bang." It was pretty cute!

We went to a brand new children's museum that opened in June. It was really nice and very high-tech. The museum is housed in the Heritage Discovery Center which opened a few years ago and gives visitors a chance to explore the history of the area, including the immigration that occurred when the steel mills were booming in the 1800s and people came from Europe to live and work in Johnstown. I was totally impressed by the museum, and hope to see more of it the next time we're home--this time we concentrated on the children's museum. My hometown and the surrounding areas have suffered economically for a long time, really since the steel mills starting closing over 20 years ago. It was refreshing and promising to see the pride that is obvious in the museum, and also an awesome possibility for keeping the kids busy on future visits.

We took the kids to Idlewild Amusement Park where we handled late afternoon rain and chilly temps pretty well (although Dave & I both felt like we were being pelted with bullets everytime we went on a fast ride with the boys). Marley rode her first rides and then took a nap in the stroller while Grammy kept her company.

In other news . . .

We had a second shark tooth/fossil-hunting adventure last week that I don't want to leave off the blog. We had such a good time and I think anyone local to the area here should give the place a try. The area is called Fairview Beach and it is in King George, VA. There is a restaurant right on the water called Tim's II ('sequel' to Tim's Rivershore which is in a different part of VA). The kids and I met up with my sister, my two nephews, and her niece and nephew at the restaurant for lunch last Thursday. After lunch, we spent about three hours in this little section of private beach by the restaurant. We found soooo many turret fossils that the kids started becoming more selective and throwing things back if they weren't ultra-cool. We also found 4 fossilized shark teeth, which was pretty exciting once we realized what they were. We finished the afternoon with a stop for ice cream at Carl's in Fredericksburg (thanks, Aunt Heather for treating us all to yummy goodness) and were home by dinner time. There are three more fossil/shark teeth sites that we are planning to hit before the end of the summer, so if anyone wants to join us, shoot me an email!

Next adventure. . . the boys and I are leaving tomorrow for a weekend camping trip in Maryland, about 2 1/2 hours away. We are all really excited for it. It is funny how my perspective has changed---a year ago, I would have felt like tent-camping alone with the boys would've been a challenge. . .after almost 7 months of having Marley here, I am looking forward to this weekend as a mini-vacation! Having three kids, including a very stubborn two-year old, is not for wussies. I was tossing around the idea of taking all three kids back home to Johnstown for a night, up to Presque Isle in Erie for a night, to Niagara Falls for a night, back to Erie, back to J-town, and then back here. But . . .after Marley's performance on our trip, I don't have the guts (or enough sedatives) to handle 5 nights on the road without Dave to keep me sane or at least protect me from the children ;)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


OK, so I made up the term, but it works, right?! Today I had the brave notion that I could handle taking all three kiddos to the beach by myself. It was only a little over an hour away, and we were just planning to stay for a couple of hours to hunt for shark teeth and fossils at a great spot we read about on this blog . It's called Brownie's Beach and is near the town of Chesapeake Beach, MD, which I had never heard of. As I scrambled out the door with three kids, extra clothes for them and me, snacks, colanders for sifting, sunscreen, bugspray . . . you get the picture--I turned to Dave and said, "This is either a great idea or an astronomically terrible one."

Fortunately, it turned out to be a fantastic adventure for all of us! The beach was a nice little slice of clean and natural shore line on the Chesapeake Bay. It was not crowded at all, and the water was calm and shallow. Friendly people, beautiful weather. We'll definitely go back again soon. This time I'll bring: my zoom lens, a bathing suit (had on quick-dry shorts & tank, but a suit would've been better), more snacks, and some friends!

A highlight for me--I met a mom with 4 kids (ages 2, 5, 7, and 10) who had just returned from a cross-country journey with her kiddos, sans hubby. He is in Afghanistan and she wanted to do something special with the kids, so they drove & camped all the way from Fairfax to Yosemite and back. My new hero. Dave better talk some sense into me before I pack the kids and head to Maine to check out Acadia!

Here are some pics from the day, including our collection of finds. There are tiny sharks teeth, one dental plate from a ray, and a few other interesting things. The kids looked in the sand for about 10 minutes, then let themselves swim, run around, and climb the cliffs like the nature-loving kids they are.

I had to include this picture--I mean seriously, how much would you pay to have abs like this kid?!