Hot Cocoa On The Road

Grab someone in the room and read this out loud.

Trust me.

How to make Ducky’s “Hot Cocoa On The Road”

Necessary items:

Small camp stove

Brown Sugar

Cinnamon

Allspice

Sugar in the raw

Goat’s milk

Unsweetened cocoa

Salt

Splenda

Excellent animal identification skills

Foul language

Just a few quick and easy steps!

First, lay out the ingredients in the order you fantasize you will be using them in. Light the camp stove’s burner and put the kettle on. Pour small ammt. of milk or cream into a mug. (About a fifth or so.)

Relight burner due to wind.

Second step: Go chase the Stellar’s Jay away from the opposite end of the table. This usually involves waving a dishtowel and yelling. Upon success, drop dishtowel triumphantly without realizing it’s landed into a bit of this morning’s oatmeal.

Return to stove, relight burner due to wind.

Third step: pour a small amount of salt into the milk. Stop to chase after a squirrel who is making off with the dishrag that now smells enticingly like Apples & Cinnamon. Retrieve towel, glare at squirre l, throw it into soapy water. (The towel that is, not the squirrel. Park service doesn’t really go for that kind of thing.)

Return to stove, curse, relight burner due to wind.

Fourth step: Realize one or more of the items above is missing. Turn the burner off, fetch item(s), return to table, relight burner and discover (The Damn) wind has deposited pine needles in cup. Pour milk and foliage out, restore original settings, and COVER THE FREAKING MUG.

Return to stove, curse, contemplate getting cheap swiss miss packets next grocery run, relight burner due to wind.

Burner goes out immediately.

Relight. With prayer this time.

Flames start to waver.

Stand while desperately cupping hands around the HOT burner in attempt to keep it lit.

Nope.

Give up on prayer and go back to cursing.

Fifth (?) step: Have a “Really Good Idea.” Grab two large water containers and the cooler strategically placing them in a protective barrier around the burner and kettle. Use your body for the fourth point and stand in a sentinel position until the water boils.  When it does boil, do a happy dance with a battle cry while flipping off the sky. Lose three dishtowels to a sudden gust of wind.

Cry.

Fifth step, (pt.2): Pick up muddy dishtowels and plop them next to the fire to dry (or burn up. Whatever, at this point.) Run back and quickly add salt, (measurements? You think we use MEASUREMENTS? *hysterical laughter*) somewhere between ½ teaspoon or ½ a tablespoon, depending on how upset you are at this point.

Sixth step: Pour boiling water in. Nearly burn yourself realizing that one of the dishtowels was to be used for the kettle. Run and get a dishtowel from area next to firepit, shake off ash frantically while running back to table.

Realize ash has fallen in the cup. Decide it’s either fiber or protein and proceed.

Seventh, eighth, and ninth steps: Add about a tablespoon of hot cocoa. Actually less. Okay, truthfully I’ve no idea; we use an old Menchies’ FroYo spoon so whatever one of those heaped comes to.

Start stirring frantically.

If the cocoa starts to blend, add cinnamon, allspice, sugar, and splenda. If not keep stirring while swearing and attempting to open the brown sugar one handed.

Note: opening things one handed never goes well.

Tenth step: Finish hot cocoa and look at the mess that was once the table. Add any of the ingredients that you have no doubt forgotten. Wonder if the “no crumb” #Fail you have accomplished is enough to get you banned from your beloved state parks.

Call out in your cheeriest voice, “Ducky! Hot Cocoa’s ready!”

Try not to kill offspring when he says, “I think this need more sweetener. It’s also a little cold. Do we have any whipped cream?”

Quietly chant to self, “I love camping, I love camping, I love camping…”




 

Yellow Jackets: A Guide on How (NOT) To Dispose of Them Pt. 2

Febreze. Yellow Jackets. Attitude Problem.

There I was, bottle of Febreze in hand, wearing tight jeans and 3-inch-heeled boots.  (I’d decided to dress up, makeup and everything, with a plan of trying my hand at the casino. Needless to say that never happened.)

It was around 11am at this point, I still hadn’t had tea, the ice in the cooler had melted, our food was likely to spoil, I had no extra money for chow, and Ducky hadn’t done his homework.

I was at my breaking point.

A paramedic truck pulled up a few spaces over in the Safeway parking lot and I thought, “Great! If I get stung to death, they can revive me.” I had a vague idea that the DYJs might not like strong odors. After all, the incense had been such a success at chasing one away, all I needed was a strong smell, right? I hopped up on my step stool, (immediately realizing that I was not wearing the appropriate footwear for this venture,) and wobbled about aiming the ‘Gain Fresh Scent Fabric Refresher’ at the top of the door crevices while thinking, “This is a TERRIBLE idea.” (Please note: Procter & Gamble would likely appreciate me mentioning that at no point in time did they recommend this as an approve usage for their product.)

After the first few sprays, I noticed that yes, indeed the yellow jackets were reacting to the stuff, they clearly had an opinion on it and that opinion was “Hey, this stuff smells GREAT, bring it on!”

No, no, no, no, no, no, this was not part of the plan.

If I were religious I’d have been praying at this point.

Since I’m not I just got down to business.

The bugs that liked the perfume weren’t actually coming close to the spray, just around the air where I’d been aiming. So, I turned up the level to “douse” and really started to drown the top of the rig.

Now that garnered the reaction I was looking for. The DYJs were on the run! They were leaving! They were… Heading right for the one window that was somehow inadvertently left open!

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.

Much Rage, much Nope, much ‘eff it’.

Once again I threw open all the doors. This time with additional yelling! “This is my van, get out! GET OUT!” Ducky was wisely across the parking lot refilling the cooler at this point, which seemed to take much longer than normal. Go, him.

I lunged into the van like a Space Marine in Aliens. I used nearly A THIRD of the bottle of yellow jacket death.

Finally they were all out. The van smelled like a laundromat at the end-of-day but by golly, I had gotten them all. I was certain. Just in case, we drove away with all the windows down creating a wind-vortex in the back that was rather colorful considering all our scarves, bandanas, towels, and mexican blankets were whipping around like flags during a hurricane.

We arrived back and I felt so much relief! We walked down to the bathrooms, chatting happily about dead bugs, Pokemon, and redwood trees. Then I saw a woman getting out of her car. She was dancing. No, she was hopping. Wait she was… I knew those moves.

She was being chased and was essentially freaking out with style.

There were at least six of the little bastards after all.

Turns out they weren’t in the van at all. After talking with a local security guard, we discovered that the construction team up the hill had “riled some groups up fierce” and “we’re doing everything we can, call us if you’re stuck and we’ll send maintenance to shoo them away.”

Call someone for help. What a concept.

Woke up this morning and remembered that I had seen one of the DYJs sneak into my tea drawer during the deathmatch the day before. I slowly thought I’d forgotten to check in there. I realized this right about the time the buzzing I’d half registered made it quite apparent that the little bastard had made it back out and was right over my head.

“Ducky!” I hissed, “There’s one in the van!” Ducky didn’t even need to ask ‘one what,’ he merely rolled over, pulled the sleeping bag over his head and announced, “I’ll sleep ’till it leaves.”

I gathered up what I could, said goodbye forever to the boondocking site and pulled out at a nice fast clip. Goodbye and good riddance!

It’s important to note that the only casualties of this event were our doormat, trash stuff sack, and about 25 yellow jackets. The foremost two were abandoned during the “we are leaving moment!” and the latter all Murdered By Febreze.

Always keep some Febreze handy. Also remember to ask for help when needed. And don’t try to tackle yellow jackets with just Febreze unless you’ve had your tea first. You might come up with a better idea, after.

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow Jackets: A Guide on How (NOT) To Dispose of Them Pt. 1

Sometimes all you need to get rid of yellow jackets is a bottle of Febreze and an attitude problem.

This wasn’t one of those times.

Last night we pulled in and tried to make dinner. A group of yellow jackets seemed to be intent on making us miserable. I wish this was something out of the ordinary, but after this week it seems pretty much par for the course.

After leaving Samuel P. Taylor State Park on Tuesday, spending one night in an RV park we won’t name (but will write about in great depth later,) that evening, we arrived at our current boondocking site Thursday afternoon. We had noticed at our first campsite that yellow jackets were quite the issue. Many a meal was interrupted while we attempted to remain cool, calm and collected.  We usually took advantage of our mutual decision to eat with one leg swung over the bench of the picnic table. This aided in an easier getaways. It worked as long as one was careful to not spill any food while half-gracefully lunging up and over.

After leaving the S.P. Taylor campsite we really didn’t give the Damn Yellow Jackets, or “DYJs,” another thought.  We were too busy raving about the wonders and beauty we had seen.  

Upon arriving at the RV campsite (still to be unnamed, but yes, written about later,) we settled in for dinner and discovered that this site also seemed to be overrun with the little buggers. “It’s the DYJs!” We lamented, “must be a local thing.” We were completely resigned to our lot. After all, it was clearly a regional issue.

It didn’t occur to us to wonder why no one else in the area seemed to be similarly plagued.

Thursday evening we lit all the incense we had and had only one problem guest show up, quickly dispersed with a stick of “Chillin’ Cool Booty Call.” (Ducky calls it “Inappropriately Named Incense.”)

Yesterday morning we awoke and headed down for a semi-hidden local beach day. We headed out first thing, not bothering to open up the van or do anything in the space where we’d parked. I had decided the night previous we would do everything down at the beach, including tea, & bathroom stuff.  (This process would have been much easier had the beach we chose had had the picnic tables and bathrooms I had envisioned.) Our relocation however garnered us no relief. As soon as we opened the doors of the van the DYJs showed up and they were starting to have some serious attitude. Like, landing on my hat, going for my hair, and dive bombing us attitude. But no matter, it was a lovely day, we spend most of it outside and we were excited to be doing some further stealth camping that evening. We again failed to notice no one else seemed to have so many DYJs attempting to drive them mad. That realization came this morning.

Upon waking up today, we were both jazzed to be heading over to collect some books we had placed on hold. We followed our tradition of hitting the “Friends of the Library” bookshop. And selected books to further Ducky’s studies in biology, physics, and history.

My parking lot plans of making tea, having a snack, and heating the dogs food however all were quickly squashed by the sudden assault of numerous DYJs who were done mucking about- they had decided to evict us.

I have now decided that I have a clear line of escalation when it comes to dealing with incessant insects with stingers:

One DYJ: “Ducky honey? Remain calm & it won’t bother you. You can gently wave your hand and shoo it away.” (Thinking, Good job self, remember how this would have freaked us out as a kid? Go me!)

Two DYJs: “Okay, sweetie, stay calm, perhaps no waving this time. It’s okay.” (Still doing great there, momma, keep it up!)

Three DYJs: “Right. There do seem to be a more of them now. Definitely no hand waving, ‘kay?” (Ugh, I am glad I’m staying calm. I am staying calm… Right?)

Four DYJs: “Hon? Okay, let’s try walking away calmly, don’t run or they will chase us.” (It’s becoming rather hard to stay calm, my heart is pounding and my palms are sweaty- am I breathing funny?)

Five DYJs: “Omg. That’s my hair, is it still there? Oh. It’s on my hat? Okay. It’s okay honey, it’s okay, it’s okay…” (OMG, my hair, OMG, my hat, OMG, did he say it’s on my shoulder? This is NOT okay, THIS IS NOT OKAY!!!)

And at Six DYJs: “FTS!!! DUCKY THROW THE DOG IN THE VAN- WE ARE LEAVING!!!!” Mind you this last bit accompanied the last of any dignity I had left due to my running around the van in circles, screaming and waving my hat around like a clown at a rodeo.

The other folk in the lot sure did look at us funny. Especially since we squealed out, slammed to a stop, hopped out to throw open all the doors and then repeated the process. Twice. At one point we had to sit in the van with a DYJ buzzing in between us and do nothing since there were three or four sentries waiting for us outside the windows.

Exiting the parking lot at a clip slightly over the posted speed limit of 7MPH, I headed south on the highway. I did this without any particular destination in mind, I was more interested in gaining as much speed as possible. In my caffeine-deprived, adrenaline fueled state I believed that outrunning them was the best plan of action.  In fact it was the only plan I could come up with and I went for it with the enthusiasm of someone who needs to find Jesus and thinks he’s just up the road a ways.

Ducky kept his head, remembered we needed ice, and  navigated us to a local market. We got out, headed to the bathrooms, got the ice and started to organize the chaos that our sudden departure had created. (Note to self, when pulling out while being chased by angry Vespidae, make sure not to have any open containers or loose items on the counter.)  I was ready, so ready, to make a cup of damn tea. We were replacing the ice in the cooler and three showed up.

It finally hit me: They were IN the damn van.

In, as in “building a nest in.”

I groaned a long sad desperate sounding, “Oh Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittt.”

“What’s wrong?” Ducky asked looking at me in the way you look at the person in the library who suddenly shouts profanities and then asks for money. Perhaps if I had had a cuppa and some food, (not to mention a calmer morning,) I could have been a thoughtful, protective mommy and lied to him. Instead I said, “They’re in the van! They’re IN the VAN!” Pretty sure I was half wailing at this point.

It took a moment but Ducky’s eyes indicated he had grasped the gist as did his body language. And by language I mean the fact that his body was moving away from the van, shuddering and giving the interpretive-dance version of NOPE.

I did what every sane, rational person does when faced with situations such as this. I Googled the hell out of “yellow jacket nest in van.”

I learned a lot.
Most of which didn’t help me in the moment.

I told Ducky that this evening we will be putting on our hoodies gloves bandanas and long sleeved shirts, jeans and boots and emptying the van to find point of entries.

I told him that while pulling out my step-stool and grabbing the Febreze while thinking, “This is MY van. My van.”

End pt. 1






 

 

Back Out Here

Campground #1 of ?

There are a pair of birds of prey that in spite of my desperate lunges atop, and at one point nearly OFF our bluff, I am still unable to identify. Mind you this is with both bird book & binoculars in hand (which kinda explains the nearly falling off the hill bit.)  I do know for certain they they are predators. The biggest indicator of this is the local crows. They have made it abundantly clear with an avian rendition of “get the hell of my lawn.” Sorry, “out of my sky.” It’s the same routine I have witnessed hundreds of times off my mother’s balcony only in this case the hawks (?) are white, not red tailed and the crows fewer in number.

The calls of crows are universal but the ones they’re chasing  have a different cry than the ones I’m accustomed to. The Red Tailed Hawk cry (Also called the “Hollywood Bird Cry” by Ducky since that is used universally for every bird in every movie ever made,) is a classic scree-scree-screee. These newbies have a small sharp squawk like a red tailed who keeps getting cut off by an impatient family member when trying to speak.

We have an amazing view of evergreens the bottom of which there is an unseen marsh. Rabbits and quail are here in abundance, both scrub jays and blue jays, the aforementioned crows and gorgeous western bluebirds.

There is a large pine of some sort in our site, branches sparse with nearly no needles left but dropping due to the hundreds of large pinecones weighting things down.

(Maybe the birds are Cooper’s Hawks? They are kind of whitish.)

I have resolutely turned my back to the expanse behind me trying to let got of the idea that I’m ever going to find out what these damn hawks (falcons?) are.

The air is fresh and bracing. The dog has appropriated my chair and is dozing from a height she can’t get up or down on her own. The sounds of the ocean can be heard and I keep having to grab at my hat for fear of one of the small gusts of wind stealing it away from me.

One of the damn crows stole a cap to one of our telescoping marshmallow toasters. (Google it, they are totally a Thing.)

We made easy friends last night with a group of campers who had caravanned down from the Bay area. We had a mutual love of fog which was good because the evenings roll it in like a blanket and in the morning it gives way like a grumpy teen being told to get out of bed. The blankets eventually come off and the landscape becomes awash in sunlight.

Dammit. My hat. *whoosh!

Okay, back now.

Let’s not discuss the fact that  I am pretty sure while hunting down my signature headgear, I just scared the heck out of my neighbors (hey, they’re packing up to leave anyway,) stumbled too close to a bunny, and may or may not have nearly twisted my ankle at the entrance to a ground squirrel’s lair.

I’m out of practice at this.

Plunking myself down to write again, (now, just do it, come on,) there are California towhees in the bushes in front of my table. Their scrabbling about sounds like a town meeting is taking place in there though there are only two of them.

The wind gusts are picking up and I’m going to have to secure our chairs and put out the fire that has been burning since 8:30 (“That’s some good wood there,” the campground host told us last night, “$10 a wheelbarrow, return the barrow when you can.”)

It’s now nearly 11am, Ducky is still asleep and I’m loathe to wake him enjoying having so much quiet time to myself.

A wasp just landed on my bottle. Time to go.

Sunrise At Anza-Borrego

I set an alarm for just before sunrise. I’d envisioned us rolling out of the van, bundled in layers, setting up our folding chairs and then settling in for the display. I pictured gloved hands clasping hot drinks, cheeks red with cold, noses peeking out from scarves. However, before I could share my idea, Ducky pointed out we could simply throw open the side bay doors and take in the view from there.

Brilliant child.

Huddled in our sleeping bags, me up on the bench seat and Ducky on the floor with the dog, we watched as the sky began to gently branch out with faint pale yellows. The soft rays playfully wove themselves within dull grey clouds, transforming dull eggshell sky into wakeful robin blue.

There came a burst of gold. A bridal train of bold rose accompanied the surreal glow, symbolizing a marriage of light and shadow over the desert. An unequal union: the former was clearly dominant, pushing out the latter like a shrewish housewife.

These bright shades quickly faded to a dusky pink, tangerine and sunflower hues gentling into smoke and ivory. The atmosphere again settled to dun and the landscape faded to a winter palette of olive and brown. Not a hint remained of the show we had witnessed.

Ducky went back to sleep. I stayed awake, determined to get coffee using the last few gasps of my propane-fueled mini stove. There was much pleading. “Come on just get the water to a boil and then die!”

My instant coffee was prepared with semi-hot water, questionably spoiling milk, and buckets of raw sugar to mask the taste.

I sat at our table (what would turn out to be the second of three separate campsites during our stay,) and watched as a jackrabbit hopped by barely six feet away.

He paused in front of me, and we had a moment. “Are you a predator?” “Yes. But a fat, lazy, industrialized one.” He clearly considered me harmless and hopped away languorously.

After he moved out to sight, there came a moment here of near-perfect stillness. The only sound I could hear was from a bloke making his morning brew a few sites away. I glanced over and he nodded, clearly not interested in breaking the silence either.

This was a necessary hour.

I need nature as much as my daily medication. They are equal partners in the dance that helps me remain myself. I had been aching and soul-weary. Now I am refreshed and renewed. Would that all days could begin this way.

Tidepool day

I am watching Ducky hurl himself across rocks. He is trying to beat an incoming tide while on a quest to identify the large mass of scurrying creatures that are fleeing in his wake. I’m not sure if this behavior would be approved by naturalists of old, and I’m enjoying the mental image of men in full Victorian garb trying to keep up with my jeans-clad son.

There are sea stars the size of dinner plates in rich hues of maroon and orange. The former ones are hard to see nestled beneath their brightly colored siblings. The anemones here are also larger than life: touch-tank specimens have nothing on them. Their long stalks jut out from the rocks like tree trunks with leaves made of sticky, fern green tentacles. Sinuous strands cling gently to our explorative fingers when we reach into the cool saltwater. We are seeking connection amongst these elegant ambassadors of the sea.

I hear a yell and suddenly my boy is off like a shot, carrying our large hiking pole above his head like a spear. He is running to impale whatever beast has been sent from the depths of his extensive imagination. I wonder if other kids his age still play these kinds of games.

Times like these I have none of the doubts that often assail me about what we are doing. Homeschooling is so clearly the answer for a kid like this. How could I ever think otherwise?

I can no longer picture him sitting in a classroom, being beat down for his enthusiasm, told to “sit down, keep quiet, and learn.” I know that’s no good for him and am no longer sure that’s good for most children. This feels odd to admit because I used to be anti-homeschooling.

Ask the me of last year and I would have said it was completely ineffective way to educate. That it was populated by a community made of the privileged. I pictured nothing but anti-vaxxers, born again Christians, and confused hippies.

I loved being involved in our school. While not a full-on PTA, fundraising, show-up-to-every-event-volunteering parent, I did do my fair share and loved the community I had sort of found. It was a tenebrous experience for me due to the fact that many of the more involved parents were SAHM’s and I was a very busy single mother with then as yet undiagnosed disabilities.

Those disabilities affected my son from both directions. Affecting my ability to parent along with my genetics which handed him a stew-pot of mental health challenges.

The sky is turning coral with streaks of gold and dolphins play in the surf while Ducky tackles seaweed underfoot wearing slippery shoes. My alphabet-soup-of-labels child is safe within his “nature cocoon”- a space that nurtures him as well as I do. Perhaps better.

I am getting cold but don’t want to pull him back to camp, where the dog, campfire and dinner await. I want to watch him bounce about, his arms waving frantically when he calls me over to see the next great discovery.

This is homeschooling. The thought comes from nowhere, ephemeral and strange. Up until now I have only been identifying the classic work as school. English and math, grammar and Spanish. These are “school” in my mind.  Moments of running and playing on the beach might stretch into the area of “field trips” to me, but somehow not School. This, in spite of my constant complaint about how kids his age need to move more. That sitting in a classroom lined up like assembly line wasn’t going to teach them anything but how to conform. That they need to go outdoors, run, navigate pocket knives and trees, and bugs.

How did I let myself remain so divergent? I have no idea how I wasn’t able to see both side and suspect it has something to do with my overwhelming literalism. I am often hamstrung by that.

It’s time to go back to camp. I need to stoke the fire, wrestle the huge iron grate over it, go fetch water from the pipe, and attempt to make Mac’n’cheese. It’s pretty much all Ducky will eat these days which suits me fine. Our footprints in the sand are the only ones present and we comment on that while we make our way back. We hear a sound and freeze watching a rabbit hop into view, the brave little bunny refusing to move until the last of a fresh green snack is done.

The campsite is deserted. After cooking we settle in with nature books identifying birds, shells, and plants found during the day. The full moon rises over us, waves crash nearby, our fire is crackling and popping.

I take a deep breath and look around.

This is our school.

On Christmas

The holidays used to infuse me with joy, cheer, and bliss. I would decorate my home making sure to have scents, sweets, and sights all carefully balanced around the season.

This will be our first holiday in the rig, and though I celebrate our vagabond life, it’s times like this one can feel put out in the cold. Not having a home wasn’t really a choice and though we’ve adapted with enthusiasm, it feels strange to be in such a different space.

Perhaps because I no longer identify with the religious and spiritual aspects of the season it’s a bit of a double whammy- having both home and childlike beliefs absent creates new open space which isn’t necessarily bad, but isn’t entirely comfortable either.

I have always believed in seeking light in dark times and right now it feels hard to do so.

I am just not feeling it this year. Every time I see Christmas lights it’s a shock to my system, and part of me goes, “Oh yes, that.” They do not bring cheer, nor dread, nor any of the past feelings that I have experienced. I am just… neutral.

I truly just want -and plan to- go back to a place where we have no reception, a roaring fire, and the sounds of the waves.  A time of stillness and quiet is what my soul is craving. Not the hustle-bustle of crazy Christmas shoppers, the rather overwhelming sights and sounds that feel like they are pounding their way into my skull, and absent the seemingly overwhelming demands of the season.

The only thing I am looking forward to is it all being over. The lights put away and stored, the trees no longer glimmering out of windows, the carols silenced, and the merchandising done. I am feeling quite Grinch-ish it seems.

For Ducky’s sake I’m not being a complete grump. The rig is being decorated. We have decals and lights and I am in the process of finding the world’s smallest tree. (I’m open to suggestions here.)

I am excited that the small amount of room available has cut through the “gimmies” that past years have brought on. Ducky’s understanding of our new life has led to his making only one small request. This hits me as both lovely and unusual; it’s like chewing on a new food and not being sure if I like it yet. My only regret is that there are so many things I would like to buy for others; I truly love giving gifts and very much miss being able to do so.

I know that I am not alone in struggling through the winter. I have always said that the reason there are so many celebrations that focus on light is due to the fact that we need that in the season of short days and long nights.

Being out in the rig is good because it forces the maximum hours of sunlight the day has to offer- there is no sleeping in when the sun beckons.

So, I will write to you from there and let you know about the sound of the birds, the smell of the ocean, and the crackling of the fire. The wind will blow through the trees. We will likely see woodrats and deer, maybe a bobcat or two, and definitely hawks. We also plan to go see the Elephant seals who are pupping and battling right now.

We will come to the end of the year celebrating the glory of nature and find our light there. That doesn’t sound too bad, come to think of it.