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…”




 

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.

Picture Day for Homeschoolers

I remember the stress picture day used to cause. The very notice used to send me into a flapping tizzy, often dealt with by my completely forgetting about it until the day before… or after. There were at least two years when Ducky went off to school in regular clothes. Ironically enough, those ended up being far better pictures than the ones where I freaked out over putting together a perfect outfit.

Today I went online and plugged in my ten minute reservation to show up in a town a few miles north. We will have pictures taken and posted online for family to peruse and purchase. That’s it. Sweet and simple. 

This is the best idea ever” I thought when I read the invite “Homeschoolers have picture days, who knew?”

We are still brand spanking new to this world of homeschooling, a world that I swore I would never set foot in. I was also, for the record, never going to be a single mom, never going to be a vagabond, never going to medicate my child, and was also never going to “go casual” (wearing nothing but tees and jeans.)

Yeah. You know what they say. I’m not going to say it. I’m just not.

*whisper from the crowd, “Never say never…”*

Sigh.

Teaching at home was something I felt I would not ever be able to do, “We can’t spend that much time together, we will kill each other.” “I can’t be his teacher, I dropped out in the fifth grade.” “I can’t teach math.” “I can’t teach English.” “I can’t afford it.” “I don’t have time.” “I don’t have the self-discipline.” “I am way too scared I will fail him.”

Many of these fears are still present. However, financial woes are greatly lessened when one only needs pay for gas and food. I am also now afforded the luxury of time and therefore am able to give more of myself. The school we have enrolled in helps us get supplies with the state allotted amount of funding Ducky’s entitled to. A brick and mortar school would have claimed these funds and then pooled them as resources for all their students. Now, with the approximately $2200 hundred we get annually I am able to personally tailor programs and curriculum to suit his exact needs.

Our journey seems much brighter than before. For all the times I’ve had to say “No” to points of interest, I can now say “Yes.” Field trips are covered, as are music lessons, sports, summer camps and of course textbooks, online programs, and science kits.

I am in heaven.

Today Ducky has worked on Math, Spanish, Language Arts, & is about to go do “P.E.” with me (walking along the beach for at least 5,000 steps. We will likely play PokemonGo and discuss the pros and cons of desalination for drought conditions. ) I have gone over his draft for his English report (he will have to submit a report every week on anything from articles read online, to books, to field trips.) I am also searching for the best math textbook for sixth graders.

I think this is the most involved I’ve ever been in my child’s education. I have an honest to god syllabus! I have a daily schedule! I have 10,000 emails from the wonderful program we have selected and am about to curl up in the fetal position!

Okay, so it’s a little overwhelming too.

I am taking deep breaths.

I’m also contacting his teacher near daily- oh, yes, we get a teacher, did I mention? She is a rock star and I am giddy at the thought of having guidance from a degreed instructor. I am also slowly exploring which textbooks I will actually need vs. the ones that we want.

But first I am going to hit the van’s teeny tiny closet and pull out Ducky’s lone collared shirt. I will take him for a haircut this afternoon and maybe even let him get lightning bolt fades on the side. We will purchase gel, practice spikes (or perhaps even a fauxhawk,) and talk about background colors.

After all, it is picture day on Friday.

Repairs & Nightmares

Badly shaken right now over a situation I’m still coming to grips with. Like many women who have been bullied, I find myself wondering if things went down exactly like I remember. The second guessing is erased however when I remember that I did not raise my voice, or yell, or scream.

The man I just dealt with did.

I can’t recall a time when an interaction with a business owner resulted in them shouting “get out, get out” (I can’t help but think of the Amityville horror -1979 of course,) and as much as I joke, I’m growing cold as I try to put all this down.

I made an appt. with SoCal RV Doctor in Lake Elsinore on Wednesday of last week explaining that I needed urgent appraisals before heading north. I was promised a quick same day look if I came in Friday morning at 8.

After arriving I had a comprehensive walk-through and felt like I was going to hear back by that afternoon. I called mid-afternoon checking on the status and was told, “we haven’t looked at it yet, we won’t have time today.”

Feeling resigned and frustrated, I agreed to leave my conversion van for the weekend after they promised to look at her “first thing Monday morning.” In my distraction I realized only after they had closed that I was short on my Ducky’s anti-seizure medication.

I showed up first thing Monday to get Ducky’s meds as well as to hopefully address what I was thinking of then as a “miscommunication.” After explaining to the woman staffing the front office why I was there and that it was urgent that I get into my rig (I was very clear what I was there for,) I was made to wait for nearly 20 minutes for someone to let me in to get his meds.

I tried to also deal with the miscommunication but the conversation was circular. My concerns were brushed off, and I felt unheard and very manipulated. I realized after taking Uber back that I likely should have taken the van and left, but was focused on getting back with the medication. I was also still willing to give them a last go due to a positive experience 5 months back with a quick turnaround on an installation of struts on my bench seat.  

Called Monday afternoon (yesterday) & was told “We are looking at it now!” Said they would call me back. They never did. Went in this morning to collect vehicle and leave taking a family member with me for moral support.

The owners meltdown began when I pointed out that if he had that many backed up customers (he had pointed at his folder system along the wall exhorting us to understand that “many of these people have been waiting weeks,”) then he should have said no to my request. He lost his temper saying, “Don’t tell me how to run my business.” I replied I hadn’t been but now that he went there my advice was to work on his C/S skills.

My aunt then addressed the owner as well. First she was trying to express the fact that she was trying to support local businesses. He cut her off. She then tried to further with her disappointment in what was happening. He cut her off.  Finally she said that she was considering contacting the BBB.

It was here that he really lost it.  His voice which had been steadily raising in volume and sarcasm with every interruption, now became a bellow, “so now you are threatening me!? Get out, get out!”

I’m actually relieved because I’d been walking away from previous conversations feeling confused. It’s so nice to know it wasn’t me.

I’ve never seen a businessperson conduct themselves so unprofessionally. I wish I’d checked Yelp first as there are plenty of warnings about this company. For my other #vanlife #rvlife #openroad folk: beware.

Day 64

We are driving down the road which has become shockingly flat; gone are the rolling hills of green, replaced by miles upon miles of farmland, also verdant but with a different, somehow lusher scent.

Small towns dot the landscape like little beacons of humanity and their storefronts look like Norman Rockwell postcards with hints of Banksy.

I’m white-knuckled while stopped at yet another red light.  Pauses are becoming increasingly anxiety producing because the engine is starting to make her faint, Gruvph-grr-gruvph, noise indicating she’s had enough, (and will pull this whole damn thing over if she has to.)

I’ve been grumpy and out of sorts all day, the kids have run out of any steam and are unable to do much more than to play 20 questions ad nauseum.

Are we there yet?

Looking out the window I see a palm-sized flying insect. Distinctive glistening wings in a wonderful shade of ochre decorate what is easily the largest dragonfly I’ve seen on our trip so far. The light turns green and I move past it, loathe to relinquish it’s beauty.

I need something pretty right now.

We make a left over the bridge, and start to wind through a country lane taking note of roadside fruit stands. Next we are enveloped in a parade of shimmering, darting, creatures. Dozens of dragonflies surround us making it appear that we are driving through some kind of prism.

Oh Joy! Now, where is that left turn?

We arrive at the site somewhat breathless and tired, making inquiries to the attendant as to just when we can check into our (Air Conditioned) cabin. Having missed lunch, and suffering through a heat index that “feels like 104 with 70% humidity” we eye the pool sadly knowing that until Princess is safely ensconced somewhere, we won’t be able to cool off.

“Well,” the attendant says after clarifying that we weren’t looking for a dog-friendly restaurant, but rather a simple place to plan out our picnic, “You are welcome to use the grounds. Tell you what; drive around the building and take the one lane driveway down to the dock. There’s a picnic area right there.”

Dragging our sweaty, whiny and miserable selves back into the van we head down the way and find ourselves bouncing down a rather steep incline. I’m focused on getting down without any distractions. Then I look up.

The dragonflies are here. Hundreds if not thousands of them dance in the air in the open field to our left.

The bridge which we crossed earlier is in the distance. Beyond that is the Gulf of Mexico, resplendent in a rich cerulean blue that I thought only existed in pictures. By contrast the bay is nearly grey and is also quite soothing. The soft splash of an occasional fish is all that mars the stillness.

We Ooh & Ah, and then set about to making our lunches. We slap together PB&J’s, eat unwashed grapes out of a bag, sip on Dr. Brown’s sodas, and wave flies away; at first lazily, them more vigorously until we look like a pack of lunatics waving our arms about madly.

Lunch finished and goods packed up, we walk down to explore the fishing dock. There are a couple of boys fishing here, kayaks for rent and only about five other people.

Looking back at the beach there is a smattering of cabins are as varied as can be; some the basest of shacks, others actual “mini-homes” with full kitchens and bathrooms. “Which one will we get, Mom?” The boys ask.“I have no idea, I asked for ‘no-frills’ though.”

Heading back to the van we realize: The dragonflies have left.  The sky is darkening. Storm clouds are rolling in.

Time to go.

We walk back to the office. I go and collect the keys to our place for the night… Or perhaps the next two.

There is a beach after all.

And dragonflies.

 

Day 63- Clean Up Your Mess!

So now that we have added a gargantuan, clumsy and randomly smelly teenager into the mix, ( I love you CJ!) it has become even more imperative to have a strong set of rules in place. This is necessary to see that Asterix doesn’t go from feeling like a cozy little home and conveyance into a cell on wheels trapping and dragging all on board into the depths of hell.

In other words I’d rather not drive a moldy, sandy, sticky mess of random leftovers from wandering all over hill and dale and apparent chewing gum factories.

This sign is now taped to one of the cabinet shelves:

SECURING THE RIG:

  1. Is EVERYTHING in its place?
  2. All cabinets locked and closed?
  3. All loose articles of paper, clothing, maps & random junk stowed away? (I will start throwing shit out.)
  4. Are there any items that need special attention? (Eg. wet items, messy drawers that items were shoved into instead of neatly folded, filthy shoes, anything stinky, sticky or otherwise.…)
  5. Does it smell nice? We own two HUGE bottles of Febreeze for a reason!
  6. Pick that thing up!
  7. That one too!
  8. I mean it!!

A day after sharing these rules yesterday, I came out after the boys “secured the rig” to find approximately 3 reams worth of paper scattered, 15 maps left all over the front, wrappers from forbidden foods, enough sand to repopulate a whole beach and a certain odor of indeterminate origin that smelled like a cross between peanut butter, mildew and beer.

I took one look, (and whiff,) slammed the doors shut, came back into the motel room and in varying levels of pissed off vocals let them know about my mild disappointment. I then went and locked myself in the bathroom after hissing at them that “this shit had better get fixed.”

It was either that or to simply drive off and leave them in the room for an hour or two which also seemed like a totally reasonable response at the time.

I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in four days at this point and am Beyond Cranky. I had already warned the boys the night before that the list was up, needed to be followed and I really, truly, desperately needed them to be at the top of their game.

I’m not sure why I’m so rarely able to accept shortcomings from my children without feeling like the Wrath of Mom MMXVI but damn, I go from reasonable human being to rabid lunatic within seconds when they mess up lately.

I know that things are not aided by the fact that one of our most recent adventures had us camping in a spot where the mosquito tribe had declared war on us and our delicate netting didn’t stand a chance. The A/C was also broken and without a generator we tried to sleep with the doors all flung open which did jack shit for the temp. It was soon 100 in the van and 95% humidity. There were tears. Finally we decided to make the tent. It was thundering. CJ took one look at the size of the thing and offered to go back into the rig.

The rest of the night was punctuated with random screaming and yelling while the war in the van intensified. Ducky crashed out while I nervously watched the lighting turn our tent varying shades of orange and wondered if the rain flap was going to hold up. Or the tent itself for that matter. I was angrily thinking to the future me that was going to find this a “great memory” to go jump off a cliff.

The next morning CJ’s war results were found in the form of dozens of tiny, bloody, squashed bodies all over the ceiling. But judging by the bites all over his feet and legs I’d say it was a draw.

He also said that he was telling his future self to go die in a fire. Yup, definitely my kid.

The three of us resembled national geographic pox victims, our legs and arms (and in Ducky’s case, tummy, back and face) covered to the point that there were more bites than skin. Top this off with the fact that we nearly all had terrible sunburns…

Yeah, not such a great night.

But the day before had been magical. We had reached the Atlantic and were playing in the waves, accompanied by millions of tiny fish and one intrepid little sting ray.

There were dolphins, crabs, and new birds along with blisteringly hot white sand to run across. We had nummy snacks and the dog stole some meat and cheese and didn’t look the least bit repentant. We laughed and played and feasted and rejoiced.

We clung to the memory of that day when dealing with the aftereffects of the night. I asked the boys the next day while coating everyone in calamine lotion if they were able to balance out the memories. “I think so.” Said one. “Yes!” said the other.

“What about you, Mom?”

Oh. That’s right. Me.

“I can still hear the waves crashing on the shore. I can remember the feeling of the swells lifting up my body and taste the sea-salt on my lips. I remember how you two laughed and played together as if all alone on the busy (but not quite crowded shore.) I told someone recently that our trip seems to be 85% trials and tribulations, 10% good days and 5% moments of earth-shattering glory. I think it was one of those 5% days. What about you?”

This time they both said Yes.