There Goes the Pop Up – Part 2

Part 2 of our camping journey.

As a starting point, every year there is the RV & Camping show.  What better way to compare, analyze, try out, and, yes, get pamphlets on the subject.  The only thing you need is to be a little careful that you don’t start out looking at basic 8’ pop-ups and end up spending way too much time looking at the 31 footers and trying to figure out how you can fit one of those in the garage.

After spending way too much time admiring the travel trailers with the La-Z-Boys and entertainment centers, we settled on a modest 10’ pop-up with room for all of us.  Boy, what an improvement over a tent.  The beds seemed soft, we had a couch, and rain was to be no problem.

All we needed now was a new camping book with honest grading, some time off of work to enjoy the new camper, and summer.  Finding an honest camping guide would prove to be the hardest.  Either the definition of scenic camping had changed over the years or it had always meant “farm field getaway” and I had been kidding myself.

With the early signs of summer upon us, we decided it was time to break in the new pop-up.  We decided visiting Aunt Janet up at Fort might be a safe decision.  We knew the area and, if worse came to worse, we could rap on Aunt Janet’s door and pull up a spot on the floor.  We had been thoroughly trained in the workings of the popup and, yes, had even watched the video a couple of times.  Looked easy enough.  At the show, everything was up in about 5 minutes without a hitch.

The loading of the pop-up took a little longer than we hoped, but at least once in, most of the stuff could stay there until year-end.  At the time, we lived in a house on Hilltop Lane which had been given that name for a good reason.  Our driveway was almost straight up hill with a turn to the garage.  Now one of the training sessions covered the need to chock the wheels to keep the pop-up from moving unexpectedly.  During our dry runs, I was always pretty good about this, realizing that a moving Pop Up left an unhappy pop-upper.

At the start of our first real trip, however, I made one slight error in judgment.  With the pop-up sitting firmly on the top most level portion of our driveway, I removed the chocks while I backed the car into place.  I wish I could say some rational thought had gone into this decision, but it was just another in a long list of errors in judgment for Mr. Call Me Handy.  Even so, how far can a stationary pop-up roll in a minute or two?  Well, would you believe all the way to the bottom of the driveway with a slight veer to the left?  I knew I was in trouble when I heard one of you say, ” Hey Dad, should the pop-up be moving?”  While I did not have the sense to keep the wheels chocked, I did have the sense to not try to stop it once it had a full head of steam.  Fortunately, God placed you out of harm’s way, and the only additional problem we had was getting the pop-up moved off the grass and back on solid ground.  After more tugging than we would have liked, we got everything pointed in the right direction and we were on our way.

One small issue our over anxious salesman did not tell us about is the need for sway control at 65 mph.  This would have been something nice to have understood way before I was white knuckling down I94, feeling like the vehicle in tow was quite in charge of the entire process with no intention of driving straight.  There is some law of physics here where the powered vehicle in front (A) needs to be x lbs. heavier than the unpowered vehicle (B) being pulled behind said vehicle (A) times the number of mph above the speed limit divided by the sweat rate of the driver.  Unfortunately, like the many struggles in 9th grade Algebra, I had way too many unknowns and not enough equations to solve this problem.  What we did end up with though, was one over stressed exhausted driver (Dad) to the 6th power (number of hours spent in deep prayer while clutching grooves in the steering wheel.)

Now that we have arrived at our designated spot only slightly less exhausted than our first tenting experience, I was hoping for a quick setup, a long nap and 3 wonderful days by the lake.  Well, three hours later, I finally had managed to back into our campsite.  I had read on the internet that backing up a pop-up could be a little tricky at first, but was something that could be easily learned.  I have never been confused for a quick study, but I had thought 3 or 4 times and I would have the popup properly positioned and ready to move in to.  Well, I have since learned one of an experienced camper’s truly laugh out loud moments is when a rookie tries to back up his nice shiny new pop-up.  No matter how many times I went backwards, and forwards, the popup always managed to end up pointed the wrong way.  Of course, I have your Mom yelling very confusing instructions at every wrong turn.  In short order, I was once again so frazzled I started thinking it would be good when I was back at work and could relax a little.  Once in position, my sweetie was able to help with the remaining set-up and we actually looked like campers some 12 hours after leaving home.

I must say in the next few years we started to actually get a knack for all of this pop up stuff and ended up enjoying quite a few memorable days at the lake parked next to Aunt Janet’s mobile home.  Hopefully, these were fond memories for you guys.   Don’t be afraid to try it when you have kids.  Just try to learn from our many mis-starts, ask someone else for advice, and remember you are making memories.

There Goes the Pop Up – Part 1

To My Children,

As we live through another Wisconsin winter, this one a bit worse than usual, I find myself thinking back to warmer summers and the vacations we had when you guys were still in the nest.  Since one of the few memories that lingered from my childhood were those weeks spent on a lake up north, I wanted to make sure we made every effort, as a family, to take a week off from the normal routine each year and head off on a family vacation, which usually landed us on a lake somewhere in northern Wisconsin.  While the driving vacations have their merit, I most enjoy the weeks spent relaxing in one place with no set agenda.   Along our journey together, a logical extension of the trips to the cabin each year seemed to be shorter weekend camping trips –an idea further advanced by your Mom ‘s memories of her family camping trips.  What can I say?  For the first 34 years of my life, my total camping time consisted of one night in a tent setup in the backyard of the next door neighbor.  The first couple of hours were pretty exciting as we goofed around and generally acted like 12 year olds.  Other than that, I remember there was generally a lot of noise early in the morning–birds like the sunrise–and that there was no convenient place to go potty, as the one too many orange sodas made their way through me.

It’s funny how, as you age, events that happened years ago somehow increase in significance with each passing year.  I think we subconsciously start to block out any of the negatives in these experiences, letting the fond memories gain in strength.   Well, with Mom one of these events included memories made while camping as a child.  The homemade Pop Up sleeping most of her nine siblings, times spent swimming in the lakes of the State Parks, and Uncle Tom’s adventure in a pit toilet with rod and reel in search of a $1.99 pair of sunglasses.  If you are wondering, the glasses were recovered and were quickly returned to their rightful place on top of Uncle Tom’s head.  I guess Uncle Tom was pretty good with a rod and reel and hopefully understood the need for disinfecting soap.

Before jumping into this new adventure, Mom and I discussed the options before us as we thought about creating family camping memories of our own.  The pup tent was an option.  As was a 35 foot travel trailer.  Your Mom, being the purist, pushed hard for the tent and a mat on the ground.  Deferring to your Mom’s extensive experience, I let her lead the charge.  So off to Wal-Mart we went, charge card in hand and visions of a lone tent nestled alongside a peaceful lake with a beautiful sunrise.

Despite our early decision to go the tent route, the number of camping decisions was still pretty extensive.  Tents vary widely in price and size and also in their ability to keep out the unwanted.  Falling into the unwanted category are rain, wind, insects, bugs (not the same as insects, much bigger and scarier), wild animals, or even tame animals for that matter, and the cold.  We searched and searched for just the right tent.  Ease of assembly and roominess were deciding factors. We settled on a four-room dome tent that reportedly was easy up and easy down.

Unfortunately, as I soon found out, you not only need a tent but you need to accessorize your tent.  What would we use to cook on–a portable stove of course. What about water – need a 5-gallon water jug.  What about the bed – would an inflating mattress do the trick?  On and on this went, and pretty soon we had more stuff than we could pack in our car.  I was never considered one of the sharpest tent pegs in the dirt, but I began to ask myself – if we cannot get this stuff packed away now that it is folded neatly, what were we going to do in the middle of a downpour when neatly packed was the last thing on our minds?

Well, we finally felt we were ready.  Everything that could, or should, be bought was in the basement.  All we needed now was a gorgeous campsite, a nice weekend and a bigger basement.  One thing you will learn about me is I love pamphlets and searching through them for an activity to plan.  As far as campgrounds went, we had accumulated a couple of garbage bags full of pamphlets at the last Camping and RV Show so I was all set to plot our course to our first family camping trip.  Most pamphlets showed a beautiful wooded sight with a lone tent or pop-up.  This looked too good to be true and, of course, it was. As I spent more time flipping through pamphlets, I noticed a lot of the pictures seemed vaguely familiar.  I began to get this sinking feeling that the background was actually the same in most of the photos, probably a campsite in Yellowstone National Park somewhere, and only the front part of the picture was actually different. A little computer magic and every dreary campground could look like Yellowstone until you arrived.  I was beginning to think we no longer had dozens of great choices to fill our Summers.

With a little apprehension, we made our first reservation at a place called Indian Hills Campground.  Sounded great, looked great, just seemed to feel right.   All the amenities were rated at least four stars (out of five) and the write-ups were great.  They even stressed their family atmosphere.  With reservation in hand and an overly loaded van, I think it had taken about three days to pack for the relaxing two day weekend ahead of us, we made our way to the campground.  As we approached the entrance, I was beginning to think I had missed my turn somewhere.  I was fully expecting a dense population of trees, eagles soaring overhead, and the call of the Loon.  Instead, the wooded campsites consisted of two very large trees to be shared by all and a lake looking much like a farm field puddle after a thunderstorm.  Sure enough, the broken down sign flapping in the breeze read “In ian  ills Ca pg ound.”  This must be the place.

Too soon, we were on the way to our site.  I was feeling worse and worse about this whole experience as we traveled further in and noticed the only thing secluded about the sites was that they were secluded from anything you might associate with a nice campground.  The site we were assigned was as far away from everything as possible.  This sounded OK at first. However, we were about 20 feet from the pit toilets and what seemed like 2 miles from the ones that flushed.  We also were all alone except for two guys who looked like they had just stepped out of the movie Deliverance.  After about an hour and a half of camp setup and a simultaneous three hours of whining, we were ready to enjoy the weekend.

We headed for the swimming beach that consisted of about a 3 ft x3 ft area of sand dumped next to the muddy farm field puddle.  The kids were soon splashing and Dad sat exhausted in a chair.  As I tried to convince myself that this had been a good idea, we met a lady with young children and we soon found out we were in the wrong section of the campground.  The flush toilets were very nice and we would be much better off closer to the main building and the swimming area.  What a relief. I should have known the brochure wouldn’t lie.

Encouraged once again, off I went to the main office to ask for a flush toilet site.  I was soon packing everything back into the van so it could be re-setup closer to the action.  Another hour and a broken pole later, the tent was up, though a little crooked, and Dad was beyond exhausted and dreaming of being back at the office.  Not a good thing when you are supposed to be getting away from it all.  I got some consolation from the fact that the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Maybe now that things were setup, I could somehow find a way to enjoy this farm field.

Your Mom and I decided, after some roasted marshmallows, that getting to bed early might be a good idea.  Of course, like all good camping trips, it started to rain just as we were making our last runs to the bathrooms for the night.  I’ve been told this is called the camping experience.  I called it wet heads and beds.  After prayers and kisses we were each in our assigned spots.  Though we did not know it at the time, the youngest of the bunch was on a leaky air mattress, under a leaky part of the tent, and wearing a leaky diaper.  Mom and I were on a double air mattress, which effectively tossed one of us off each time the other moved.  After hitting the ground for the sixth time, I decided just sleeping on the ground would be the plan, though a rather hard one.

Along with the bouncy and leaky beds, we also had noisy neighbors.  Quiet conversation around the campfire can be a great thing. Drunken arguments and screaming tends to keep others awake.  Particularly, when you are close enough that you feel you could reach out and touch them.  Something someone else, with a little less patience, would have done with his or her fist.  Fortunately, each of you guys was a very sound sleeper and slept through most of it.  Only the good night whoop, which occurred at 1:30 AM, was enough to awaken everyone including Grandma and Grandpa 100 miles away.  I awoke at 6:30 AM to the sounds of the same neighbors, though this time it was the children.  The adult males, causing the ruckus the night before, managed to sleep through everything through most of the morning.

As I pulled my body to a sitting position, I heard a sniffling cry coming from the area assigned to our youngest.  Not only had her mattress totally deflated, but also the corner of the tent had leaked and she was none too comfortable laying on the wet floor.  Things could be worse I kept telling, though not convincingly, myself.

After a day trip to the Dells, we packed everything up and headed home a day early.  Our total camping experience was 3 hours of sleep, 4 hours in the car, 5 hours setting up and taking down, and 3 days packing.  I think there was some relaxation in there somewhere.  As we drove home, I could not help but think that the life in a tent was not for me.  The ground is hard, the bugs are big, and the facilities too far away. So in true camper fashion, I began to think Pop Up.  We would get ourselves up off the ground, have running water, a bug free place to eat, and with some strategic thinking, a TV to view at night.  We were beginning to move away from Mom’s purist roots, but if we did it slow enough, maybe she wouldn’t notice.

Life’s Little New Challenges

As I sit in my recliner each night, my mind wanders back to those years when my body would generally do what I told it.  I enjoyed those years when opposing softball teams would say “good wheels” rather than asking if I needed a courtesy runner should, by some miracle, I reach first base.  When I hit a golf ball, I had trouble seeing it land because of how far the ball traveled rather than due to my bi-focal challenged vision.  As I ponder what use to be, I usually am snapped back to reality by one of life’s little challenges.

Challenge One

For most of us, one of life’s simplest daily assignments is putting on two socks each morning.  Not one, but two.  You don’t even need to worry whether right or left.  Just get the color right and cross your leg over your knee and pop it on nice and straight and you’re good to go.  Somewhere between here and my youth, I lost the ability to accomplish this task with both of my feet.  My right foot works as it always did, but for some reason, I can only get my left sock on by bending over a bit too far for comfort and risking serious back injury.  Some mornings the effort becomes almost a throw, in which case the sock rarely lines up the way it should.  I am not quite sure when this change happened, but it has become quite the morning worry point.  Keep this eventuality in mind when choosing your next bed.  Some day you, too, may need to be able bend over and essentially touch the floor to put on the second of your two socks.

Challenge Two

Combing my full head of hair each morning was always a fairly mindless activity.  Line the part up in the same place as you have for decades and the comb would push all those little follicles into just the right place.  Unfortunately, at some point in the process, hair starts to disappear in areas where it once was quite welcome.   It almost seems for each hair lost aloft, that one appears in the nose, on the ear, or the middle of the forehead at lengths the hairs on top only dream about.  Now, instead of the quick morning run through with the comb, it has become a comb over and a search for hairs in embarrassing places.

Challenge Three

Another daily activity most of us handle multiple times each day involves the flow of fluids.  When you are young, this activity rarely involves a midnight run.  However, at some point in time, we find ourselves asking, “Why would God create an organ which would keep growing well into old age?”  The conflict this phenomenon creates with the other organs in an old man’s body drives a most unwelcome trot to the facilities each night.  There seems to be no stopping this rebellious organ.

Challenge Four

Vision is another constant reminder that things are not what they use to be.  I have had bad vision for as long as I can remember.  In fact, I tried to cheat on the vision test in sixth grade.  While waiting in line near the eye chart, I did my best to memorize the letters on the 20/20 line.  Little did I know they would decide to swap out the charts when my chance came to read the alphabet.  Whoops, so much for that idea.  Soon, thereafter, I was on my way to the Optometrist.  Somewhere around 40, what had been generally a minor inconvenience became a full blown “What do I do now?”  It was at this age that my favorite eye doctor told me bifocals were my next upgrade.  Wonderful; old people glasses.  Now, while working in the church library, books on the lower shelves require the no glasses, down on all fours approach; top shelf –head tilted back in hopes of hitting the up close lens.  Great, another easy task gone awry.

Each day brings challenges which were never even a passing thought in the teen years.  Maybe this is one of God’s ways of expanding our day’s activities and helping us fill in the time void left by the empty bedrooms.  If so, it seems to be working.

2013 Top Ten List

Just for fun and from my empty nest perspective, I thought I would put together a top 10 list for 2013.

  1. Top Movie – This one is easy.  Frozen by a landslide.  Great story, great music and fun for all ages. Runner-up – Fast and Furious 6. Of course, of Time magazine’s top 10 movies of 2013, I must admit I have only seen 2 of the movies.  I understand Captain Phillips was very good as well, but I never managed to make it to the theater in time to see if it was worth including on my list.
  2. Top Song – Not for a MomentMeredith Andrews. Unbelievable voice and a great message.
  3. Top Annoying Trend – Tailgating in Wisconsin. I previously had thought this was a problem only with drivers from Illinois, but it seems Wisconsin drivers have picked up on this very annoying and, I might add, unsafe behavior.  I suppose it is true that as you get older, the safe driving distance guidelines tend to get extended. But, I hardly believe they are teaching the youth that for every 10 MPH they are driving that they need to be only 1 tricycle length behind the car in front of them.  From what I see on the interstate, I believe we have a little too much NASCAR influence creeping into our driving behaviors.
  4. Top Book I Read – Chop Chop – L.N. Cronk.  The first book in a series which explores a number of life’s little challenges.  What only makes this book better is that it has been free on Kindle and Nook for much of 2013.  I wish I could say I read a lot, but I did manage to make it through this series in short order.
  5. Top Sports Play – This one is easy, Rodgers to Cobb on 4th and 8 to beat the ever lovable Bears.
  6. Top New Techie Toy – Microsoft Surface Pro.  I tend to have a new techie toy each Christmas, even if not the latest and greatest. The price on this one has dropped dramatically over the last month and to me now seems like a great deal.  Windows 8.1 is very nice and the app store seems to be improving.
  7. Top TV Show – Person of Interest.  Gotta love a show where they keep shooting everyone in the kneecaps.
  8. Top Ice Cream – Edy’s Double Fudge Brownie.  Worth at least 10 lbs. a year.
  9. Top App – News Bento.  A great way to get all the news of interest in one place.
  10. Top Thing I Have No Idea How To Use – Chromecast – a present for my son.  Sounds neat, but I am not quite sure how to get the gizmo to work.

Happy New Year


Tea for 200 (Dollars)

While there are many joys of Christmas, one new joy we have realized is that our nest starts to fill back up around the holidays.  Finals are over and the children trickle back to the nest if only for a few weeks.  The rut we had started to create for ourselves is now flipped upside down.  The gallon of milk which comfortably lasted a week or more is now downed in a couple of days.  The messes start to return and we begin to find ourselves in the rut we’ve know for the better part of 20 years.

As we enjoy the comfort that full bedrooms bring, I turn my attention to the joy of giving, a Christmas tradition started many, many years ago.  I have many fond memories of Christmas gifts, from hockey skates and a table top hockey game to GI Joe and Twister.  There was, of course, the gifts that came in the famous clothes boxes which unfortunately ultimately carried the item for which they were intended – clothes.  When you are 10 years old, clothes under the tree is a most unwelcome sight.   After receiving more than a few gifts in my many years, I thought I was fully qualified to be one of the best Christmas gift giving Dads ever.

Sometimes, on my gift giving excursions, I venture outside of my comfort zone and move into the women’s clothing section.   Selecting the right size for any of the females in the family can be quite the challenge.  After more than a few missteps, I decided purchasing two of the same item was the way to go.  This way you could give your loved ones who may be a little size fussy the larger of the two sizes.  If that item fit, I could keep quiet and act like I knew exactly what I was doing all along.  If I was lucky enough to get a size too large, I could use the old I thought it looked a bit large for you so I bought this smaller size just in case.  Since this usually didn’t happen, the smaller sized item to be returned was all set ready to go with the original tags and bag.  If both items purchased were too small, I was pretty much stuck returning two items.

In a few rare instances, I ventured into totally new territory to snag the perfect gift on one of my girl’s lists. This year I ventured into a tea store.  A place I never even considered entering.  One thing I have never been conflicted about is whether or not I like coffee or tea.  The answer is clear – no, I do not.  The actual smell of coffee unboiled can be somewhat appealing, but when brewed and put in a cup it is quite indescribable.  Clearly any drink that requires all kinds of things added to it to make it even remotely drinkable, needs to be seriously questioned.  It’s an acquired taste I have been told.  Odd, I never had to acquire a taste for chocolate.  For the first time in my memory, tea appeared on one of my children’s lists.  I figure how hard can this be, no sizes are involved and I even knew the color of tea I was looking to purchase.

I laid out my game plan fairly carefully and scouted out the store in the mall, waiting for a clear opening, which meant a motherly type clerk who would be a little sympathetic to my plight.  Instead of the kind, understanding and obviously knowledgeable lady behind the counter, I was directed to a handlebar mustached fellow whose listening skills were seriously lacking.  In my best ” I have no clue what I am doing voice”, I asked the gentleman behind the bar for some oolong or chai matte, both confidently mispronounced.  There were these fairly large tins lined up behind my inattentive tea expert with some, what I thought, reasonable prices.  One was $12.98 and another $24.98.  That seemed fairly reasonable for a tub of tea leaves.  After correcting my pronunciations, the tea tender grabbed 4 tins and began popping them open.  One by one he tilted them in my direction and beat his hand, vigorously up and down, as if to take flight, in hopes of giving my nose a hint of the tea flavor.  After the second blast, I kindly told the gentleman to please desist from his hand beating and just give me his recommendation.  Unfortunately, I must of used a bad choice of words since the beating continued until the stink from all 4 tins had been floated in my direction.  Resisting the temptation to tug on both ends of his mustache simultaneously in hopes of finding a listening ear, I politely asked again what would he recommend.  After clarifying that the price was actually per 2 ounces, and that there was a 10% discount if I bought a pound, my mind went into brain lock mode, undoubtedly due to the fact that my mind was still in a fog from the tea leaves.  Ok, was it 16 or 32 ounces to a pound?  Trying not to look too cheap,  I thought I asked him to take the expensive one out of the equation and move on with what was becoming a very confusing transaction.  After searching my memory for my last jujube purchase, I confidently decided that there was 16 ounces to a pound.  I asked him to pick out 2 flavors and total up to one pound (after all I can’t pass on a discount). I had already purchased this $20 tea making thingy so now it looked like I would have 2 little tins of tea to flank my earlier purchase.  I wasn’t quite sure, but I thought he managed to leave the expensive option in the mix – do these guys work on commission? Shuffling to the register,  I nervously waited for my totals.  After dinging me for the two small canisters needed to hold the tea, the $20 tea making thingy, and a pound of tea, I somehow ended up north of $100.  Wow, what had I gotten myself into?’  At those prices, how long does a pound of tea last for your average tea drinker?

After leaving the store in a tea induced daze, I somehow was not getting that warm fuzzy feeling I get after most of my Christmas purchases.  A lap around the mall parking lot with the windows rolled completely down to help clear my fuzzy mind was enough to convince me that returning to the store was the best decision.  Swallowing my pride, back I went.  My luck changed as the motherly type clerk was waiting at the entrance and was more than willing to come to my aid.  After mumbling something about not knowing what I was doing the first time around, she graciously agreed to return, at least I thought so, about $40 of my original purchase.  She fumbled around the counter for a minute or two and then brought out a small container of tea needing me to witness her tossing it into the garbage.  Wonderful, that was quite the waste.  Now, with a more reasonably priced package in hand, I left the store vowing never to return.

Merry Christmas – Happy Brewing