It’s a Big Bad World Outside

Every year for a while when I was a kid… Is probably the worst sentence I’ve written in a long time. How do you say something happened regularly for a limited time during a specific and short period of life? It happened all the time sometimes for a little while.

Anyway! My mom would all the time sometimes for a little while go to Ocean City, Maryland with one of her friends. I suppose it was her “girl time,” time to be free of children and step away from being Mommy. My sister and I would ask to go each summer because we were annoying, and it was a part of the ocean we didn’t see regularly. Most of our summers were spent in a tiny cabin-hut on the Chesapeake Bay, two and a half hours from the boardwalk. The bay was beloved but Ocean City had salt water taffy and really long bathroom lines.

One summer, she agreed to take us along. One of the most exciting aspects of the trip was that we’d be staying in a hotel. We had never stayed in a hotel before. We talked about how exciting it was going to be listening to the waves and the gulls and getting to use tiny shampoos. It wasn’t until we were packed and on the way in the White Knuckle Express, which was the name of the giant brown and tan van she drove, that she and her friend decided not to pay for a hotel room.

WHAT?! What about flopping down on an itchy 80’s splash-style comforter and listening to the people laugh as they rode the Ferris wheel on the boardwalk? The adults had spoken. There wasn’t much we could do as kids who only made 25¢ per chore. We likely didn’t even have enough saved to buy our own tiny shampoos.

After spending the day going up and down the beach, buying new bathing suits and tacky tourist trinkets, we drove into a small campground that backed to a bay. I don’t want to give the exact location because my memory has been tainted by time, and it wasn’t an altogether terrible place, so I’ll just say the name of the campground sounded a lot like Beagle’s Rest. The spot they chose was surrounded by heavy green bushes, blocking the view of the water just beyond. It was private and quiet and lovely. We meandered down to the dock, anticipating a little evening water play, only to find “No Swimming!” signs tacked all along the weathered wood. “No Swimming!” Because the water was teeming with crabs.

Instead of retiring to the roasting van, we spent some time outside at the picnic table by our spot. I don’t know if it was their cigarette smoke or luck, but my mom and her friend sat ten feet away from my sister and I as we danced against the fluttering of a thousand mosquitoes for at least an hour. They were undisturbed, and we were dinner. We eventually gave up the fight and ran to the safety of the muggy van. There were two slide windows in the back we used for cross ventilation, but otherwise we were shut in without relief.

As the night went on, and the bites we had been swatting against began to develop, the heat and the scratchy fabric made sleeping impossible. If you’ve ever experienced a mosquito bite on your foot that rubs against the sheet while you’re sleeping and wakes you up, that was the feeling all over our bodies.

I spent the next day in the hot van alone as my mom, her friend, and my sister, enjoyed the boardwalk. I was in too much pain and irritation to move. Each of my legs had fifty or more bites. We counted. My arms were also covered but it was my legs that made moving so painful. By the end of that evening, the bites had started to swell to the size of poker chips. I was having a severe allergic reaction to the amount of toxins in my system from the bites. I had to go to the doctor for oral and topical medications to treat them.

After that I was terrified of mosquitoes. Each bite would swell up like someone was stuffing golf balls under my skin and take months to disappear entirely. It’s been more than twenty years since that experience, and I’ve never encountered swarms of mosquitoes like that again. Until now.

Just a few weeks ago, as Brian and I were getting ready to pull out of the driveway, he realized we had forgotten to grab a few waters. He shut the truck off, left his door open for some air flow, and then I opened mine. Before he could make it to the front door I was panicking, yelling “GARRFH! GET BACK TO THE TRUCK! GET BACK TO THE TRUCK, HURRY! BWAAAH!” while yanking at my seat belt and half falling out the open door as I tried frantically to escape the black horde of mosquitoes that had started flowing in through Brian’s door. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking there were probably three or four mosquitoes, but you would be wrong. Dozens and dozens and dozens filled the truck. I ran, dragging my hands up and down my legs and arms to swipe any attackers from my skin, which must have looked perfectly normal.

I escaped. That time.

Now I’ve started carrying three citronella candles with me each time I venture outside. If I leave the protective citronella cloud, I’ll use the hose to spray the air around and above me, and just to be safe I’ll spray Brian now and then as well…because I care.

Title From:
Big Bad World
by Kodaline

You Keep Spinning on Your Compass Spoke

For most of my childhood we didn’t have a television. My mom would spend evenings reading poems and stories to my sister and I, as we sat, picking at the splintering wood, on our old front porch. She encouraged summer reading programs and the money she splurged on us was usually spent at Scholastic Book fairs. Later, when I hit my unfortunate rebellious phase and began skipping school, I would go to the library. I don’t think my mom even knows that. She undoubtedly thought I was hanging out with a Bad Crowd, smoking in alleyways, sketching my first tattoo. Nope. Library.

Thanks to an early exposure to the beauty of poetry and the adventures offered in books, I love reading. It doesn’t matter what it is. If someone is blogging about the power of their mage in World of Warcraft, or how they’ve just created the very best homemade auger sealant, I’ll read and enjoy what they have to say. However, I realize not everyone enjoys very specific topics that don’t relate to them, so here’s where I give you a warning: I’m about to write about geocaching.

Geocaching has been explained like this, “I use multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.” That’s pretty accurate. You use your GPS to navigate to a hidden cache somewhere in the world. Actually, everywhere in the world, even Antarctica. Once you find the cache, you sign the log, re-hide the container, and log your find online. It’s a lot of fun! Not only does it take you to places you may otherwise never visit, it encourages activity. Whether you’re an urban ‘cacher’ or you prefer trudging through the wilds, you’re out and about.

This past weekend we started exploring Montana, geocaching, and looking for a place to hide one of our own.

We drove over to Bozeman, which reminded me a great deal of Boston, and which made me feel very uncomfortable. Bozeman is quite pretty but seems to be very shopping-oriented and designed to look like Montana without feeling like Montana. I would feel guilty walking down the Main Street sidewalks with muddy boots, is what I’m saying.

Then we traveled around Big Timber, which is an area we’ve camped near before, and love. We went up near Big Timber Peak, which still has snow covering its rocky top. It’s always impressive to see the mountains out here, after living for so long around the Appalachian mountains, which (not to be disrespectful) feel more like big hills now.

Grass Range was our next stop, a place we have also been before. Brian spent 86% of the drive there saying, “You cannot recognize a house you’ve never seen before and we’ve never been on this road!” Then five minutes before we rolled into town he said, “I recognize that house.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t find a place to hide our cache, but we did find quite a few existing caches that were inventive and placed in beautiful spots.

If you’ve never geocached before, give it a try. There’s a free app ($NO – iPhone | Android | Windows Phone), I recommend the one from Groundspeak, that will let you find a few without requiring the purchase of the full version ($10 – iPhone | Android) or a fancy GPS unit. Though they’re not as exciting as those found on the full version, it’s still a great way to get a taste for the game that’s going on all around you.

Title From:
Come What Come May
by Miner

Very Superstitious

On Friday, I turned 35.

When I was a kid my mom would throw surprise birthday parties. Every year. The day of the party I would be required to go somewhere. Inevitably, someone would need something from the store, even if we already had the item or never had the item. “Come on Ralph, we gotta get some chocolate licorice and a tube of epoxy!” When I’d get back, the house would be crammed with every family member within eighty miles. The same was done for my brother and sisters. For the first couple years, it was a surprise, after that … maybe a bit less of a surprise.

However, one year it worked. My grandmother (Nanny) and I went for a drive to see my uncle Mark, who lives quite a distance from my mom. I assumed it was the expected trip away from the house. When we got to Mark’s place, my mom and everyone else was there. Apparently he had expressed an interest in having the party for me. It’s a gesture that I’ve never forgotten and it probably meant a lot more to me than he knew.

My last surprise party was for my thirteenth birthday, in 1993. That was the day the Storm of the Century buried our little street, wrapping everything in a thick padding of white like a tremendous fluffy present from Nature. I’m sure my step-dad still has the VHS tape he recorded on his massive camcorder, which he protected from the blizzard with a big black garbage bag. Watching the video later was like watching a silent movie while someone smashed grocery bags into your ears.

While we didn’t have a party this year, we did celebrate. We are now the proud new owners of a self-propelled lawn mower and a weed eater that weighs as much as a horse.

Title From:
by Stevie Wonder

How ‘Bout We Sing Some Holiday Songs?

I love the holiday season. I start listening to Christmas music weeks before Thanksgiving. The first snowfall (when it’s not in September) brings with it the excitement over picking and chopping our tree, hanging lights, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and getting snockered on eggnog.

I have so many heartwarming Christmas memories but, by far, my favorite memories revolve around my sister. Even when we didn’t share a room, we would sleep in the same bed for days before Christmas, counting down in eves (Tonight is Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve!) and whispering about the presents we knew the other was getting. Finally, on Christmas Eve, we would wake up all through the night to check if Santa had been to the house. Then we would wait anxiously for the clock to read 4:30am, a perfectly acceptable time to begin the day when you’re 10 and it’s Christmas, and wake our parents.

It’s been many years since we shared a bed at Christmas, but I still catch myself counting down in eves.

Title From:
Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday
by Brad Paisley