You're Invited to a Pity Party

This blog thing is harder than it looks. 

As you’re reading this statement, I assume that you’re picturing me as a whiny and pretentious 4-year old with pigtails and an astonishingly upturned nose, shoving expensive chocolates and Petrossian special-reserve caviar down her pie-hole, a la Augustus Gloop.  That’s what I’m imagining, anyway.

Really, M, grow a set.  It can’t be that bad.  It was your idea, after all.  

But seriously, for someone like me who is perilously underequipped in all things will-related, committing to a rigid (or not-so-rigid if you consider my track record) schedule of intelligent and thought-provoking scrawlings is a heavy burden to carry.  I understand now why authors tend to rent out wooded cabins and spend months alone with their typewriter or laptop after running their smart phone over with a riding lawnmower.  Life gets in the way.

On the other hand though, the flavor of life is what really makes the cake worth eating, now isn’t it?  Though I would venture to guess that such deliberate isolation must breed tremendous creativity [and serial killers], I don’t think that I could ever fully commit to a life entirely powered by my mind and an electric typewriter.  

I know I wasn’t born with an imagination like Lewis Carroll, which I do think is really too bad, but my disappointment is tempered by the threat of what would possibly happen if my dreams became scripted reality.  A chiropractor that uses a power drill to correct your T4/T5 spinal misalignment is still pretty scary, even on paper (especially at age 11, which was when this sickening brainchild came to me in the night – my sister can confirm that the next 3 years were full of dreams and mental snapshots that were quite alarming but simultaneously had the potential to make me a cool million in slasher film royalties).  It's a good thing I haven't written all of them down.  That is, unless you consider that as a result, I didn't make a cool million in slasher film royalties.  Then it seems less good.

And all of this creativity happened without the massive opiate supply that Lewis Carroll must have been employing – we are agreed on that fact, right?

I guess what I’m saying is that finishing each of these little posts is like taking a good nap.  For the experience to be sufficiently gratifying, I need to expend a fair amount of energy in preparation and do some rigorous carbo-loading in advance.   It’s not as easy as it seems.  Please, feel for me.

And can you hand me a napkin?  I've dribbled a little caviar down my front.  


Calculate This.

Do you ever get the feeling that someone could do all the necessary research to write the Dummies Guide to Screw-Ups and Grand Oversights after following you around for a few hours?  I was talking to someone Wednesday about a summer night years ago, when I left such a wake of logistical destruction and poor job performance that I locked myself in a tiny kitchen bathroom for like, two whole hours and then proceeded to blubber and wail myself out of consciousness.  In a sort of two-for-one bonus, by quarantining myself there amongst the stainless steel sink and porcelain throne, I simultaneously shrugged off the list of duties I was responsible for that evening, thus increasing my level of negligence exponentially.  It takes work to be that irresponsible.

The real state of my computing skills was brought into the light this afternoon at work, and unfortunately for those in my office, the quality of my accounting expertise would make you believe that a Cabbage Patch taught my Consumer Finance class in college.  I even have a hard time with calculators.  And no, I'm not referring to the scientific kind.

Seriously though, what the heck does the "*" button mean?  Someone tell me, please, so I don't have to ask.  My intellectual reputation cannot withstand any more scrutiny - the veil is already veeery thin.

When I was in college, I got into the habit of pulling all-nighters when I had a paper to write or a big exam to study for.  Once during my junior year, a roommate and I stayed up all night to work on a two-pronged project for Oceanography.  We were asked to design: 1) an imaginary water-born craft for oceanic exploration, and 2) a new sea monster.  I can't remember what kind of futuristic submarine I conjured up, but I do recall a cleverly-designed sea turtle with a beaver tail-like paddle that was covered in spikes.  I think I also gave him a red Santa cap.  You can't just buy an education like that.

You are beginning to see how productive my night sessions were.  After another of these nocturnal episodes, I spit out a term paper for an anthropology course (it was only my declared major - I couldn't be expected to care about the field of study - that would be just too much).  A little while after turning in my work, my professor called me into his office to give me the verdict.  It wasn't good.

"M, you're a bad writer."

Well, at least someone did their homework.  He was right.  I was rotten at winging it, and I liked him quite a lot for calling me out on it.  He didn't only tell me that I was not the next Emile Durkheim or Clifford Geertz, he told me that I needed to change how I tackled my academic projects.  I needed to chip away at my work one day at a time and not wait until the very last hours before a deadline to start roaring my intellectual engine.

But who wants to waste their time with all that?  Most people strive to learn from their mistakes, but not me.  I like to do my part to keep the average American, well, average.


Read At Your Own Risk. Seriously.

I’ve never had a hangover or a one-night stand, but this must be what it feels like.

My teeth are furry, my stomach is churning like some kind of vicious medieval cauldron and I look like Medusa.  I feel like I could attack someone.  I also feel like this van and I just had the most distasteful and unsatisfying rendezvous ever known to man and vehicle. 

I slept in the fourth bench seat – it’s the longest.  After a really long day yesterday and another hour and a half of moose-patrol to go before reaching home, I counted my losses and pulled over to get some Zs at a rest area.  I had mistakenly left my fleece jacket in Amy’s car on the way to the dealership (biggest regret of the day, period), and therefore was only wearing shorts and a tank top.  So I did the only thing a person with moderately impaired judgment does in a dilemma like this:  I blanketed myself with a reusable nylon shopping bag and tried to doze off.  Honestly, I was uncomfortable before I even considered sleeping in the van, because unfortunately - since I was downriver yesterday - I used the opportunity to fill my gullet with all kinds of unhealthy, processed foods (such as the sausage, egg and cheese croissant and bucket of fried vegetable chips that was my 9pm dinner – a black magic spell for dysentery, I’m sure).  I pray that you never make the same mistake.

It turns out that if you lay in the right direction and are comfortable sleeping in the fetal position, bench seats are not so bad.  My only fear was to be discovered back there, curled up under a Hannaford shopping bag, my B.O. wreaking like a rotten Vidalia.  The last time I stopped at this rest area, there was a drifter tenting in the woods, and I woke up every other hour last night imagining a mangy, suspicious-looking face pressed against the window.

(This was probably an AT hiker in all actuality, but it could have been a drifter, right?)

Driving into work this morning felt like the ultimate walk of shame.  I smelled like I had just returned from being plucked out of the Amazon after spending the previous 6 weeks wandering around and soiling my only pair of clothes.  Plus, I don’t think I’d washed my hair in 4 or 5 days.  Our shower causes me to identify a little with Buddy the Elf during the period that he still lived in a miniature chalet with Papa Elf, but was clearly a large, Will Ferrell-sized adult.  The camper's tub makes me feel a bit like a giant elf-man in an tiny shower, tossing water left and right, minus the cone hat.

As if all this wasn’t enough, I hit a bird with the windshield on my way back to camp.  I hate hitting stuff.

At least I wasn’t riding a motorcycle.  There's always a bright side.



I am currently sitting in a cushy black office chair on the sidewalk outside of a small auto dealership in South Portland, Maine.  I can hear what is probably a Boeing 757 making its final descent into Portland Jetport, and can smell the tantalizing aroma of french fries and fresh pizza from the shop next door.  Why am I here?  I'm buying a van.  Well, I'm hoping to buy a van.  I think.  Am I?

Remember what I said Wednesday about being a camp spouse?

I get nervous when I'm asked to do adult-ish sorts of things, such as my present task.  I'm a terrible negotiator, respond poorly to confrontation, have trouble changing my wiper blades, and know next to nothing about automotive standards.  As a child, I probably didn't even like to haggle for a later bedtime.  I am clearly the least qualified person who could have been sent on a quest to purchase a used 15-passenger van for our organization.  But in this business, if you have an upturned beach umbrella and a paddle, you might find yourself suddenly sailing around the world for a camper flying into Cape Town.  It's spontaneous at best and unpredictable at worst.  And a whole lot of fun.

So as I sit here and awkwardly survey the sales lot, I am mentally considering purchasing a black 2003 Lincoln Town Car limousine.  You see, I'm also currently in possession of a camp credit card (Dollar Tree shopping spree!!), and there are some vehicles that are starting to look a lot more appealing to me than the white 15-passenger shuttle van that is staring me down from the handicapped spot.  Actually, it's an 11-passenger van.  The reason I'm sunbathing on the pavement is because an employee is running down the back seat that someone thought was irrelevant.  So it's an 11-passenger van disguised as a 15-passenger van.

But no, Mr. Used Car Salesman, you can't pull that trick on me; you'll have to work a little harder.  However, this does make me wonder at how gullible I appear at first glance.  I can just see them in the back room... "Maybe she'll never notice.  Let's take the gas cap, too."

I can't blame them.  Without clear guidance, I'd probably ride an elephant off the lot.

And be happy about it.  I like to call myself a good "life spectator".  Calling it "observing" would imply that I pay attention, and we all know that would be just too much.


If This Trailer's a-Rockin'

You probably thought I was going to write about that.  Ha.  Boy were you wrong.  

I drove for a canoe trip put-in yesterday morning.  Jealous yet?

 This past week, while you may have been barbecuing with friends and going to committee meetings, I've been doing what I do every summer... living the life of a camp wife.  I suppose camp husbands do these sorts of things too, but since I'm a woman, we'll go ahead and be gender specific for now, despite how much I usually hate that sort of thing.

Every summer for the last 6 years, I have been either a staff member or volunteer at a summer camp program that my husband directs, and I still have a hard time verbalizing the exact details of what that nebulous position really entails.  I've plunged an unfathomable number of overflowing toilets, watched a staff member snort spaghetti up their nose and out their mouth (break the noodle and you fail), almost sunk a $40,000 boat filled with teenagers, eaten tubs of camp ice cream, whitewater canoed, pummeled campers with dodge balls (as satisfying as you can imagine) and gotten to hurl myself down a 100' slip and slide every July.  And sometimes, I get paid.  Go ahead and cry a few tears of bitter rage.

Before you throw yourself off of a building, keep in mind that there are some unique environmental requirements for this kind of job life, and it's a mixed bag of privilege and sacrifice.  For example, I am shocked that about a half-hour ago, my iphone got a text message.  Today is my day off this week, and I'm sitting on a sunny porch at camp, where until this year, a friendly cumulonimbus cloud could practically cut all off all of our communication with the outside world.  This is hardly an exaggeration.

If you have read some of my recent posts, you are aware that we now live in a camper here, tucked away in the staff parking lot.  When you shut your eyes and dream of heaven, you probably aren't seeing a 25-foot travel trailer, but I'm telling you, it's a pretty comfortable home base for us.  Starting Monday, we even had a guest, and mercifully it wasn't the local wildlife.  Our friend Amy, who I've mentioned before as being an angel of wisdom and good humor, is sleeping in our bunk beds.

Hey Amy, how's that bottom bunk?

Ironically, since we moved north, we've never lived anywhere without a set of bunk beds.  Either people around here cultivate and harvest children with terrifying frequency and therefore need compact, vertical lodging space, or they just have an affinity for the top bunk.  Either way, Amy's always had a place to stay, even now.  She drew us a picture to hang on our fridge.

Sweet, right? I think know I'm going to frame it.

To sum it up, we live in a house on wheels on the most breathtaking 7,000 acres east of the Mississippi.  And whether I'm wiping down tables in the Dining Hall or scooping way too much ice cream in our coffee shop, I still have to pinch myself every now and again, because something this good just can't last... or can it?  

You mean I could really have free ice cream for life?


Put Your Hands In The Air

In all of this moving mess, I've managed to lose a few things, which might doesn't surprise any of you.  Among my lost toiletry items was my only stick of high-test, prescription-grade, radioactive deodorant/ antiperspirant.  Today was day 4 without it, and I could tell that I would be pushing the envelope to go for 5.  Each additional day without deodorant has an exponential effect, and 5 days would leave me smelling like I'd been living in a barbecue pit for a year, my days spent sleeping next to a everlasting bag of yellow onions.  Aside from my sister, you've never seen a girl sweat like this, and that's when I'm sitting at a desk chair for 10 hours a day. 

I don't know where the phrase comes from, but the idea that women "don't sweat, they just glisten" makes me want to laugh so hard I might just need to run to the bathroom.  If preteen girls can't handle the fact that their skin is leaking, life is going to have some really shocking surprises to showcase in oh, I don't know, 3 years or so.  Buckle down ladies, because your bodies are coming after you in ways you can't possibly imagine.

It happens to the best of us.   source

So this morning I went to our local grocery establishment, and in a quest to do something merciful for my peers but easier on my body, bought a new stick of natural deodorant.  And though I'd been hoping for Tom's Woodspice scent, I was schoolgirl-level giddy to find that the store carried the Tom's of Maine brand at all.  Proportionally, my grocery store is way better than yours.  For serious.  Anyhow, I've tried natural deodorants (non-antiperspirants) before with little success and a lot of extra laundry, but I'm hoping that it's a wall worth running at again.

I'll let you know how it goes.  Or perhaps you will just see the dark stains under my arms and avoid the question.  

At that point, it might be wise to avoid my gaze as well.


Have Wheels, Will Travel

And here we are.

It wasn’t the easiest move, nor was it the hardest.  It wasn’t particularly graceful and yet we’ve emerged on the other side in a fairly seamless progression.  C and I are the new summer residents of a roughly 30-foot long travel trailer.  Now, before you chuckle too hard, keep in mind that this may very well be our most technologically advanced camp home.  It certainly gleams in comparison with our first. 

About six months after C and I tied the knot, we - with the help of our family - packed all of our worldly possessions into a small U-Haul truck and a station wagon (something impossible to consider now).  We drove northwest to the Hudson Valley of New York state, and ultimately reached a tiny hillside outside of a wonderfully hippie college town, where one could reliably find organic local produce and [I imagine] illegal substances in large supply. 

We were starting work for an organization that served adults and youth from New York City, and in particular, C and I were going to help design and run a summer camp program for kids who had generally never seen more green space than the manicured landscape of Central Park.  This was an adventure that could easily be its own blog post, so what I really want to focus on today is simply the fascinating nature of our living quarters. 

The family that we went to work with spent a humbling amount of man-hours and effort into converting a summer-only nurse’s station into a winterized cabin for a young set of newlyweds.  They installed a propane wall heater, put in appliances (3/4 size refrigerator, half-oven), and even converted an outdoor shed into an indoor closet (a 4’X4’ space that held our hanging clothes, pantry, a bookshelf, aquarium and various instruments of cookery).  They painted walls, spread gravel for a parking space, and even gave us a welcome basket for a housecabinwarming gift.  It was a startling illustration of overwhelming kindness.

Despite the love and kindness that was poured into our first freestanding home, other things were also pouring in.  And pouring out.  First were the spiders: giant, fat ones the size of a quarter (found in the closet) and tiny, feathery ones that crawled up and out of the rusty shower drain. There were the ants and beetles that I would find on/behind my mattress at night before bed.  Soon I was performing rigorous “bug checks” on a near paranoia-inducing basis. If we had lived there for more than six months, I suspect that I would have developed a substantial mental illness.   This was before the day I stomped in the hallway and a bumblebee flew out of the floor.

This is my favorite spot in Vermont.  Also, not our house.

When I mention that there were things pouring out, I did not mean to suggest that the insects and arachnids that were waltzing into our cabin were dancing their way out as well.  Although I’m sure they were, what eventually game drizzling – no, wait – projecting out of the side of our cabin was an embarrassing amount of foul-smelling, unsightly sewage.  It turns out that this little seasonal getaway was moderately unprepared for two full-time residents with regular bowel movements. I was unprepared for what would come to spew from beneath our bathroom floor.  Our saint-of-a-maintenance director spent hours, perhaps days, working with his son to install a plumbing line that would permit us to introduce fruits and vegetables back into our diet.

So, as I mentioned, we have now found ourselves in a house with wheels.  And yes, as a friend commented today, I married not a man, but an adventure.  And yet the reality of home is to be found and loved, but whether that truth lies on a poured foundation, the sands of a shanty town, or on a set of Goodyear tires is left to the heart of the subject.  If life is the canvas, and experiences are the paint, then I want a story that rivals the sunset.

So go grab your paintbrush and let’s take this show on the road.

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