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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 30
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien

“I Remember"
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

Going Camping (?)

On the weekend of Aug.20th-22nd, we're going camping. Now, don't get me wrong; we're not exactly running off into the wilderness together, hiking up a mountain, meandering off on a secret trail, and pitching our tent in some romantic secluded spot under the stars. We're going to a campsite on Lake Cachuma, along with 146 other members of our church. Most of them made this trip last year, and all of them seemed to have had a blast, so when the time came to start talking about "Family Camp" around 4 months ago, we were totally gung ho. "Sign us up," we declared. It sounded like such fun; you know, surrounded by people we love, the moonlit sky, relaxing by the lake, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, sleeping in a tent.

Sleeping in a TENT! What am I…..crazy? Like, when was the last time I slept in a tent? Give or take, thirty year ago, and I didn't much like it then. But I've mellowed an awful lot since then; after all, I've gotten used to dogs and cats jumping on and off our bed while we're sleeping, something I could never have tolerated thirty years ago. And, the mattress on our king-size bed is really pretty beat up, so maybe that air mattress we're planning to sleep on won't be so bad. Of course, the air mattress in question is deflated, left here by the last tenants lying flat in our garage. So, IF we can blow it up, and IF it retains air, we'll be sleeping on it. We haven't checked that out yet.

But, I figure I can take anything for two nights. Then yesterday, we received our packet of information about the camping trip. I was excited, because by now I had many questions, and here were the answers. I thought. Actually, the packet raised more questions than answers for me. I'll give you a few examples. "You will need to bring your tent, quarters for hot water, camp gear, a flashlight and your own food. Bring some firewood, wire hangers and marshmallows smors." Wire hangers! And here I thought there WERE no more wire hangers!! Well, I KNEW I had to bring my own food, but what to bring, and how exactly to pack it wasn't any clearer than it had been before. Camp gear didn't exactly specify what that entailed, and while I'd heard plenty about those delectable smors, I really had no idea what constituted a smor, either. Quarters for hot water really threw me for a moment; I couldn't figure out if I was supposed to bring a hot water bottle, or a big tank filled with hot water. Fortunately, a friend didn't laugh too hard when she told me it meant that we had to pay for hot water for a shower with quarters!

Well, that was a relief. Momentarily. Until I remembered all about the whole restroom, shower concept. As in communal. As in, that's why I'll need a flashlight……to wander around by myself in the middle of the night looking for the restroom. Which, by the way, there's no doubt I'll be doing, unless there's something inherent in camping the changes one's habits entirely. And I didn't even ask, because I was afraid of the answer, whether or not there were private stalls in the restrooms. I'm worried enough about the 3 A.M. walks.

But back to the rest of the instructions. Since they really didn't tell me much, I have so far relied upon the advice of two friends. One of them told me to start filling up my Tupperware with water so that we'd have plenty of ice. Although it seems obvious now, she also told me to make sure our dinner for the second night started out frozen, because then it would be thawed out by the time we were ready to cook it. I would probably have bought a steak and then tried to keep it cold. She explained to me that I'd need graham crackers and thin milk chocolate bars (along with the marshmallows) for the smors, and that if I wanted to, I could scramble my eggs at home so I didn't have to pack a carton of eggs. All very helpful for a novice.

My other friend came up with some things I would never have thought of. Like ear plugs. She said that if I was a light sleeper, which on a camping trip includes just about everyone except the guy snoring like a bassoon player in the next tent, I'd be glad I had them. And our own pillows, items I would have neglected to bring what with my attention focused on that air mattress. And an "icky" rug for outside the tent so that we didn't continually bring in dirt, and a little broom, for the inevitable dirt we'd bring in anyway. Flip-flops, of course, for those walks to the bathroom especially. I don't own any flip-flops, because of the thong that goes between your toes. I can't stand anything between my toes; it makes me queasy. I suppose I'll have to add them to my shopping list and get over it! Sunscreen and a hat. Most importantly, however, from my perspective at least, she reminded me to bring our own toilet paper. Now that's something that could make a significant difference.

Another friend has (supposedly) left us a cooler on her deck. Of course, she's known to be rather flaky, and she made this promise while hurriedly getting ready to fly off to Hawaii, so I'm not exactly positive it will be there. But, my brother's a reliable type, and he has a ceramic grill that can be used instead of the hibachi I was going to buy, so that's another item off my list. He also has a bicycle pump to blow up our air mattress. More on that later. We don't own sleeping bags, and I refuse to buy them; I'm hoping two comforters will do the trick. And, with West Nile cropping up everywhere, I'll need to buy some insect repellant with DEET. The correct percentage of DEET. That leaves the air mattress and the tent. This afternoon, we finally decided that perhaps it was time to try to pump air into the air mattress, and assemble the tent in our back yard. For practice.

Oh, I forgot. We had yet to actually see our tent, having bought it rolled up in a bag from a friend who was moving away. So, we pulled the tent out of the bag, along with the bunch of thin rods that were curiously attached to each other with string. The tent has two huge pieces, although we weren't sure which piece was for what. In fact, we stared at the thing for five minutes, looked at each other, and reached the obvious conclusion. It was silly to even attempt to assemble this tent; we were totally clueless. We might as well have been building a nuclear reactor. So, we concentrated on the air mattress. The little bellows pump we had for my exercise ball was too small, so my husband tried to blow it up with his own air power and almost had a heart attack. Then he came up with a terrific idea; he took our leaf blower, aiming it at the hole. That mattress blew up in three seconds flat, but once I lay down on it, it took only two seconds for it to lose all its air; there's a hole in our mattress that needs a large patch. As for the electric leaf blower; well let's just say there are no electrical outlets where we're going, so we'll have to find another way. Hopefully, my brother's bike pump will do the trick.

Planning for this two day "vacation" is going to take up a lot of my time. I don't just have to concern myself with what we bring, but also what we're leaving behind. Specifically, our dog Maxi, and Sophie the cat. Most people could simply hire a "pet sitter," someone who comes in twice a day to feed the pets and let them out. We're not that lucky. Maxi is a wonderful, friendly and loving dog, but he's definitely neurotic. He's never been left alone overnight in his six years of existence, and we're sure it would freak him out, so we need a person who can sleep over. Luckily, my daughter's friend has volunteered. So, now all I have to worry about are the detailed instructions I must leave for her. Let's see. Every morning, Max gets three treats when I awaken: one marrow bone, one Scooby snack, and a large doggie bone. He'll definitely notice if this routine varies. Then, Sophie gets slightly less than half a can of cat food. Next, I put a tiny bit of cat food on the spoon I used to dish out her portion, and hide two tiny thyroid pills in it, which Maxi consumes with delight. Those pills keep his weight down. That's followed by three glucosomine-chondriatin tablets and one chewable anti-inflammatory pill, all for the torn tendon in his right leg. After that, he gets a special treat, the yummy bone from Trader Joe's. This routine is duplicated at night, minus the anti-inflammatory. I'll also have to explain about the remote controls, and how the one in the bedroom also has to be used in the living room, because that one doesn't work, and about the………oh well, no point in writing the rest here; I'll only have to write it all out for her again anyway.

Our best friends are also going on the camping trip. Sort of. They're staying in a hotel nearby, and joining in on the festivities at their discretion, knowing they'll have all the amenities when they need them. I thought that was a wimpish way to go camping. Now, I'm not so sure. But, we still want to give the real thing a try. That is, if we survive the preparations!

Of course, I trust you all realize that this column is merely the set-up. Just wait for the next one, when I report on the delights, and/or the disasters of the trip itself. Until then, happy camping!


Send me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com

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