Saturday, February 28, 2009

Doing the Wrong Thing

Why do we avoid acting on something because of our fear of doing the wrong thing?  Because we're concerned people will think we're strange?  I do it all the time.  I miss out on a lot of things because of my concern about what other people will think.  How stupid is that?  

One of my goals for the future is to stop worrying so much about doing the wrong thing... to be alive in the world rather than sitting around worrying about how people will react if I do something strange.  Most people who know me are already aware that there's something a little peculiar about me.  In many ways I'm a perfectly normal person and yet there's that certain something...

I've come to the conclusion that if you take the time to truly know someone, they all have "that certain something..."  There is no normal when it comes to people.  So why am I so worried that people will "find out" about me if I do the wrong thing?

My good friend, Nanodance, talked me into writing down my stories.  It took a long time to get over the fear of what people would think about me, to actually sit down and begin writing. Once I did, though, I found that I enjoyed putting my thoughts to paper.  It doesn't really matter if anyone reads it... although it does make me feel good when someone does.  What really matters is that when I'm writing, I'm amusing myself.  It gives me renewed energy for getting out and doing more things, so I'm living my own life rather than watching others live theirs.  I often chuckle as I write, remembering certain events or people.  It makes me happy.  

The other thing I've found is that the people I write about also enjoy remembering those experiences. In particular, my older sister said she laughed all the way through my story about the worst camping trip ever, although she didn't remember there actually being an animal there.  OOPS! But my sister pointing out that my memory was off actually makes the story better... there really could have been a mountain lion.  I can be creeped out all over again!

My memory may be slipping, but.... does it matter?  Have I embellished so many stories that the embellishments have become a part of my memories?  

Doing or writing "the wrong thing" sometimes makes for a better story.  It's doing the wrong thing that sometimes makes our lives more interesting... if we don't let it bring us down.  We all make mistakes.  Some are bigger than others.   The best we can do is forgive ourselves and even laugh at ourselves and then move on.  

I'm moving on.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"The Think Method"

It was professor Harold Hill* who came up with the idea of using "The Think Method" to teach young people how to play musical instruments.  Over the years, I've come to embrace "The Think Method" as a reasonable approach to unpleasant tasks.

Take, for example, exercising.  This is the most marvelous application of "The Think Method" I've ever come up with.  Some people thrive on exercise, finding themselves addicted to sweating and exhausting themselves on a regular basis.  I, on the other hand, prefer to apply my obsessive-compulsive tendencies toward other pursuits.  (Surely a cat lady would not exert herself unnecessarily!)  However, I'm always aware of the fact that I would feel and look much better if I exercised on a regular basis.

This fact often comes to mind as I'm lying in bed at night obsessing about my weight and/or general state of health.  As I lie there, thinking about what a blob I am, I begin to imagine exercising.  I think about becoming motivated to start a new exercise discipline.  The more I think about it, the more I feel re-energized and upbeat.  It's very Zen-like.  Before long it feels as though I've actually completed the exercise regimen.  "The Think Method" is really working!

I feel fulfilled and renewed, having thought my way through an exercise program.  It's as though I've actually spent an hour on the recumbent bike, which continues to lie fallow in my dining room.  My body feels refreshed and rejuvenated.

I can happily go about my business the next day, knowing that I've paid close attention to my physical well-being.  I can feel really good about myself, all because of "The Think Method!"  As they say on infomercials, "IT REALLY, REALLY WORKS!"

Thank you, Professor Harold Hill!

*For the purposes of this article, we shall ignore the fact that Harold Hill is no more real than his method of instruction.  (With apologies to Meredith Willson.)  

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Killer Raccoon of Kejimkujik*

One fall we packed up our camping gear and canoe and set off to explore Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The drive through New England was gorgeous and the trees were at their peak array of fall colors. Once we reached Nova Scotia via car ferry, the weather continued to be clear and sparkling. We passed through many quaint villages before reaching our first destination, Kejimkujik National Park.

Kejimkujik surrounds a boulder-filled lake in the middle of Nova Scotia. As we drove off the main road and down the long drive into the park we noticed we weren't meeting any other cars. Once we got to the campground itself, we discovered why. We were only the second campers of the day asking for overnight accommodations. Apparently, this late in the season, most travelers in search of fall colors stayed in hotels rather than campgrounds. This didn't bother us in the least and we were delighted to be able to look around the entire campground to choose whichever camping spot we wanted. It's a rare thing to have a campground all to yourselves, away from the noise and bustle of other campers.

We found the perfect place... right on the water where we could launch our canoe from our campsite. We quickly set up camp so we could set out for a leisurely paddle around the lake. The water was clear as glass. We tied the canoe to an overhanging branch and crawled up onto one of the boulders for a picnic lunch. Then it was back into the canoe to explore some more. As the afternoon wore on the sun warmed the air, so we spread out on another boulder to sun ourselves and rest for a bit. It was a perfect afternoon!

Back at the campsite, we pulled the canoe onto shore and brought the paddles and life vests back to the tent. As there were no admonishments posted in the ranger station about eating after dark to avoid wild animals, we took the time to enjoy a pot of tea and shower before commencing our dinner preparations. After several years of camping, we had graduated from Kraft macaroni & cheese to freeze-dried delicacies. (Just add boiling water and steep... yum!) The sun was going down over the lake as we fired up the Coleman stove again.

We chatted away merrily as we waited for the water to boil. We were thoroughly enjoying the evening sounds. It wasn't long before the night deepened and the clear sky boasted millions of stars. What a peaceful place! Soon it was time to add the freeze-dried noodles, chicken and seasonings to the boiled water. We zipped open the bag and poured in the contents, popping the cover back on the pan to keep in the warmth as the concoction steeped. In ten minutes we'd be enjoying a marvelously simple, yet delicious meal. Leaning back against the picnic table to await that moment, I heard a rustle behind me. Turning my head slightly, I became aware of a huge form rising above the table! Holy Crap!

There was the largest raccoon I had ever seen and it was advancing quickly toward me! Forget about whether it was rabid or not... this thing was big enough to take me in his agile paws, rinse me off in the lake and eat me! However, it wasn't after me... it was after my one-dish freeze-dried meal that was steeping away in the pan. The instant the dried food hit the boiling water it had released an aroma that was irresistible to a raccoon that had been living on campers' leftovers all summer long. With the rest of the campers now gone, food had become scarce and this particular raccoon was bound and determined it wasn't going to miss another meal! Since the canoe paddles were close at hand, my husband grabbed them and started banging them together in the direction of the raccoon. The masked marauder backed off momentarily, but was quickly back on top of the picnic table, advancing toward the pot of food. The only thing left for us to do was to find a sturdy shelter in which to barricade ourselves. We grabbed the pot of food and with spoons in hand beat a hasty retreat toward the showers... with the raccoon from hell with his shiny red eyes in hot pursuit. (Damn, but those rascals can move quickly!) We barely made it to the cinder block facility in time, bursting through the door just ahead of the raccoon.

Now, raccoons are inventive creatures and can get into most any place they want. The door was not latched, but simply had a large spring to hold it shut. That mean we had to lean against it to keep the raccoon out. He continued to thump against the door to get at our food. It was amazing how powerful those raccoon paws were. From looking at the size of him, he appeared to have had plenty to eat already, but no... he labored on to get to us and our dinner. We fought back with all our might. From our screams, you would have thought we were in the middle of a mad-slasher movie!

Finally we realized what we had to do... get rid of the object of the raccoon's attention. We both started shoveling the food into our mouths as fast as we could, all the while bracing ourselves as best we could between the door and the first toilet stall to prevent the raccoon from pushing us forward enough to squeeze through the door. We would later regret the speed with which we devoured the dinner, as we both ended up burning the roofs of our mouths. It was a small price to pay, though, in order to get the raccoon to leave us alone. While my husband kept a firm hold on the door, I rinsed out the pan in the sink to eliminate any remaining tempting odors. Eventually the thumping on the door stopped. But was the raccoon really gone? Or had he gone back to his friends to recruit reinforcements?

A half hour later, when we figured the coast was finally clear, we crept back to our campsite and zipped ourselves tightly into our tent, not to venture out again until morning. We only spent the one night at Kejimkujik, but it was certainly a memorable one. Perhaps a crowded campground does have its merits after all!

*This might qualify as the fourth worst camping trip ever, except for the fact that I actually slept peacefully through the night. Despite the raccoon's visit, it was a lovely stay and I would definitely go back again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Super Duper Contest for Followers!

This is it, followers!  Your lucky day!  

I'm announcing the first annual... 


Woo Hoo!!!!

Now that I've regaled you with tales of super-horrible camping trips, you get to chime in with your favorite.  

Which one do YOU feel is the actual worst one?  Which one do you think strikes the most fear into the hearts of manly men?  Which do you think gives me, the cat lady, the best reason for never leaving the house?  Or do you have your own tale of an even more harrowing camping experience?  

Please state your reasons why you think your choice is the best, (or the worst as the case may be.)  Entries can be made by commenting on your favorite post.

I will personally judge the entries and the person whose reason has the most merit will win.....

TA DAH!   

Wait for it...


Yes, you too can go on your own personal camping adventure with the cat lady.  (We'll even take the cat silhouettes with us to scare off snakes.)  Let's make new memories together!  But only if you dare!  Camping with me is not for the faint of heart. 

*(Should you choose not to accept the award, you may always select the alternative prize... 10 construction paper cat silhouettes for your windows.)

I anxiously await your entry!


P.S.  You too, can become a follower.  Just direct your eyes to the left side of this page and notice the Followers section.  Yes, that's it... the one with the picture of the pretty lady in the hat, the cartoon, the kitty, the young girl who posts her own rantings, the monkey and the outlines of people from the "10 Most Wanted" list.  (You may have noticed their pictures before at the post office.)  Simply click on "Follow this blog" to join!  After all, you wouldn't want to miss out on any exciting contests or anything!

Sweet Dreams! (or The Third Worst Camping Trip Ever)

Every summer when I was a kid, my parents packed up the family station wagon and kids and went camping.  We had a huge, two-room canvas tent that was packed into a wooden trailer that my dad had crafted to tow behind the car.  Along with the tent were stowed sleeping bags, air mattresses, a wooden utensil cupboard that my dad had also made, (he was very handy,) camp chairs and all the other appurtenances of camping.  The back of the station wagon housed the dry foods and a large metal cooler, which contained a block of ice, milk, juice, eggs, etc.  That was back before seat belts were invented, so my dad had also fashioned a platform for the back seat so we kids could sit on the floor and use the platform to color on and play games.  (Anything to prevent the squabbles and arguments that are de rigueur with small children in a car on a long trip.)  My mom would plan things out ahead of time, reading up on the history of the place we were going.  We would all learn about the geography, flora & fauna, landmarks and historic personages that were connected with our destination.  Travel was her great love and she wanted us to get the most out of each trip.  (Years later, mom coordinated many trips overseas for groups of people for cultural exchange programs.)

The summer when I was six we set off for Kentucky and the "Abe Lincoln Tour."  We first headed south to St. Louis, where we stopped off at the St. Louis Zoo.  There we were fascinated by the exhibition of snakes, with an eye to the poisonous varieties.  Looking at the map of the range of said poisonous snakes, we of course noticed that copperheads were to be found in Kentucky.  

That was it!  We kids wanted to turn around and go home!  We weren't about to be bitten by poisonous snakes that would crawl into our sleeping bags with us to warm up at night!  NO WAY!  Either we stayed in a motel each night during the trip or we were walking home to Iowa.  (Actually, we'd never stayed in a motel before and thought it sounded pretty exciting, so we were particularly vocal in promoting that solution.)  It took about three hours of driving onward toward Kentucky for my parents to convince us that snakes didn't hang out in campgrounds waiting for small children to come by so they could sink their fangs into them.  Reluctantly, we agreed to go ahead with their travel plans, although we wanted it on record that we only did so under protest.  (Our epitaph could read,  "Here lie the Larew children, brought down by the venom of copperheads, to the everlasting regret of their semi-loving parents who refused to trust their superior judgment.")

We got to the campground, got the tent set up and were just sitting down to dinner, when there was a rather large commotion at the campsite next to ours.  That family began screaming and yelling and jumping up from their picnic table and the dad started flailing at something with a hatchet.

Yes, it was not one, but TWO copperheads... right there under their picnic table!  The dad killed them with a hatchet and my parents later took us over to look at their mangled bodies to assure us they were really dead and to try and calm us down.  We kids definitely felt vindicated, but that didn't make us feel any better about sleeping in the tent that night.  We knew there were more copperheads lurking around out there, just waiting to sneak up on us and bite us out of sheer spite to avenge their fallen comrades.  And I know my parents had a sleepless night as well!  

Ha!  Serves them right!

Just goes to show... you should always listen to  your kids!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Great Smoky Mountains (or The Second Worst Camping Trip Ever)

After reading about the worst camping trip ever, you may have thought I'd never again venture out into the wild.  However, I'm not exactly a quick study.  I eventually bought a tent and Coleman stove, thinking that with the proper equipment I could become a fearless mountain woman.  

With that goal in mind, my boyfriend (of the ill fated Colorado trip) and I set out for a getaway to the Great Smoky Mountains.  The trip down to the Smokies was highlighted by a car malfunction in Pittsburgh, but we'll save that story for another time.  

When finally we arrived at the Great Smoky Mountains visitor center, we were met with a graphic display of the terrors which native black bears could wreak upon unwary campers.  It listed warnings about what could happen if you encountered a bear, including a display of items mauled by bears, such as a metal container that had been ripped apart and showed the slashes left by claws. The list of precautions you could take to avoid being ripped to shreds by bears included such things as preparing and consuming all meals before dark and storing all food inside your car. The sign admonished you to NEVER store food in your tent unless you wanted the vicious bears in the neighborhood to slash open the side of your tent, maul you and steal your food. Needless to say, it didn't take much convincing for us to swear on our ancestors' graves that we would never even THINK about disobeying the rules of bear safety.

(Giving credit where credit is due:  Bear photo by Brian Wolitski)

We traveled on to the camping area where we were assigned a wonderful campsite.  To reach it you had to traverse a small stream and thus were beautifully isolated from the other campers in their large Winnebagos.  An idyllic scene, to be sure.  We happily set up camp, erecting the tent, blowing up air mattresses and proudly setting up the Coleman stove on the picnic table provided for our enjoyment.  We also laid out a neat pile of logs we had purchased and twigs we had gathered in the fire pit for later use.   Standing back and surveying our professionally appointed campsite, we were filled with pride!

Once we had set up camp, it was time for a rousing hike through the woods.  Our day packs were laden with the essentials;  sunscreen, water bottles and "gorp" for the trail.  We set off on a trail that led up to a fire tower.  It was a beautiful walk weaving through virgin forest and past a waterfall, with spring wildflowers in abundance.  Once we reached the fire tower, we climbed it to get a perfect view of the Smokies in all their splendor.  The clouds had settled over the peaks and dipped into the valleys, giving name to the mountains.  On the trek back down the mountain, we grew weary, so stopped at the waterfall to take off our hiking boots and dip our toes into the refreshing pool below.  

Later, back at camp, we prepared another delicious meal of, (you guessed it,) Kraft macaroni & cheese and canned green beans.  Our dinner was over before dusk settled into the valley.  The plates, silverware and pan were washed thoroughly and stowed back in the car, across the stream so that no aroma of cheese would remain to tempt any starving black bears.  As the sun dropped, so did the temperature, so after our campfire burned down to ciders and no longer provided warmth to our bodies, we retired.  Nothing feels so good as a sleeping bag floating on an air-mattress on a cold spring evening.  We talked for awhile about how wonderful the day was, how beautiful our camp site was and what a great job we had done of bear-proofing our camp site.

As the evening wore on, sleep once again eluded me.  After the initial warmth of the sleeping bag wore off, a chill set in and as I tensed up, my calves began to ache from all the hiking we had done.  I knew that I could either lay there thinking about it or get up and do something about it.  So I rummaged through my pack to find the first aid kit and pulled out a tube of Ben Gay.  Slathering it all over my legs left me even more chilled as the medication started working. After awhile, though, I began to warm up again and my muscles began to relax.

That is, until I realized my legs smelled like giant peppermint candies.  Yikes!  Did bears like peppermint?  Was that just the thing bears crave for late night snacks?  How was I to get the smell off of me?  The greasy formula of Ben Gay was not wiped off easily.  Plus, as luck would have it, my air mattress had lost all its air and there was nothing protecting me from the cold, rocky ground.  No matter how much I huffed and puffed, the air mattress could no longer be re-inflated.  Now I was wide awake, cold and miserable, waiting for the bears to come slash their enormous, razor-sharp claws through the tent, drag me from my sleeping bag and feast on my peppermint flavored legs.  What to do?  Should I go sleep in the car for the rest of the night?  Or better yet, in the cinder block bathroom up at the ranger station?  Either would be equally uncomfortable and it might mean coming face to face with a bear and being mauled on the way.  Better to stay put.  Could I possibly be any more uncomfortable and scared?  Not to mention the fact that I had failed to set out the pan with rocks in it to shake and scare off wild animals that came close. (Remembering how futile that plan was the last time I tried it.)*  Another sleepless, fear-filled night of camping was upon me and yet somehow I made it until morning with my legs still intact.

Yes, once more a camping trip, (originally so full of hope and promise,) had gone horribly wrong.  Obviously the bears never got me, but the memory of the terror that struck my heart is still with me to this day.  Amazingly, I still love camping out... I just avoid places with bears, mountain lions or snakes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Day Late and Postage Due

Valentine's Day is coming soon.   Someone just pointed that out to me today.  It's not one of my favorite "holidays".   Probably because I've never experienced the joy of getting a heart-shaped box of candy or a dozen roses of any color from a boy.   My older sister was the one to whom those deliveries were addressed.  I always watched with the hope that one day the delivery would be for me.  

As a kid I loved decorating a shoe box with pink and red crepe paper each year in the hope that my classmates would fill it full of valentines.  Back then the valentines were usually homemade. Red construction paper, doilies, glue and crayolas were the basic materials used to make them. (There's something really cool about the sound of kid scissors cutting through construction paper.  Very satisfying.)  Those who were really creative used glitter as well.  Of course there were also the candy hearts that some people would glue onto the cards.  Definitely not as tasty after being pried off the cards three months later, though.  Most exciting to find in your box were the heart-shaped cookies with pink frosting that some mothers would make with their children.  You were truly blessed if one of those ended up in your box.  Sadly, there weren't any rules back then about making sure you gave a card to everyone in the class.  Invariably there was some poor child who had noticeably fewer cards than the other children.  (Usually the kid whose box was a plain paper bag.)  While I never had the fewest, my box was never quite as full as others'.  It always made me a little sad.

As I got older, the girls I knew started getting frilly cards from boys in the mail.  However, the only time I ever got a valentine from a real live boy, it arrived a day late and postage due. Seriously!  I was in college at the time and apparently the young lad thought he was depositing the card into the campus mail box, which provides free delivery between campus buildings.  In actuality, the box he deposited the card into was one designated by the United States Postal Service for the collection of letters with stamps on them.  When you don't affix one of said colorful stamps onto the envelope, the dedicated men and women of the USPS go through rain or sleet or dark of night to find you a day later and demand payment for the service they have rendered by bringing the card to you.  Needless to say, I was not impressed by the young man's ardor.  (Or lack thereof.)  Especially as the card itself was extremely tacky, featuring a leering young man and including an equally distasteful sentiment written inside.  Yuck!   What a disappointment!

Years later, I still await the thrill of a well-appointed card, chocolates or flowers from a boy on Valentine's Day.  I'm not holding my breath, though.  If I get a postage-due slip from the post office in my mailbox on February 14, I think I'll just leave it there.
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