Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Winter Camping Poem

It is 6pm on a Sunday in late October and I am in my jammies.  Half the clothes in the house are smoke stinky, the garage is a disaster, the car is a mess, and everyone else is already sleeping.  It was a camping weekend, and I am in seventh heaven.

Two nights sleeping in a tent, with frost on the ground in the morning and well below freezing after dark.  I almost choked to death on the first night, and was trapped in the tent the second night, needing to pee but with no toilet paper.  At times I was frustrated, annoyed, and even pissed.  I was poorly prepared, with cruddy shoes, one set of clothes, and no matches or flashlight of my own.  But still, I am on a massive endorphin rush.

It could not have been the great conversation with awesome adults on Friday night around a bonfire, because I was busy losing a fight with our stove while watching Alex and the dog.  It could not have been the fantastic live bluegrass band on Saturday night along with the wild party over at the old lodge, because I was too tired to make it.  So I guess it was just the fact that we were camping.  Camping!

But it wasn't any kind of hard core camping to account for the endorphins.  We were camping at a Camp.  There were actually about eight lodges on site, each with stone fireplace and welcoming vibes.  There was no big push to get to camp, just a nice drive in.  There was no battle for firewood, it was all provided, dry and split by the staff.  I didn't even have to think about food, one of the lodges was also the dining hall complete with excellent chow.  Kevin set up the tent, and broke it down too.  So what provided all these marvelous endorphins?  Why, even when I got home, was I so pumped that I cleaned up and even did many extra chores?

Maybe it was me, my hubbie, our kiddo, and even the dog, out and about in the outdoors.  We hiked a bit, canoed a bit, hauled stuff a bit, and Alex even climbed outdoors.  He made it about 16 feet off the ground, twice what he did last time.  We also played some frisbee, visited the goats and the miniature horse on the grounds, and played around on the dock.  The leaves were crunchy, the air was crisp, and my blood was pumping in a pleasant fashion.  Yes, it may have been all that, but then again, it may have been something even more.

We were camping with a purpose.  We were camping at the 13th Annual Winter Camping Symposium.  We were not alone.  We were not randomly "getting out".  We were in the middle of an event.  40 some tents were spread across the fields and into the woods, and every one of them had a chimney sticking out of it.  160 people were pre-registered.  160 very special people.  The Symposium is a gathering of the nutbags of the mid-west that like to go out and camp all winter long.  The colder the better. The snowier the better.  And best of all if you haul it yourself at least five miles into the wilderness on a toboggan.  The tents are white- to blend with the winter landscape, and wood heated- to make it survivable.  Not just survivable, but fun.  Crazy fun.  There is something just a little off about camping next to a wood stove in the middle of winter.  It is not a pursuit for the faint of heart, but it is worthy.

It is an understated crowd that gets into this kind of thing.  Everyone wears wool, the older the better.  The more the outfits are mis-matched, the better.  The longer you've been around, the better.  And the less you have to say for yourself, the better.  Lots of white hairs, and grey beards, and knowledge to pass around.  This years Symposium was the biggest ever, with presenters Thursday through Sunday.  You could join classes on fires and stoves, on sawing and splitting, on knife making and mitten making and winter travel.  There were edible plant walks, tent tours, and good old nature hikes.  Plus having fun with kids at minus 26, and kitting out your gear to run electric if you want to hit the Colorado ski slopes for $20 a night. There was a camp cook off that culminated in the Golden Spatula award, and many door prizes given away, including sweet axes, spiffy saws, and nifty wool hats. 

Alex did really well.  He attended last year with his dad, while I worked at home.  This year we all got to attend.  Kevin left on Thursday to teach classes, help organize, and get us set up too.   It was a rough go on Friday, because Alex and I packed up and headed to camp after the Halloween parade and party at school.  Otherwise known as chaos on a stick.  I did nothing to plan ahead, so just threw together most of what we both needed for clothes and a few snacks.  It is surprising how much energy that can take.  By the time we arrived I was wreaked.  That night, when the stove would not cooperate, Kevin was gone, and Alex was cranky I was sure the trip was a mistake.  I allowed so much smoke to pour out of the stove and into the tent I was worried we might pass out.  Fortunately tents just aren't that air tight, and the next morning I determined to tame that stove.  By Saturday night I had it in hand, and the tent was so cozy I sent Kevin off to the music while I snuggled in with my book and watched my sleeping boy.  He had hiked, and climbed, and canoed like a champ all day.  He settled in easy to camp life, strung up pumpkin lights in the tent, and encouraged me in my quest to tame that stove.  He had no trouble eating in the dining hall, attended a few seminars with minimal complaints, and made friends with the other kids running about.  We hope that next year they will all start where they left off and make a junior nutbag pack.  All they have to do is love the outdoors, want to play with fire, and have a fascination hatchets and tents.  That should not be a tough sell.

So, I had a great weekend.  I got to meet all the folks Kevin has been talking about all these years.  He has been going to the Symposium for over six years now.  Every year it landed on my work weekend, and every year it was a royal pain in the butt to schedule Alex care.  Kevin is always stressed leading up to the Symposium because he sells gear there and presents as well, and then comes home and is a wreak.  I had come to hate it because it meant nothing good to me.  Sure, Kevin had some good stories about folks I'd barely or never met, and he always said I'd love it, but I had my doubts.  Not even doubts really, I just didn't have any experience to tie things to.  All that has changed.  Now I have met them, eaten with them, taken their classes, and toured their tents.  I am getting up on the skills, and falling for the sport.  Next year I plan to present a class, and help make a real kids and family program. I think I may be hooked.  We are planning to winter camp for real on December 10-11-12, and February 4-5-6, and I can barely wait.

My First Winter Camping Poem

As the last of the leaves fall from the trees and the winds begin to blow,
the temps will drop and the flakes will fly,
and I will be ready to go! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ketchup, and Mustard

I have a new little friend.  He is pokey in the halls at my new job, and always lagging in the line.  I often find myself saying, Catch up, catch up!  And I now know why his teacher from Kindergarten dressed for Halloween as "Ketchup... and Mustard!". 

So, there have been quite a few changes in my life, and Alex's too.  I jumped ship at the Hospital, swam away from my pirate compatriots, and landed on the calm island of North Shore Community School.  This is my son's school, that I have been in love with since 2009.  I came up with the crazy idea last spring at Alex's IEP meeting, where we hammered out the plan for his education for the next year.  It was such a great meeting, with over a dozen excellent professional folk, that I walked away saying, "I gotta work here some day.".  Then it hit me.  There would be a special education position opening up in my son's grade.  Would it work?  Could I work at the same school, in the same grade?  I knew they were planning to split up my little friend and my son, so there was no danger of being in the same classroom.  I started a quite interview process with everyone I knew at the school to see if they thought I would be a good fit.  All went well.  It was a long spring and summer, wondering if I could pull it off, if I would get hired, and if I could really leave the hospital.  It seems the answer all around was yes.

It was surprisingly hard to leave the hospital.  Even though it was a super high stress position, with weird risks and crazy situations popping up all the time, I still had made a home there.  True, the family was very dysfunctional.  VERY.  But I had my peeps.  My survival network.  And the worst thing was knowing I'd be abandoning them.  The second worst was not knowing if I'd be abandoning them or not, since it took forever for the interview/ hiring process to happen.  I did not know the final answer until I was on vacation, on the 15th of August.  I went from nervous wreak, to elated abandoneer.  And then the bubble burst.

At exactly the time I was getting hired, my husband was experiencing sudden hearing loss.  He woke up right before the 15th of August with vastly reduced hearing in his left ear, with replacement ringing, buzzing, and pinging that just about drove him nuts.  By the time my hiring was sinking in, we were off and running to Doctors, Audiologists, ENTs, and MRI nurses.  When he wasn't having invasive procedures done, he was coping with the loss of half his hearing and the addition of all that replacement noise.   Apparently the ear does not like a vacuum, and replaces lost hearing with random noise called tinnitus.  Random, bizarre, maddening noise, that you eventually just get used to.  The Ear, Nose, and Throat guy we trusted most said Kevin had a 20% chance of getting enough hearing back in that ear that he could possibly get a hearing aid.  It was a random virus that was attacking his nerves, and this happens about 4,000 times a year in the US.  The amazing end of the story is that he got back almost all of his hearing.  After searching out a best practice solution, Kevin got a steroid shot into his eardrum within ten days of onset.  This did the trick, and he now has loss in a 15% range.  We will know in the next few months if he should go for a hearing aid for that range.  For now we are simply grateful.

By the time that started to resolve I was into my last stretch at the hospital, that morphed right into my first days at North Shore Community School.  I was a bit shell shocked, but happy.  I was hired as a Paraprofessional, and I actually look after two kiddos on the Autism Spectrum in my boy's same grade.  I made the transition pretty well.  Now, six weeks later, I am finally getting a good handle on my new job.  There have been some challenges, but no kids with Hep B have spit in my mouth, and I have not had to tie any children down with leather restraints.  It is almost heaven. 

At home we are settling in to the new routines as well.  I have much less free time than before, but I don't really need recovery time from my new job, so it is all good.  We have a ton more family time, and have had quite a few adventures already.  This weekend is a long weekend off, and next weekend we are going "winter" camping in our wood stove tent while attending the annual Winter Camping Symposium.  My next post will likely be about Alex, and what I am learning about school and Autism.  I will just say that it is all good, and I am on a positive learning track.  Plus his classmates are adore-able, and I am also in love with second grade in general.  That is all for now, I hope everyone is having a good Fall.  All the Best- Beth