Haven: Re-visited

Those of you who haven’t been following the blog for very long are possibly not familiar with The Haven, simply because we haven’t been there in quite some time! The last post I could find about it here was way back in 2014!

So The Haven is this remote piece of land we own, and we used to go up there and camp relatively frequently. There is nothing there in terms of shelter, bathrooms, electricity, or water, but what IS there is just this glorious old forest, with enormous trees, some sand dunes, a fire pit, and a lot of memories (and a whole lot of mosquitos!)

We’ve stopped by here and there in the past few years, but it was hard to do such primitive camping with an infant. We haven’t actually spent the night at The Haven since Alex was born, so this was his first trip! He has heard stories about it, and was pretty excited to go. Evelyn and Oliver were detailing all the best parts: the sandy area, the “clearing”, the blueberries, the place where Nala is buried (probably the part Alex was MOST excited about).

Luckily, I think it proved to be everything Alex was hoping for and more!

It was a quick trip, but it was absolutely just as wonderful as I remembered. It’s just a breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, and the kids had a great time.

One of the reasons we made this a shorter trip is that usually we spend a chunk of time in town, if for no better reason than to use real bathrooms. We decided not to go into town this time, due to Covid. That certainly makes it more difficult to stay a long time (including not having a place to fill up our water bottles!), but honestly it wasn’t really a big deal (did miss the farmer’s market and the coffee place we usually go to!)

The only downside continues to be the mosquitos. It wasn’t QUITE to the level of mosquito haven, but it does really make it difficult to enjoy a lot of time up there. I just don’t know what to do about it. We tried permethrin for our shoes, and plenty of bug spray of course, as well as some mosquito head netting, and that all made it…tolerable. Still looking to make it better than tolerable though!

We also stopped and grabbed some already-picked strawberries from a u-pick place (and since I am late in posting this, Sara has already turned all of this into many, many jars of jam!)

Even with just the little time we were there, all that outdoor time flat out wore Alex out! Despite getting a decent night’s sleep, he took a 2 1/2 hour nap the next day!! I just take this as a sign of how good it is to get out into nature, with all that stimulation.

So now that we’re back in the habit, I’m hoping to get up there more often. It’s still a pain to load up everything in the car that we need for even a short trip, but totally worth it. A short trip is also nice from the mosquito point of view: you’re kind of in and out before it gets too bad. And hey, with all this quarantine stuff going on, it gets us out of the city and it’s something different to look forward to!

Alex’s First Camping Trip

We are generally a camping family, though we haven’t been camping since Alex was born. It’s hard enough to get a camping trip together without all of the accoutrements necessary to bring a baby (and hard enough to fit 5 people in our car without all the camping gear).

However, this first camping trip was about as perfect as could be. The weather more or less cooperated (our tent didn’t leak, and while it was pretty cold in the mornings, the flipside is that it wasn’t too hot in the afternoon), and we got in tons of fun activities! Paddleboats, kayaks, hiking…you name it.











(I love how Ollie is kind of photo-bombing us in this pic)

Alex literally could not have had a better time. When we were putting him to bed on Saturday night he said between sobs, “More walking!” That dude was just go-go-go the entire weekend.

You might say he got a little tired out…


Father’s Day Part 2

Last week I mentioned the special father’s day activity that Evelyn planned for me, and this weekend it was Oliver’s turn.

He and Sara had secretly planned a one-night camping trip, just for the two of us.


Unbeknownst to me, they had made reservations and hidden all of the camping stuff in Ollie’s closet (which Ollie had helpfully labeled “KEEP OUT”). In fact, the day before Sara had sent me to the grocery store to get hotdog buns, and I still had no clue. 🙂 When I opened the envelope on Saturday morning containing my instructions, I kept saying, “Really?”

It turns out that there is an honest to goodness campground inside Cook County. Who knew? It’s called Shabbona Woods and it was actually quite lovely, especially for our purposes.

We had a lovely campsite, hotdogs, smores, and a couple of miles of hiking trails. Perfect!


In fact, perhaps we had a little TOO many smores, because Ollie was a bundle of energy. Even after I made him run laps around the campsite, he still had no desire to go to sleep. I told him a story, and then he told me a story, during which I promptly fell asleep. Then he quized me on parts of his story and then said, “Let’s keep going back and forth, telling each other stories!” I was like, “Uh…I don’t think so,” and he said, “Do you want to run a mile??”


But the REAL story of our trip was the story of the incomparable Buddy. Let me tell you about Buddy, the most wonderful firefly that ever lived.


It turns out that Ollie has never seen fireflies before. We don’t have them in Chicago, and when we’re camping, he is usually in bed before they come out. Naturally, he was enthralled; not so much by the glowing, but more on how easy they are to catch. They just sort of hover slowly at 6 year old eye-level, and even if they escape they go right back to hovering in front of you.

So this particular firefly was just sort of hanging out on his hand, and I made the mistake of throwing out a comment, “Oh hey, I think this one likes you!”

*Boom*, Ollie was smitten. Suddenly he had his life all laid out: he and Buddy were going to live together forever, travel the world, possibly fight crime… Buddy was suddenly the best friend he ever had. Periodically I would say, “Eventually you’re going to have to let Buddy go…” and he would scream “NO!” at me.

Unfortunately, during a game of release-and-catch they were playing, Buddy made a break for it and escaped into the woods.

Desolated does not describe the way Ollie felt. I am talking the absolute depths of despair here. He was inconsolable. Somehow he had so internalized the “this one likes you” that he couldn’t believe that Buddy had left him. In panic, I asked if he wanted to call mommy and tell her about Buddy, but he was crying so hard he couldn’t even talk.

I kind of thought it would be over soon, but every few minutes he would remember his good friend Buddy and start wailing anew. “Buddy!” he cried into the woods. “BUUUUUDDDYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!” I don’t know how many times he asked me if he would ever see Buddy again.

Even the next day, he was still crying about it. We were leaving and he sobbed, “I saw a flash from the woods, but I don’t think it was Buddy. I think Buddy told the other fireflies to watch over me, and they were letting me know Buddy was okay.”

He even told me that he was going to write to Santa and ask to be reunited with Buddy. ::sigh:: What is it with this boy and testing the limits of Santa’s magic?

Quote Monday goes camping

::Ollie getting out of the shower at the campground::
Ollie, to the feet under a different shower: “So, I see you’re done with YOUR shower!”

That boy can start a conversation with anyone…

Me: “Oh no, I forgot my hat and now my head is in the sun.”
Ollie: “Well, I could ride on your shoulders, and then my hat would protect you too!”

Evie: “I’m going to go talk to Grandma about going to the store.”
Me: “Honey, it’s too early, the store’s not open yet.”
Evie: “Well, there’s no sign saying we can’t talk about the store when it’s not open.”

Me: “Can you say thank you to Grandma for buying you that shirt?”
Ollie: “Well, I picked it out.”

Me: “Don’t fall asleep right now, we’re going to stop in a minute.”
Ollie: “You know what? I don’t fall asleep on purpose, I only fall asleep on accident.”

Mosquito Haven

Well, we made it out on our first camping trip of the year. I have to say, things could have gone better.

The Haven was still partially underwater. The water wasn’t nearly as bad as when we were there a couple of months ago, but the fact that any was there at all is a bit troubling. The first time it was forgivable because it had been raining cats and dogs for quite awhile. This time, however, it hasn’t been particularly wet.

Unfortunately, as we guessed, the raspberries seem to be kaput. That was a big bummer, since that was one of the fairly major projects of last year. More generally, it’s kind of a bummer that there’s so much water around everywhere, making it difficult to get around and sort of unpleasant to contemplate living there at some point. Especially since all of that standing water lead to the inevitable conclusion – mosquitos.

Mosquito Bite Girl

It was unbelievable. As a person who has done a lot of camping, I’ve never seen anything like it. The clouds of mosquitos were so bad that it was almost like you had a hard time seeing somebody through it. I cannot imagine there is enough wildlife up there to feed that many mosquitos, which means they were just that much more hungry when we got there. The picture above really does not do it justice AT ALL.

Oh, the poor kids. The poor, poor kids. I feel like such a bad parent even telling you. Even covered with bugspray, pants, and sweatshirts, the kids were all but carried away by the buggers. Their poor, sad little bodies are covered head to toe. Ollie’s left hand had so many bites on it that it was swollen like a sausage, and he couldn’t flex his fingers. His ankles were so bad, he had trouble walking. He’s got 5 or so that actually turned into big, white, swollen blisters and popped. Evie absolutely looks like she has the chicken pox.

Between that and the extreme lack of sleep, moods were pretty foul by Sunday, and we left hours before we had planned. Since we had gotten there so late on Saturday, we were only there well short of 24 hours. I still think it is safe to say that it was the most miserable less-than-24-hours of Evie’s life. I’m actually worried that she’s been soured on camping altogether, she was so miserable. Both children had to get up for benadryl in the middle of the night just to make it to morning.

Thoroughly unenjoyable.

The worst part of the whole thing is that I am relatively untouched, which make me feel a little guilty. With 3 tasty morsels around to snack on, I was distinctly less appetizing. My secret? When nobody’s looking, I quietly release a little mosquito repellent in the air, like one of those Glade air fresheners. Halbach brand repellent – absolutely repellent since 1980.

The one good news is that I was finally able to get around most of the property and hang the “no trespassing” signs back up. 3 sides are good to go, and the 4th is maybe a 3rd of the way done. I found every sign except 1, and they are much more secure this time, so hopefully they don’t just keep falling down again. It was somewhat depressingly difficult to find the signs, downed or otherwise. Isn’t it kind of half the point that someone can easily see them?

It’s especially depressing knowing that I sacrificed my kids to the mosquito gods, just to re-hang some invisible signs that will probably just fall off the tree again.