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?
::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.”
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.
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.
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.
We spent two nights at The Haven, and we had beautiful weather. It was in the 80’s during the day, and down to the 60’s at night. Most importantly, NO RAIN! I don’t know why I’m such a camping rain magnet, but I’m glad my powers were not active for once.
We’re really starting to know our way around the land a little bit. We spent most of the day on Friday carving paths to various things with our new loppers (especially the potty tree). Most importantly, I think we might have found the location for our future tiny house! It’s in a sort of clearer area between a triangle of truly massive pine trees. Well shaded, midway back in the woods, and not too far from a clearing that may serve for fruit trees. Definitely some potential.
Equally importantly, we did find the mythical blueberry bushes towards the back of our property, and they were delicious. We might need to bolster our stock with a few extra bushes next year.
We’re starting to know our way around South Haven a little bit as well. On Saturday morning, we hit up the most excellent farmers’ market, followed by coffee @ Julias. I think this is going to become a Haven tradition (especially considering we all were in need of a real bathroom by Saturday morning!!) Also, strange coincidence, one of the vendors at the farmer’s market was the City Hippie, a family from Evie’s school and a maker of extremely beautiful things. Evie and Ollie did a kids’ activity at the market and colored some canvas bags with fabric markers and stencils, and they both turned out really well. They’re both very proud of their bags and they’ve shown them to everyone they’ve come in contact with since then.
By lunch time, some friends had arrived, and the work portion of our trip was over. Although I don’t think she really realized it at the time, I think that Evie probably had one of the best days of her life. To have friends her age there to play with (who don’t get frustrated with her no matter how bossy she is), to hike with and make up potty stories with, and to hide behind the tent and tell secrets with was about as fun as it gets. We found a dog-friendly beach and all had a great time, even if the water was a little cold and the waves were a little sneaky (some unexpected water in the face a time or two).
Ollie also had a great time with Maya and Elsie (he said his favorite part of the weekend was singing “Twinkle Twinkle” with them), but for his money, he was just happy to play in the sand. All day, every day, nothing but sand. We would no sooner wash his hands or put on his pajamas or whatever, and he’d be back in it again. He had sand everywhere, including what was basically a sand hood over his head and neck, which got pretty disgusting when we were forced to put a layer of vaseline on top of it all. Yuck.
Ollie played in the sand so much he was literally delusional. He shouted in his sleep, “I want to go under the sand!” I thought he must have meant, “I DON’T want to go under the sand,” nightmare style, but he repeated it several times and he definitely wanted to go under the sand. Based on how much sand he had on him, he almost got his wish.
And the best part about The Haven? You can be as LOUD AS YOU WANT:
(I love how Ollie just flinches a lot and looks confused, but still wants to be part of the group.)
Unfortunately, the worst part about The Haven is ticks. We found at least a dozen crawling around at various times, and poor Ollie won the dubious honor of being the first person to have a tick attached to them at The Haven. We checked him pretty thoroughly at bedtime, so it must have crawled up to his head during the night. We handled it pretty quickly and calmly, and Oliver didn’t quite seem to mind, handling it with his usual good-natured nonchalance (“The ladybug bit me!”).
Finally, on the way home, we stopped and picked 7 3/4 pounds of blueberries. Evie in particular did a great job. I was really surprised. The last time she went picking, she did what Ollie did this time, which was basically eat every blueberry that went in her bucket. She was pretty proud of herself, and cried quite a bit when she accidentally spilled her bucket. But she got back to it and ended up picking a full quart by herself!
A great trip and, as always, it makes me want to go back again!
I’m writing this is support of my candidate for “best campsite ever”, Waupaca Camping Park.
I have camped all over this great country of ours (well, mostly all over the Midwest) and I would be hard pressed to name a better campsite. There are undoubtedly reasons to camp at other places: some particular item of natural beauty, hiking trails, lake access, etc. But I don’t think you’ll ever find another campsite where the owners are so passionate about their property.
The idea of this post all started when we were camping somewhere else and Sara said, “You know, we were really spoiled by the bathrooms at Waupaca.” (Sara has, by the way, quite literally camped all over this great country of ours, so you’d do worse than to take her recommendation.) It got me thinking about how much better Waupaca is, overall, compared to other places we’ve been.
They clean their bathrooms often. I believe twice a day, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, the bathrooms are always clean. This can not be overstated. Bad bathrooms / showers are one of the hazards of camping life. State park bathrooms seem to be particularly bad, due to low budget and high usage. Believe me, I would pay a premium for a good bathroom.
Waupaca Camping Park has all the amenities of a good campground: good camp store, swimming pool, playground, game room, laundry, etc. There are lots of trees so sites are obscured from each other. But none of that necessarily sets them above the rest, that just gets them in the conversation for best campground ever. (Actually though, the cleanness of their bathrooms puts them in the top 5% automatically)
There are a few things they do that really put them over the top. First off, there are solar panels on the roof that heat the pool, so the water is never cold (it’s usually around 86 or so). Second off, they have many different types of accommodations to choose from. They have big cabins and small cabins, tent sites and RV sites, permanent sites, sites with a view of the lake, and everything in between. They even have an air-conditioned yurt!
But third off, and most importantly, they just really care about their site. Every year there is new construction somewhere. Either they are installing air conditioners in all the cabins, or they are building a new roof over the bathroom area, creating new patios for the fire pits, etc. This year there was a brand new, enormous (wood! not plastic!) playground area. Every year there is something new. I see them going around to scoop out the fire pits. I see them cleaning the cabins. The owners send us a Christmas card! I’m not joking!
This probably doesn’t sound like much, but I’m telling you, this is the best campsite I have ever been to. If you are looking for a campsite in mid-Wisconsin (almost directly West of Green Bay), then this is the place for you.
If you recall, Evie said, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a person in charge of Waupaca.” I don’t see how you could come by higher praise than that.
When we were camping, there was a missing knot in the bench of the picnic table, leaving a hole. Evie asked what it was for and, because I take the “Calvin’s dad” philosophy of question answering*, I naturally told her it was for “toots”.
Let me back up a second and explain toots. We didn’t have any cutesy names for bodily functions when I was a kid, we called a spade a spade. When Evie was younger, Sara asked me what names we should use for things and I was like, “huh?” It just didn’t occur to me that you should make ups some silly phrase. It doesn’t make it any more polite people, talking about farts in the first place is what’s rude, not using the word fart. That being said, when Evie says “toots” it’s the darned cutest thing you could ever imagine the world.
So anyway, I told her the hole was for toots, not thinking much of it. The “toot hole” (as Evie called it) must really have captured her imagination. She went around telling everybody about the toot hole and spend a decent amount of time trying to toot on the toot hole. It wasn’t long before the origin of the phrase was traced back to me.
Time passes and I don’t think much about it. Then one day we were sitting out on the back porch and she said, “My red chair has a toot hole!” See, her chair is one of those plastic ones and it has a hole so that (presumably) the water can drain off. I had long since forgotten about the original toot hole and the fact that she remembered it took me by surprise. This brought another round of Evie doing her darndest to toot on the hole. Not as funny as the first time, since I now had the sinking feeling she wasn’t going to forget about this one.
Fast forward to this week. Evie and I were pretending to go camping, one of her favorite games. Evie was telling me a big story about her imaginary, fully-featured lawn chair. It was blue with yellow arm rests. It had all the features, cup holders, a thing to lie back in, and, of course, a toot hole.
Don’t say I never taught you nothin’ kid.
* I couldn’t find a good copy of the Calvin and Hobbs strip I was looking for to embed in this post, but you can see a grainy one here. It’s kind of hard to read, so I will reproduce the text:
Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn’t they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It’s just the world was black and white then.
Dad: Yep. The world didn’t turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
Calvin: That’s really weird.
Dad: Well, truth is stranger than fiction.
Calvin: But then why are old paintings in color?! If their world was black and white, wouldn’t artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of great artists were insane.
Calvin: But… but how could they have painted in color anyway? Wouldn’t their paints have been shades of gray back then?
Dad: Of course, but they turned colors like everything else did in the ’30s.
Calvin: So why didn’t old black and white photos turn color too?
Dad: Because they were color pictures of black and white, remember?