Camping at Paris Mountain (Part 2)

So our first night at Paris Mountain was pretty uneventful….except for the large raccoon who walked right into our campsite and tried to chill by the fire with us! It was pretty creepy, kinda scary and awesome all rolled into one. 

After the kids went to bed I was finally able to use the hammock. Lying there swinging in the trees beneath a full moon, rustling leaves and nothing but hooting owls for company was pretty darn amazing. 

Saturday morning I awoke around 7 am and beat the rush (ha!) to the camp showers. There were two, they were clean, private, warm and the water pressure was good too considering it was a state park system in the mountains! 

After I finished, I followed the smell of coffee and frying hot dogs back to our campsite across the way.  Everyone except for Caleb was now awake! While breakfast finished cooking, the kids played in the trees, hunted for bugs and pushed each other on the hammock.  After eating, we woke Caleb up, dressed and headed out for the trail where we wandered through creeks, around brush, over bridges and structured mountainous trail for over 3 miles, making it back to our camp by 12:45, just in time for a lunch of sandwiches and then we were off to the Duck Derby!

  

We have no clue who won but it sure was fun watching 10,000 rubber ducks racing across rocks, falls and rapids! The entire place where the event was held was very festive, with vendors, music, games and all sorts of family fun. Most likely we will turn this into a yearly tradition. 

We made it back to camp around 5:00 and decided to go swimming in an secluded creek alcove we discovered during our hike. The water was cool, clear and refreshing. The surroundings  looked as if we had been transported into a magical kingdom, with sparkling sunlight glittering through a dense canopy high above. Over on the fatso de of the alcove was a small cave which we dubbed the fairy kingdom, and the boys spent 2 solid hours skipping rocks into the fairy kingdom while the girls dug through the pebbles for Fools Gold. 

Finally we gave up the Fairy Kingdom and traveled back to reality where we cleaned up, warmed up and were treated to a homage chili dinner with fresh corn by our resident male chef  (aka Dad). As darkness surrounded us, the raccoon came back. He was quite the persistent fellow, thinking we could be tricked into offering food. No such luck, bud. 

That night everyone was pretty exhausted so sleep came easy in the cool mountain air that blew through the tent. The following morning our oldest son proclaimed it the best nights sleep ever. 🙂

Sunday morning was spent lounging around a final fire, packing up, bug hunting (the kids came home with a caterpillar-turned-cacoon and a scorpion), hammock swinging, and the best bacon and sop eggs this side of Texas. 

We said our final goodbyes to site #14 (as well as some friends we had made along the way) by 1:00 and drove around the park to explore. We tried our hand at some fishing (we suck so far), splashed around in a waterfall, played on the playground and had a late lunch picnic of tomato soup with cheese and toast. 

It was hard to head back to real life, but a comfy bed and normal modern amenities at home sure did help ease that pain. 🙂

Camping at Paris Mountain State Park SC (Part 1)

This coming Monday, May 4th, is my oldest child’s birthday so we decided to celebrate by visiting the 11th annual Reedy River Duck Derby held on May 2 in the Falls Park of downtown Greenville, SC. 

What? Never heard of the Duck Derby you say? 

Well, suspense is good for the soul. 🙂

We also decided to make a full weekend of it and camp out from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon at nearby Paris Mountain State Park, just 20 minutes from the heart of Greenville. 

This beautiful park is hilly, very shady, and is perfect for tent campers (RV’ers beware though, the road curves are steep). There is the typical park information center with tshirts, a gorgeous lake (beach swimming opens Memorial Day), a playground, and many meandering miles of well kept trails of various difficulties! 

 

 Now with kids, I like to know what our campsite is like before we arrive.  Reviews from Trip Advisor and  CampsitePhotos.com have yet to steer me wrong in finding a large, private comfortable site! Our site this weekend, #14, has a tent pad large enough for our 10’x20′ family tent, picnic table, fire ring,  electricity, water, parking, is set far back from the campground road, and it backs up to woods with a trail head. The kids were immdiately in love with it and they began playing ball, shooting arrows with Jack’s plastic bow, and collecting bugs while Kevin and I set up the tent. 

Speaking of tents, putting together a large tent is sometimes gruesome. Halfway through it, I stood up and heard someone close by actually laugh at me. 

“HA HA!” they said. 

I looked around. Then the kids were laughing at a role poly a few feet away.  Then, there it was again..a different laugh….up above me. A black mocking bird was sitting directly overhead, uh, mocking us. The kids laughed again. 

“HA HA!” the mockingbird said again. 

He continued to HA HA at us as we HA HA’ed at him for the next few minutes. Then he grew tired of our shenanigans and flapped away. Probably to save Katniss. 

After striking camp we drove back over to the main park center area and took a .8 mile hike around the perimeter of Lake Placid. 

   

   

As this was one of their easy trails I wasn’t expecting much more than lovely lake views – but as we neared the midway point we got a pleasant surprise! 

A large waterfall cascaded over the dam of Lake Placid and spilled over rocks and under a bridge. The watery breeze alone was enough to put me on cloud 9 for the next few hours. Not to mention the beauty of it!

   

   

After such a pleasant Friday evening hike, we ended up back at our campsite tired and ready for dinner. 

A crackling campfire, hotdogs cooked over coals, baked beans, doritos, s’mores, ghost stories,  a chapter from Thorton Burgess Animal book – and even an unwelcome visit from a pesky raccoon who walked right up to our campfire twice (the nerve!) – rounded out our first night at Paris Mountain State Park. 

   

   

  Goodnight!

  

We Need Tent Locks!

This is our second season camping with kids. Last year we had three – a 6, 4, and 2 year old. This year we’ve added a brand new baby to the camping mix! 

This weekend, we set up our family tent in our backyard so I could put a couple cans of heavy duty waterproofing on it to prepare for the season.  We were supposed to backyard camp Friday night before waterproofing but we were rained out (imagine that!).  So instead, we turned last night, Saturday, into a campout. We all took a hike on Timmerman trail by the Congaree River, came home, lit the campfire and spent a nice long evening reading and telling stories around the fire. 

Once the kids were ready to migrate to the tent, we all piled in, arranged our sleeping bags, read a few more chapters, said a round of goodnights that would make John Boy jealous, pulled back the rainfly so we could view the stars overhead – and soon everyone had drifted off to sleep. 

Everyone but mom, of course. 

That’s me. 

Little worries shot through my head – was our 6 month old baby comfortable and safe enough? Was everyone warm enough? (Our sleeping bags were second hand and I had no idea what their rating was.) Did we put out the fire? Was a mass murderer going to invade our yard and bludgeon us with his ax? How can I drown out my husband’s snoring (granted that runs through my mind every night)? 

To heighten the anxiety, we were all sleeping on the ground for the first time too. This didn’t seem to bother the kids at all, but I had quite a time finding a comfy nook. 

And of course every dog in the neighborhood was having a block party. And the sirens were going off somewhere downtown a few miles away. And….and I was thirsty. What kind of person crawls into a tent and forgets the water? Me. That’s who. 

Finally, after a fitful few hours I began to doze…when suddenly I heard a brand new sound! A solid, undeniable RRRRRRIIIIPPPPPP sound of someone  unzipping the tent. 

Instinctively I realized who it was and shot my head up. My husband’s head popped up at the exact same moment. 

“CALEB STOP!”  we whispered loudly in unison to our 3 year old. 

(((RRRRRRRIIIIIPPPPPP))))

“My want some chocolate nunu!” He replied haughtily, insisting that 4 am was the best time for a large chocolate milk. 

After we got him settled back down and Kevin (aka “Dad”) was snoring once more,   the baby then awoke and wanted to play. With mommy. No one else. Playing at 4:30 am under the stars excited her far more than it did me. Plus it was chilly outside of our snuggly sleeping bag!

Finally I decided to call it a night (a day?) and I snuck out of the tent with baby in my arms. After tiptoeing back into the house, she and I feel asleep in a more civilized environment. 

As far as camping goes, it definitely wasn’t the greatest. But as far as fun family memories and lessons learned? 

Priceless. 🙂

Excited for Camping 2015

Tent camping at Table Rock State Park
Tent camping at Table Rock State Park

 

It’s April!

Here in mid-SC, wisteria is blooming everywhere, azaleas are all over and happy children (and parents) are packing away coats and pulling out tank tops and flip flops.

With so much beauty surrounding us, we can’t help but be excited that Camping 2015 Season is almost here!

Pretty soon we will be hitting up the hiking trails, slapping at mosquitoes and firing up the BBQ pit.

So far on our schedule for this summer we have backyard camping, a weekend trip to Kings Mountain State Park with the cubscouts, a few days return to Table Rock, and our very first primitive camping experience at Cape Lookout, NC where we will be setting up camp for 4 days on the beach!

This year we will be using this blog to chronicle the ups and downs of camping life with a large family and young children. Last year, we experienced a 12 hour long pounding, drenching downpour during one weekend campout. Trees were even heard crashing down the mountains nearby!

What will we experience this year? Stay tuned!

West Metro Christmas Parade

Taking a family of 6, 4 of which are under 7 years old, to an outdoor night event in winter is a bit complicated. 

Sometimes I get frustrated trying to orchestrate the dressing, travel, food, and timing. 

Sometimes I want to sit down in the midst of all their paraphernalia I’m lugging and have a great cry. 

Sometimes I want to chuck the keys across the parking lot and yell at the kids that we are never ever taking them out in public again. 

But sometimes…. 

Maggie hugs me and says this is the best night ever, Jack’s face lights up with fresh childhood wonder at the sights he is viewing, and Caleb claps his hands and cheers with two year old excitement…

And I remember why I put myself through this torture.
PS. The parade was amazing!

Even Moms Need Forgiveness

So…This morning as I was struggling to get all four kids in their various stages of car seats, I ended up dropping my car keys….on the ground….whilst holding one week old Juli’s blankies, two year old Caleb’s night night blankie, a water bottle, a small diaper bag, and my phone stuffed haphazardly in my shirt. Absentmindedly, I asked six year old Jack to grab them as I tossed all the things in the van where they belonged and finished buckling Juli.

Then Jack got in and sat down in his booster….and the keys were no where to be found.

ME: “…BUT WHERE are the KEYS!”

JACK: “Ummm I…don’t know”

I questioned again.

He got back up, looked in four year old Maggie’s seat 50 feet away (exaggeration for emphasis.) He hadn’t even been near there! He looked in Caleb’s seat. He hadn’t been near there either.

…and I got angry. I felt annoyed. I was tired.
I felt he was just dawdling. I questioned him more and more. Yet he was still unable to tell me where they were. The more I asked, the less he spoke.

His bottom lip quivered.

The keys were gone.

The phone said 7:30.

I had wasted too much time.

Now we would be late getting Maggie to preschool.

I dug around for the spare house key, stormed into the house, searched aimlessly for the other set hidden in the living room couch (thanks, Caleb), slammed the door and hopped back into the van to pull off, still steaming at Jack for losing the keys.

Moreover, I was steaming from all of the mama-guilt and frustration from trying to help him find his voice over the years and overcome his severe speech impediment. He has never been able to communicate under pressure… and a set of lost keys took his verbal skills down to a few sniffles and a bare minimum of one syllable words.

Yet I still found myself venting at him angrily from the front seat.

The keys were IN HIS HAND!

I NEEDED them!

It was a SIMPLE REQUEST!

They were RIGHT THERE!

Why couldn’t he REMEMBER!

They would cost $125 to replace!

I probably ran over them as I pulled out!

What kinda mother am I to snap at my six year old!

BEFORE SCHOOL!

I was so frustrated that I didn’t even have our usual morning pep chat with him. We just rode in near silence after we dropped off Samantha.

And then…. I let him out in carline.

ME: ::::gritting my teeth::::: “Have a good day. I love you.”

JACK: “I love you, Mama.”

He said it clear. Those three magical words I waited for over four years to hear for the first time – I love you.

And he said his “Y” sound the best I had ever heard him. He said the “yuh” initial consonant sound with blatant clarity for the first time in his entire six years of life.

I noticed he had put on his favorite shirt today – Agent Stache, with the Platypus guy on it. A deep grey one. I have no idea what cartoon it’s from…just that he had another one that he loved and grew out of so I bought him more in this year’s size. His thick hair was kinda shabby, shuffled around in front by his hair twirling habit. His bean pole legs and knobby knees shot out from under his tan cargo shorts (a side effect from a recent growth spurt I assumed).

Then he pulled his lime green Avenger bookbag out of the car, smiled at me, and walked alone into the cafeteria. With his back to me. Then he disappeared into the school, chin up, bravely.

And my heart broke.

I wanted to race after him and grab him up. But I couldn’t.

Later as I was getting Juli out of the car, I found the keys cuddled in her little hand.

Her car seat is in the second row beside Jack so I assume he had just set them down on the edge of her seat when he stepped in the van to sit in his booster….and they slipped down unnoticed.

Something I myself have done a million times over the years! 😞

I was anxious all day to pick him up.

And then I pulled back into carline…

He smiled at me.

JACK: “Hey mama! Hey my sweet sweet Juli! Where is Sam and Marshall?”

ME: “They are back at the house with Aunt Ann. How was your day, bud?”

JACK: “It was good. We had science in Ms D’s classroom. And we had art today!”

We discussed a few more tidbits about school. And my heart was still breaking.

ME: “Hey…” ::::turning off the radio:::: “Mommy is so so sorry for snapping at you this morning. I was tired and felt angry…It was very wrong of me to take it out on you like that. My heart has been sad all day from being mean to you like that when you didn’t deserve it. Will you please forgive mommy?”

Jack smiled at me as I glanced at him in the rear view.

JACK: “Yesss…It’s ok, mama.”

ME: “Mommy is just so so sorry. I wanted to run into Ms H’s room earlier and scoop you up and squeeze you. But that probably would have embarrassed you, huh?”

JACK: ::::grinning, tucks head down:::: “Um…Yeah.”

ME: “Do you know where I found the keys? In Juli’s fingers! She was keeping them safe!”

Jack’s eyes met mine thru the rear view and we both giggled.

JACK: “Did you think she was going to drive away? Maybe she was going to make the car FLY away. Into the sky. Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

We were both laughing by then as we started talking about other silly things in life for the rest of the drive home.

And then he reminded me that he wanted a hair cut. And asked me if I needed help with Juli as we got out of the van. Then he spied Maggie’s shoes in the back seat and grabbed them for her because she was in the house with Aunt Ann and she might want them to go play outside now that he was home.

And then he hugged me.

I was never ever more happy to get forgiveness from someone than I was at that one particular moment!

Nice memory to visit, don’t  want to live there


How do you neat mamas do it? 

I’m a slob. Or rather, a recovering one. I try really hard but my skills and motivations are lacking in many areas. Around our house I am responsible for all house maintenance, yard work and car cleaning. It’s like a devil’s triangle…when I find myself happily taking care of one, the other two slip past my immediate attention and suddenly look like a landfill opened up and puked from above. I can’t seem to grasp a happy medium on a simple tidy scale for all three. It gets frustrating.   

Today, I spent a few hours spring cleaning my totally trashed Honda Odyssey minivan filled with sand, eleven coats (11?!), fifteen pairs of shoes (only two of which were mine, thanks), random toys, papers, hair bows, and enough candy and food to feed a third world country. I may or may not have crunched a plastic bottle up against the tree and cursed at a falling leaf that accidentally slipped through the door and landed on a spot inside the van I had just cleaned. 

As I was wiping down the dash board and scrubbing the leather, I found myself day dreaming about my first brand new car I purchased at age 21 – a cute Suzuki Grand Vitari mini SUV. I treated her like a baby…kept her immaculate, immediately spit polished any tiny smudges, vacuumed weekly, swept daily and allowed no food whatsoever in it. 

But then, as I tossed Maggie (who was digging sandcastles ten feet away) a small Cinderella figurine I found stuck upside down in the console, I remembered how alone I was at that point in my life.

Completely and utterly alone. 

Today I’m 31 years old, have beautiful three children, and am expecting a fourth. I have a husband who loves me and a great circle of friends. 

That first car stayed spotless because I had no one to mess it up. I had no tiny hands grasping at French fries, no Barbie princesses to get stuck in the seat cracks, no tiny feet kicking off shoes and yanking off socks, no sounds of a toddler singing Fraggle Rock from behind me and more often than not, only one single body ever rode in it. 

And I realized, as I finished the final scrubbing and shut the sliding door, that while daydreams of our past are nice to momentarily visit… I wouldn’t want to live there.

Goodbye, 2013! Life is Still Beautiful

With all the 2013 status reflecting going on, I tried to do a bit of reflecting of my own today…and I kept falling short. I could only think of how much this year sucked monkey butt. Everyone’s lives always seem so much more adventurous, financially stable, trouble free and happier than ours via the social media rise-colored lens. 

So in my sour convalescing mood, it was very hard for me to find any redeemable credit in this particular year…a year filled with painful memories of watching one young uncle lose his life to cancer (merely three months between diagnosis and death) and another uncle who passed suddenly just before Thanksgiving, more grey hair popped out on my own head and my hands showed their very first signs of aging, our front yard, porch, van, and arbor was ripped to shreds when a pine tree toppled in a storm (demolishing five years hardwork of emotionally irreplaceable hand built carpentry, painting and flower plantings), our second child started her own speech therapy (mama guilt overload!), other random emotional turmoil….and my purse (along with my kindle and fully loaded wallet) was even stolen right out of my car. 

Nothing good came of this year, right?

And then I looked at Facebook again. 

My own. 

And I was met with a huge snapshot diary of not merely all of the downs this year brought, but some fantastic UPS as well:

A full two week trip to visit Kevin’s family in upstate NY in January…in the snow!

Funfilled playdates all around the midlands area with the kids, holiday parties galore all year long, bike rides, walks, zoo visits, Monkey Joe’s, parks, swimming, BBQ’s with good friends at Pine Island, leisurely days watching the kids play in the lake!

A full week at Myrtle beach (with Kevin’s family again! Love them!), followed immediately by a wonderful combined birthday bash for Jack, Jojo and Caleb at the lake celebrated with 100 friends and family…who helped in raising over $1,000 in donations for charity. 

Ran in three really fun 5K’s, learned how to work all the weight machines at Gold’s (and actually enjoyed it), took zumba classes and spent so much time in yoga that I could pass as a pretzel on my good days.  

Tons of moms nights with some of the most fantastic moms on the planet. Good times, great laughs! Dinners, drinks, pool, white elephant games, craft nights, book clubs, Pinterest parties, football, chili, haunted houses, movies, and even the hugest sun/bonfire ever.  
Our oldest “baby” earned his brown belt/black stripe in karate, graduated preschool, started Chinese immersion school (in which he is doing very well!) and whipped out a semester of violin lessons. 
We watched with pride as both of our oldest kids played Tball together on the same team and conquered yet another small bit of social fear. 
And our youngest learned to stand….walk…run…climb…bounce on the trampoline…and say I love you. (Plus we didn’t forget him for Christmas this year). 
I’ve also formed some terrific new friendships with some extremely wonderful people and strengthened ties with older ones. Women who I can call up and say “Hey, my uncle died, I need you”…women who deliver surprise flowers on my door step on my birthday…or who sit on the floor helping me make stupid fluffy clouds out of yarn for hours as birthday favors…or who stay up late at night chatting with me about the deep empirical, all consuming things in life… or who stay at my house til midnight after movie night teaching me how to dance (although my moves still aren’t quite like Jagger). 
And I adopted my very own little brother – a fellow Fred Rogers fan who I consider a writing genius (and who I often bug way too much for writing tips).    
And all that…that only covers the main events. 
Happy statuses, fun conversations, tagged photos of fun times, monthly albums…they’re all here to remind me that life’s moments are not lived on isolated islands. 
 The events that cause trauma to my heart and soul aren’t to be put on a pedestal, magnified to such an extent that they overshadow the happier moments that soothe and make living worthwhile. The bad AND the good surround us all. It’s merely the memories we feed that determine our future outlook. 

I must remember this. 
Must etch it on my forehead somehow. 

So here’s to 2013! And to 2014!

The good and the bad. 

The happy and the sad.  

Here’s to being able to look back and remind ourselves that 

Life, on the whole, is Beautiful.