An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

Monday, September 30, 2013

How this City Girl Survived a Weekend Camping Trip


Last Thursday I returned from a lovely three day vacation on Hilton Head Island, and on Friday I went on my very first camping trip. Two extremes, to be sure, and I know you are wondering how I survived going from a luxurious Marriott Resort to a primitive Magellan tent. Did I bring my hair dryer? Did I have a bug encounter? What was up with the camp layout? How do you make a girly tent? Here are my thoughts on the whole experience  ...

Bia the camper?


Packing Light

For a camping trip? Yeah, right. If I learned anything this weekend it's this: packing for a trip to Europe is much, much simpler than packing for a camping trip. I mean, what do you pack for a European vacation? Clothes. What do you need for a campout? Everything.

I can't even begin to describe the stuff the guys brought. In addition to the traditional camping gear, they hauled huge tubs containing bungee cords, coils of rope, hatchets, mallets, hammers, cooking equipment, propane lanterns, extra batteries, knives, fishing gear, tarps, cots, tripods, and duct tape.

Basically, they bring the entire contents of their garages with them.

So much to pack!

Hair dryer, or no hair dryer?

I knew I was going camping, and while I knew the campsite had restrooms and shower facilities, I also knew that hot water was iffy and electricity was a definite no.

But in packing for the weekend, I struggled whether or not to bring a hair dryer because packing to go out of town without my hair dryer was unthinkable -- really, I couldn't even contemplate the idea. I even thought about bringing it for comfort, but I didn't want the guys to make fun of me for bringing something I couldn't even use. In the end, I painfully set it aside and left home without it.

 P-A-I-N-F-U-L.

Later that afternoon I stopped at the Ranger Station to get my parking pass, and the park ranger showed me on a map where all the restrooms were located. Except she didn't call them restrooms, or even bathrooms. They were Comfort Stations.

"We call them Comfort Stations because they have hot water, shower facilities, electricity and outlets," she explains.

Electricity? Outlets? I thought about my hair dryer sitting at home on my bathroom counter.

Dammit.

Cooking is a man thing. Who knew?

The same guys who sit back and let us gals do all the cooking in the kitchen at home, magically step forward and prepare meals at a campsite. Evidently cooking outdoors is a manly occupation, and I must say it was nice sitting back and watching my dad and brother cook us eggs and bacon, grill hot dogs over an open flame, make S'mores, set the table, and boil water for coffee. They even washed the dishes.

Nonno cooking eggs & bacon for breakfast.

My brother, David, getting reading to grill hot dogs.

Sleeping Outdoors

It sounds romantic, and in my romantic little heart I had visions of star gazing, listening to the crickets chirping, and falling asleep to the music of  rustling leaves.

But to have rustling leaves you need a gentle breeze, and what we had instead was a gale force wind which blew from every direction. So, I spent two nights huddled in my tent praying that A) the tent wouldn't blow away, B) a tree wouldn't fall on us, and C) I wouldn't need to go to the bathroom because there was no way I was walking to the camp restroom Comfort Station in the dark with a howling wind.

Honestly, answer me this: Does anyone ever wake up well-rested after sleeping outdoors? Does anyone ever emerge from their tent in the morning, smile hugely and exclaim, "Wow. That was the best night's sleep I've had in a long time!"?

Or, do most people emerge from their tents in the morning groaning and bleary-eyed, looking like death warmed over? Because that was our experience ... both mornings.

In all fairness to Nonno ...

I knew my tent wasn't going anywhere; after all, Nonno had erected it. (Do you erect a tent, or pitch a tent?) Still, that was some wind.

But I did wonder about our camp layout. Four tents, near the shoreline, and my tent was the first one that an intruder/animal/ax murderer would encounter if they wandered into our campsite.

Was I the first line of defense, or set up to be the first victim thus allowing everyone else to escape?

My tent, complete with solar lanterns. Nonno called it the "girly tent".
See all the tents behind mine? Funny camp layout, if you ask me.

Creepy Crawlies

You know how some animals mark their territories with urine? Well, I marked my territory (i.e. the area around my tent) with a Maximum Strength Ant and Roach Spray. I wasn't taking any chances because all it would take was one bug -- just ONE -- to crawl into my sleeping bag and I would be so out of there.

What I didn't take into account were the flying insects that hit the side of my tent as they attempted to reach the light of my pretty Coleman lantern I was using to read. At first I wasn't bothered with the fluttering noises (I was, after all, safely zippered up inside) but when I heard a couple of hard thumps I started thinking ... bats. Could they be bats? Is that possible?

Don't tell me, I don't want to know. Sometimes ignorance can be a good thing.

Bia's tent ... no bugs allowed!

Camping = Work

Between pitching tents, blowing up air mattresses, assembling the cook stove, building a fire ... setting up a campsite takes half a day.

Packing up to go home, however, is even worse because everything you did two days ago now has to be done in reverse, including rolling up sleeping bags, deflating air mattresses, and carrying trash to the Dump Station.

 By the way, try saying "Dump Station" among a bunch of boys.

Then there is the tent. You have be very methodical in disassembling it so that stakes, ropes, tarp, and tent can be neatly rolled and stored into the teeny, tiny carrying case that came with it. And if you fold the tent the wrong way, it won't fit in the case and you then have to start all over again.

Really, no wonder I got home Sunday afternoon and fell asleep on the couch just like that. Between two sleepless nights and all that work, I was exhausted.



Eau de Wood Smoke

On the way home from our camping adventure I stopped to get the bambino a hamburger (evidently a breakfast of S'mores is not filling). As I was paying, the cashier asked if we had been burning leaves because we smelled so very good ... like a campfire.

So, ladies. Shun the perfume counter. All you have to do is stand downwind from a campfire. Not only will you smell good (and earthy), but the smell lingers longer than you would think possible (two days later, and I swear I still smell like a campfire).

When camping, it's perfectly okay to have S'mores for breakfast.

Some Last Thoughts

First of all, thanks to all my blogging and Facebook friends who messaged me Sunday evening wondering if I was still alive.

Well, not only did I survive, but I persevered! I could have come home Saturday night (and believe me, the temptation was there), but I was determined to see this through, and I did!

Will I ever do it again? Perhaps. One day. Not too soon, though.

But in all honesty, do you have to sleep overnight in the woods to call it camping? Can't I do all the camping stuff without sleeping in a tent?

Better yet, give me a log cabin. That's rustic enough to count as camping. Yes? No?


Finally ... A Confession

I need to explain something. Since my husband and I had just spent three days on Hilton Head Island, and since he had to leave on a business trip early this morning (and thus needed to sleep well), Joe opted out of the overnight camping. But he and Nonna did come up on Saturday with some reinforcements ... you know, fried chicken.

And here's where my confession comes in. When Joe came up, part of those reinforcements included my hair dryer and my round, boar bristle hair brush.

Comfort Stations ... what can I say?

Bia, the  City Girl Who Conquered Camping

Thursday, September 26, 2013

To Boldly Go Where this City Girl Hasn’t Gone Before: Camping


Now don’t scoff. While it’s true that I have never done the overnight camping thing, this doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the great outdoors. I can hike mountain trails, bike for miles and miles, and raft down a Class IV river. I like the woods and the mountains. I am not afraid of a little dirt.
It’s just that at night I want a bathroom with hot shower and a flushing toilet; I want a bed with crisp, clean sheets; I want air conditioning; and I want to be able to sleep without relying on a thin fabric wall to protect me from things that go bump in the night, creepy crawlies, or even an ax murderer, for that matter.

Of course, there are those in my family who do camp. Every few years Nonno plans a campout/fishing trip, and this is what usually happens: the guys go, the girls don’t.  We do, however, make an appearance on the second day to bring reinforcements (i.e. Bojangles chicken), but in the evening we go back to our beds and air conditioning thank-you-very-much.

But wait. The Tectonic plates in the earth’s surface have shifted and the stars have realigned, or something, because tomorrow I have decided to join the guys on their camping trip. You heard that right. Tomorrow night I will be somewhere … out there … camping.
In a tent. Without showers, air conditioning, or an outlet to plug in my hair dryer. Worst of all, I have been informed that I must make do with boiled water and instant coffee; in other words, no morning cappuccino. Bleck. Talk about roughing it.

I am ready, though. I have plans, and they don't include sharing a tent with a bunch of guys. Luckily for me a good friend (who camps all the time) has outfitted me with my very own tent, an air mattress, and camp chairs. And because she knows me, she also threw in some hanging lanterns and colored lights for ambience. It will be a campsite makeover.
It will be fun!
Just tell all the creepy crawlies to stay far, far away.
 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Perfectly Normal Conversation (I think)


The following conversation occurred during our morning commute to school. Try to keep up  ...

Timo: Do you think scorpions and shrimp taste the same because they look like they would taste the same.

Me: What in the world made you think of that?

Timo: Yesterday we read in our Scholastic News that there are places in the world where people eat scorpions. Oh, and also tarantulas and cockroaches.

Me: Okay. This is making me gag. Next topic.

Two seconds later ...

Timo: Yesterday during religion the teacher asked the class who Mary was, and Camilla raised her hand and said that Mary was the "womb girl".

He starts laughing like crazy.

From eating bugs to Mary and her womb. Totally logical progression of thought, don't you think?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Ocean, an Airplane, and a View from a Cockpit


Three years ago our family vacationed in Italy, and while we have so many wonderful memories of that trip, one of the most memorable occurred before we even got there ...


The story begins when we purchased our tickets for the trip using frequent flyer miles. Since Air France was having a special promotion, all five of us were able to fly business class ... a first for us. But there was a snag. Because airlines release a limited number of free seats, the five of us could not get seats on the same flight. So, my husband and the two older boys left on an earlier flight, and Timothy and I followed on another Air France flight an hour and a half later. We planned to meet at the Baggage Claim in Rome.

When we boarded our flight Timothy, who is passionate about planes, was clutching a drawing of our Air France flight. The flight attendant saw the drawing and promised to give it to the pilot later. The two of us then settled down for a quiet evening, all the more so considering there were (maybe) seven people in business class. I was the only female, Timothy was the only child, and we were treated well: champagne upon boarding (that is, champagne for me, Fanta for the bambino), toiletry packs (mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrush, warm socks, ear plugs), plush blankets, fluffy pillows, a small pouch containing games/toys for our little guy, and seats that reclined to form makeshift beds.

Around midnight the flight attendant woke us up with an invitation from the pilot to come visit the cockpit. So, with everyone still sleeping, we were quietly escorted up the aisle. It was a surreal moment. We were flying above the clouds, somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, with a magnificent view of a full moon hanging right outside the window. It was quiet. It was magical.

And conversation wasn't necessary. Sometimes it is enough to stand in awe of beauty, and share a moment without exchanging any words at all.

A copy of Timothy's drawing.
The original is probably taped on an instrument panel
of an Air France jet somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Creating Memories with the Sunday Dinner


When the boys were young, my Italian mother had an idea. She wanted to create memories for my boys, her grandsons, of having Sunday dinners with their Nonna and Nonno. Since I have so many fond memories of dinners around my Nonna's table in Italy, and since we were over at my parents' house at least once a week anyway, I thought a more formal tradition was a wonderful idea.

My mother, however, is a modern nonna. Unlike my Nonna who stayed home all day, my Mother is busy: she teaches Italian, she travels, she plays Bunco, and she is very involved in the church. So she suggested a more modern twist of alternating Sunday dinners between their house and ours.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how I felt about having to plan a dinner every other Sunday, or even of having every Sunday tied up. And then, I know me. I can't do things simply; I have to go all out. That would mean planned menus, last minute shopping, pretty table settings, dessert, espresso... all this was going through my head as I mentally sighed and agreed.

Well, years of Sundays have gone by, and my Mom was right. It has worked out. Of course, there are times due to either of our schedules that we skip a weekend, and sometimes I cheat and order subway sandwiches and call it a "picnic", and sometimes my mother will do two Sundays in a row because, well, she's the Nonna. But for the most part, we have Sunday dinners together.

And I am so grateful because there are so many things that happen during our Sundays meals that wouldn't have happened otherwise: an impromptu dance with my oldest son and his Nonna; Nonno's funny jokes of when he was a boy; Nonna telling Nonno what he can and can't eat because of his cholesterol, and then Nonno sneaking a bite when he thinks no one is looking; Nonno and Nonna laughing at my husband and me when our middle son (who attends Catholic school) confesses that he failed his religion test.

Then there was one Sunday when we were talking about sin. My oldest son declared (and he was perfectly serious) that he never saw Nonna sin. Ever. After the laughter died down someone asked about Nonno. My middle son piped up that he once heard Nonno say (insert whisper) the "d" word when he dropped something. We still laugh about this.

All these blessings from a simple combination of Sunday evenings, family, and food ... and a Nonna who was determined to create some lasting memories for her grandsons.


 

Monday, September 2, 2013

In which I almost got arrested. Really.


This a true story.

See the picture below? That's Jonathan going through customs at the Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy.

See the man in the booth? That's the customs official stamping Jonathan's passport.

See the bright refection on the window, just above the custom official's head? That was the flash of my camera as I took a photo of Jonathan going through customs.

What was I thinking? I tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking how nice it would be to record the exact moment when Jonathan stepped onto Italian soil.

Again I ask, WHAT IN THE HECK WAS I THINKING? because the second I took that photo I was immediately surrounded - SURROUNDED! - by airport security.

What are you doing? Why are you taking the photo? What's your name? Who were you taking a photo of? Who is that boy? ... so many questions!

Luckily I could speak Italian. I told them that this was the boys' first trip to Italy and I was so excited that I just wanted to take a picture. What I didn't tell them was that I had just survived a transatlantic flight with a two year old bambino who had not slept the entire nine hour flight. My mind was mush, I tell you, because I had been awake for more than 24 hours.

Thank goodness, though, I managed to sound coherent because do you see Joe in the photo? He was not allowed to go through customs until that little brouhaha was settled. Poor Joe. He stood there waiting and had absolutely no idea what was going on.

In the end, the little misunderstanding was settled -- I even got to keep my camera! -- and we went on to have a wonderful vacation.

But sheesh. All that fuss for a simple photo.