She’s almost as tall as me now. Thankfully, she still sleeps with Ox and sometimes Kasoogi (the purple guy by her knee). Looking at this makes me wish I could still pick up that little squirt and hug her for the rest of the week.
So, all things look pretty good on the cancer front. There are no new passengers in my abdomen via the CT scan. My bloodwork isn’t yet in the Normal range, but I also just got my flu shot on Tuesday and I’ve felt like I want to take a nap every minute of the day since then. All of the levels seem to be holding steady with no major drops, so I’ll take that as a win.
When they announced the COVID booster policy, such as it is, I made an appointment to get a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at my local pharmacy. Feeling pious about the whole thing, I went in and filled out the forms and waited in line, and then they looked at them and told me that I was a month early and that I’d have to come back in late October for the actual shot.
Tuesday night we took Finn to karate, where she is acting as a class helper by request of her sensei. It means she needs to be at the dojo an hour early, but I think the added responsibility is good for her, and we’re hoping she starts taking things more seriously. In the meantime, with two hours to kill, Jen and I hit the local thrift superstore, where I was able to find a nice Patagonia vest and a couple more of the Harry Potter movies on disc. We only need the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 to fill out our collection; a few years ago a friend’s daughter deep in a Potter phase borrowed our complete box set and we never saw it again.
Meanwhile, the dog was at home by herself. Jen was experimenting with leaving her by herself for short periods of time while I was gone, and for spans of an hour or two she seemed to do fine. We left her for a full three hours on Tuesday, half expecting to find a hole dug through the wall or a giant mountain of dogshit on the couch, but everything was normal when we walked back in the door. Progress? Possibly, but I’m not going to hold my breath until we get a couple of months under our belt.
Happy Birthday, my intelligent, sensitive, goofy, beautiful girl. I love you so much it hurts.
Camping is a crapshoot. On a good trip, the conditions can be just right, the campsite ideal, the amenities perfect for keeping kids and parents occupied happily for the duration of the stay. On a bad trip, the people next to you are drunken bigots, the mosquitoes carry off your children, the lake is a swamp, and you’re miles from any ice cream stand. If you’ve got a shiny new trailer, you can hole up inside and pretend you’re at home on the couch watching Age of Ultron with the kids. When you’re tent camping, you’re at the mercy of pretty much everything. So you do the research, look at the pictures, ask for recommendations, and take a leap of faith a year in advance, hoping you made the right call and a hurricane with a stupid name doesn’t wipe your reservation off the map.
Early this year, I looked around for another Eastern Shore-based campground that had all of the cool stuff our last place did minus the live band and found Jane’s Island State Park, down at the bottom of Maryland before Maryland becomes Virginia. Reviews looked promising, the sites looked clean, and I was able to reserve a spot right on a canal, figuring the closer we were to moving water, the cooler we’d be.
I’ve spent the last week preparing for the trip, making piles of gear and then moving them around the house, paranoid I was going to forget something important. I upgraded our cooler. The Scout has new brakes, which are AMAZING and feel fantastic. I premade hobo stew for our first night at the campsite, figuring after I drove all the way down there, set up camp, and got the kids organized, easier dinner would taste better.
We were able to hit the road at 9:15 and got to the Bay Bridge by 10, slowing for some construction at the site of the old toll plaza. Once we made it over the span, we breezed into Easton, picked up Zachary, and continued south on 50 for the end of the earth. Stopping for food and gas, we made decent time, slowed only by the fact that the safari top needed to be up to keep Zachary’s hair from blowing all over his face.
The park is very well-run, and one of the cleanest and most well-equipped state parks I’ve been to. Our campsite was spotless and in a perfect spot to pick up breezes off the marsh. I got the site organized while I had the kids ride their bikes around to scout out the bathhouses, camp store, and marina.
Figuring we’d be hot overnight, I left the rain hood off the tent to keep us ventilated and started a fire. The hobo stew is in foil packets and was on the fire for 45 minutes before I got impatient, took it off and heated it in a pan. The kids were pretty cool about trying it (or, just extremely hungry) and we all made it disappear pretty quickly. Then, figuring we’d have nothing better to do, I drove us in to Crisfield to walk the pier and see what was there.
A century ago Crisfield was the epicenter of oyster fishing in the country, but the town has declined along with the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Most of what we saw was dark and quiet—an ice cream shop along the water actually had a sign saying they were closed due to lack of staff.
We found an ancient diner on Main Street and kept them open to enjoy their A/C and our ice cream for as long as was respectful, and then headed back to the campsite. I set the kids up with headlamps I’d bought and we lit off some sparklers by the canal before calling it a night.
On the pier at Crisfield we’d seen heat lightning flashing to the north, and my weather app showed big orange blobs on the radar heading our way. I made sure to get the rain cover ready and packed away all of our consumables in Tupperware tubs in the truck. Then we laid down for the hottest night in a tent I’ve spent since 1997. That time my ex and I had to wander the pier at Myrtle Beach until about 3AM, when exhaustion set in and we finally passed out in the tent for three hours—until planes started taking off from the airport directly over our heads.
This time we all tossed and turned until about midnight, when a blast of wind suddenly hit us and I knew I had precious minutes to get the rain cover on the tent. I scrambled outside to get the cover secured right as the first fat drops started hitting, and by the time I was able to get back inside, the wind was blowing the tent sideways and Finn was sitting up holding it in place.
It rained hard for half an hour, and then tapered off pretty quickly. The tent is a good one and kept all of the rain out both top and bottom—thank god. We all laid back down to try and sleep. It had cooled off but I couldn’t remove the rain cover to ventilate while the trees dripped on us, so things got muggy. Zachary found it impossible to sleep and was sitting up every half an hour, miserable. At about 4AM I told him if he couldn’t sleep we weren’t going to stay the second night and that I was totally OK with bailing out. That seemed to make him feel a little better, but didn’t help him sleep at all.
In the morning, he and I were up the earliest. I got coffee going and then made us some breakfast on Dad’s skillet while he talked to his Mom on my phone. We ate some food and let Finn sleep in until quarter of eight, then got ourselves ready to run over to the camp store to rent a canoe. I parked the truck in the sunlight to dry out and we filled the boat with our gear. Paddling out into the marsh, we followed a canal for a kilometer that led out into an area of open water and up to the beach separating marsh from bay. We were the first to pull our canoe up onto the sand, and we immediately got into the water to cool off.
Because it’s so shallow, the water was about 85˚ and very calm, so we stayed in for an hour and relaxed until the kids wanted to fish. We hiked back to a pier leading out into the open area of the marsh and I hung out with them for an hour while they dropped their lines in the water. While they were occupied, I took a side trip up the beach until I was away from everyone and spread some of Dad’s ashes out into the bay. Some of my strongest and best memories of him are from camping at the beach, and I was missing him a lot on Saturday.
The fish weren’t biting, so Finn got bored; we left Zachary at the pier and took the canoe back to the beach. He joined us after about 20 minutes, and we stayed in the water for about three straight hours laughing and splashing until our fingers were prunes and our stomachs were growling.
I got the kids hydrated and snacked, and then we got back in the canoe to paddle back to the marina. Thankfully the wind was at our back so it was pretty easy for me to paddle us back in—both kids ran out of steam about halfway back. Finn had applied sunblock 3 times but was still bright red and I think Zachary was suffering the lack of sleep. I got the zombies back to the campsite and sent them off to the bathhouse to wash off with their pre-selected clothes (DAD WIN) while I broke down camp and packed the truck up. After I got showered, I threw the bikes on the back of the truck, cleaned up our site, and hit the road for home.
About 5 miles out of the park we got hit with a rainstorm, so I put the hammer down until I could find a covered gas station and put the full top back up on the truck. Finn was up front slathered with aloe and Zachary was in back, so I think he only got a sprinkling. We put the rain behind us and stopped at a Hardee’s for a huge, well-deserved burger and fries, and continued on to Easton.
Dropping Zachary off at home, I noticed more storm clouds brewing north of us, so I hustled Finn out the door, put the bikini top back up, and floored it for home, hoping we could outrun the clouds moving southward. The Scout doesn’t currently have windshield wipers—it’s a long story—so I’ve coated the windshield with Rain-X. It works remarkably well on a summer day but at night in a thunderstorm I don’t want to test it out. Thankfully she’ll do 70mph with no effort, and with brand-new front brakes I’m not worried about stopping anymore.
We made it over the bridge with no problem—and as we got closer to home the clouds seemed to move off to the west. We pulled into the driveway at 8:30 dry as a bone and exhausted; I brought all of the consumables inside to the front porch and backed the truck into the garage.
Even though it wasn’t the full two-night three-day experience, I think we all had a lot of fun under the circumstances. Sometimes you roll the dice and get great weather, and sometimes the heat chases you home. I know we all slept like babies in our own air-conditioned beds last night, and with the kids going back to school tomorrow, that was the right call.
Finley asked me for help putting a proper desk in her fort, so I had her draw me a picture of what she wanted so that we could plan things out. Her idea was elegant and made a lot of sense, and after I suggested a counterproposal we decided to go with her original plan, using lumber and materials we had around the house.
Finn and I hit the store for the two things we needed: a pair of strong hinges and some chain. The key to the desk was that it needed to be collapsible, as space in the fort is at a premium. I cut a crosspiece down and we roughed in the height, and after we picked up a friend who wanted to help, I had them install the hinges and put the chain in place.
Once that was done I cut two pieces of scrap wood and made a simple latch for the stowed position, and voila! She has a usable desk next to the window.
Jen has been bugging me to try smoking some meat since my first abortive attempt in June of 2015, when I turned a chicken into a block of cement. The smoker has been sitting in the garage since then, taking up space, silently mocking me. Fed up with waiting, Jen found a recipe, drove us to the butcher, and kicked me out of the car to go buy some meat. Sunday morning I cleaned out the smoker, lit some charcoal, and rubbed spices into two cuts of tri-tip. Throwing some wet mesquite onto the fire, I put thermometers into each cut, laid them on the grill, and said a prayer.
It’s pretty obvious in hindsight, but cooking meat with a good thermometer changes the game entirely. The smoker did a great job and I was able to get the meat up to temperature right on schedule. I ran out of charcoal so Hazel and I ran to the 7-11 to pick up another bag. They had no matchlite, so I had to resort to lighter fluid. Because I was in a hurry and not thinking, I didn’t set up the new charcoal the way I should have, and I wound up flash-burning my hand pretty good when the chamber full of vapor lit off, as well as ruining a good fleece jacket. Lesson learned.
After four hours smoking, I wrapped the meat in foil and let them get up to final temperature, which took less time than the recipe called for. We had an early dinner at the table with coleslaw and French fries, and the meat tasted absolutely fantastic. I made a Manhattan to go with it. We all ate until we were stuffed, and decided there will be more smoked meals in our future.
After some hesitation, I put Finley’s blue bike up on Craigslist this afternoon. in hindsight I should have done it last year, when people were desperate to get bikes, but for some reason I waited. Ever the sentimental fool, I’m sad to see this one go. It’s the one she learned how to ride on, the one Santa brought her. It’s even the same color as Ox (this was not coincidence). But her legs are almost as long as mine now, and it’s time to find a new rider. I hope it makes good memories for the next little girl who climbs aboard..
On Saturday I re-organized the greenhouse so that the spare table is up front where most of the light will be, and prepared a bunch of bins with soil and fertilizer. The seedlings are on their second day of hardening, so by next Saturday they should be ready to plant. There are seedlings on one tray that are 8″ tall at this point, which is fantastic; I’m much further along this spring than I was last year.
Because I have nothing new to share this week, I leave you with this curly-haired girl helping me bake a cake ten years ago today: