Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fires, clown tents and wet shoes

This week my family went camping at Beverly Beach near Newport, Oregon. I went with them, having finally earned some vacation time. How fun it was will depend on which family member you ask. Cole had the time of his life because we let him start fires on purpose. When Logan said the prayer over the food the first day he prayed that "this vacation will go by quickly," probably because Mom and Dad wouldn't let him bring his guitars, iTouch or white jeans.

I personally enjoy camping. There are naysayers out there who think it's funny to point out how silly we camping enthusiasts are to pay to sleep on the ground. Oh yes, staying in a hotel for vacation makes much more sense. You pay to sleep in a bed, just like you do every single other night of the year. Yeah, sounds like a blast. I would rather have some variety, break things up a little. This week instead of wearing slacks and a blouse every day I wore T-shirts and hoodies and jean shorts all week. I slept in instead of using an alarm clock, ate when I felt like it instead of during a regularly scheduled lunch break, goofed off with my brothers instead of being professional, didn't use a cell phone or check my email all week and lounged on the beach instead of working. Yep, sounds like a vacation to me. Although now I understand why some kids don't like camping. I guess if they wanted a change of scenery during summer vacation they would need to go to work with mom and dad or something. Otherwise it's like "Hey, wanna go play in the dirt?" "Yeah hold on let me finish making this mud pie."

Cooking is much more fun when you're camping. It was Cole's job to build the fire for breakfast and dinner every day, because he was the best at it. He's quite the fire purist, insisting that we only cook over campfires "built with integrity." Apparently food doesn't taste as good over a fire using cheating scumball tactics like lighter fluid or fire starter sticks, or even pre-cut kindling. When Cole builds a fire it's just him, some logs, his hatchet, and a single wooden match. Fortunately it didn't rain all week so our fires stayed honest, except for one night where we were in a hurry to get somewhere after dinner and after Cole got it started he decided to dump some lighter fluid on it to speed things up. Unfortunately he had never used it before and didn't realize how far it squirted, so he shot it over the fire and onto my bare foot right next to the fire. Fortunately I was able to leap up, offer a few choice sisterly words, and run to the water spigot before my foot caught on fire, otherwise this blog post might be about adjusting to life with only one foot.

Sleeping is less fun when you're camping. Well, less comfortable at least. Besides making fires with integrity, we also sleep with integrity, meaning no air mattresses. This is partly because we believe in actual camping, not that fake stuff most people do (if you're in an RV, sorry, it's not camping, it's paying to pretend you live in a trailer park, which makes even less sense than paying to sleep in a bed that's just like yours except with a questionable history). The other reason we don't use air mattresses or pads is that they literally won't fit. Anybody who has ever bought a tent knows that they tend to run small (don't buy a one person tent unless you tend to use it to house your chihuahua) and ours is a five person tent, even though there are six people in our family and I'm by far the smallest. When we tumble out of the tent every morning it must be like watching a clown car unload. I'll bet at least some of the kids camping near us think we borrowed our tent from the Weasley family.

Besides spending a lot of time around the campfire and sleeping in a tent we also did things like hiking and hanging out on the beach and exploring tidal pools. The water on the Oregon coast is pretty cold to do much swimming, but there were a lot of other things to do, like sunbathing, throwing around a football, skimboarding, and taking photos with strategically placed objects for a future "McDowell Men" calendar while Mom was disapproving.

When we went to hike the Cape Perpetua tidal pools (these are real tidal pools, with about a mile of sharp clam-and-barnacle-covered rocks and fiercely pounding waves and places to get trapped in) most of us ended up with soaked tennis shoes. I leaped onto a low rock in order to get across a pool and a sneaker wave submerged the rock before I could get off of it. Logan leaped across a stream but the wind caught him and he landed in the water (well that's his story; I think he just had bad aim). Someone joked about jumping to a far away sandy spot and Cole thought he was so smart by going around and dropping onto it from the rocks above, until a wave came in and covered the sandy spot and Cole couldn't climb back up. Lance achieved (temporary) favorite child status by keeping his shoes dry the whole time.

Half the time we go to the coast it doesn't matter whether we get our shoes in the ocean because it pours buckets of rain on us the entire time so everything is soaked the whole time anyway, including our tent. We've gotten pretty good at waterproofing the campsite since the first time we went camping on the coast, when we didn't realized crucial pieces of information like the fact that you have to stake the rain cover away from the tent for it to do any good, and you have to tuck the ends of the tarp under the tent, otherwise the rain runs down the rain cover, drips off and is trapped by the tarp, where it rolls under into the nice bowl of water forming between the tarp and the tent. Hey, we were from Iowa. We didn't know any better. We have also learned to bring rain ponchos, after we went on a hike one of the first years and the forest rangers felt so sorry for us they cut holes in black plastic garbage bags for us to wear. It made for a really classy family vacation photo. Now we are way better at the whole camping thing. It has been years since Lance and Logan woke up soaked (Dad and Mom sleep in the middle with us all around so they're the last to get wet) and spent the rest of the night under the hand dryers in the bathroom. Which may be even better than paying to sleep on the ground, in a bed or in an RV.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Church is more fun in Primary

I just finished planning a singing time lesson for Primary tomorrow. For those of you who don't know, Primary is Sunday school for little kids in our church, and right now every Sunday it's my job to spend about fifteen minutes teaching songs to the kids ages three to eight and then later another fifteen or twenty minutes with the kids who are nine to twelve. Some songs are reverent, like "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus" and others are just for fun, like "Once there was a Snowman," which has actions with it and is the favorite Primary song of every little Mormon boy ever. Being Primary chorister takes work to prepare and come up with new, fun ideas to teach the words of the song but I still think I have possibly the best assignment in church. Play games with kids or go to adult Sunday school? Is that even a question?

One of my favorite parts of the calling is just being around the kids and hearing the (usually unintentionally) funny things they have to say. The youngest ones really aren't very good at censoring. During one of my first weeks of Primary someone was teaching a lesson about honoring our parents and asked the children to give examples of things they had done recently to make their parents happy. One of the very young, daintily feminine little girls raised her hand and announced proudly "I pooped in the toilet this morning and it made my mommy really happy." It was so unexpected coming from this particular child that all of the adult leaders burst out laughing and then had to work hard to get the giggles under control quickly and avoid making eye contact with each other for the next few minutes. Technically we are supposed to be the mature ones.

When you ask for an answer in Primary you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes the answer you get is even better than you could have articulated yourself and you remember that kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Other times you get an answer that is way off base or you pick on the kid who really, really, REALLY just wants to be picked every time and then says "Uh .... I don't know." And sometimes you get really specific "hypothetical" answers like the "It would be choosing the wrong if you didn't like spaghetti so you told your mom you ate all your spaghetti when she was in the other room but really you just dumped it in the garbage and then she found it and then you got in really big trouble and had to go to your room while everyone else ate ice cream." Fortunately for the family the spaghetti story was much less revealing of family secrets than some of the other things I've heard.

You also hear a lot of funny prayers as the little ones get to the point where they want to start saying them on their own without an adult whispering in their ear, but they don't have that polished air of someone who has given the opening prayer in a church meeting a hundred times. I laughed a couple of weeks ago when a little boy thanked God for several things and then said "And thank you for everything else. Except mayonnaise."

Watching the dynamics between Senior Primary boys and girls can be pretty funny too. They're at that stage where they've realized there's a difference between boys and girls but they're not quite sure what to do with that information yet. So the boys goof off with each other while occasionally looking over to see if the girls are paying attention while the girls roll their eyes and feel superior. I once sent a girl out of the room while someone hid something, and when I called after her "No cheating!" she turned around and with great indignity exclaimed "I'm not a boy!" Even the boys seem to feel the girls are superior: When I recently announced an activity I said "We'll make it a contest and see who knows the words better, boys or girls." Immediately three of the boys sighed and said at the exact same time "The girls."

See ... who wouldn't want to work in Primary? Sometimes we even have treats.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It was better than BiMart

Last weekend I went to church-sponsored conference for single adults between the ages of 18 and 30. We played mixer games, did relay races, watched Comedy Sports, went to workshops, had dance classes, speed dated, had a dance and went to church together on Sunday.

It has been a while since I've been around that many twentysomethings at once, and I was used to BYU where everyone is doing more or less the same thing. At the Portland conference, you couldn't just ask "What's your major?" because half the people there weren't in college. So you had to ask a sort of general question like "What do you do?" which produced a variety of answers that ranged from going to college to working at a post-college professional job to working for minimum wage to "nothing ... no really, I literally mean nothing" ( Let's just say I didn't ask for his number).

The one thing we did have in common was that we were single, which is why we were all being lumped together in the hope that some of us would finally find someone we liked better than being single who (and this is the important part that people tend to forget about when encouraging marriage) also liked us better than being single. Unfortunately the dating game is a team sport.

So of course instead of just enjoying socializing with people everyone was sizing each other up. Unattractive people were dismissed with disappointment, semi-attractive people were sized up with interest and very attractive people were eyed with deep suspicion as everyone wondered what major flaw they were hiding that explained why they weren't already taken. Experience dictates if you're a single girl and you see a hot guy under the age of 30 he's either gay or taken. If he's not ... well there must be some mistake. Like he's not actually supposed to be out of jail yet, or he's actually your long lost cousin.

Most of us didn't actually expect to meet our future spouse that weekend, but we had to be prepared to give a detailed report to those waiting anxiously at home to see if we had "met someone." (I met lots of people actually, but apparently it doesn't count if they're a girl.) When you're over 21, Mormon and single you can't just meet people of the opposite gender any more and think "Oh they seem nice" because it's guaranteed the moment you are away from them at least one person is going to breathlessly ask "Well? Are you guys going to get married?" when all you know so far is the person's name and where they're from. It's a lot of pressure. I would imagine it would be similar to a couple with fertility problems being greeted at the breakfast table each morning with "Well? Did you guys make a baby last night?" Give it some time people. Not everybody does the whole love-at-first-sight thing.

Plus, a lot of the people there were ... interesting. Like the guy who spent lunch up in a tree watching everyone eat. Or the girl who was whiter than I am who said she found out she has an ancestor who was black so she goes around telling everyone she's actually black. Her friend was the one who treated us like total hicks when we said we were from The Dalles. Well, that was pretty much how everyone from Portland reacted. But then she said, "Well, I guess you guys do have a BiMart, because I stopped at it once." Lance, with a perfectly straight face, said "Oh yeah, everyone hangs out at the BiMart. It's the place to be on Friday night." I'm pretty sure she believed him. So if anyone from Portland ever says they hear BiMart is a happening place you'll know why.

But I met some cool people too, and the dance and the workshops were fun, so I'm glad I went. It was better than hanging out at BiMart :)