The Hundred Little Things

It’s been almost a year since our world shut down, and 465,000+ deaths later (just in the U.S.), nothing is changing any time soon. Nothing changes. Or we take one step forward (oust Trump) and two steps back (acquit Trump). One step forward (vaccines are on the way) and two steps back (virus variants could beat vaccines).

But I don’t want to write about steps forward or back. I want to write about the little things. The hundred little things that are a part of everyday life and that are no longer a part of everyday life.

I’m back at school now, and what a mess. Never mind that I’m teaching simultaneously to ten students in my room and fifteen more at home, everyone logged into the Google Meet.

But I don’t want to write about that mess. I want to write about my tea. How, for seventeen years of teaching, when the bell rings, I step into the hallway with my fellow teachers and greet students at the door. I stand there thoroughly enjoying my passing period with my hot and sugary, creamy tea and give fist bumps and hugs and hellos as my kids meander in from the crowded and jubilant hallway.

You can’t stand there drinking tea with two masks on your face.

I want to write about past assignments. Creating beautiful, colorful slideshows that we’d print out every year for Culture Fest, put on poster boards to create a collage of the multicultural world in my classroom. Newcomers cutting out hearts for Valentine’s Day, hands of gratitude for Thanksgiving, holding books in their hands, and reading with the endless string of volunteers. The kids sitting in my room at lunch, before school, after school, jabbering in seven languages and communicating through laughter and music.

I want to write about walking my dog in my neighborhood and not having to cross to the other side of the street when I see a person on the same sidewalk fifty feet in front of me.

I want to write about packing my leftovers and eating lunch at the long table, about all the small conversations I no longer have with my colleagues, conversations about the government, the school, the kids, our love lives, our lack of love lives, our kids, our nieces and nephews, our aging parents, our truths.

I want to write about seeing a smile, a genuine smile, on a friend’s or a stranger’s face without it being hidden by a mask.

I want to write about being exhausted on a weeknight and walking five blocks to the local restaurant instead of putting dinner on the stove.

About those small, everyday moments. Stopping at the grocery store to surprise the students with donuts that they can eat in class. Making brownies for my colleagues’ birthdays. My kids getting up at the same time every day, piling into the car with me, trekking the ten minutes to school. Driving them to all their endless activities, watching them master the floor routine or cut their time in a race or perform at a pep rally. Knowing that they see their teachers’ faces every day and don’t hide themselves behind a letter on a screen, ignoring the world.

Knowing that if they need help, a human face will come with a pass and pull them out of the classroom, and they don’t have to remember all on their own some random appointment on Google Meet. (Oh, not another Google Meet…)

I want to write about walking into that 1924 masterpiece of architecture every day, knowing it will be filled with a microcosm of our perfectly-imperfect world, not empty hallways and masked faces.

I want to write about how easy teaching is when you can walk around the room, pat a student on the back, crouch down next to another, whisper advice to a third, listen to the thoughts of a fourth, and so on until you’ve talked to every last one. Talked. Really talked.

I want to write about how these little, seemingly-meaningless, everyday events, now absent for nearly a year, are … life.

Life isn’t a ski trip or a mansion or your dream career or your sought-after sports car.

Life is in each of these moments that are now gone. Twisted and torn, covered and broken.

These hundred little moments that once seemed so basic, so dull, yet whose absence has created a void that feels as frozen as a stream that never freezes.

So here I am. Mid-February 2021. Staring at this stream on a night too cold to be walking. And missing the hundred little things that used to make a life.

Family Packing Hacks for Camping and Road Tripping

People often ask me how I fit everything into the car for camping road trips, so I decided to move away from haikus for a day and provide some tips and videos. Our recent trip had six people (five teens and me) and a dog, and yes, we did tent camping and cycling, as well as paddle boarding with our own paddle board!

First, we have an 8-passenger Honda Pilot, my favorite car ever. It has so many hidden spaces within to fit things like bread and a million cup holders. On top, we bought the largest version of Yakima’s cargo toppers. We would never be able to fit everything otherwise. And for this recent trip, rather than having a giant hard-sided cooler take up an entire seat, I bought a soft-sided cooler from Costco to fit in the middle row, on the floor.

 I also have a very strict packing list for each person and allow duffel bags only, plus one small backpack or personal bag.

That is truly the only way you can fit six bags, a camp stove, a camp bag, and a tent behind the back row of a Pilot.

Let’s talk about the camp bag. Many people use bins, but that would never fit if I want all three rows available for seating. These IKEA bags are indispensable. You can easily move the bag into different shapes, and it holds all you’ll need for cooking for a weekend or two weeks.

Cooking. Freeze-dried food and oatmeal is the way to go for at least half your meals, especially on a long road trip. They’re compact and can fit into a small canvas bag, with tea and coffee, that goes into the topper.

Buy the right brands: either Mountain House or Backpackers’ Pantry. My picky eaters refuse any other kind!

Now, the topper. Camping chairs are a necessary luxury. I make two of six be these tiny REI backpacking chairs. They’re pricey, but just like everything that’s pricey, they’re worth their weight in gold. We even brought them in our carryon luggage to Spain for a summer and used them every day!

In addition to these chairs, we have four “luxury” camping chairs, an inflatable paddle board, six sleeping pads, and six sleeping bags!

If you buy backpacking pads and bags, you could make this work!

Now my favorite part: bikes. I finally sucked it up and bought a five-bike rack. Then, if six of us go somewhere, we only have to rent one bike which can fit in the back of the car, still allowing six people to fit.

Ok, if I’ve held your attention so far, you either think I’m crazy or a genius for trying to cram all this into a car.

The equipment is expensive and some needs updating each year, but to me, the glory of being outdoors with family and friends makes it all worthwhile.

And you can get creative with your other meals. Did you know that you can fit seven hard-boiled eggs or sixteen uncooked eggs in a Nalgene?

We’ve cooked everything from fajitas to steak to quesadillas on our stove!

And everything fits. Even the dog.