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.

Coronatine, Day Seventy-one (Breaking of the Fast)

Just before the rain, we finished planting all the seeds. Pumpkin and yellow squash, red peppers and zucchini, cucumbers and cilantro.

I am so grateful for this downpour because it’s been a dry month, in more ways than one, for me. A year ago, when Muslim students spilled into my room at lunch to be far away from food during Ramadan, I decided to fast with them. I never told them that I rose before dawn to scarf down overnight oatmeal, avocados, and watermelon, that I drank two giant glasses of water to sustain myself for a busy day at school. I never told them, and they never asked, why I wasn’t eating either. But they would sit in my room and talk about the special meals their mothers would be preparing for that night’s Iftar. They would chat with each other, asking about when the next prayer time would be or what math homework they needed to do before that evening’s visit to the mosque.

There was a safety in that space, my classroom at lunch, the lights off, the sun streaming in through the cracks of the shades. There was no space for judgment or smells of others’ meals, and we were like friends, my students and me.

I cannot replicate it now, and I will never be a religious person, and quarantine is hard enough, but I decided to fast for the thirty days of Ramadan this year anyway. Why would I put myself through such torture when no one in my house would, when we’re already giving up so much right now, when I’m surrounded by a kitchen and pantry packed with food?

And what would anyone think, really, this stupid white girl appropriating another’s culture?

I didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family, really.  A couple of friends. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything at all, out of respect, but I saw this article in the Washington Post and I felt better, six days into my decision.

Being at home has its benefits. I burn so many more calories at school, walking from desk to desk, from my classroom to the printer to the copier, to the bathroom, to the office for meetings, to chat with colleagues in other rooms. At home, I can sit on my couch with my puppy and listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch for hours. A few times I even took a nap, though I’m terrible at taking naps.

I barely slept for the past thirty days. Too much goes on in my house that is difficult for me to control right now. Everyone is in one mode or another of depression and anxiety because of this virus that is a weight on all of our lives, because of not wanting to or feeling comfortable about being at home with each other (rather than friends), because I was so stressed about my husband losing his job, and even once he miraculously got a new job in the midst of a pandemic, there was a lingering sense of remorse for all the worry I had wasted for three months.

So rising at 4:30 with my alarm barely happened. Most of the time my eyes popped open around 4:00, just when the birds started their pre-dawn chatter. My puppy thought I was so crazy that he didn’t even beg for bits of food or lick my plate, but rather sullenly remained sleeping on the couch until I roused him for our singular long walk, the only time I would have enough energy to walk 2-3 miles.

Because one thing I have learned about not eating or drinking even a sip of water for 14-15 hours is that it is the most exhausting thing I can imagine experiencing. By 6:00pm, I’d be shaky and loopy, trying to fix dinner with one of the kids. By 7:00, I’d be shaky and loopy with anticipation, so excited for the sweet taste of juice that I rarely drink but have enjoyed for the past month, for whatever concoction we were throwing together for that night’s meal, whether it simply be hot dogs and broccoli or fried chicken and fries.

It’s incredible how amazingly cool and refreshing that first sip of ice-cold juice is, that first bite of food that you want to hold in your mouth and allow your whole body to feel its nourishment. And after a few drinks and a few sips, despite being so starving, I’d feel full, yet still so exhausted that it wouldn’t be long before I’d crawl into bed, ready to begin again tomorrow.

It’s funny how the body works. How the mind works. How hard it was, day after day, wishing it would be over, wishing the new moon would come in its crescent beauty, wondering why I would choose to do this.

I saw so many perfect sunrises.

I spoke to my children with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice many times. There was a weakness there, an inability to scream or argue, that didn’t exist before.

I thought about my Muslim students, so isolated, not in my classroom avoiding the cafeteria, but at home in crowded apartments and small houses, avoiding the world.

I slowed down. For me, this was the hardest part. Giving up food and water was nothing compared to not being able to pull every weed, plant every seed, ride my bike up and down every last hill, walk the dog until blisters appeared on my toes. But sometimes it’s better to just stop for a moment, to let the world continue its craziness around you, to rest your eyes and your heart, trying to see the spinning from a place that is still.

Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I made it through thirty of seventy-one days of quarantine without food or drink. And last night’s enchiladas and Libyan honeycomb bread, this morning’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream, this afternoon’s bike ride with my boys…

They tasted sweeter than you could ever imagine. Like winning the lottery of luck that is my life (because it is). Like putting that first bite in your mouth after a month of fasting, only that bite is Pure. Gratitude.

Because nothing in this life is more precious than what we love, what we long for. A taste. A drink. A relationship with our students, our families, our friends.

And in thirty days, you can truly taste how much joy longing can bring.

 

Coronatine, Day Forty-seven (Land of the Free)

Should I continue to measure quarantine in days, or should this new life be measured in weeks now? Weeks since we’ve been to work. To school. Weeks since I went to the grocery store without spending $300-$500 trying to stock up for when we’re really going to need it.

Weeks since I made it through one day without crying.

Let’s try a countdown of weeks. Weeks until his job ends: three. Weeks until I have to spend 24% of my take-home pay on health insurance: four. Weeks until we run out of money based on this: twenty. Weeks until I will feel safe about seeing and kissing my husband, as he will no longer be an essential worker and risking his life every day: five.

Weeks until I make it one day without crying: zero.

But I thought I was done crying! I was writing gratitude posts, 10×10, one hundred goddamn things to be grateful for! On the final day, I spent hours reviewing our budget, stupidly thinking we could manage for up to a year on our savings, our tenant money, and my salary.

Because I saw this and did the math:

And what is $260×2, the bottom left plan, the only one we could afford? It’s $520. And add in dental and vision, it was going to be $650 a month, and we could just. Barely. Manage.

But it was a lie, a lie to myself, a bait-and-switch chart from the school district, a slap in the face at 5:00am this morning when I decided to open enroll. No, not $260 per paycheck. Here is the real price:

For the cheapest plan for my family. The plan with a $7000 deductible. So… other than a singular wellness-check visit to the doctor (should I be grateful this is included?), we will pay $12,000 a year in monthly premiums and then another $7000 if anything happens, and then 30% of the rest until we reach the out-of-pocket max of $12,700. Ummmm… shouldn’t the out-of-pocket max INCLUDE the $12,000 a year already spent on monthly premiums?  (Asking for a friend).

What could I do? What could I possibly do? I looked on the Colorado Marketplace website. On the initial page, I experienced another bait-and-switch: Let me tell you, we’re between tiers 2 and 3, and we have a family of five, not 3-4 like in the picture. Yay! It was looking good! We could get a premium tax credit!

So I started to fill out the application. And guess what?

Do I need to tell you? Or have you lived in the Land of the Free for all of your life and already know what a FUCKING LIE THAT IS?

Here’s the summary:

And here is what it costs without the premium tax benefit for the cheapest plan:

$1409 per month with an $8200 deductible. I couldn’t even make up these prices if I tried!

Dear Colorado and Billionaire Health Insurance CEOs: Would I be ON THIS FUCKING PAGE if I were shopping for health insurance for MYSELF ONLY? Because of COURSE it’s affordable for myself only! And of course, for myself only, according to my beautiful school district blue and green chart, I would be MAKING $11 a month, so yeah, it meets your goddamn threshold of “9.78%.” (But don’t you love how, even on their website, they put the word “Affordable” in quotes because they know it’s a fucking joke?)

Let’s return to the beautiful school district chart that shows “DPS Contributions” and I STUPIDLY thought that meant that DPS was footing part of the bill, but what they REALLY mean is the $422/month on my paycheck labeled “Cash for Benefits” which is unofficially part of my take-home salary. So their contribution is really MY contribution, or, in laymen’s terms, MY FUCKING MONEY.

And if we don’t pay? If we don’t give in to this bullshit in the midst of a pandemic?

You guessed it. We’d lose everything. Because we all know that in the Land of the Free, all it takes is one emergency room visit, one contraction of a deadly virus, one broken bone, to lead the uninsured straight to bankruptcy.

So, after seventeen years of teaching, two degrees, one advanced certification, and having seriously ONE form of debt (a mortgage, not a single student loan, not even a car payment), after working my way and paying my way through those degrees, after keeping my children out of daycare and living on a way-less teacher’s salary for eight years, after EVERYTHING…

We still can’t live on my salary.

How many weeks has it been that we’ve been trapped at home? That my husband has been going to work, entering businesses and homes and fucking medical clinics without a mask (because his company doesn’t provide masks) or any form of PPE, risking his and all of our lives before being laid off?

How many more fucking weeks will it be before he can find a job in this market?

Coronatine, Day Forty-seven. Week 7, almost 8.

Why does it feel like day one thousand, week ninety?

Because we live in the Land of the Free, where every life costs a fortune.

Coronatine, Day Thirty-six (10×10)

I’ve made it to the final day of gratitude! The ten last bits of gratitude for the Coronatine.

  1. Always love a bike ride. We wore the new masks my friend made, even though I’ll admit they weren’t wholly necessary because I planned a route that did not involve crowds (I have avoided the Cherry Creek path like the plague, pun intended).
  2. We stopped at a local cafe. Of course, it wasn’t the same. We couldn’t sit down, we couldn’t have a nice brunch, but we could still get some lattes and support a local business and tip the server with a 50% tip.
  3. While we were riding, we saw the Thunderbirds fly right over us on 12th Avenue!
  4. I spent a lot of time this morning reviewing our budget. I rarely do, and in fact don’t really deal with our money because Bruce is a money master. But I think it might be possible, if we are very careful, to live on my salary (which they’re already threatening might be frozen soon) and our savings for a year, so hopefully, that will give the economy enough time to recover and Bruce to be able to find work.
  5. Speaking of that salary, I am SO GRATEFUL that I just got a raise on March 1 because of my National Board Certification. What a difference that will make!
  6. I reorganized the garage, the hall closet, and the basement storage room to make more space for stocking up on supplies while we still have two paychecks. It really is nice to have time to do this without the craziness of working so many hours, especially since Bruce was going to be laid off anyway before the quarantine was put in place.
  7. I really do work at an amazing place with extremely dedicated teachers and students. Our school’s weekly news show has continued during this crazy time, and this week included an in-depth interview with an NFL player who graduated from South in 2004. He couldn’t stop talking about how influential his teachers were and how his experiences traveling to New York on a student trip and participating in the musical made high school so special. It’s so nice to hear that and to know how important schools are in the lives of students.
  8. My counselor colleague helped me (through a Facebook post) avoid paying the AP exam fees for the four AP exams for Izzy and Mythili! I really hope that this virus will help everyone realize what a scam standardized tests are. I’m so over the College Board and AP. It’s a bait and switch, most colleges won’t give you credit, and most students can’t get the score they need anyway. So I’m hopeful that all of these tests will become less important in the future.
  9. In cleaning out the garage, I found the tent stakes I’ve been meaning to put in the tent bag, and since a neighbor girl needed to earn a Girl Scout badge by setting up a tent and didn’t have her own, the tent was already out! I have been trying to get those stakes into that stake bag for three years, and it took coronavirus to make it happen!
  10. Let’s hope we can camp this summer, or at least go on hikes. Let’s just keep hoping that something is gonna give, soon. Testing, isolation, whatever it takes. Because we gotta make this work for our world. We just gotta.

Funny (Not Funny)

Sometimes negative energy just builds upon itself. I suppose that’s what’s happening now, even though this has been happening to us for weeks and we are just entering the actual week of Daylight Savings, full moon, AND Friday the 13th. Madre mía.

So I am going to look at the funny/not funny moments of the past twenty-four hours.

Funny: In the emergency room waiting room last night, I had to explain Furries to my Honduran son. “Some people just think they are animals, and they like to dress that way all the time, and that’s why he has on the suit and the raccoon tail.” “Oh… well his face already looks like an animal.” I had already looked away, so I had to wait a moment to steal a glance of the dark glasses, the perfectly-raccoon-shaped beard, the dyed mustache, and be ever-so-grateful that Fabian only speaks Spanish so the poor gringo couldn’t understand what he had said as I stifled my laughter.

Not Funny: After a long day of working and screaming at children for ignoring me and running seven blocks in frustration and watching my baby girl kill it in her ensemble role of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr., after I had just put on my favorite outfit of all time (pajamas) to settle into a stupid sitcom in my bed with my puppy who has his own water glass (Figure 1)… a loud crash in the kitchen called me downstairs (we thought the cat had knocked over one of her daily glasses).

I rushed downstairs because, as usual, all three girls ignored our, “Clean up after your cat!” calls, and found myself standing in a trail of blood that led from the knife on the floor at the kitchen entryway all the way to the sink where my son stood, trying to flush out a wound so deep and scary that all I could do was grab a wad of paper towels and scream, “BRUCE!!!!! GET DOWN HERE NOW!!”

(No, I did not actually take a picture of the bloody knife. This is a reenactment)

Funny: The mulleted, heavily-tattooed paramedic whose job at the emergency room was to walk into the waiting room and scream out his mispronunciation of names, then rush back behind the desk to reread the names and try again, most times failing on the second attempt.

“Luceeero!!” No response. Breathless rush behind the desk. “Sandra (the a pronounced as in apple, heavy Southern drag to boot) Luceeeero?” No response. Breathless rush behind the desk. “Lu-SAR-oh?” “Oh, yo soy Sandra Lucero.”

“Rizzo! … Rizzo!… ” Breathless rush behind the desk. “Roos! Roos!”

“Do you mean Ruiz? I think that’s us.” (To the side: “Rizzo? Like in Grease? Have you seen Grease? Maybe we’ll have to watch it later.”)

Not Funny: Walking into my kitchen at 9:30 pm on a Friday night after bitching and screaming at my son, after posting a blog post, after my love-hate relationship with him, after everything I’ve done, and thinking, “Is he trying to harm himself?”

Because everything that I complain about means nothing.

Because every spot of blood splattered on my wall, on my tiled floor, on my heart, means everything.

Because if I lost him now, I would be as brokenhearted as if I lost one of the three babies I gave birth to.

Because I love him.

(And he did not harm himself. He is a boy. He ran across three countries to come to my home. And he was literally trying to catch a Japanese steel chef’s knife that was falling from the counter to the floor. Because he’s a boy. And he catches KNIVES.)

Funny: “Oh, I will call the actual police on you! You think I’m part of the DPD? I don’t work for the DPD, and you need to get out of here NOW!!! I will NOT be cussed at! I don’t have your stuff and I don’t know where it is! GET OUT NOW!!”

“Miss, what’s she yelling about?”

“This guy was looking for his stuff, and she doesn’t know where it is, and she wants to call the police on him because he used bad words.”

“See Miss, that’s why you shouldn’t use bad words.”

Not Funny: “This emergency room is so calm and quiet compared to how it is in Honduras.”

“What do you mean?”

“In Honduras, everyone in the emergency room is either dying or dead from gunshots and knife wounds. Everyone is screaming. And dying. Because the gangs have ruined their lives.”

Funny: The doctor asked us to come into the temporary room until we could get to the real “room behind a curtain” that had a bed. He was the only one so far who had attempted to speak Spanish to Fabian, and even though my Spanish is always broken, I don’t think it was as broken as his.

After asking about the cut, the incident, the pain, he asked, “Está numblado?” Fabian didn’t respond. He asked again. No response. “Está dormido?” “Sí, sí.”

After he wrapped it up, he told me he thought Fabian cut a nerve, and that was why it was numb. “But you know, I don’t know why he wouldn’t respond to me. I use that word all the time, ‘numblado,’ and usually I get some response.”

Fabian and I returned to the waiting room. I must admit that, other than dormido, I didn’t know the word for numb in Spanish. “The doctor was asking you if your finger was numblado, did you not understand?”

“Like, the sky is cloudy?”

“No, not nublado, numblado, because the word in English for dormido is numb. Numblado? Es una palabra?”

I pulled up Google Translate. “Numb: entumecido.

And we were crying laughing. Because language is so hard. And the poor doctor took the word numb and added “-lado” and it sounds like the word for cloudy skies (nublado), not a slashed-nerve finger. And because it was almost midnight by then and he’d lost a lot of blood and we were exhausted and everyone around us was wearing a coronavirus mask and he just couldn’t understand why. And it was just… funny.

Not Funny: “I hate hospitals. I’ve seen too many people die in hospitals.”

His cousin. His other cousin. His friend. His everyone-in-his-life-he-can-think-of killed. By gangs.

Funny: Me telling the story to the girls over biscuits and gravy the next morning.

Numblado? Numblado?”

And Fabian smiling like he’s not in pain, like it doesn’t matter, like life can go on because this scar will match all the other scars he’s acquired from his life lived in poverty searching for food, searching for transportation, searching for a reason to keep on keeping on.

Not Funny: Everything I just put on this page.

And life. Life is funny. (Not funny).

Happy Angry Hour

Do you know why he makes me so angry? Do you know why I screamed at him (during passing period) in front of the entire class? Why I was still yelling after the last bell, spilling the whole story to my two unwilling-to-listen-but-forced-to daughters, cuss words and all?

Because I love him.

And I want him to think of me, of all of us, when he doesn’t clean the cat litter or mop the floor. When he pours all the creamer I just bought into one cup of coffee. When he changes his doctor’s appointment that I rearranged my entire day around and had my mother drive across town to bring him to, and doesn’t tell me until two minutes after class STARTS.

I want him to stop running the damn space heater all night long (with the door to his room open) and costing us $100 extra a month.

I want him to care about learning English.

I want him to be my son, to be like my daughters who absolutely drive me crazy in every way and refuse to do chores and forget to turn in work and to tell their boss they can’t work when we have a ski weekend and rearrange their weekends with friends when ski weekends get canceled and then whine about having missed most of the ski season without actually skiing… And get near-perfect grades and would never change a doctor’s appointment without asking me or checking the calendar first.

Alas, I have four teenagers in my house, and one of them is a boy whom I barely know and  from a culture I barely understand and from a not-more-than-a-day-in-advance plan that I didn’t take into account when I asked him to move out of the homeless shelter and into my home.

Alas, that $100 a month on electricity matters to me right now because my husband just got laid off from his job and we have until May 21 to live like kings and the rest of our lives to figure out how we’re going to pay for our mortgage and our health insurance, and Bernie lost Super Tuesday and the stock market shot up 1,100 points the very next day because investors care more about health insurance profits than HUMAN LIVES.

Alas, just when things couldn’t be worse at work or anywhere else, the 1998 Camry died, and now I have another weight to carry each day: the shuffling of more teens to every last event from track practice that he (at the last minute) signed up for to musical rehearsal to never-ending-hours of fast-food employment to driving them to school each day.

Alas, I did not raise this boy to check calendars.

And I want him to listen to me. I want him to think about how each phone call and acting-up-in-class-joke and putting-his-head-down-shutdown is a punch into every last dark hollow of my teacher-mother soul.

But it is almost 5 o’clock. And I am going to walk seven blocks and sell tickets to my baby girl’s musical because, yes, I needed one of my tickets comp’ed so I can pay for the space heater and not spend another $12.

And I am going to smile and wear this shirt in front of all the racist white people at her school.

And that is my happy hour for today.