A Bloody Mess

I don’t want to write a poem tonight. I want to bury my hands in these tomatoes, torn from the garden before the Polar Vortex stole my summer, before we ruined the Earth, before I ruined my daughter’s life. My daughter who, two years ago, proudly backpacked twenty-one miles in three days with me, never once saying it was too steep, her legs were too sore, that I was too much. My daughter who won’t even talk to me now and told me on our last camping trip that she only brought Vans, wouldn’t do a hike with me, and hates camping.

Instead I chop the last carrots, mince the onions and garlic, boil the water so the tomatoes will shed their thin skins and slip through my hands into the pot like the bloody mess that they are. The bloody mess that I am.

Now her sour mouth that she so frequents in our house has moved to the online classroom in bitter words towards teachers she barely knows, and just like everything, of course it’s my fault.

It’s my fault that I cuss out Trump and Republicans and incompetency with guttural indifference every chance I get.

That I share my opinions too blatantly with everyone I know, hence why I have so few friends.

That my girls think they can say anything they want to anyone they want and not regret it.

That I can grow a garden but not be strong enough or patient enough to save it when the time comes, when the weather report comes in and I leave half the green tomatoes on the vine, give up on the remaining zucchini, its parched flowers sucking up the snowflakes like lifeblood, half of the basil dripping from the kitchen basket, waiting to die.

Isn’t that what we are all doing, as Hemingway loathingly loved to tell us? Waiting to die?

I wish she could be in my arms again, mimicking everything her older sister said, taking two pieces of anything–sticks or pasta or dolls–and creating endless stories with characters as varied as the high school she now attends. I wish she could be my Spain girl who translated everything for Daddy by month two, who made a friend on day one, who was the only one who wanted to learn all about the Roman coliseum on a date day with me in our small city.

I wish she could be herself, not this hollow version of herself whom I fear I’ve created, carved out, destroyed.

And I wish she would come out of her room and eat her favorite meal, pasta with my hard-earned, homemade sauce, just the way my Italian grandmother used to make it with the cut-up carrots to sweeten the acidity, to tone down the bitter taste, to remember why fresh is best.

But it’s a snowy September, I don’t have a poem, and all I can do is say goodbye to my gardens.

They’ve grown up. And they hate the snow.

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.