A Camping Diary

by: Andrea Mulder-Slater

I've never been much of a camper - a fact that has been clear since the day I proclaimed, “I am not a camper.”

I was five.

From that moment on, my father (a man whose idea of camping involved steak and hermetically sealed trailers) and I shared a special bond. My mother on the other hand, feels right at home in the wilderness, which is why she was thrilled and secretly amused, when I married… a true camper.

My husband is a human being who can travel on foot, a few hundred kilometers, through dense bush, carrying a mobile home in his backpack. He can sense the presence of an injured animal, stop and lead a lost bear cub back to his mother, prepare a meatball stew, and record the moment in a watercolor sketch, all the while facing North.

Me, I prefer the comfort and safety of a sleeping park with hot showers, streetlights and an all night snack bar.

Because my father and I usually won any family argument, any family camping trips took place not in the true wild, but rather in a reasonable facsimile thereof. Our set-up typically consisted of my husband and I sleeping in our vintage tent trailer with our Malamute wedged in between us. In the other end of the campsite, just beyond the screened-in dining tent, bug zapper and tree hammock, were my parents, sleeping in the back of their van with their Chihuahua wedged in between them. For those of you who don't know, a Malamute is a walking sandbox with a built-in hair dispenser and a Chihuahua... isn't. Also, a van is for driving, not sleeping.

My father has since passed away, leaving me on my own as the only non-camper in the family. I was thinking recently about our last family camping trip. As was quite often the case with outdoor family outings, I carried with me a diary. I do this not so much to capture touching quality moments, but rather to record any happenings that might be used against my relatives at some future date.

Day 1: Arrive at the site. Watch husband set up camp. Sleep like a baby. Camping is wonderful. Make a 4am call to the police, resulting in four slightly inebriated campers being evicted from the park. I really wouldn't have minded the party so much, had one of our lubricated neighbors not confused our tent trailer with the community loo.

Day 2: Slip in the shower, beginning a weeklong trend that I later grow quite fond of. My husband and I chat with a "tail-ender" and learn the finer points of RV travel, until evening when my mother - a woman who can prepare a meal for twelve using nothing but a pair of pliers and a skewer stick - serves everyone lobster bisque for dinner.

Day 3: Slip in the shower, again. It's not that the shower is slippery; it's more that my feet are. I meet a lovely couple traveling from Texas. Both of ask me where they can rent a movie for the evening. I look with great interest at their four-bedroom RV, complete with bed sheets, an indoor toilet and room for a swimming pool. They quickly walk away from me, sensing my anxiety.

Day 4: Get stuck in the shower stall. Hoping to gain secret door-opening knowledge, I ask my shower neighbor if she has ever used my stall, which I refer to as "Number Two". Mistaking my plea for help for an intimate pass, she darts outside wearing nothing but a loofah sponge. After ten minutes of struggling, I crawl under the shower door.

Day 5: At approximately 2am, my father announces to the park that what was first thought of as a harmless gnat, has taken a bite out his crotch the size of Cuba. I, having earlier that day kneeled in a nest of fire ants, give him a knowing been there, done that, grin. Dad goes to sleep with a Ziploc bag wrapped inside his underwear.

Day 6: Wake up to find mountain ant sitting on my chest staring clear up my left nostril... a place I'm convinced he has decided is his new home, given the sofa and love seat he is carrying on his back. A mountain ant, for those who don't know, is roughly the size of three tennis balls... not including the eyes. I alert my husband to the beast’s presence, which prompts him to stand up, kill the ant, erect a flag in the remains and go back to sleep… all the while facing North. I am, as always, amazed.

Day 7: I learn that if you aggravate a tree, plant, bush or flower, it will, without a doubt, try to kill you. I arrive at this conclusion after accidentally rubbing up against a bush, subsequently developing a red freckle rash with a pattern somewhat reminiscent of my 5th grade math textbook cover. I resolve to carry a can of mace the next time I walk through a garden.

Day 8: Upon returning from my nightly 3am trip to the washroom, I unzip the tent trailer door and proceed to crawl inside. Much to my surprise, I discover a family - not belonging to me. My husband, hearing my shrieks, leads me to our tent trailer - two sites down.

Day 9: My mother, fed up with the 3am walks, decides to drive herself to the washroom. I hitch a ride and accidentally slam my father's finger in the door. He screams, I yell. My parents take comfort in the fact that they have only one child.

Day 10: We experience the hottest day in the history of the world. People in air-conditioned RVs sit at their windows, drinking hot cocoa while wearing sweaters and track pants while we, as a family, collectively make the decision to...

Day 11: Book into a motel, with a view.

Hair Today...

by: Andrea Mulder-Slater

I have a love-hate relationship with my hair. I always have and I suspect, after recently discovering various shades of green at the nape of my neck, I always will. I’m quite certain it all began at the age of twelve; for it was then that I discovered, by accident… the home permanent kit.

You see, my cousin Margaret had just enrolled in beauty school - a place I thought must certainly be horrific, given the devices that often fell out of her knapsack. Yet in spite of my mother’s gentle warnings, I offered to donate my head – temporarily – to the cause, mostly because at twelve, quite frankly, I had no real concept of what it meant to look good. In fact, rummaging through old family photographs, one might assume that I grew up in a house without mirrors, or reflective surfaces of any kind. It may have been the eighties but I know now that there is no excuse for a pre-teen girl to be wearing pre-owned brown tweed suit jackets.

Back to the hair and the day when Margaret told me that I would look not just good, but really, really good, with a perm. I suppose I should have known at the time, that thick, naturally wavy hair really doesn’t need a perm to have a good time. However, at twelve, wearing my Duran Duran t-shirt, parachute pants and desert boots, it just really seemed like the right thing to do.

And so… the procedure began.

Unlike bona fide hair stylists with access to industrial strength hair care products, my cousin and her classmates were still at the stage where they were experimenting with drug store quality hair products, which, looking back, probably saved me from looking like my grandmother’s Scottish terrier, after the maple syrup incident.

I knew all had gone bad when I saw my mother’s face as she walked through the door. It was a look I had only ever seen once before in my life and that was the time she glanced out the window to see me, age five, with my best friend Kenny, trying to see who could pee the furthest from a standing position (I won, by the way). Margaret confirmed the look on my mother’s face with an emphatic, “Oops.” At that point, beauty schools had yet to incorporate tact into the curriculum. It was the eighties, after all.

After a few hours of living with a hairstyle that was a cross between a Chia Pet and a Carrot Top, I went under my mothers’ scissors and ended up with a haircut fit for a brand new army recruit, or a lice infected toddler.

Now, any normal, thinking person would probably have learned a very valuable lesson from this experience. Note, the operative words here are normal and thinking – both of which are not typically used to describe those born in the 1970s, or my 10th grade geography teacher. The trend of ultra frizzy, followed by shaved and spiked, continued for much of my young adult life, straight up until the day when a photograph of me appeared in our local paper with the caption: “Will buff your car back to it’s natural shine”. Sure, the paper had mixed up my photo caption with a Canadian Tire ad – an honest mistake - but I saw it as a direct message from above. It was as though a light had shone down upon my crispy blonde head at just the right angle for me to see the error of my ways. From that point on, all I could see when I looked at home permanent kits was a warning that shouted, “Do not try this at home!” Everything was at once clear… clearer than it had ever been. Gone were the days of hard hair. Left behind were the hours of egg whites and hairspray. No longer would I endure the pain of our Comb ‘n Cut Hair Cutter. The eighties were over. My hair had, well… hair. That was, until I discovered the rubber cap, crochet hook, home streaking kit.

To this day, my hair continues to hold a grudge – never fully forgiving me for the assaults of the past. I know this to be true because now, even though I’ve graduated to a world where stylists don’t use home permanent kits, my hair, along with gravity, continues to surprise me at every turn. Which brings me back to green hair, which I’ve discovered is a plague in my town. It turns out that anyone who dares to lighten his or her tresses can look forward to seeing several shades of emerald appear upon showering. After some research, I found out that a high level of chlorine, when run through aging copper pipes, results in certain death… or green hair. Apparently it is reversible simply by bathing daily in ketchup.

Personally, I’ve opted for a different solution – coordinating my wardrobe to match my hair. You can’t deny the brilliance and really, what else would you expect from such a fashion plate who is always thinking…