Sunday, July 27, 2008

Camping, Swimming or Dogs -- Part III

Before moving on to dogs, just in case anyone doubted the previous post about swimming, check out this link (pay special attention to the tips at the bottom of the article!). Happy swimming, everyone!

Now, this next subject is perhaps the most controversial. Make fun of water and camping all you want, but don't insult Fido (or Rex, Spot, or Fifi). So, I will approach this topic gingerly (we once had a dog named Ginger, by the way, but the pun wasn't intended).

I lived in a small town for a while named Kennesaw, Georgia. They had a law in that town that every resident had to own a gun (seriously). Perhaps not surprisingly, they had one of the lowest crime rates in the nation. Not all towns in Georgia had that law, but they all shared an unwritten law: Each household in Georgia must own a dog. Or at least it seemed that way to me while I was there as a missionary for my church.

Our form of transporation was often walking or bicycling, neither of which are good options when nearly every home has at least one canine. I hadn't though much about it until I was walking one afternoon down a beautiful, tree-lined road in a small Atlanta suburb. The city bus had just dropped us off, and we headed on foot toward the home at which we had an appoitnment. A few homes before our desitnation, a large dog appeared at the end of the driveway. He was not happy to see us at all and made it known by his angry barking. Knowing I wasn't the worlds biggest dog fan, my missionary parter called out "here boy!" As soon as I heard those words, I knew we were in trouble. This dog didn't want to play, he wanted to, as a dog lover would say, protect. Attack is probably a more accurate word. He came at us full steam ahead, and my partner, athletic guy that he was, climbed on top of a car. He laughed as he continued, "Here boy...get him!".

Let me pause here to say that I am not a climber. When I was a kid I never climbed trees or fences. I try to stay away from ladders or anything else with steps. So, climbing a car, which has no steps, was not really an option for me. At the time, I didn't know what I would do for a living, but something in me must have known I was destined to be a therapist. What did I do? I talked that dog out of attacking me. I leaned against the car, heart racing, and spoke softly and kindly to him, telling him that he didn't really need to be so angry and that I was sure we could work things out rationally. I don't remember much of what happened after that, but I think it must have been like Daniel in the lion's den, becuase somehow the dog called off the attack, my partner got off the top of the car, and we were in the home a few doors down for our appointment. I still had adrenaline pumping when the family said to their son, "Go get Toby to show these boys". I didn't know who Toby was, but was not kept in suspense for long.

Toby turned out to be a dog, only he was the size of a small horse. I am not kidding, and I am sure there is a name for this breed of dog. But the top of his head and my head were at the same level. This opened up a new world for me: there are dogs the size of humans walking around! This one turned out to be pretty docile, but even if he just stepped on me by accident I would have been in trouble.

The next two years held many opportunities for daily dog interactions, which gave me plenty of opportunity to consider the many reasons I didn't want a dog around for the rest of my life:

1) Dog are all stuck in the Oral stage of Freud's states of development. Whether they like you or hate you, you are going to experience something relating to their mouth...licking, biting, drooling. It comes with the territory. I prefer a pet that keeps its mouth to itself.

2) Have you ever seen what a dog puts in its mouth? I'm not just talking about dog food, although that is pretty gross all by itself. There is a verse in the Bible that talks about a dog returning to its vomit (to eat it). And if that is not enough, they eat what comes out the other end as well. No wonder their breath smells like it does. Someone once told me a dog's mouth is cleaner than that of a baby because of the enzymes in a dog's saliva. That gives me little comfort. Even if it were clean, which I highly doubt (come on, if it were true, wouldn't they bottle up dog saliva and use it as a cleaning product? We could keep our kitchens spotless by spraying the super enzyme dog drool everywhere), what good is clean if it stinks? Now, if dog breath smelled more like fresh citrus, maybe I'd concede on this point. But when it smells like all of the stuff they eat, I'm keeping my distance.

3) Dog owners all think their pets are the kindest, most peaceful creatures ever. I've been through this little diologue exchange more than once:

Owner: "Don't worry, Jack doesn't bite"
Me: "Nice Jack" (petting him cautiously and making a mental note to find some hand sanitizer as soon as possible after leaving the home)
Jack: Bites me on the hand (or leg, or shoe, etc.)
Owner: "I'm sorry, he never has bit anyone before"

4) Can you imagine how many friends you'd make if you went up to strangers and sniffed them all over? Yet we think it is so charming when dogs do this. Well, not me. I have been sniffed too many times in places where I just wasn't comfortable. Nothing is worse than losing sleep over whether you've been violated by a dog. I will never forgive my friend, Eric, who hooked me up with "the latest" dog repellant product -- special underwear that would ward off dogs by giving off an unpleasant scent, keeping you and your private parts safe distance from Rover's nose. Well, the joke was on me. I should have had a clue when the package said "beef jerky flavor". Now I know.

Dogs get combined with the other two things I have struggles with: swimming and camping. In swimming you've got "Dog Paddle", which is hard to do without thinking of all of the above problems with dogs in general. Then you've got people who want to take their dog swimming with you. Wow! That is like taking the problems with dogs and swimming and magnifying their effects exponentially. While camping, it doesn't make sense to bring your dog along. First of all, if I have to leave my computer at home, you should have to leave your dog. Remember, we are trying to get away from regular life when we camp? Second, dogs sound too much like bears when they walk around in the middle of the night.

I feel much better now that all of this business about camping, swimming and dogs is off my chest. On the one hand, it is good to be out of the closet. On the other hand, I do not look foward to the awkward looks I know I will get the next time I see one of you on a campout, swimming activity, or the next time I am at your home politely petting your dog and pretending not to be bothered at all. The good news is I like my kids and friends and neighbors more than I dislike any of the things I've written about, so I will endure what everyone else enjoys the best I can. If these postings have not convinced the world to cancel all camping activities, eliminate swimming entirely and rid the earth of dogs, then...well, at least I tried.

Now, how does all this relate to the intent of this blog...the penguins on my shower curtain? Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Camping, Swimming or Dogs -- Part II

Whoever invented swimming obviously did not think it through all the way. I'm sure the intentions were noble, but they might as well have said, lets find a medium (water) to rinse off all the grossest parts of the human body (the nose, the armpits, the grease in the hair, the mouth...I'll stop there) and put it in a big bowl. Then pack it full of lots of people, all of whose bodies are being similarly "rinsed off'", and let everyone soak it in together.

I know what you are thinking...chlorine, right? My sister in law used to work for a youth wilderness camping boot camp and they would go to remote locations and live off the land. They drank water that had feces floating in it, bugs and organizims swimming in it, etc. And all they did to make it safe was dump in a small amount of chlorine and wait for everything to stop moving. So, I'm not debating the safety of pool water. I am simply opposed to the disgusting thought of jumping in a pool of shared body fluids, whether or not they are disinfected. Imagine wanting to take a bath at night. After filling the tub, you dump in some dirt, have your children urinate in the water, stir in some slobber and snot, ring all the grease out of your teenager's hair and pop a few of his/her pimples to add the the mix. Just before hopping in, pour in a bit of liquid chlorine to kill all the germs, stir and enjoy a refreshing bath. No one in their right mind would agree to this, but this is just like what we do when we swim.

And its not just the kids who are peeing in the pool. Don't get me wrong, I blame it on them too, but there is no denying the feeling of release that comes for letting a fresh stream of urnine go in a large body of water. How can anyone resist that temptation, especially when you've got to keep your eye on the kids and can't very well get out of the pool to use the facilities. But, even if it were just the kids , do the math. That is a lot of gross extra fluids added to the water!

But let's move on from the germ element of swimming for a moment, because I could write volumes about it, and discuss some of the other problems with swimming.

1) Name another time that (in the name of wholesome family entertainment) it is socially acceptable for everyone to strip down to next to nothing and play together. We go swimming for church activities, work parties, family reunions and with complete strangers. And no one seems to think it is strange to be hanging out with one another in the equivalent of our underwear.

2) I never really have liked the sun all that much, probably because my skin burns so easily. So, I didn't spend all that much time in the sun as a kid, but even so, I have sun spots on my face now as an adult. The other day I went to get them checked out by a dermatologist, thinking you never can be too careful with the prevalence of skin cancer these days. Apparently, he agreed, because he burned one of them off with liquid nitrogen. It was a wonderful experience, offering the whole range of human emotions...fear and anticipation, exquisite pain, burning, relief that your entire face did not burn off...I highly recommend it. I'm sure skin cancer itself is no better, by my preferred prevention is to stay out of the sun entirely.

3) As much as I don't like the sun, I hate sunscreen even more. Its perfumes spike my allergies and it feels really gross both when it goes on and when it dries. Not to mention the large amount of square yards of sunscreen it takes to cover my body...proper application can take hours. I tried one of those spray-on kinds once, only to discover that it is nearly impossible to get a uniform application. Unless you have access to a paint sprayer and vats of liquid sunscreen, I have to warn you that you will end up looking like you had a pattern of random burn streaks tattooed all over your body. So, it's back to manual application, which to me feels like rubbing liquid Crisco all over your body.

4) Your feet burn on the way to the water. Your body nearly goes into shock when you enter the ice-cold water, even in June. The wind blows on you when you get out of the water, making you chilled all over again, even though it is 110 degrees outside. Your feet burn again on the way back to your towel. That is way too many transitions and adjustments for me.

5) It is hard to know where you are going without opening your eyes under the water. But if you open them, you have to realize that you are either getting all the above-mentioned nasty germs in your eyes, or an acid so powerful that it can kill all of those nasty germs. I don't really want either of them in my eyes, so I keep them closed.

6) If I don't want the water in my eyes, why would I want it in my mouth? And no one can swim without getting the water in their mouth. In fact, watch someone coming up out of the water sometime. The water just pours out of their mouth, along with a bunch of saliva, adding even further to the disgusting mixture of body fluids.

7) I once had a friend who was in charge of keeping pool chemical levels in the proper range at a public pool. He told me they rarely ever really checked it...they just added in some chemicals once in a while and called it good. If our one hope hinges on all the germs being killed off by chlorine, are we really willing to trust a teenager with that job? Or the pool man? Or anyone?

8) All of this is compounded when swimming in a lake rather than a swimming pool. Take all of the above, add in a bunch of fish (complete with their cycle of life of eating, shedding, excreting, giving birth, dying, etc.) and other water creatures, and it is no wonder why the water is slimy and green. And yet we jump right in and pretend there is nothing wrong with it. That gives me a great business idea...turning cesspools into swimming holes. Why not? People swim in lakes and that is not all that different.

9) When I was a kid there was a man in the neighborhood that everyone called "uncle" who lived at the public pool (or at least he was there every time we went). He used to play a game called "Try to drown the children". You've played it before, I'm sure. It was where someone bigger than you holds you under the water until you think you are going to die and finally releases you for a short moment while you gasp for air and then puts you under again. I think public pools have craked down on this kind of behavior these days, but the game is still played each day in pools all around the world when adults aren't looking. But hey, I guess there are worse things that a strange man everyone calls "uncle" could play in the pool with your children when no one is looking.

10) Where do you put your wallet while you swim at a public pool? In the locker? Oh yeah, besides the fact that it costs a quarter (which I never have since I only carry plastic cards to pay for things these days), there is the dillema of where to put the keys while you swim. You can't swim with them (see wikipedia under "rust") but you can't just leave them poolside for someone to grab and open your locker. At the gym they give you little bracelets you can wear to solve this problem, but they haven't figured it out yet for swimming pools. And the last thing we need is identify theft while we are trying to relax in the cesspool.

I know some of you smart people may have perfect solutions to one or more of the above problems (although I assure you I can argue with your proposed solution), so go ahead and post them. You know, like only swim in your own swimming pool where you can monitor the chemicals, post a "no peeing in the pool" sign, or swimming indoors to get away from the sun. But, no matter how you slice it, there is no getting around the fact that we are swimming in a giant tub of shared body fluids and acid.

So, you now understand why camping is out and swimming is out. How could anyone dislike man's best friend? Stay tuned for the next post to find out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Camping, Swimming or Dogs -- Part I

I grew up with a father who despises all three: camping, swimming and dogs. Being the oldest, I think these same preferences were imprinted upon me at birth (along with some other characteristics of my father, such as legs that refuse to tan no matter how much sunlight they see). Of course, being repulsed by camping, swimming and dogs makes you unpopular with nearly anyone who likes to do anything fun, so I have spent much of my life attempting to psychoanalyze the root causes of these dislikes and even trying to learn how to like each of them. Thus far I haven't been very successful, and this is my attempt to explain why. I think you will see how normal I am.

Camping: My idea of camping is eating some hot dogs and smores in my kitchen and then resting in my bed while watching the travel channel. What is not to like about camping? Well, bears for one. I am not really scared of them, but I am pretty sure they are after me. If you have ever stayed awake at night on self-appointed bear protection duty, which I have many times, you will know what I mean. There are bear-like sounds that happen all night long and I am reasonably sure, although I do not ever dare to look, that they are dancing around my tent at night taunting me, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. I once heard that bears will come after any trace of food, so much of my pre-bedtime camping routine is to make sure there are no crumbs of any type anywhere in the tent, the car (they could break in and then what would we drive home in?) or anywhere in the campsite. Unless I'm camping with people I don't like, in which case I put all of the crumbs in a neat little pile in front of their tent.

Speaking of tents, that is another problem. Whether or not they have instructions, they never seem to cooperate. I have spent nearly 3 hours trying to put up a tent (just to clarify, this tent was more like a folding mobile home, but that is another story). It is humiliating to ask for help from another guy while taking the kids camping for father and sons campouts. Or one of the scouts on a scout campout. Or my wife on a family campout. Or the forest ranger when I'm camping alone. Then there is the food. As a youth, every trip I went on involved a plan by our camping leader (which was never my parents, because we didn't camp as a family) to create the world's best "tinfoil dinner". I soon learned that tinfoil dinner was a code name for "raw meat and crunchy potatoes." Except when you are able to make a fire big enough to actually produce some heat, in which case it is more like aluminum-wrapped charcoal. Needless to say, I have gone hungry on more than one campout, which is why when I take my kids camping, I pick up McDonalds on the way there. I could go on forever, but here are 10 more reasons for the camping aversion (sorry to all of the boyscout leaders that I may be offending):

1) Mosquitos, undeterred by Off! spray
2) Where are all the toliets/ Have you noticed the forrest doesn't have very many good things to wipe with?
3) Maybe I'm made like the princess that felt the pea through the mattress, but if you ever need help locating the hardest spot of ground and the most rocks, call on me to pick the site to post the tent.
4) Tent stakes do not go in well through solid rock
5) I don't carry a gun, but what do you do when a bad guy comes in the middle of the night and wants to kill you and your children? If you had a gun, would you shoot? If so, what if it was your uncle trying to play a funny, but scary, joke? If you don't shoot, you are toast. I bought a house for a reason, and one of the reasons was locking windows and doors and deadbolts.
6) If there are no toilets around, where do you think everyone is going to the bathroom? That's right, it is everywhere you are stepping, sitting, exploring. Enough said. And don't tell me the rain washes it away. I watch Mythbusters (did you know that when you flush the toilet it really does send thousands of germs flying through the air in the bathroom? Enjoy that thought next time you brush your teeth).
7) I once tried to blow up an air mattress. Let's just say if I had decided to finish someone would have had to perform CPR to keep me alive. So, I'm back to the hard ground again.
8) Every good idea I get about something fun to do while I'm camping involves electricity. "Ah, it is so peaceful and quiet, I think I'll check the score on the D-backs game." Or, "what a great time to write in my blog". You see the problem.
9) I can give you a detailed report about how loud and how often everyone in my camping group snores. Tents do not make good sound barriers. See above for the reasons I am not sleeping at night and you will know why I am able to provide this valuable snore-tracking service. See me if you need any background checks on potential husbands.
10) Nearly every camping trip leads to a "let's go to the river/lake/swimming pool" (I don't know why but sometimes camp sites are near swimming pools). That leads to disorder #2, which you will find in my next blog post.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Vacation...Oh, Really?

First of all, I looked up the definition of vacation in the Family Dictionary (you know, the one that tells how words mean different things in large families than in other contexts). Nowhere to be found were the words relax, fun or invigorating. Instead, it read like this:

"Vacation: An expensive event, sometimes requiring post-trip recovery periods in a medical and/or psyciatric hospital facility, where parents typically work harder, sleep less and ponder constantly why their perfect vacation ideals so quickly surrender themselves to a pragmatic hope of basic survival without rendering permanent phyical or emotional scars to any family members. See also, Torture via Hotel Room, Torture via Minivan, and 'Child-Induced-I-Gotta-Pee-Rage'."

Having looked up the defniation ahead of time, I knew what I was in for. So, this year we planned a vacation by RV. Seemed like a great idea, since we could have more space, go at our own pace and keep the kids as far apart from one another as possible. Besides, anything that combines television, a refrigerator and a restroom all in one vehicle has got to be great. And it was in many respects, although it certainly still met the Family Dictionary defnition of vacation. Rather than giving a travel log (although you can find one on Kathy's blog), I simply condensed my thoughts down to 10 lessons learned while on this summer's vacation:

1) I firmly recommend never trying to drive something the size of a house down a freeway, though a drive-through at a fast food restaurant, into a gas station, or anywhere else for that matter. As far as I am concerned, "Motor" and "Home" should not ever be combined. It is a great concept, but for the safety of everyone inside and outside the RV, my vote is for all homes to remain immobile.

2) That being said, there are few things more attractive than watching your wife drive something the size of a house down the freeway (although we haven't tried monster trucks yet). Not sure why, but I am pretty sure it is a fact. Even so, RVs are a great way to keep your family size right where it is, for more reasons than one.

3) Whoever is driving gets to pick the music everyone listens to. I quickly learned that I would prefer listening to the Wiggles and Backyardigans than to the "Funeral Singer "(Josh Groban) or the soundrack from Enchanted.

4) There is a natural law that the less sleep you have while traveling, the less likely it is that you will be able to get sleep at times when you should (such as at night). One night, our youngest decided not to go to sleep until about 2:00 am and another night she was up for the day at 3:30 am.

5) Everything I don't like about myself comes out when I drive on crowded freeways, windy mountain passes, and steep slopes.

6) The closest thing to communism in the United States is the pacific northwest. They have a rule for everything and are going to keep you and the environment it or not. $1000 fines for littering, $120 fines per person for not wearing a seatbelt in an RV, fines for talking on a cell phone while driving, fines for asking for plastic bags when you shop (Ok, I made the last one up).

7) The more your vehicle needs gas, the higher the probabily of high gas prices at your next stop. I think we hit pretty near the $5 per gallon mark in some towns.

8) Never eat at a restaurant in a town where there are more people in the restaurant than officially reside in the town.

9) The floor of an RV is a magnet that attracts wrappers from candy, food pakcages, toys and anything else that touches the hand of a child.

10) Being with your family for 10 days straight is wonderful, even when the ideals of what the perfect vacation ought to be fall short and even when none of us are perfect. It is great to have people who still love each other after seeing, smelling and experiencing both the good and the bad sides of one another.

11) Ok, I cheated and added another...There is very little wrong that sleeping children, a cool breeze, some premium ice cream and a mental image of your wife driving a house down the freeway can't cure. Who needs valium when there is Tillamook Ice Cream and 65 degree summer high temperatures!