Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Not the happiest camper...

We’ve been slowly but surely gathering camping gear over the past several months in anticipation of planning a few trips this summer.  We’re going to a family reunion of sorts in August, so we knew we’d be camping for those two nights, but we also wanted to do a preliminary trip beforehand to feel confident that we have the right supplies and pack appropriately.  

This was my first camping trip since about 2001, when I went with James, his brother, dad, and dad’s significant other.  It feels like eons ago that we took that particular trip to Birkenhead Lake, and I am positive it was only for one night.  In fact, I have never camped for more than one night at a time and I’m pretty sure I have camped 4 times in my life.  The 4th time was this past week!  So I definitely DO NOT consider myself a camper.  

Andrew has already camped more times than me and he’s only 8.5(!), generally with the MIL and a few times with James going along also.  The girls had never camped before.  So when we took the plunge and actually booked a campsite at Cultus Lake for this past Monday, it felt like a pretty big deal.

Everything worked out in terms of the weather (Monday was a great temperature but cloudy for the first half of the day, so we weren’t too hot but weren’t cold either).  I also found that I had packed really efficiently and while there were a few things we didn’t end up needing, I really don’t feel I overpacked by any stretch - and I do tend to be an overpacker in general, so I was pretty impressed with myself.  

We set out around 10:30am and took the scenic route to our destination, in part in order to avoid a toll bridge, but also because we weren’t in any rush to get there since we couldn’t actually check into our campsite till at least 1pm.  We stopped for gas in Mission, where it was 20 cents cheaper per litre compared to at home, and got some chips at the gas station to munch on the rest of the way there.  We got to the lake at 20 to 1 and were told to wait to set up camp till 1 but we drove through just to see where our spot was and, seeing that it was already cleared out, we decided to get going on setting things up right away.

It actually didn’t take as long as I’d thought, and we worked well together.  Andrew helped James get the tent set up (and I did a bit, too), and I got our bathroom set up.  Yes, that’s right, we had our own bathroom for camping, and I swear it was a lifesaver and has already paid for itself!!  I got a pop up tent off Amazon and a ‘luggable loo’ so we’d basically have our own outhouse, and it made the experience so much easier on me (and everyone else, as it turned out!)  I honestly don’t think I’d have managed without it, not just because of my own frequent need to pee but because kids seem to have to pee every 5 minutes, and I didn’t like the idea of having to constantly be trekking off to the bathroom.  Honestly, I would recommend the luggable loo and a single-occupancy pop-up tent to any camper!  Don’t leave home without it!!

Our friends drove up to spend the day with us so they showed up just as we were finishing getting things sorted, and W helped James get the last part of the tent set up.  Our kids and their kids get along so well so everything went really smoothly for the whole visit.  We walked down to the lake and set up there for the better half of the afternoon.  The kids all get right into the lake, I waded in up to my knees.  W is essentially a lifeguard swimmer so we knew if need be he could help the kids, and their kids were in the water as well.  It was so nice and peaceful there.  The girls enjoyed building a moat and playing in the sand, and Andrew and I played some frisbee and it was just a fun, relatively relaxing experience.  We had some snacks and then headed back to the campsite to get started on dinner.

Our friends brought a big salad (and dessert) and I had pre-made a mixture for fajitas so we were able to get dinner made really fast and efficiently.  H insisted on washing the dishes for me, which she didn’t have to do, but it was a nice gesture!  I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t see a single bee, no flies, in general there were no bugs to speak of.  I didn’t even see a single spider our entire trip!  It was amazing actually.  I guess there was enough of a breeze that they weren’t really able to hang around - at least in terms of the flying bugs and insects!  Although as the sun started to go down there were some mosquitos, and I think they would have eaten us alive if we’d stayed outside much longer than we did.  I’ve certainly experienced a higher volume of mosquitos even in our own backyard in years past, though, so I didn’t attribute that to camping at all.

Our friends stayed till it was pretty much time for the kids to be heading to bed.  It was really nice that they came up to spend the day with us and finally have a visit, since we don’t get together as often as we’d like to.  We got the kids’ teeth brushed and into jammies and James tucked the girls in with a story while Andrew and I sat out in our chairs by the fire pit, despite that we weren’t actually able to enjoy a fire.  Unfortunately the fire ban came into effect just less than a week before we went on the trip, which kind of sucked in terms of no s’mores (though the kids did enjoy s’mores just without the roasting of the marshmallows!)  I think it would have been fun to have had a proper fire, but we opted not to buy a fire pit that is legal during a fire ban, one because it’s another expensive that once we also purchased a propane tank for would be upwards of $200, and two, we really don’t want more stuff to have to store if possible.  If we were going to be camping a lot and for longer periods, it might be worth it, but we didn’t think it made sense for our first one nighter.

Not long after the girls got into bed, Andrew said that as much as he wanted to stay up he really was tired, so off he went to bed, too.  James and I probably spent about 15 minutes sitting chatting outside before we decided to retire also, in part because the mosquitos were starting to bother us, but we were pretty tired, too.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep right away because I don’t even know if it was quite 10pm yet at this point, but I also knew I didn’t want to sit outside in the dark by myself!

I would say Emily went to sleep the easiest, which is no surprise since she’s our best sleeper.   Andrew had a few restless moments through the night but did well also.  Margaret took the longest to fall asleep, which is no surprise at all since that’s generally the case at home, too!  

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but sometime probably around midnight, I could hear this odd sounding almost goose-like sound off in the distance.  It sounded fairly far away but I definitely woke up and noticed it.  I thought it odd that the geese would be in the forest at night, but then we’d seen a lot of them on the beach during the day so I shrugged it off, not really knowing what else it could be.  Not long after, in a campsite a ways away from us, I heard a little girl scream, ‘Noooo!’ and then something came bounding through the forest right past the back of our tent.  I’m wondering now if it could have been a cougar, as in the morning James noticed a paw print that looked like it belonged to a cougar over near the outhouse, which wasn’t all that far from our campsite.  The way the animal bounded through the bush just seemed more cougar like than raccoon, although I suppose it could have been a bear (but I feel like that would have been noisier at that speed).  Whatever it was freaked me out, and then I was even more shaky not long after when Margaret stirred and started sobbing.  James consoled her, which only seemed to make her cry louder, and I was so conscious of the amount of people she would be waking up and disturbing with all of that noise.

Finally she calmed down and went back to sleep, and James was able to get back to sleep, but I pretty much just laid there, hoping to drift off but never fully getting there.  A while later, the weird goose sound got louder and louder until it sounded like it was at the next campsite over from us.  It didn’t take long for me to think it wasn’t a goose, and when loud huffing sounds and choking and gruff coughing sounds, followed by growling, I had a very strong inkling it was a bear.  I nudged James, who of course by this time was awake, too, and he confirmed my suspicions.  He did some internet searching and it became pretty obvious it was a bear we were dealing with.  We couldn’t see it but I could see giant shadows moving back and forth past the trees as we had the tent ‘windows’ down, and the whole thing was so completely terrifying I.CAN’T.EVEN.

There was a lot of rustling of what sounded like chip bags and other food items, a lot of yacking on a bone type sounds coming from the bear, a ton of huffing and growling, and moving back and forth.  Banging on stuff and being generally noisy.  It was literally the most scared I’ve ever been, and between that and being freezing cold despite the plethora of blankets I was wrapped in, I was shaking severely.  I hated that the kids were all closer to the bear than I was, and a part of me wanted to corral them all closer and protect them, but I was too scared to do that because I thought if I woke them up and any of them made noise/Margaret cried, the bear might come to investigate.  We had a bear bell and James had his thumb resting on the panic button for the van, but we resisted drawing attention to ourselves as long as the bear was in the other campsite.  This went on literally FOR HOURS, until the sun started coming up and the ten million varieties of birds started chirping and I guess the bear knew it was time to move on before all the people started getting up.  So needless to say, I slept for less than an hour that night total.  Maybe 45 minutes…

At 6am the people across from us, who hadn’t even arrived till we were eating dinner, packed up their site and left.  I couldn’t blame them.  I honestly wanted to do the same.  

I’d had such high hopes, that we would get up early after at the very least an OK night’s sleep, wander and check out more of the campgrounds and go down to the beach for a peaceful early morning stroll.  (Oh, we did go back to the lake before the kids went to bed and they enjoyed skipping rocks and it was very serene and beautiful, so we at least we’d had that experience the night before).  Unfortunately by morning I felt like I was dying from exhaustion and my nerves were completely shot.  I was also very jumpy because I kept wondering where the bear might have gone and how close it could still potentially be.  (I didn’t love all the little critters that I hear skittering around the tent and right near my head throughout the night, either, since we all know how I feel about rodents, but that seemed like nothing in comparison to the bear!)

(I should also note that our campsite was way too close to what turned out to be a very busy road, even through the night, with semis flying by at all hours...so even without the bear situation I don’t think I’d have slept much).

James’ family tradition when camping as a kid was that his dad would make bannock for breakfast, so in sticking with tradition he made us some, and even flipped it like a professional on the first try!  The kids weren’t huge fans of it, despite that he added cinnamon and even some syrup.  I liked it, though.  It tasted like a healthier version of a donut!  I wish I could say I enjoyed using my coffee mug that I got specifically for camping, but the reality is that I just wasn’t feeling relaxed, and didn’t really feel all that well at all.  

James took the kids down to the lake for a bit to give me a bit of a breather, and then we packed everything up and headed out of there.  I’d bought a groupon for Dinotown so we headed there and spent several hours there before going home.  I had really wanted to enjoy the experience there with the kids because rumour has it it’s their last year, as well I don’t think it would hold the kids’ attention much longer, particularly Andrew’s.  We’ve gone for 3 years in a row now, so I’m pretty sure that would have been our last time going anyway.  Unfortunately I was so tired that I felt miserable and everything about Dinotown was making me angry!  That’s not entirely fair - I did enjoy seeing how much fun the kids were having, and I legitimately was happy to be there for their sake.  I was just getting more and more down in the dumps by the minute.  I was able to hide it completely from them, but the whole bear experience had rattled me so much.

The girls enjoyed watching the dinosaur shows, and Margaret in particular was OBSESSED with the dinosaurs and wanted to hug and kiss them every chance she got!  After the show she insisted we walk over to this little house behind the stage area where she knew the dinosaurs had gone.  It had a big Staff Only sign and I knew that’s where they went to take the costumes off.  I told her we weren’t allowed inside but she said we could wait outside because the dinosaurs would come out again after a little break.  Then a young woman came out of the house and walked off and I knew it was one of the dancers out of the dino costume, but Margaret just got this look on her face like, What was she doing in there?!  She didn’t clue in that it was one of the dinosaurs, she truly believes they’re real and not just dressed up characters!

Emily enjoyed the Dolly House again but more so the vet clinic play area this time around.  Andrew was into the bouncy castles and waterslide.  They all took turns on the little paddlewheelers, Emily going on twice.  We had lots of picnicy foods with us leftover from camping so we grazed on that while we were there and then stopped by Coneheads for ice cream cones before heading home.

I actually (silently) cried for about half the trip home.  I just couldn’t believe how the trip had taken such a turn for the worse.  I felt sad (and still do) about how poorly the night went, because it means I’m absolutely dreading our future camping trips.  There’s no way I will ever feel secure about sleeping in a tent at night, and just in general I don’t like anything about it.  I enjoy day trips to the great outdoors but the sleeping in a forest in a tent just makes no sense to me whatsoever, and after this experience I don’t know how it ever could.  Yet I know we have to do it again, so it’s just a hard pill to swallow knowing I have no choice but to do it anyway.  I really hope our August trip goes better in terms of getting some sleep, because I can’t imagine how I’ll cope at a family reunion if I feel the way I did the day after a night of no sleep camping!

It was also SO MUCH WORK to pack us and get us sorted to go camping, for a one night stay and then the amount of work to unpack it all and wash everything and find somewhere to put it all...it’s pretty exhausting!  It’s not even a matter of getting faster at it over time, because the reality is we can’t store all our supplies together due to space issues.  

I don’t know...I want to say I enjoyed the experience.  I was actually very optimistic and enjoying it up until the going to bed part.  I even said to James before bed that we should have booked two nights because I was enjoying the experience so much.  However, based on how the night went even if we’d paid for another night I would have insisted on going home!

All in all, for the kids’ sake it was a great experience.  I’ll try to just focus on that...

Friday, July 14, 2017

So many rodents...

I have done some writing this summer but very little.  I have so much to catch up on and I hate that I’m working in reverse order writing about more recent events when there’s so much else I want to document, but I guess I have to start somewhere.

For the most part, since summer holidays started I feel like we’ve been getting out quite a bit and I started off really well with making sure we had little (and sometimes big!) adventures to parks together.  I know that if I wrote out everything we’ve done so far, I’d be impressed with how much we’ve been up to.

At the same time, the past few days I’ve been feeling pretty down in the dumps, and it all has to do with wildlife!  Yes, there was the bear encounter while we were camping at the beginning of the week, and that has definitely left me feeling disheartened about camping and wary of our next trip, since we’ll be camping for two nights next month and I swear I’d have been suicidal by night two if we’d had to camp a second night this last trip.  (I don’t even feel I’m exaggerating - the lack of sleep and amount of stress I was feeling after the night we endured camping left me feeling more down in the dumps than I’ve felt in an extremely long time).

But that issue aside, which despite the fact that we live near a mountain and I KNOW there are occasionally bears in the area, I do feel safe from bears for the most part, and know if I just stay out of the woods I should be fine.  (Never in all my 37 years have I encountered a bear until we camped this week!)  It’s the fact that we have a MAJOR rodent problem in our neighbourhood that is ruining things for me this summer.

Usually I look forward to the summer most of all because it gives our living room such a huge extension by way of the Back Yard.  I spend the fall and winter months longing to gain that space back, and feel the heaviness of winter leave my shoulders at the first signs of Spring, knowing we have the Summer months to look forward to.  I am admittedly a homebody, so as much as I do love getting out with the family to go on adventures, I love most of all setting up ‘camp’ in our own backyard - which usually involves filling up the kids’ little pool, planting and enjoying lots of summery flowers (which I’ve barely done this year compared to previous years because why bother - the rodents prevent me from being out there enjoying it), bringing out a tray of snacks, maybe putting some music on my iphone, and just lounging in the yard while the kids enjoy some play time.  The neighbours’ kids sometimes come over and the kids have fun together and I love having that time out in the yard but also being at home so I can to whatever I need done, and not make the day overly complicated.  I usually LOVE sitting outside with James after the kids have all been tucked into bed, and having that time to spend together quietly chatting, maybe sipping a beer or a glass of wine, kicking back in our comfy lounge chairs, enjoying the cool night breeze.  Or playing an impromptu game of badminton, which is always great fun.  Except, of course, when rodents get in the way of it.

The problem has gotten so severe that sitting outside for literally 5 minutes in the early evening, you’d be surprised NOT to see at least 3 rodents running through the yard.  Some just beyond our back fence, but not at all uncommonly right near our back door, and along both sides of the yard.  Given that I had a rat RUN RIGHT OVER MY FOOT in our front yard space at the end of last summer, I am not at all confident that these rodents won’t come anywhere near me, and I am basically a person who wishes to be as far away from rodents at all times as is humanly possible, so...This current scenario has not been working for me at all.

I am apprehensive to ever go into the yard, front or back at this point.  (Last Saturday I was planning to vacuum out the van, when Andrew headed out the front door first and quickly ran back in announcing that a huge black rat with the longest tail ever was hanging out in the neighbour’s carport (which is directly attached to ours).  And he wasn’t exaggerating in saying it was big - some of the rats I’ve been seeing are so big that I’ve mistaken them for cats until their disgusting pink, hairless tails appear behind them.  We have mice and rats of all colours and sizes and I don’t play favourites: I HATE THEM ALL!

I’ve been calling and emailing and printing off letters to management about this issue for some time, generally to no avail.  I finally got to my end point with it, and printed off a letter that I hand delivered and also emailed, stating what the issue was and what they are legally obligated to do about it, as well as what they legally have to do to work to prevent such things from even happening in the first place.  They let their garden maintenance person go months ago, and it’s no coincidence that the rodent population has more than quadrupled since then.  The grass area beyond our back fence hadn’t been mowed in months and was a perfect hiding place for rodents.  I said as much, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that the very next day someone was mowing that grass.  Not the greatest job ever, but better than nothing.  I was hoping it would at least help with the issue, but the reality is that the problem has been left to get so severe that they’re going to have to do a whole lot more to fix it.

When I started sitting outside and had more rodents running rampant around me than I’d care to even remember, I’d had enough.  I started sending management messages every day about the issue, and finally said that I was beginning to wonder if I should call a pest control company myself and send them the bill afterwards.  I know that I am well within my rights to do so, especially with so much documentation about the problem and proof of having brought it to their attention time and time again.  And in light of the mouse we had in our kitchen and the fact that I haven’t felt entirely safe from rodents even inside our home for a long time now, I’m quite confident I would win the case against them if it got taken to arbitration.

I found out the next day that other people in the complex have been complaining about the issue, too, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I sent that somewhat threatening (justifiably so!) letter and then the very next day pest control was in the complex setting out rat bait traps.  Of course, they only set out four in the entire complex, which barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done at this point to get the population in check, but I was at least relieved to know that one of the traps had been set just beyond our back fence.

I haven’t been spending a whole lot of time in our yard with all of this going on, though, and I’m feeling really sad that we’re losing so much of our outdoor time because at the time of day when it’s most pleasant to be out there, the mice and rats tend to be out in full force.  Sometimes I can even hear the same horrible chewing-through-the-wall sound the mouse was making that actually did make its way into our kitchen a few weeks ago, coming from what sounds like under the deck in our neighbours’ yard, and that can happen in the middle of the afternoon.  I’m not comfortable with it, and even when I’m in the yard I don’t feel I’m fully enjoying it because I’m tense from the toenails up, basically looking back and forth and perking my ears up in case I see or hear something that shouldn’t be there.  I hate living like this.  It’s not enjoyable.  

Considering all the flood and water leak issues we’ve had, as well as other issues with maintenance around here, and now a serious rodent issue, I would move in a heartbeat if that were feasible.  But given the rental market throughout the entire lower mainland, there’s literally nowhere else for us to go.  I just have to do whatever I can to force management to work on the issue and hope that in time it gets rectified so that by next summer we’ll be able to enjoy our yard without even having to think twice.  I just can’t seem to shake the sadness I feel about the time we’re losing right now.

Looking back on my blog just now I realized I never posted about the mouse in our kitchen...I do have it well documented in my planner, so I do have the exact date that it happened but it was a few weeks ago.  I stayed up till 1am folding a ton of laundry that particular night, and when I went into the kitchen with the teatowels and washcloths to put away, I could hear this awful scratching-in-the-wall sound behind the stove area.  I was pretty sure I knew what it was right away, but I’d never heard that sound ever in my life before, and it made me freeze in fear for a moment!  I just perked up my ears and listened and tried to figure out where it was coming from.  I ended up waking James up (much to his chagrin) to help me suss it out, and he ended up turning on the stove fan, which scared it away.  He went back to bed but of course I was way too wrought up and worried to go to sleep myself.  About half an hour or so later the sound started up again, so I put the fan back on and left it on.  It may have happened a third time but after that I let the fan run the whole rest of the night, and I also sprayed peppermint oil all over the entire house pretty much before I went to bed (which I know rodents don’t like).  As soon as the management office opened the next morning, I called to tell them what had happened and they sent someone at the end of the day to fill the holes about the light fixture area.

Especially after finding mouse droppings in the cupboard above the stove, I was totally freaked out because I knew a mouse had actually made it’s way in.  What if it was still in the house somewhere?!  I cleaned out every single cupboard in the kitchen looking for droppings, but ‘luckily’ it had only made it into that one cupboard before we scared it off.  There were mouse droppings above the light fixture area, too, but it was just a very good thing I had been up and heard it before it managed to make it’s way further into our house.  Another reason I stay up so late - I’m no longer just staying up as long as possible in hopes if there’s another pipe leak I’ll catch it, I’m now on high alert for rodents.  It’s really no fun at all.

I’m pretty good about making sure food is all well stored so I don’t think a mouse would have been entirely happy in our kitchen, anyway.  So thank goodness it was the best case of the worst case scenario in terms of the mouse actually getting into the house.  There haven’t been any signs of them in the house since, and my dad came over the next day and filled some holes outside that he thought could be a place for them to get in, and he better secured the little grate around our vent pipe for the stove fan.  There really isn’t anything else we can do except cross our fingers and hope the damn rodents don’t find a way back in, but the reality is that the damage is already done in terms of how it’s affecting me.  I am totally paranoid and the slightest sound now just makes me jump.  I haven’t felt comfortable since in all honesty, and I definitely know it has majorly affected my general wellbeing.

It’s not that I’m not enjoying the summer break with the kids so far, because I am, and there have been great moments and I expect there to be many more.  We have quite a few events planned for the rest of the summer and I’m looking forward to crossing everything off our bucket list.  I just wish I could relax more in (and just outside of) my own home, is that really so much to ask?!


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