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Voyages of the Dawn Treader: Reed Bingham State Park

This past weekend, we took our pop-up camper on its first solo voyage. In December, on the Dawn Treader’s maiden voyage, we camped with a large and experienced group. This time, we were on our own.

I chose Reed Bingham State Park, which is 60 miles away in southeast Georgia. That way, if things went horribly awry, we were not far from home. The park was surprisingly lovely, with a big lake, miles of trails, several playgrounds, and a miniature golf course.

We arrived in a chilly drizzle Friday and set up camp. Here’s a brief rundown of our exterior configuration. We have a pop-up camper with an awning, and a pop-up tent that is the same height. We put them right next to each other and pulled the picnic table under the tent. Then we strung Christmas lights on the awning poles and in the tent braces, creating a dry, lighted space for cooking.


If you know one thing about me, it’s that I’m a giant nerd. If you know two things about me, it’s that I’m a giant nerd who loves food. I was determined to eat well with a very limited kitchen. I did most of our cooking on this griddle, which I purchased years ago for pancakes. The camper also has a two-burner stove, which I also put to use.

The first order of business on Saturday morning was coffee. Some campers use a French press, some bring a regular plug-in coffeemaker, some use a Keurig. Before our first trip, I bought an inexpensive pour-over coffeemaker. We have a French press, but buying coarse ground coffee is – let’s be honest – kind of a pain. The pour-over has a permanent filter and uses drip grind coffee. It worked beautifully in December, so I was happy to use it again on this trip. That speckled enamel coffee pot is a relic from our days of primitive camping with the Cub Scouts. I use it to heat water.


After breakfast we explored the lake. The day was cloudy and chilly, but it wasn’t raining any more, plus we could take extended reading breaks in the heated camper. Hooray.

After lunch, we walked some of the park’s Coastal Plain trails. Despite hiking for over an hour, our hands never warmed up!

Back in December, I organized our pop-up based on this article from Rain & Pine. I can’t get over how easy it is to set up camp with the stacking drawer units. I can pack them in the house, put them in the camper, and set them on the counters when we get to our destination. Genius!


The white drawers hold all our clothes and toiletries (each person gets one drawer) and the blue bin on top holds the fruit bowl and the flashlight. Hazel and BB’s bed is behind them, so I didn’t store any food that the dog would be interested in (I’m looking at you, loaf of bread).


On the other side of the camper, two smaller stacking drawer units hold all the kitchen/food prep gear, as well as the dog’s stuff and dry goods. The blue bin on top holds more fresh food, and the rest of the counter is taken up by a small trash can and a bin for dishes/silverware.

I am not the kind of person who is going to invest a ton of money in our camper, but I am interested in slowly acquiring things that make camping more enjoyable. After our trip in December, I ordered a memory foam mattress topper for our bed, and it made a HUGE difference in our comfort level. I also bought an inexpensive lamp with an LED bulb, because the camper’s overhead lights are harsh at night. It’s my favorite purchase so far.


I have started a wish list of items we want to add to our camper (slowly!), but those are definitely “wants,” and not “needs.” I’d like to add curtains to the bunk ends, for example, and some floor mats. But for now, we have plenty of gear for a comfortable, enjoyable weekend away.

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Reclaiming my youth – one blister at a time

I am not an athlete. But sometimes, an indoorsy introvert meets an outdoorsy endeavor and falls in love.

What can you do?

In the mid-90s, this indoor kid fell in love with the sport of rowing. It was a pretty new program at my high school, so the bar to entry was low. Perfect!

I was drawn immediately to the more cerebral aspects of the sport. It’s all about balance, synchronized movement, and careful control of power. When done well, rowing is a thing of beauty – an impossibly slender shell knifing through the water, with only the clunk-clunk of the oars and the soft gurgle of bubbles under the boat for a soundtrack.

After high school, I rowed for a year in college before giving it up. I will always be baffled why crew is such A Thing in New England, where the rowing season is short and brutally cold, and much less of A Thing in Florida, where we can row all year long in the sunshine. Also, my college coach moved morning practice from 5:15 a.m. to 4:45 a.m., and that was a big NO MA’AM.

In 2014, fifteen years after I hung up my spandex, Tyler and Hollyn both started rowing and were immediately hooked.

For five years, we went to their races, enjoying the sport as spectators, cheering them on as they broke PRs on the erg and listening to tales of inter-team drama and triumph.

In December, the Tallahassee Rowing Club advertised a “learn-to-row” event for adults. I signed up, figuring that 20 years out of the boat probably put me all the way back to square one.

I was wrong, thank goodness.

The master rowers quickly booted me from the novice program and put me in boats with men and women who have been rowing for years, sometimes decades.

It’s been glorious. It’s been cold and early and I’m using muscles that haven’t seen action since Bill Clinton was president, but my shriveled grinch heart just sings to be out on the water again.

Some things haven’t changed: the sting of freshly-ripped blisters, the silent screams when the boat isn’t set, the whole-body exhaustion after a good row. And some things have changed quite dramatically: this body has born two babies and twenty years of routine wear and tear. I no longer spring out of the boat, I beach myself upon the dock.

But I have discovered to my delight that true love, with all its aches and pains, lasts for a lifetime.

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Short Story: Attachment

Last Friday, I was selected to share a short story at the Midtown Reader’s Story Slam. The theme for February was “Attachment.” Here’s what I did with it:

I ate my twin in the womb.

I know, I know, lots of people say that, but in my case it’s true. I devoured him, bite by bite.

It took months. I had no teeth, you see, and flippers for hands. Try eating a hamburger with mittens on, and you’ll get the idea.

Anyway, my brother. I ate him. I guess I knew that someday we’d be separated, and I couldn’t stand the thought of that. I couldn’t imagine life without bumping up against him every second of every day. I figured if I could hide him inside my body, we’d never be apart. And it worked. I felt him, from time to time, nudging up against my lungs, or squirreling his way through the marrow of my bones.

Then he started talking to me.

The first time it happened, I was two. A friend of my mother’s asked for my name – why do adults do that? She knew perfectly well what my name was. She’d given me monogrammed diaper covers when I was born – no matter. She asked my name, and from somewhere in the vicinity of my left kidney, a small voice said, “David.”

My name is not David.

I was so surprised I couldn’t answer the woman. My mom said I was being shy. I was emphatically not being shy – I was dealing with a crisis! My twin brother who lived in my body was speaking to me. I needed a moment. I toddled into a corner and sat with a crinkly thud.

“Hello?” I whispered.

Hello, he replied. You don’t have to whisper. I hear inside your head.

Oh, I thought.

Yes. Oh, he agreed, and hugged my esophagus.

From then on, I had a constant companion. My parents remarked on how self-reliant I was, how easily I entertained myself. They took all the credit. I let them.

When I was four, my parents had another baby, a boy. They named him David.

Not David, David muttered in my clavicle. I called the baby “Not-David.”

Not-David was nothing like me. He cried in the night, was perpetually after my parents’ attention, and needed constant stimulation.

Perhaps he’s lonely, David mused. He must not have a twin. Poor thing.

What should we do? I asked.

We should probably eat him, David said, matter-of-factly. There’s always room for one more.

Triplets! I was delighted. Not-David would stop being so needy, and David would have someone to talk to all the time. To be honest, sometimes my twin was a distraction. It was no longer acceptable for me to stare off into the middle distance for hours at a time. My parents were starting to notice.

I studied Not-David, who was asleep in his bassinet. Where should we begin? Top? Bottom? Fingers? Toes? You didn’t have bones when I ate you. You went down like a Jello jiggler.

Lucky you, David said.

I touched one of Not-David’s silky earlobes. Seemed as good a place as any. I took the scrap of flesh between my teeth and, after a deep breath, bit down as hard as I could.

Not-David began screaming.

I had not managed to sever the lobe, merely puncture it. There was a good deal of blood, and Not-David’s flailing was getting it all over the bassinet. He was purple with rage.

Perhaps he did not want to be eaten, David observed.

Perhaps, I agreed.

My mother came running. Then she also began screaming.

Should I be screaming too? I asked David.

Best not, he said, from the back of my neck.

I’m so glad I have you, I told him.

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Finishing up the Master Bath…for now.

Back in September, Jason and I repurposed an antique buffet and turned it into our master bath vanity.

This was a vast improvement over the lonely pedestal sink we used to have in that space, but the bathroom still needed some personality above the tiles.

For Christmas, I asked Jason and Tyler to build me some slightly chunky floating shelves to put in a 4.5-inch deep recess to the right of the vanity. A previous owner (who is now my next-door neighbor) said that when he bought the house, this was a Jack-and-Jill bathroom, and the recess was the location of the second door.

Tyler and Jason built the shelves last weekend and stained them to match the vanity. OOOOOOOO

I dug out seven Blue Willow plates I’ve been hoarding, er, storing, and hung them on the wall over the shelves and mirror. Jason also moved the towel ring to a more logical location.

And here’s the view as you walk in. There’s much more visual interest up top, which balances the tumbled tiles and the heavy vanity. The room feels much more complete now.

Long-term, we’d still like to completely re-tile this bathroom, but we’ve gotten it to a place where we can happily live with it for another few years while we tackle more pressing renovations.

And now for a before & after. Or, rather, a midpoint-and-after.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

Every year on January 1, I re-read last year’s (foolishly optimistic) predictions for the year ahead. Last January we resolved to focus on the decorative side of the house, and do all the “normal” resolution things, like reading more non-fiction.

I did not know then that simply surviving the year would be an accomplishment in and of itself.

We did manage to paint all the downstairs rooms in the house, but the upstairs bedrooms are still covered in drywall patches. We also planned a major kitchen renovation, which will kick off next week. And we bought a new couch. Heeeeeey.

I read eight non-fiction books over the course of the year. Quite honestly, I needed the escape of fiction. I was learning pah-lenty in my real life.

Otherwise, we survived. We kept the kids fed and schooled and loved. We paid our bills and changed the oil in the cars and ran the dishwasher.

And we managed my mom’s decline and death. We planned her burial and her memorial service. I acted as her personal representative and filled out a mountain of paperwork.

And I wrote a book.

All in all, it was a year I am proud of.

I’ve started going through the contents of mom’s storage unit, and on Saturday I pulled out a box filled with notes and cards. Some of them were from mom’s initial hospitalization in 2015, but most of them were the cards she received when my father died in 2003.

There were a LOT of cards.


I read every one of them, since mom didn’t share them with me when dad died (even though some of them were addressed to me, AHEM). I couldn’t just put them in the recycling bin without looking.

I did find some treasures – funny stories and details I hadn’t known – but what kept coming up, over and over, were descriptions of my father that included the word “joyful.” His joyful smile, his joyful laugh, his joyful spirit. Many people remarked on the fact that he was frequently the last person to leave the sanctuary after church because he just loved visiting with everyone. And dozens of people – dozens – said some variation of the following: “every time I talked to him, I left the conversation feeling better about myself and better about everything.”


Jason and I made a list of New Year’s Resolutions a few weeks ago, but reading all those cards caused me to toss my list right out the window.

This year, I just want to be more joyful.

My dad was able to find joy wherever he was, and whoever he was with. He made it look easy.


There is much to be joyful about. I just need to do the hard work of choosing it.

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Reading Materials: December 2017

56. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, David Lagercrantz. (Borrowed) While still not as good as the original Millenium trilogy, I liked this second follow-up offering by David Lagercrantz better than the first one. It seems he is more comfortable with the characters and has found his own style.

57. Daughter of Time, Sarah Woodbury. (Kindle, Free) Ms. Woodbury has clearly also read Life in a Medieval Castle and wants you to know it. I did not mind this aspect, although some Goodreads reviewers did. This is another time-traveling romance in the vein of Outlander, but a very PG version – there’s no depiction of sex at all. And honestly, I found that kind of refreshing. After reading books like Outlander and Song of Ice and Fire, I am a little weary of graphic sex – especially the violent kind. Aside from that, the book was stubbornly fine. Not great, not awful, no typos. It was a decent time-filler, but I doubt I’ll read the rest of the series.

58. Secret of Nightingale Wood, Lucy Strange (Borrowed, Book Club). This book was recommended for the 8 and up set, but there were definitely some tense situations that made me question that designation. I really enjoyed this story, which was told gently but effectively. It reminded me a bit of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” without the dry asides. I would definitely recommend it for the older elementary school or early middle school reader.

59. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman. (Library) This book was tremendous. It was a wonderful adventure story with great characters and a quick pace. I loved the world created by Pullman. It was different enough from ours to be interesting, but similar enough not to require pages and pages of explanation. I will definitely read the other books in this series, and will probably force my kids to read them, too.

60. A Duty to the Dead, Charles Todd. (Library, Book Club) This is a murder mystery set in and around Kent, England, during World War I. Bess Crawford is an Army nurse who was raised in India with her Colonel father and has just survived the sinking of the hospital ship Britannia. While on leave, she’s pulled into an old family drama surrounding one of her former patients. It’s a quick, satisfying read – perfect for Christmas break.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 52
Non-Fiction: 8

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Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

In recent years, we have found ourselves attending multiple services at church on Christmas Eve. We go to the children’s service for Hazel, and the candlelight service for me.

All that church means that preparing an elaborate Christmas Eve dinner is out of the question, so I’ve started making lasagna every year. This was an excellent decision. Last year I tried the Pioneer Woman’s lasagna recipe (with modifications), to much applause and cheering. This year, I made up a spinach and mushroom lasagna that also received rave reviews. Since I’ve been asked for the recipe twice, I figured I’d write it down. Here goes:

Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna

1 box lasagna noodles

2 boxes frozen chopped spinach

4 TB butter

1 tsp. Minced garlic

1 onion, chopped

8 oz. sliced mushrooms (I used baby bellas)

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

Salt & Pepper

15 oz. container ricotta (I used whole milk ricotta, because I’m Team Full Fat Dairy)

1 egg

1 bag shredded Italian cheese blend

Preheat oven to 350.

Defrost your spinach and wring it out in a towel.

While your spinach is defrosting, melt the butter in a large skillet. When it’s hot, add the garlic, chopped onion and sliced mushrooms, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir until no lumps of flour remain, then cook and stir another minute. Add the milk, and heat over medium to medium-high heat until mixture bubbles. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in defrosted spinach.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta and egg, and add a pinch of salt.


Ladle a few spoonfuls of the spinach sauce into a 9×13 casserole and spread that action around. Lay three lasagna noodles down, and top with dollops of the ricotta mixture (use about 1/4 of the mixture). Sprinkle about 1/4 of the shredded cheese over, and top with 1/4 of the remaining spinach sauce. Repeat these layers three more times, but on the last layer, put the shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until lasagna is bubbly and you begin gnawing your fingers in anticipation. Let stand 30 minutes to firm up, then serve.

NOTE: I do not pre-cook my lasagna noodles. If you are assembling it to bake later, you should go ahead and cook your noodles.

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