Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who Needs Traditions? We're The Thomsons And We Blaze Our Own Trail...

Thanksgiving has just left us in it's wake with turkey, pie, and tradition. Having four boys means one of two things during the holidays ~ you either do your best to provide them with the ultimate in a traditional experience ( in the kitchen...all day..cooking all by yourself ...with rollers in your hair )


you decide to mix things up, do things a little different than everybody else does.

More often than not, Jim and I chose the latter of the two, doing things a little different. Traditional Easter Baskets were replaced with fishing poles,  kites, and  Bart Simpson dolls. Halloween was spent trying to convince the kids to let you wrap them in aluminum foil so they could go trick-or-treating as "left-overs",  pizza and a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. And for a while, Christmas and Thanksgiving revolved around trips to the desert with a trailer-full of motorcycles and camping equipment.

Our first holiday in the desert would change us forever; mostly me, as I vowed I would NEVER, EVER, EVER  go camping in a tent! NEVER again !!!

A coworker had convinced Jim that Thanksgiving in the desert would be a Thanksgiving to remember. There were stories of how other families would bring their camping trailers, parking them in a circle wagon-train style. They would have massive potlucks with plenty of food, drink, and laughter. The women would socialize while the men and the kids rode their motorcycles. It sounded nice. Wholesome.

But, the Thomson's never do things the "nice" way. We do things our own way, which generally ends bad.

Let's start with the important fact that although we had motorcycles for the whole family, we were seriously lacking in the proper "gear" for this ill-fated trip. We did NOT have a travel trailer ( mistake #1 ), but we DID have a Sears Credit Card ! So, we ran off to Sears to buy the best, bestest, badest, most expensive tent we could find. Money was no object! We ended up paying A LOT for a beautiful, Sir Edmond Hillary 2-room, 10-person tent. This is a tent that would survive the harshest conditions on K2.

Now, obviously, that tent did not come equipped with a bathroom. So, Jim constructed a camping toilet, MacGyver-style. With the aide of a five gallon paint bucket, a crate, some bailing wire, bubblegum,  and a toilet seat, it actually looked pretty good! I was impressed with his, ahem, handyman skills as I didn't have to squat behind a bush. So, that's good, right?  Right ???

With the important issues handled, Jim  loaded up his old '61 GMC pickem up truck and a borrowed trailer with all of the supplies while I loaded up the kids and our 120 pound doberman, BabyDog, into our brand new mini-van (mistake#2). 120-pound dobermans have no business riding in Mini-Vans.  Mini-vans have no business traversing railroad tracks in the desert with carsick dogs in them! However, much to my relief, BabyDog ended up dry-heaving  in the truck with Jim as we drove up and down, round and round to get to the Anza Borrego Desert.

Now, although invited, we Thomsons don't like to impose ( much ) so, when we arrived on location where everyone would be camping that week, we kept driving for a few additional miles and chose a location of our own. Far, far away from any other life forms; including the encampment where his co-worker was.

We found a beautifully serene, secluded location along a dry creek bed and set up camp; the tent, the easy up, camp chairs, the "toilet", the campfire, camp stove. All the motorcycles were unloaded and I had to admit that things things were shaping up to a nice little camp site. The two older boys had their two-man tent set up about 20 yards away. I was pleased as I took inventory of our little world. Everything just fell into place and all was peaceful; it felt right.  Maybe this camping in the desert thing wasn't such a bad idea, after all !!!

Not five minutes after the last tent stake was pounded into that hard desert soil, Jacob rounded the tent with a shovel. His eyes were as big as silver dollars and he had a look of complete wonderment on his face. When he got about three feet from me, he tilted that shovel to reveal the biggest, hairiest, ugliest tarantula I had ever seen! That tarantula was so big, it's legs were hanging off the end of the shovel; it was HUGE !!!

I nearly wet myself, ( I said nearly ) and I screeched, "Where in the world did you find THAT?" I don't know who was more frightened, me or that poor tarantula! My shrieking propelled that poor thing backwards and he nearly fell off the back edge of the shovel.

"Right behind the tent, in the creek bed; there's hundreds of them," Jacob said!
Oh, lordy! This warranted a field trip. Down the creek bed embankment we trudged, shovel in hand. And what did we find?

 Directly under our tent were hundreds of holes in the creek bed wall. And in those holes were tarantulas! TARANTULAS BY THE DOZENS...EVERYWHERE !!! Arachna-hell-no! I turned and ran back to camp. For a fat chick, I can move pretty fast when I want!

Let the protests begin!

" We are moving," I announced! I was NOT camping on top of a sacred tarantula mating-ground!
I was NOT going to crawl into my toasty new sleeping bag at the end of the day to wonder if there was a big hairy spider waiting for me ! WE'RE MOVING !

But, Jim refused. The boys refused. Hell, even the dog refused! After all, we had just spent two hours on this camp and we were staying. PERIOD !!!

I was now suffering from PTSD; Post-Tarantula-Stress-Disorder. After my mini meltdown, I discover that I gotta pee. Now then, to find the "facilities". Where do I discover the location where Jim has "dug a hole" to set up the lavatory?

Behind a bush, or behind the truck would be too obvious.

Hows about right in the open, twenty paces South of camp. I mean, when you think about it, who needs a bush, right? "There's no need to set up behind a bush (silly woman) we're camping" said Jim! "We're all alone........... in the middle of the desert...so quit yer belly-aching and just go pee...!!! (mistake # ..oh, who cares what # it is...there's gonna be a lot of them)

So, I pull up my big girl panties and trudge off to the "ladies room". I wasn't six drops into my dribble when I hear Jim's coworker, Bob,  calling my name as he comes strolling into our camp and right up to me as I sat on that milk crate, with my Levi's around my knees! It's not like I could reach for a towel or anything! All modesty is sacrificed as I just sat there making pleasant conversation until he realized that was no ordinary milk crate I was perched atop of.

It was awkward to say the least; that moment when I couldn't hold pee drop number seven, eight, and nine a moment longer. It became painfully obvious to Bob just exactly what I was doing, (or attempting not to do).
We shared a special moment, Bob and I.
So, yeah, ummmmm...moving on

After I got over the em-bare-ass-ing moment of urinating in front of a man other than my husband, things  calmed for a bit. I poured another cup of coffee and I once again reasoned with myself that things really  weren't too bad out there in the middle of nowhere. After all, this experience is for the kids. So buck up, sister and don't sweat the small stuff !!!

The next day, Jim and the boys rode their motorcycles while I read a book near the fire. Dinner was a success, and the night sky was beautiful with a million stars as we enjoyed our time at the campfire as a family. Day one was a small, yet significant victory. Later that night, we snuggled into our sleeping bags, exhausted, and without any unwanted eight-legged guests. All in my world was right.


...until around midnight, when we were awoken by the distant sound of something.  "What is that noise?" Jim and I asked out loud. Whatever it was, it was getting closer, and closer, and closer.

When out of nowhere,  a entire gang of dune-buggies came sailing  up out of the dry creek bed  right into the middle of our camp; driving between the tent and the campfire !

Yes, it seems we missed that really obvious on-ramp/off-ramp in the desert sand where everyone and their uncle enters and exits the dry creek bed which runs for miles and miles and is a favorite trail for the four-wheeled enthusiasts! Those buggies ripped up and down that creek bed all night long, cutting through camp for hours. Just try sleeping through that, it's impossible. And nerve wracking! What a long, long first night without sleep.

And,  just before dawn, they disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived. Ugh!

That next morning was Thanksgiving and we arose, exhausted, with a new found hope for another good day. Breakfast and hot chocolate by the fire in the morning. Motorcycle rides all day long, and despite some mechanical mishaps (yes, son, if you never shift out of first gear, the motor will blow up), we made some memories. Expensive memories, but good memories at that.

As the day wound down, Jim and I began to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner. The menu for our feast included the not-so-traditional spaghetti and steak with a side order of sand. Spaghetti on a camp stove is a feat in-of-itself, but we managed, and everything was delicious. We stuffed ourselves and there were mounds of left overs.

As the dog was a full-fledged member of the family, she was entitled have a feast of her own. We enjoyed watching her enjoy her steak and every last bit of pasta. Her tummy was bulging, and she was content as she took her place by the fire as we roasted our marshmallows for S'Mores.

Ahhhhh...good times. Good memories.

With another day under our belts, we crawled back into our sleeping bags, sans tarantuli,  hoping for a little more sleep. Hoping the buggies would take the holiday off. And as midnight rolled around, we were amazed that there were no buggies to be seen or heard. Ahhhh.  With smiles on our faces, we begin to drift off to sleep, our children all snuggled up, the dog at our feet. We are happy that we have provided our boys with a memorable Thanksgiving like none other. We even chuckled quietly as we heard the little pitter-patter of the raindrops hitting the top of the tent.

 Boy, were we dummies.

Desert Virgins.

Yeah, that's right! I said it ! We were Desert Virgins !!!

Those buggy desert veterans weren't out because they knew something we didn't! There was a storm brewing. And a storm in the desert is mother nature at her PMS'ing worst!

Those little raindrops got fatter, and came down faster and harder. Then came the wind. And here's where being a Thomson really kicks in...you just start to expect the decline of events in massive proportions when you're a Thomson.

The wind blew, and blew hard ! So hard, that the tent started to collapse. The stitching was ripping from the tent stakes, the air was full of sand and silt ! We had dirt in our eyes, in our mouths, in our ears. When we turned on the lanterns, you could barely see your hand in front of your face! We peaked out of our tent to  see that the boy's tent had completely flattened!

This is a nightmare! What do we do? Where do we go?

We do nothing... We go nowhere...

Jim figures all we can do is ride it out; which we Thomsons were doing as best we could.

But not BabyDog. That poor girl was a nervous wreck and it wasn't long before all that spaghetti and steak came right back up and that dog was yacking all over the tent! And what response did the two youngest children have to that?  The kids want to yack! They start dry heaving as they sit in their sleeping bags! They're holding it down the best they can, but every time the dog yacks, they make unsolicited yacking sounds, which nearly makes me yack! It was a literal yack-fest in a collapsing tent where the wind is now whipping up the corners of the tent and flinging doggie yack hither an yon. Yeah, looking back, I realize that feeding the spaghetti to the dog was probably not the smartest thing...

As the tent continues to rip, Jim decides he needs to take action and leaves to tie the tent to the truck before we all fly off to Oz. Remember the Little House on the Prairie episode where Pa Ingalls goes to the barn in the blizzard? And Ma Ingalls was afraid he'd get lost and die in that blizzard? That was how I felt when Jim left that tent out into the blinding sand storm. Ma Ingalls was lucky; she wasn't covered in dog yack.

Jim  tied the tent to the truck, but to no avail. The wind got worse, and the tent got worse. The yack got worse!  The kids are crying. I'm crying. We're all on the verge of yacking. WE SURRENDER !!!

Every man for himself !!! Mayday !!! Mayday !!!Abandon Tent, Abandon Tent !!!

We all run from the tent and pile into my new mini-van, which is now being completely sandblasted. The poor yacking dog gets beat to crap while she's in the tent that is now tied to the truck and resembles a para-sail more than a tent as it flies in the 70+ mph winds. Every so often, the wind would stop just long enough for the tent to slam down into the ground, and BabyDog would find her way out of what was left of the tent, run in confused circles, and dive back in for another bout of beatings. I mean, she may be family, but I know there's more spaghetti she hasn't yacked up yet, and the van is the only sacred place left. She's on her own, soooo don't judge me !!!

Hours. We sat  in the van for hours until the sun rose and the wind died down. The morning's light displayed the windstorm's devastation; it was what Jim called a "Redneck Christmas" as we had all of our neighbor's "stuff". Everything was destroyed and we had EVERYTHING from the other campers to the west of us in our campsite. Easy ups, chairs, trash, everything !!! I sat in my sand-laden van vowing that I would NEVER camp in a tent again. If Jim expects me to go camping again, I'd better be in something that protects me from insects and wildlife, has a toilet, and will not blow away !!!

Defeated, we packed everything up and drove the 4 hours home . The next day, Jim asked me if I was going to hose out that new tent....

Yeah, right !!!!  We bought our first motor home the following Spring.

My boys will be having traditional Thanksgiving dinner with their families this year. Sometimes they let me know that they feel like they missed out on something by not having the traditional Norman Rockwell  holiday celebrations year after year. Boy, am I glad the Thanksgiving of 1996 was not the usual tradition !!! I wouldn't have survived.

Now that they have families of their own, they are starting to forge their own holiday traditions. Have fun, boys. It may not always work out the way you planned, but you are Thomsons, and things will never be dull.

Happy Thanksgiving boys.... I love you <3


  1. Just to point out two things. The motorcycle that blew the engine in first gear (KX125), it was third gear, and the engine seized due to an intake leak.

    Also, the boys' tent did not flatten, in fact, they were content with themselves, and were woken up to help secure the campsite during the sand storm. In fact, the family ended up sleeping in the Astro van, but the oldest boys finished the night in their dome tent.

    The trip was success, other than financially. Sure, many things were ruined due to the storm; Thanksgiving was still a success. And that is what it comes down to, making memories that last a life time. I'm sure no person involved in the said holiday, will forget the details of such an unforgettable trip.

    RIP Baby Dog

  2. @ Anonymous
    Yes, Thanksgiving itself was a success. I do hope those camping trips to the desert (and the ones to the mountains) provide happy memories for years to come.
    The great thing about experiencing these things as a child is you're only truly exposed to minimal stress... the adults shoulder the majority of the stress and 100% of the financial fallout.
    BUT..it's all worth it if the good memories are forged...
    Like I've said before, the ordinary moments are often forgotten ... some of our crazier non-traditional stories are not.

    And while I'm commenting...I recall seeing the dome tent blown flat...it may have simply given in to the gusts of wind momentarily and sprung right back up, but when I caught a glimpse every so often, it didn't resemble much of a dome :o)
    I was amazed at just how much the older boys slept through that storm...maybe a testament to how much they were worn out from a day of dirt bike riding :o)

    All in all, it boils down to the memories, just like you said. I hope the memories are mostly happy for you...


  3. I posted a beautiful set of comments, but I don't see it. I must have pushed the wrong button or not have pushed the correct one, alas, lost words!

  4. BOO, Anonymous ... I do hope you'll give it another shot since these last few words came through ok...
    I'd love the feedback and do hope you get the chance to read some of my other escapades !!!

  5. Someone once said; "Our days are like identical suitcases, - all the same size;" (we each get 24 hours in one day, no more, no less) - but some people can pack more into them than others. You Alicia realllllly know how to pack suitcases!!! It says in the bible, Eph. 5:15 be careful how you live,- not as unwise, but wise, making the most of every opportunity." God must have a powerful sense of humor because as I read your words Alicia, you have built upon multi levels of opportunities, like a gigantic skyscraper and your skyscraper is still being built by your loving hands and your family as well. Gee, the window washers of America must be happy with all your windows! I am happy that you shared the windows of your heart and allowed myself and others to see your "memory builders." You Alicia have sooooooo much to be thankful for and to be blessed by, and it shows in your words. Enjoy as you continue to build memories and look to the future as well. I smile as I read the pages of your heart and your mind and gee, your husband gets the blessing of the whole book; so you both can walk away blessed with each other and it sounds like you do. Happy page-building and page-turning. Dan Mekus, a happy reader :)