Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Awesome Adventures of Dana the Ninth Grader, part 6

"Wow. Fruit salad for lunch, Danana." Kellie said flatly. "I had better eat Spam for lunch, dinner and tomorrow's breakfast because I am not packing all of this down the switchbacks." She brightened. "I think I've got a packet of ketchup somewhere, too! I love ketchup with my Spam!"

Dana barely heard her friend's excitement over the Spam because her heart was still racing and she felt a little dizzy. She felt elated, concerned and proud at the same time. It was the first time she actually had a real conversation with Macho Man Chris, and she didn't say anything stupid. But she was worried that he thought that she had anorexia. Were there rumors going around about her? The thought sobered her up for a second until she realized that Chris's heart was in the right place. All the girls liked Macho Man Chris, but it was so good to know that he was as handsome on the inside as he was on the outside. She wasn't wasting her crush on some jerk.

"...Spam with ketchup, Spam with tropical fruit salad, fried Spam, Spam sandwiches, Spam on our boiled rice..."

"See you later, Kells, I've got to find Stephanie Hill." She shook her head, "Don't forget green eggs and Spam."

Stephanie Hill was a high school senior who was also an Outdoor Ed alumni and applying to study forestry in college. Mr. Branson offered credits to qualified upperclassmen to help lead and teach as well as chaperone on the class trips. Stephanie had experience as a camp counselor, and Dana considered her pretty cool. Stephanie was always surrounded with students, both boys and girls, vying for her attention--the guys thought that she was "hot" and she was like a big sister to all the girls.

When Dana finally found her, she was outside with a bucket of warm water trying to rinse biodegradable shampoo out of her long red hair. There was no shower, and Steph had warmed the water on the propane stove.

"Hey, Dana--mind helping me out here?" Dana took the bucket and slowly poured the warm water over her hair. "Hurry up, it's freezing!" So, Dana tipped the bucket all the way. "Whoa! Thanks!" Stephanie grabbed a towel and ran inside the lodge, drying her hair along the way, not stopping until she was in front of the massive fireplace. She poured a small bottle of stay-in conditioner and proceeded to quickly comb it into her locks. When she sat down to braid her hair, Dana sat down next to her on the wooden bench. Dana contemplated the fact that not only did this woman survive in the wilderness, she seemed to look good the whole time too. Stephanie pulling out a tube of lip balm just served to punctuate Dana's observation. Dana's orange knitted hat with the pompom on top of her head suddenly felt hideously tacky.

As if on cue, Steph remarked, "I like your hat--it's cute! Did you and Kellie plan to wear the same headgear?"

"Maybe Kellie did--she brought it because she knew I wouldn't"

"Good idea, really. I just brought my Mariner's ball cap." Steph produced it from her back pocket and put it on. Dana saw that it only upped her appearance, not subtracted it. "It's not as warm as yours. Wanna trade?"
When Dana hesitated, "I don't have lice or anything. And my hair is freezing. Please?"

Dana surrendered her hat, feeling weird because her mom always told her not to share hairbrushes and combs, and hats were kind of personal. The Mariner
s ball cap looked brand new, though. Dana put it on.

"The blue brings out your amazing eyes. I'll let you keep it."

"Thanks, orange is more your color than mine." Dana looked around for Kellie and saw her across the room, talking to Greg, "You can have it--don't tell Kellie that I let you."

Steph started laughing "Yeah, I'll tell her I stole it from you because I couldn't resist its awesomeness." Steph put on her new orange hat and pulled her braids under it. "What's up, Dana? Did you want to talk about something? Have any questions about your outdoor ed projects?"

"Yeah, well, no." Indecisiveness hit her like a wave. "It's not a big deal."

"So, it's easy to talk about then, right?"

"Not really. People are getting the wrong idea about me. I don't know how it got started and I don't know how to end it." Dana felt the momentum of her words moving towards the real issue. "I don't have an eating disorder. I'm not starving myself on purpose." Dana felt numb from the shock of spilling her heart out.

Stephanie sat quietly for a moment, choosing her words carefully before proceeding. "I see you are really concerned. I'm sorry. I saw you not eat not just during the meals that Kellie ruined, but you refused s'mores last night, too. I didn't know if it was because you were sick, emotionally upset or what. I remember from my health studies class that girls your age start to develop eating problems, and if this is a pattern, it's good to catch it early." Steph moved closer to Dana on the bench. "I've been a camp counselor for a long time and I've seen anorexia and bulimia before." Dana had hung her head so Steph bent low from bench to try to make eye contact. "And you are a dancer, right? Ballet? You are in such good shape, it's one of the reasons your application was accepted for the class. I'd hate to see your health on this trip ruined, or worse, because of an inadequate diet."

"Yeah, Mr. Branson mentioned that you were worried. I hate s'mores--they're too sweet. And Chris practically gave away all the fresh fruit he packed up here." Dana smiled, even though she blinked away big teardrops "I wanted him to notice me, but not that way."

"Aww, Dana, we all just care a ton about you." Steph gave her hug."Chris really loves fruit, so it was a big deal for him to sell it to you. He's a rock star, that's all."

"Yeah, he rocks." Dana dried her tears. "It's true, prob'ly, that I've got some hang ups about food. And learning to speak up. I'm figuring it out. Hey, watch this!"

Dana stood up on the bench "Listen up, Ninth grade Outdoor Ed people! I'm not anorexic or bulemic! You can all relax, now!" She laughed as the room erupted in applause and she jumped down and did a perfect pirouette.

"I want my fruit back!"

"No way!"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Awesome Adventures of Dana the Ninth Grader, part 5

"Hey, ladies, I heard that you are in the market for real food, not freeze-dried pouches." Chris said in stage whisper, "Have I got a deal for you!" From beneath his jean jacket, he pulled out a can of Spam. "How many fruit rolls are you willing to pay?"

Dana was not impressed. The only meat they had was turkey luncheon meat, because it was lightweight and she was tired of its saltiness. She had never eaten Spam, but it didn't look much different. As cute as Chris was, she was ready to tell him no sale. Kellie, on the other hand, looked like she was ready to pounce on it. Dana had to act fast if they weren't going to waste their fruit roll investment.

"It's processed meat. What else you got?"

Chris relunctantly pulled out an orange from his pocket and set it next to the can. He then extracted a banana, a mango and a kiwi from his jacket and laid them on the other side.

"Wow, Chris! How much weight did you haul up here in your backpack??" Now, Dana was impressed. It wasn't fair, the girls packed as lightly as possible and were hungry while the guys seemed to have whole refridgerators in their gear.

"Seventy pounds." Chris puffed out his chest a little, he was also impressed with himself. "I was in training for this trip for months, you know? But the hike down the mountain is actually tougher than going up, and I don't want to wreck my knees because of wrestling tournements coming up, but I don't want to waste the food." Then he whispered, "And I heard that one of you girls in this group is anorexic or something." He looked straight at Dana. "I'm a little worried about you all."

"Okay, four rolls for the whole lot." Dana didn't know whether to be mad or to be grateful. The confusion made her feel flustered so she didn't know what to say. "It's my final offer." Her face reddened, "Thanks, but I'm just a picky eater. I don't know what to do without a microwave in the wilderness, either. So, don't worry, I'm fine." She got the fruit rolls and gave them to Chris. "These are strawberry, my favorite."

"Well, my knees and I thank you--stay strong, Danana." Chris made his nickname for her almost rhyme with "banana". She smiled as he picked up his fruit rolls and left.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Awesome Adventures of Dana the Ninth Grader, part 4

It felt like Thanksgiving.  Dana and Kellie leaned back to back on the picnic table bench in the Lodge, with their bellies full for the first time since they left civilization.  Their teamwork finally coelesced that morning, with Dana taking over the cooking and Kellie bartering extra fruit rolls for more substantial food.  Since the class was breaking camp the next morning and backpacking down five miles to the bus, many were eager to get rid of any extra food to lighten their loads. The lightweight fruit rolls proved to be in high demand.

"Dana, you make yummy freeze dried eggs!"

"Thanks for scoring that box of Macaroni and cheese!"

Kellie nudged Dana with her elbow  and  cocked her head at Mr. Branson sitting in a corner writing stuff on his notepad."I wonder what grade we got on our tent last night?"

"Without the rocks under the floor,  it would have been perfect."  Dana sighed, "If we don't tell him, he won't know."

"He doesn't care about comfort.  He is grading us on survival and if we apply the information we learned in class."  Kellie's turn  to sigh, "Don't you pay attention?"

"Huh? What did you say?" Dana played dumb and Kellie played like she was about to choke her until they heard a throat clear in mid-strangle. Mr. Branson sat across the picnic table from them. It was time for a verdict on their tent pitching skills.

"Ahem, your tent was solid, Smith and Johnson.  According to Miss Hill's evaluation while you were assembling it, it was placed in the best direction--back against the wind.  Nice trench around the perimeter, rain fly, pegs all in securely--not easy this time of year.  You used a ground cloth, good.  Were there stones underneath?"  Mr. Branson looked at them straight in the eyes.  The girls gulped.  Sometimes, their teacher seemed to have extra superpowers.

"We missed a couple."

"Well, it is a rocky terrain--make sure you get as many as possible, they poke holes in the floor and if it rains, it could leak.   A-" Mr. Branson got up from the table with a rare smile "Tents have very thin walls.  When I said lights out, you know it means all quiet.  But you weren't the noisiest ones.  However if you want an  "A" from this class you need to work on adhering to the lights out rule."

"Mr. Branson?" Kellie got up from her seat. "What if the conversation taking place after lights out was necessary for team building?"  Kellie described their reconciliation in the tent last night .  Mr. Branson was nodding his head. "...and I know you noticed we did better this morning than the previous ones."

"Ok, you've made your point." he jotted down 'team building' on his notepad. "Which raises another issue, about the food.  Miss Hill said that you, Miss Smith, weren't eating.  She was concerned that you had an eating disorder.  I'm relieved to see you dined well this morning.  So, we'll talk about this some other time." 

He headed towards a group of gangly boys, barking "Buckly, McEnroe, Lipovsky and Dean!" They were the noisest ones of the tents, and were about to face their own Outdoor Ed Judgement Day. Kellie jubilently sat down, pumping her arm in victory. Dana laid her head on the table.  This "A" was the hardest one she ever had to work for.  She sat up with a sudden realization.

"Kells!" she whispered.


"Tents have thin walls!"


"Think about it!  How did our teacher know about the rocks? " Dana put her head in her hands, "What if everyone heard us talk about-" She looked to her left and right.

Kellie gazed at her with disbelief. "You mean, boys?"  Dana hushed her. "Oh please, what are you?  A twelve year old? "
As if on cue, Chris came over to their table. Dana looked like she was about to die.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Awesome Adventures of Dana the Ninth Grader, part 3

Sunshine hitting the exterior of the orange tent made it glow inside when Dana opened her eyes the next morning.  Kellie's silver sleeping bag was rolled up and stashed in its bag.  Dana groaned from all her aching muscles from a bad night sleeping on the ground--for the first time in her life, she got out of bed without wanting a few more minutes of snoozing. The cold air hit her like a slap on the face, so she dressed quickly.  If only there was a hot shower, she thought.   Dana pulled off the orange hat that kept her body heat from escaping out the top of her head all night.  She glanced in the metal mirror she always kept in her jacket pocket.  Not a pretty sight.  She brushed her hair and put the hat back on. 

After packing up her bag and sleeping bag, Dana retrieved some toiletries and headed out the tent.  Kellie was nearby, sitting on a rock overlooking a view of the lodge down below.  She had her camera out as well as an open small book and was deep in thought with her eyes closed.  She looked so tranquil that Dana tried to quietly pass by without disturbing her.   Throughout the trip, Dana sometimes found Kellie sitting off by herself either thinking, singing softly or meditating, like just now.  Dana was curious, but Kellie's quiet times seemed pretty personal, so she didn't want to pry with questions.  It was a sharp contrast to what she was like the rest of the times she was awake--always talking, joking around and laughing that Dana didn't know what to make of it.  How could an outgoing, talkative girl like Kellie be also so... spiritual? Dana couldn't think of another word to describe this private side of her outdoor ed partner.

Kellie's eyes opened, and Dana blushed at being caught staring at her.  Her friend didn't seem to care, and moved over on the rock to make room for her.  "Hey, Danes, I've got some pictures to show you of the sunrise you just missed!"  She picked up her digital camera and started to scroll through the saved photos on file.  "It was just so beautiful!  I wanted to go back to wake you, but if I did,  I would have lost the moment, you know?  And I would have woke you up for nothing, you would have missed it anyway.  But I've got the pictures, I hope you don't mind."

Dana still felt like she was intruding, even as she sat down on the big rock.  She took the camera and as she viewed the landscape photos, she concluded that Kellie indeed had a good eye.  "Thanks, Kellie--as nice as the sunrise was, I appreciate you letting me sleep. Great photos!"  She handed the camera back to her friend. "Are you serious, do you really want a career in photography?"

Kellie sighed.  "I would like that, but it looks like I'll end up being a senator or some big wig.  Mom wants me to be the first African American woman president someday.  Destiny calls, you know?  God's will?"

Dana shook her head.  Sometimes Kellie said things that sailed right over her head.  She often felt that Kellie dwelled in another dimension apart from everyone else--her goals were so lofty, but she herself was so down to earth.  Was she an alien? 

"Here, Dana.  Mom showed this to me last week."  Kellie picked up the small book laying open beside her.  Kellie read a passage from it that sounded like another language, only it was still English.  Dana saw her friend read often from it, and wondered what it was.  Whatever deep thought she was attempting to share with her, was clearly bouncing off her like a rubber ball against a concrete wall.

Kellie turned to the scene below them.  "It's about perspective, Danie.  What we see from this point of view is much higher--we see a lot more than we would from down in the lodge.   In life, we are down in the lodge all the time."  Kellie jumped off the rock.  "Hey, let's get the tent down!  I'm hungry--let's see what I can burn for breakfast!" 

Dana laughed as she jumped down, too.  That's what Kellie  thought. Dana was going to make breakfast this morning, just let her wait and see what real eggs are supposed to be like. 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Awesome Adventures of Dana the Ninth Grader, part 2

"I know.  This is really depressing."  Dana was startled at Kellie's admission.  Kellie had not complained once, except to complain about her complaining about her cooking.

"Yeah, I don't think we cleared all the rocks before we pitched our tent.  I've got one under my ribs. Ouch!"  Dana turned on her flashlight.  Kellie had pulled the top of her silver colored sleeping bag over her head.  Only the pompom of her hat was sticking out.   "Are you warm enough?"

"Toasty, but I think I've got a rock hitting the back of my head here."  Kellie's sleeping bag started to move around, like an inchworm. Dana started to giggle.  "What?"

"Nothing."  Dana's giggling turned into laughter. "You look like something out of Star Wars."

Kellie popped her head out and blinked at Dana's flashlight.  "Sorry I yelled at you this morning about the eggs."

"Sorry that my whining ruined our whole day."

"Hey, why aren't you wearing a hat?  Don't you remember Mr. Branson saying that most of our body heat escapes from our head?"

"Hat hair!  I can't stand hat hair!"

"Who cares?  Everyone has hat hair, why should they care about your hair?  Here, wear this, I brought an extra."  Kellie tossed an orange flourescent knitted cap like the one she was wearing.  "We can be twins."

Dana put it on, carefully.  "How do I look?  Dorky like you?"

"I knew you wouldn't bring a hat.  You're so vain, you know?"

"Why glow in the dark orange, Kels?  I swear, I can see you a mile away with this thing on." pouted Dana.

"So you won't get shot by hunters looking for wild turkeys.  You look like one, Dana."

"The hunters might shoot you for looking like Jabba the Hut in that crazy sleeping bag!"  They started laughing.  Dana found that the hat and the good humor actually made her feel a lot warmer.  She laid back down, careful to avoid the rock poking her. 

Kellie had outrageous taste in clothing--she was an original, but somehow it worked for her.  She was outfitted in something that seemed bohemian, colorful and outdoorsy at the same time for this trip.  Dana and she had long talks about  her fashion sense as they got to know each other in class.  Kellie said that she  attracted attention as coming from the only African American family in their small town, so she thought that she might as well give them all something to look at.  She found that she liked finding vintage clothing at thrift shops and making it her own.  Except for the winter camp, she made sure she got the warmest high tech gear she could afford, in bright colors.  Kellie was tall and willowy, Dana thought that she would make a great fashion model.

"Dana, have I been too bossy?  I mean, for this class, in planning and all." 

Dana thought for awhile.  Kellie was a take charge girl, she was always something like class president, Associated School Body president, Honor Society president, and with all that experience and brains, Dana just trusted her.

"I don't think so.  But I think I needed to speak up.  We needed cooking lessons or something."

"Yeah, I think I was over confident.  Food is pretty important. I just didn't think that it could be all that difficult.  My mom cooks all the time, and she makes it look so easy." 

"All you need to do is turn down the heat, Kels.  That's all."

"Oh." Kellie turned towards her.  "I've got to ask you something."


"Why did you take this class?  Whatever got into your head to try this outdoorsy stuff?"  Kellie was smiling. "You just don't seem like the type to rough it."

"Oh, I know.  I'm a ballerina, a diva, a Glee fan.  But I'm not a wimp, you see."  Dana sighed.  "I'm an only kid and my mom got me into dance lessons and music and stuff we both like.  But my dad likes fishing and the great outdoors.  I want to do stuff like this with him, but he won't  take me.  I guess I just want to prove it to him that I can do it."  Dana turned to Kellie. "Why are you here?"

"Actually, because the most beautiful places in the world are right here in Washington state.  I'd like to try photographing it.  Maybe someday I could be like Ansel Adams." 

"Oh.  I thought you took this class because of Greg. You liar."  Dana teased.

"No, you lie.  I think you are out here freezing your buns off for Chris the Macho Man." 

"We're both lying!"  They laughed again.  Dana turned off her flashlight.  She was finally toasty warm and forgetting about her misery.  "Good night, liar."

"Good night, silly."

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Awesome Adventures of Dana the Ninth Grader, part 1

This sucks.  Dana tried to keep that thought far away from her, but it was true.  No matter how well she and Kellie planned for this trip, they weren't prepared for how cold cold could be.  They were members of a popular ninth grade outdoor education class and they could only get in during the spring semester.  Spring at home was different than spring in the northern Omak National Forest.  It was not really spring.  It was winter in April.  There was snow everywhere.

And Mr. Branson wanted his class to learn how to spend the night in a tent in that snow.  Kellie and Dana had heard all the lectures about winter survival and how to keep warm.  How to pitch a tent in the right direction.  The dangers of frostbite.  Layering your clothes.  He explained how half of the students were going to stay in the lodge next to the big warm fire while the other half spent the night in tents in pairs.  And the next night they were going to switch--the lodgers will camp outside while the campers got the lodge.  Mr. Branson and Mr. Smith were going to do rounds and check each tent, which were given spots a few feet away from each other. 

Dana couldn't get her feet warm, so she tried curling up in a fetal position in her sleeping bag.  Staying warm took a lot of energy, but she and Kellie didn't plan their meals very well.  Neither girl could cook, but she trusted Kellie to know more than she did.  By the time she discovered that Kellie was clueless, it was too late.  They got along most of the time, but Kellie blew up that morning when Dana complained that she was burning the eggs over their little backpacker propane heater.   Dana suddenly realized that she was always complaining all weekend long.  But Kellie burned everything including oatmeal and Dana couldn't eat it. She resorted to cold lunch meat and fruit leather.  Her stomach rumbled.  She was sick of fruit leather.

Kellie was the talkative one, but throughout the trip, she got quieter and quieter.   Dana shivered a bit.  They didn't choose each other, Mr. Branson assigned them as partners the very first day.  They had nothing in common.  Kellie took charge most of the planning times that they had, and Dana stayed passively quiet.  And now, she was paying the price for her silence.  But to be fair, blaming Kellie was not the way to go.  They were partners and shared equal responsibility for their decisions. 

Dana had never planned anything before.  This was her first experience with taking the information a teacher gave her and applying it to a real life situation.  The dilemma that Kellie and she had to deal with is how to pack everything they needed and keep their backpacks under 40 lbs each.  It was a 5 mile hike to the lodge from the bus.  Uphill with a lot of switchbacks.  The first night, Dana was glad that they got the lodge, the hike took a lot out of her.  She didn't pay heed to Mr. Branson's recommendation that they get in shape by loading up their packs and taking long walks before their trip.  She couldn't imagine walking around town with a loaded backpack and getting stared at all the time.  It just looked dorky.

Dana tossed and turned, and gave a big sigh.  Kellie was still on her side of the tent.  She couldn't be asleep already. 


She heard a groan.  "Now what?"

"This sucks."

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Surviving the Toddler Room

After snack time of doling out handfulls of cheerios to fifteen or so 2 year olds, I spotted young Fifi draped over his Big Wheel.  It was only 9:45am Sunday morning, but he had already pooped out from taking his little vehicle for a few spins around the Toddler room. We had at least an hour left to go. His large brown eyes looked at me expectantly.  It was a little intimidating. When it comes to entertaining small children, I am a real amature.  I'm sure Fifi saw right through me. 

How I got into doing childcare during our church's early service, I don't know.  One year I was holding crying newborns in the nursery, the next I was chasing crawlers and now I had graduated to the Big Time--toddlers/preschool.  Which requires serious playing skills. Since I don't have kids of my own, I am a little out of my comfort zone.  But I wasn't ready to wimp out on Fifi. 

I asked Fifi to pick out a book for me to read to him and after careful consideration, he brought me a couple of  books, one by Dr. Seuss.  An obscure one I had never heard of, where there is a certain Mr. Brown who makes noises. Hmmm.  Which requires you to make noises as you read aloud.  Hmmm.

Fifi settled into my lap.  At certain points of the story, the reader coaxes the readee into making a few sounds of his own.  And Fifi obliged every time.  Even the "whisper, whisper" part.  I love Dr. Seuss.  When you read his books to a child, he makes it easy for you.  Your storytelling skills seem way and above what they really are. Shy Fifi just turned the book back to the first page and in his own nonverbal way, got me to read it again.  And again.  And again. And again.

And I really didn't mind at all.  It was good to be sitting on the class/playroom floor, totally engrossed in this remarkable book together with Fifi.  And before we both knew it, it was 10:45am and Fifi's parents were ready to take him home.  And I realized, Fifi was as perplexed as to why he was in the Toddler room as much as I was.  But we made the best of it.  I want to do this again.