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Maintaining the Princess, Outdoors

I love to camp: the woods, the river, the isolation and quiet, but under no circumstances do I 'rough it'. Oh, hell no. I am, after all, the Princess, and the Princess is particular about practically everything. So... I present, with great love and good intentions, the Essential Guide to Fancy Pants Camping. Enjoy...

First of all, I've never camped solo, so all of these recommendations are based on a two person adventure. I'm quite blessed to have an inordinately patient husband who finds my prissiness charming (most of the time), but a best friend is crucial. You need to have a PIC- partner in crazy- to make it work in the wild. Basically, the first step is to find someone with whom you can be stinky, filthy, and totally co- dependent- camping requires teamwork and a lack of homicidal inclination. Trust me, I've tried this with many other, less compatible PIC's, and the situation has rapidly deteriorated. Choose one wants to go off happily and return in a straightjacket.

Most of all, research your campground. Are you looking for a spot near a swimming hole, hiking trails, pure wilderness? I can attest to the well maintained environments in Arkansas, Colorado, and of the Appalachian Trail, but check out the availability of space and facilities wherever you go. This will be helpful because...
I HIGHLY recommend camping off season- before Memorial Day, after Labor Day. Columbus Day weekend is sort of the cutoff- some places turn off the water then, especially up North- but it's still possible to winter camp. Do your studying, perhaps even looking into campground set ups. If you can, set up shop in a corner spot, one with immediate access to the woods. Even better, stake claim to two adjoining sites abutting the trees (it's only $10 a night), one for the homestead, and I'll explain the other shortly.

Second- gear up! Some things I'll mention may sound excessive or randomn, but trust me. It will ALL become necessary at some point.

Let's begin-
Tarps, tarps, tarps. You can't have too many, but the basics are one enormous, two square. You'll need one square to set the tent upon, the big one for wind protection, and the other square just in case- for rain, most likely, or for day trips.

Next, get thee an Instant Tent and rain fly! Mine is a Coleman 4 person, and I very much vouch for it. I can put it up by myself under five minutes, without any fuming or whining. The '4 person' is perfect for two- unless you sleep like silkworms in a cocoon, the space in a 2 person tent is suffocating.

Next: an inflatable mattress, one with a battery powered pump, preferably. Then, cheap sheets and pillows. The Dollar Store is your friend here- under normal circumstances, I'd recoil in horror at the sight of polyester bedding, but it works in this case, and Dollar Store linens are inexpensive. Get as many flat sheets as you can carry- you'll need them. Then, make your bed, make it as comfy as you can, with many pillows. It's worth it.

Now, the kitchen. If you're planning to stay a while, go ahead and get a rick of wood, gallons upon gallons of water, charcoal, fire logs, fire starters, and lighter fluid. Most campsites have a fire ring, but, just in case, bring a little grill and kitty litter or sand. You can make a base from the litter or sand, then place the grill atop. Try not to set the woods afire.

One of the best things to have is a coffee boiler or two. Keeping hot water on hand is a huge bonus for many reasons. Also, a Dutch oven, a frying pan, two cooking pots - one large, one small- spatulas and spoons, plates, silverware, cups and glasses, a set of bowls, a set of knives, cutting board, more cheap washcloths than you could imagine needing, hand sanitizer by the gallon, dish soap, hand soap, laundry soap...I'm just getting started. Tupperware up and out your ass- with lids- of all sizes. Basins and bins, a container with a spigot, paper towels, toilet paper, antibacterial spray, towels, handy wipes, more washcloths, bungie cords, clips, string, and clothespins. You'll need two big coolers- one for food, another for beverages. Ice, always ice...

I've worn myself out just talking about it; I'll continue soon.


Two weeks I don't remember in the most beautiful city on the planet

So...Keppra. It works just faboo for blocking seizures and eradicating memory...up to a point. After the adventures in the waiting room, I was willing to gobble up anything to keep me upright, so I did. We have photos of ourselves all over Paris- kissing on a bridge with Eiffel Tower in the background, hands on the produce at the market, enveloped by the silk flowing from street side shops... I don't remember anything, and I will always be sorry about that.

I misspoke- I DO remember some things...
One night, C3 & I went to down to the Red District with our friend DeLa. Clay had an errand to run and left us to wait at a cafe, where DeLa immediately pissed off the owner. We were thrown out, and we spent the next hour or so looking for Clay, to no avail. I had to sleep; my medication was making me sick and I needed to just find somewhere to sit, at least. DeLa brought me back to his hotel- some nasty hole with one bathroom, period, for the whole joint. I collapsed on the filthy floor.
Hours later, I was able to get up, and I tried to get out of there...I just wanted Clay. The hotel's front door was deadbolted. Clawing at the lock, I screamed and screamed...and I was trapped there. I found my way back to the room, and in despair I grabbed the open bottle of St. Emillion and waited till dawn.
When the sun rose, I ran to the door again, this time with DeLa, to be greeted by a Nazi in a bathrobe- he looked me up and down, decided I was a prostitute and threw me out...thank every saint and Jesus, too.
But then it was cold and raining out on the street, and I had to get from the Seine to Sacre Coure dressed in my evening clothes, in heels, of course. DeLa escorted me, and at some point he dragged me into a shop and bought a 6€ coat to wrap around me. I still have it...
Somehow, we got back to Montmarte, to the flat, to
my beloved, who'd spent the night checking hospitals, walking the streets, searching for me as I searched for him. If there is anything I got from the whole experience, I realized that I truly loved Clay, I needed him, and that he felt the same. Intensity of emotion isn't farfetched when the ship is sinking; so much more when you know it's just you and your mate at the oars. Float on, lovers...



Freaking Europe, part 2

Next installment, but the same day.

After hours sitting across the street from the hospital, we decided to attempt to get back to the flat. French is not one of Clay's languages, so we had planned all along that I'd be our navigator, especially on the Metro. Following the previous near disaster in Dusseldorf, I was determined to regain my reputation as subway/ train authority, and I caught on pretty quickly our first few days there. This day, however, I barely knew my own name, much less the web- like maps on the Metro walls. I'm honestly baffled as to how we got back to the apartment. Soon after we fell through the front door, though, I seized again. This time, however, Clay was able to run to the cafe on the corner of our street and enlist the help of a bartender we'd befriended. Bartenders seem to enjoy us; I don't know why...maybe.
Anyhow, our new friend called an ambulance and shortly a crew of EMTs were flooding the apartment. They carried me from the bathroom, where I had chosen to dissolve in a heap in order to be closest to the toilet- apparently a side effect of a seizure is incessant vomiting. Anyhow, they were able to get me to the street and onto the ambulance. As the rest of the day had sucked, it was apropos that the only EMT who spoke English was the driver. On the bright side, I did learn the French for 'here, puke into this'.
They dropped us off at another hospital where I was put into the ER, but not for long. One fact our research about Parisian life had not turned up was the protocol of French socialized medicine. As it turns out, regulations mandate that any citizen can find a place to spend the night in any public hospital waiting room, regardless of medical need. It's a little like a Greyhound bus station, with blood and other effluences. Anyhow, after spending a short time with the non- English speaking staff, C3 and I were sent back to the lobby, me with a mobile IV in my arm, to wait...
And we waited. It was Friday night on a festival weekend, so the lobby was a busy little terminal. We sat from eleven o'clock or so until well past dawn. I have seen some crazy before, but that night was the ultimate experience. There were people sleeping on the benches still clutching their bottles of wine. All night, stabbing victims staggered in with the help of their drunken friends and were placed on the floor to wait. The bathroom doors were controlled by the nurses behind bulletproof glass (probably the best idea this place has made the norm), but after seeing those using the facilities, I tried my best to avoid them. After five hours, though, I just had to go. Inside the ladies' room I encountered a very short, rather dumpy transvestite clad from head to toe in cheap velour leopard print. She(?) pointed to the stall, said 'meirde! No no! Meirde!', and proceeded to spray me with Jean Nate. Fortunately, I'd been vigilantly in covering the needle in my arm all night, so I was spared death by cheap perfume.
In the morning, twelve hours later, we were discharged with a handful of medical French. In the first stroke of luck we'd had in a while, there was a doctor who was trying to practice his English, and he translated my diagnosis...epilepsy. He was also able to explain the prescription (Keppra) I was given and some part of how to take it. And then again, we struggled back to our flat.

Next episode: Paris from the realm of barbiturates.


Freaking Europe

This might be my longest story of all; this might be the most horrible vacation ever. But, sunny little freak I am, I've got to dish and wind up putting a good spin on it...
C3 and I had a beautiful wedding. We're the farthest thing from traditional, so we approached the Big Day as a giant party for us and everyone we love. Sidebar: do you know how hard it is to have a secular wedding ceremony in the South?
Anyhow, we did our best to host a faboo time in Hot Springs despite being out of our minds. It was wonderful, it nearly killed us, and I will never get married again.
Anyhow, we dreamed of our honeymoon, and we were determined to make it spectacular. Two years later, with hopes of expanding our music internationally, we set off.
Have you ever been in a situation in which all heaven and earth is giving you signs to abort your plans? And did you carry on, with your bull head? I did, and I don't recommend it.
We figured out the very best plan. Fly to Chicago, enjoy the city for a couple of days, then hop on the Trans-Atlantic flight to Germany. We'd shipped all our goods to the apartment we'd rented; I purchased international cell phones; I brushed up on my French. We even called ahead to arrange a 5:00 am cab pickup to get us to the airport...
The cab was an hour and a half late. We tried, but when we realized we had less than an hour to make the flight, we gave up, went back home, and refigured The Plan. Immediately, we packed the minivan and drove to Chicago; it took up the weekend we'd planned to enjoy, but we got to the airport in time. Clay had used the last of his frequent flyer miles to get us first class seats and thank God... Neither of us fly well. Clay hates it, I get irritated, so Bloody Marys sounded just grand. It was boarding time by the time we realized that the Cobb-ays the crew kept calling were us. We barely made it, but by God, we were going.

We landed in Dusseldorf, with plans to catch the train to Amsterdam. German is not one of my languages; I got us on the wrong connecting train. I must say, though, 7 am in Dusseldorf is quite fast paced, and sleepy tourists are not popular. Anyway, after thirty minutes on the platform in the rain, I figured out that we weren't going the right way- we scrambled across the tracks toting our vitals, and got on the right to Amsterdam!
Our visit there was sublime. We met the most engaging people there (yeah, Buddy Stone!), and generally had a great time.
And then, we hopped the train to Paris, and all our planning went to shit. We showed up, expecting a turnkey apartment, but the loathsome landlord needed us to call him. Our cell phones worked, but in Italian. Italian is not one of my languages. Dragging our luggage, we trudged up and down Montmarte, until we found an English speaking waitress who loaned us her phone. We finally got the keys to our rental from an unbelievably bitchy man (I still hate you, Alexander DeLimoges...yeah, I said it) and collapsed inside.
Strange things started happening then. Everything electric blew. I turned C3 on to Nina Simone, then the CD player died. I turned on the only lamp in the front room and it exploded. There was alleged Internet access that did not connect. Of all the packages we shipped, my clothing didn't make it. I made the best of it until the fourth pantie hand washing, and then I got pissed. Seriously, underpants from Chicago to the Netherlands to Germany to France... I am very well aware that everyone believes that fashion simply falls from the sky in Gay Paree, but just make that Metro trip in wet drawers down to the Monoprix in a killer November rain, I fucking dare you. Really, I dare you.
We arrived on a Monday, my clothes arrived Thursday afternoon. Everything was all Milhouse, I thought. In the early morning hours, I woke up to C3 shaking me. My hair was wet, so was my face, and I was confused . He told me I'd had a seizure, I had turned blue, gone rigid, foamed from the mouth. I had never seen him afraid before and it scared me. I didn't believe him...
That weekend happened to be the grape harvest festival in the streets of Montmarte, and we were excited to attend, despite my apparent seizure. We walked to the main square, I remember the late fall sunshine, I collapsed. Clay had to leave me and run to a pharmacy for help as I twitched on the pavement. The streets were closed for the oompah-pah band, so only fire trucks were allowed in the square. The firemen carried me to their truck, and they took me to the nearest hospital. I had another seizure in the lobby; it took four firefighters and three nurses to hold me down. I was dying. Clay was doing absolutely everything to save me, but they didn't understand him. They threw us out.
He carried me across the street, we sat on a bus bench waiting for another attack. I don't remember any of this...but he does.
I have to stop here...


Too close to the heart

I took off for the wonder of the West Coast at nineteen, determined to get to the Oregon Coast and live the gypsy life I knew I was meant to have. As luck and my tremendous lack of knowledge of automotive maintenance would have it, my car died on Monument Hill, just north of Colorado Springs. I looked around, thought it was pretty there, and spent the next ten years bouncing around the state. I got there in '98, within the year I found myself sitting around a shabby living room with my friends, completely rocked by the live footage of the massacre taking place so very close at Columbine. I had friends that went to school there...just girls of sixteen and seventeen confronted by unbelievable horror. They didn't come out so much anymore, and we drifted apart...

On 9/11 I woke up to a beautiful Denver day and unbearable devastation. The live footage... I can't talk it about now and perhaps never. It sent a horrible and familiar shock through me that still wakes me up screaming and sweating and crying from time to time...

In the early morning hours today, all those memories came down on me again as I watched in horror as victims staggered out of a cineplex. I know my sorrow is nothing compared to the victims', the survivors', the mourners', but it feels like an arrow shot straight through my sense of home and safety and trust. It's just too close to the heart.