31 December 2010

Writing Contest Submission: "There Are No Tiaras in Camping"

To: Wanderlust and Lipstick
Travel Article Submission
From: Victoria S. Wynne
Category: “Off the Beaten Path”
There Are No Tiaras in Camping
Male strippers, late-night dancing at a club, coughing up hundreds for spa treatments...typical events of bachelorette parties, sure.  But these were not ideas that appealed to me when planning my own final celebration of the single life.  Considering my love of nature, I leaned toward a getaway both unique and free of sequins and heels.  The plan: to take my closest girlfriends on a camping trip on Georgia’s largest and most historic barrier island, Cumberland Island.
My fiance, Michael, offered his two cents on the idea: “What normal girl camps for their bachelorette party?”
“This is coming from the man who eats ravioli straight from the can with a plastic fork,” I shot back.
Cumberland Island is not just a destination, it’s an experience.  Known for its feral horses, crooked live oaks, and weeping Spanish moss, the island charters its visitors via river ferry.  My parents would take my brother and me on day trips to the island during holiday breaks from school.  When I entered college, I rallied a group of fellow dorm-dwellers to camp on the island during spring break.  Even after graduating and getting a “real job”, I continued to invite friends to the island for multiple-night stays.  I then found myself seeking literature on Cumberland and discovered its complete history in Charles Seabrook’s Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses.  My best friend and I acted like Mr. Seabrook’s groupies, reading the book cover to cover several times and getting him to sign our copies twice.  So the idea of camping on Cumberland for my bachelorette party was a better fit than Cinderella’s glass slipper.
When making the plans for this trip, we had to consider that two of the girls had never been camping before, and one was expecting her first baby.   In order not to overwhelm the pregnant and the inexperienced, we scheduled the trip at 2 nights and 3 days.  The first and last days would include the 5-hour-one-way drive to and from St. Marys, Georgia, the riverfront town where we would catch the ferry.  We would stay in a hotel on the first night, and then take the ferry to the island for the second night.  It would be a whirlwind weekend, but knowing my girls, they would the most of every moment.
There were six of us in all: me, the bride ready with her pick-up for carting camping gear; Christy, the maid of honor and walking First Aid kit; Janaki and Kajal, the non-campers and token vegetarians; Llewelyn, the mom-to-be and serious adventure-seeker; and Emily Lemmon (AKA EmLem), the go-with-the-flow sexy librarian type.  We split our motley crew into two carpools--one out of Atlanta and one out of Athens--and met up in the state’s southeast corner on the Saturday before “I do”.  Those of us who had camped before showed up with hiker’s backpacks, pocketknives, and Nalgene bottles.  Janaki packed her necessities in a duffel bag.  Kajal brought her rolling carry-on suitcase.  It ended up being the butt of a couple of jokes.
Our hotel, complete with a restaurant and always-busy saloon, was right on the St. Marys River and walking distance to every local attraction.  We visited the park and its street fair, hitting up the bratwurst stand and relieving our exhausted feet by dangling them in the fountain.  We snapped pictures of the black-eyed Susans on the river banks and of each other on the park swings.  Dinner followed our stroll at a quaint restaurant next door to our hotel as the evening haze settled upon us.  We conversed about the wedding and Llewelyn’s baby, whom she nicknamed “Egg Roll”, while we dined on gourmet salads and fresh seafood.
As part of every Cumberland trip tradition, we make a run to the local Wal-Mart for last minute supplies after dinner.  We were only going to be on the island one night, but we wanted our one dinner there to be really special.  Ingredients for steak and vegetable kebabs were wrangled up for the campfire.  Pop Tarts and dried fruit sufficed for breakfast and snack.  Peanut butter and bread covered on-the-trail lunches.  Everything was thrown into our cooler and smothered in bags of ice.
We returned to the hotel, ready for a pseudo night out at the saloon downstairs.  The girls dressed me in a battery-powered butterfly tiara and necklace tied up with condoms they purchased on the sly while we were shopping for our rations at Wal-Mart.  Our group was already going to stand out in the 40+ crowd that frequents the cramped saloon.  A blinking tiara was going to put a target on my head.  We had barely crossed the threshold when we were interrogated.
“Hey, baby chicks, where are ya IDs?” growled the bartender.  Her rotund figure was stuffed into her overall shorts, her freckled breasts swinging (sans brassiere) to her knees.  Greying blond hair whipped around her face.  I noticed she was only wearing one earring, a large hoop encrusted with rhinestones.  All six of us gaped, patting our pockets for our licenses.
“Can’t have ya risking my business if you chicks are underage,” she barked.  We proved our legal drinking statuses and found the only free table, smack dab in the middle of the room.
Llewelyn ordered herself a sex on the beach, alcohol free for the Egg Roll.  Kajal and Janaki, being the stand-up gals they are, wouldn’t let her drink virgin alone and ordered the same.  EmLem, Christy, and I shared a pitcher of amber beer.  Having camped on the island before, Llew, Christy, and I talked up Cumberland to the other three, describing everything from the ruins of Dungeness mansion to the rolling sand dunes behind the campsites.  As we killed the night and our drinks, folks in the saloon approached us, running through a list of possibilities as to why a group of women our age was there and why I donned a tiara.  They were shocked at our answer.
“We’re here to camp on Cumberland for my bachelorette party!” I explained.
“What normal girl goes on a camping trip for their bachelorette party?” they would ask.
We could only laugh.  “Who says we’re normal?”  Our bartender, liking our attitude and our answer, began to warm up to us.  She freshened our drinks and even posed for a picture with me, her one earring hanging on for dear life.  Reaching the middle of the night, we were tired and past our limit.  We retired to our rooms upstairs and slept off the day.
It was the morning to catch the ferry to Cumberland.  We sought out the free continental breakfast downstairs.  Cereal, bagels, and carafes of milk and juice lined the bar top in the saloon where we had caroused the night before.  We filled our bellies before checking in at the dock across the street.
The ferry ride to Cumberland Island takes about 45 minutes through the marshy St. Marys River and up the Cumberland Sound.  Seagulls follow the ferry looking for a handout from snacking tourists.  Dolphins occasionally swim in the boat’s wake.  If you get lucky, you might witness a submarine coasting through the waters of the sound as it leaves the naval base.  My favorite part, though, of the ride toward the island is watching the faces of first timers.  They try to take in the swirling sights of swamp meeting sand dunes, boardwalks running across mud flats, the chimneys of the Dungeness ruins peeking over the maritime forest, and wild horses grazing among the saw palmettos.  They realize they are arriving at a place that is a fantastic amalgamation of rich native history and preserved wilderness, and the view from the ferry was just a tease.
Our camping reservation was for Sea Camp, nestled under the canopy of aging oak trees and tucked neatly behind the dunes that rise to greet the Atlantic Ocean.  It was just a half mile walk due east from where we docked.  We used one of the carts at the dock’s ranger station to carry our bulky tent and cooler full of meat and veggies.  Everything else, we bore the weight.  Before lunchtime, our camp was set up and we were off to introduce the island to the three newbies.
Knowing we only had 24 hours on the island, we started our hike to the ruins of the Dungeness mansion and other buildings on the property.  The very first Dungeness building was constructed by James Oglethorpe back in 1736, but the crumbling structure that remains today was built by Thomas Carnegie in the 1880s.  It’s hard to believe that this island, whose first inhabitants (the Timucua) settled here 4,000 years ago and were wiped out by Old World diseases brought by Spanish missionaries in the 17th century, is the very same place where Big Steel built a summer home.
Walking around the ruins, we saw dozens of the island’s famous wild horses quietly grazing.  Graceful and coming in almost every shade, but always malnourished due to overpopulation.  Turkeys and armadillos wandered about the grounds, too, avoiding hikers, but not their cameras.  The marshy areas at the edge of Dungeness were alive with fiddler crabs and mosquitoes.  EmLem, Kajal, and Janaki were obviously smitten with our destination and the wildlife it had to offer.
With the day getting hot, we decided to trek back to the campsite to change into our swimsuits for a little beach time.  We took refuge in the shade of the woods as we hiked.  Aware of the need for a fire for cooking kebabs later, we collected firewood along the trail in the forest.  Kajal and Janaki were a little ambitious in their collection.  They found long, thick branches that couldn’t be cradled in their arms, so they dragged their finds behind them.  More critters popped out of the woods as we hiked, most of them being disgruntled armadillos in search of a fistful of grubs.
Losing daytime hours, the six of us packed in several more activities before dinner.  We walked out to the beach on the long boardwalk over the dunes.  It was too windy for the tubes of bubbles we packed, but there was plenty of sun for Llewelyn to deepen her tan.  We combed for shells and waded in the ocean shallows.  EmLem and I went back to the campsite for a short nap.  Christy spruced up our site, making sure our trash bag was tied up properly to avoid raccoon invasion.  We visited the car cemetery and gawked at private homes currently inhabited by Carnegie descendants.  All six of us wanted to see the sunset over the sound, so we regrouped and hiked a trail alongside the calm waters where we saw a replica Timucuan hut and, of course, more armadillos.  Kajal, feeling a little frisky, flashed one of the feral horses that fed just inside the woodline.  He kept right on nibbling at the grass, ignoring Kajal’s efforts.
We settled ourselves on a rock wall near Cumberland’s other public dock further south from where we had disembarked earlier in the day.  The sun began its show, painting the sky a vibrant red-orange.  Clouds streaked through the intensity, smearing the orange with white and grey.  The tide was out, so we walked out on the damp, sandy banks.  Barnacles struggled for breath.  Crabs feasted on tiny creatures.  We left the spectacle for our campsite, losing the light with each step.
Back at Sea Camp, we assembled our kebabs using flashlights to guide us.  Honoring the vegetarians of the group, we cooked the vegetable skewers first.  The roasted onion, pineapple, zucchini, and tomato tasted finer than any meal at a five-star restaurant.  Those of us who were proud carnivores tore into the strips of grilled steak from separate cooking rods.  Since darkness has fallen, we ate by citronella candlelight.  They deterred only a fraction of the mosquitoes.  We sprayed each other’s ankles in between bites.
There was still a little spunk left in us after our savory meal.  Keeping up with yet another tradition in camping on Cumberland, we trotted back out to the beach for an hour of stargazing.  We had to turn off all flashlights and headlamps once on the beach so as not to confuse nesting sea turtles.  The waning moon illuminated the beach enough to see each other’s outlines, yet not enough to recognize faces.  Telling each other apart was based on the sound of our voices.  While reflecting on our day, we noticed three figures coming out of the water toward us.
“Are you in our group?” they shouted, shaking off the salty water.
“We have our whole group,” Christy shouted back, counting our silhouettes.  “Who are you?”
“Oh, crap!” one of the voices exclaimed.  The three of them froze, flinging their hands in an effort to cover their shadowy bodies.  They had been skinny dipping and were looking for the other members of their troupe.  I assumed their missing friends were responsible for bringing the towels.  They had nothing to worry about: it was too dark to see anything important.  Obviously embarrassed, they scuttled back to their pile of clothes near the dunes.  We whooped and slapped our knees.  Who would be crazy enough to swim in the ocean in total darkness--naked?  There are man-of-war jellies in those waters.
We retired to our tent.  Sleep came easy, as it usually does when camping.  We heard raccoons scurrying through our site.  They hissed at one another when they couldn’t reach the strung-up trash bag.  An armadillo followed their trail, keeping to himself and hollowing out the ground searching for grubs.
Our final morning arrived, the sun sending its rays through the branches of the oaks, warming our tent.  It was with heavy hearts that we broke camp, especially with it being so soon after our arrival, but we all had jobs to get home to.
We left the site and headed for the dock, piling our gear near the ranger station.  We blew bubbles while waiting for the ferry.  It was during our wait that we experienced the most notable memory: a manatee and her baby swam up to the dock.  With the manatee having always been my favorite animal, I didn’t hesitate in leaning over the water and rubbing the mother on her snout.  Other campers had gathered on the dock around me.  The manatee spun.  Her baby floated nearby.  Children told their mommies they wanted to pet the manatee, too.  Janaki took pictures and a video, realizing just how meaningful the encounter was to me.
I focused on the perfection of the moment.  I was petting my favorite animal in one of my most beloved travel destinations with my closest girlfriends in my company.  It was beyond surreal.  A ranger shooed us away and made us wait at the station for the ferry.  She said something about petting manatees being wrong, but I wasn’t listening.  I pulled my butterfly tiara out of my backpack and crowned myself for the last time as a bachelorette.

Pictures from this very trip are below!
Llewelyn, me, Christy, Janaki, EmLem, and Kajal.  How blessed I am to have such amazing friends who will camp with me for a bachelorette weekend.

Black-eyed Susans on the St. Marys River.

Christy, me, and Kajal after they attacked me with the Wal-Mart duds.

Our bartender who referred to us as "Baby Chicks".  She loved us by the end of the night.

Christy, EmLem, and me couldn't be serious for more than 3 seconds.

My RA shirt from GHP that I had personalized with my future last name.

Llewelyn taking pictures at the ruins in the garden area of Dungeness.

Janaki and Christy lugging firewood back to the campsite after a long hike.

Janaki and EmLem relaxing on the ranger's front porch, waiting for the sun to set.

The girls on the river side of the island.  Tide's out and the sun is going down.

Me, Janaki, Kajal, Christy, Llewelyn, and EmLem after we broke camp.  Time to catch the ferry.

Janaki and Kajal carried the one bag of trash we made during our stay.  Thankfully, raccoons didn't get into it.

Most incredible memory: petting a manatee in the river before the ferry arrived.

Maybe tiaras are a no-no in camping, but it was integral in making this particular weekend one we'll never forget.

27 December 2010

Fertility Drugs: Round Three

My new secret weapon in the war against crappy ovulation.

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

I had taken roughly 30-40 shots of our Christmas tree all lit up at night with my favorite camera and wanted to choose one for today's post to wish everyone a very happy Christmas.  Somehow, all of those pictures deleted from our computer after being loaded onto iPhoto (along with all the pictures I took at my 5th grade team Christmas party).  I'm nearly in tears!

I pulled the one picture I took with my iPhone to post here today.  It's a little grainy and not terribly colorful, but this Christmas tree is my favorite one out of all the Christmases I've celebrated.  Michael, Mojo, and I wish you a Merry Christmas and wish you the best in the new year to come!

23 December 2010

What is "Baby Dust", and Do I Even Want It?

If someone had told me just a few years ago that my cell phone would play a part in the whole TTC equation, I would have laughed in their face.  I would have laughed even harder if that same someone had said my phone would be of the Apple family.  Yes.  I am a recovering all-things-Apple hater.  The road to recovery started when Michael bought an iPod over a year ago.  I couldn't be left in the dust, nor could I stand having to find conversion software for my piece of crap MP3 player.  I decided to jump on board.  Two iPods, an iMac, and an iPhone later, I'm not sipping on the Hater-ade anymore.  With the purchase of my iPhone, not only was I going to have access to my email account that is otherwise firewalled at my job, I was to be immersed in a whole new world of apps and other technological advances.

I soon discovered an amazing free app called "iPeriod" (for the doubters, check it out HERE) that has been a godsend in keeping all of our fertility and monthly cycle data organized.  I had tried for months to keep up with organizing the very same data on a somewhat chic pocket-sized calendar I purchased from Wal-Mart for less than $5.  It was easy coming up with general symbols for things like days on my period (those are days you want to forget, so they got a very angry slash mark) or abdominal pain (marked with a simple "AP").  Trying to come up with new and significant symbols for each sign and symptom because rather tedious, especially with my lack of creativity.  Were the smiley faces for days Michael and I had husband-wife time?  Or were they for the days I was in a good mood?  And what about days marked with an "S"?  Did it stand for "spotting" or "shitty attitude" or "spitting nails"?  On top of my inability to keep up with my own symbols, I began writing in notes on major gardening events: "fertilized yard" and "put epsom salt on tomatoes".  Not that I would confuse our fertility with the yard's.  I just needed something separate and user-friendly.

The software for the app calculates when I (apparently) ovulate, and it allows me to enter my own data, like when I have blood drawn or when we have a "love connection".  Its startup page tells you which day of your cycle you're on (so you know if you're late).  The app even assigns a unique symbol and varying colors for each event marked on your calendar, which makes it a perfect fit for my OCD personality.  My only complaint is that it plagues your iPhone screen with its glowing pink dot.  Yet, you do have the choice of renaming it "iP" should someone get their hands on your device and you would rather them not know that this app is for keeping track of your feminine phenomena.

Now that I've gone around my ass to get to my elbow, the point of this whole entry is drawing closer...

One of the latest updates on the app is a feature tabbed on its menu as "Forum".  It's a message board center with a multitude of categories where women using the same app can converse with each other.  Naturally, I was drawn to the "TTC" category where I could read and share messages with others trying to get pregnant.  Everyone seemed responsive and encouraging enough to warrant an actual post from me, so I took a shot.  In my message, I introduced myself, mentioned how we had been trying for over a year, and how we were experiencing new steps in the process--fertility meds, monthly blood tests, etc.  Almost immediately, an Australian woman with 3 children posted back a brief summary of how she went through the same thing with her first child.  Nothing profound, but what she signed off with had me tugging at my chin:

"Wishing you lots of baby dust!"

What the?  Huh?  Sure, my schema for all things positive clued me in that her comment was meant to be supportive and hopeful, even though I didn't know her from Adam.  Yet, I couldn't help but let my mind associate cockamamie images with her powdery positivity.

For example, remember when someone would ask you: "If olive oil is made from squeezed olives, and corn oil is made from squeezed corn, what's baby oil squeezed from?"  Even though you didn't want to, you couldn't help but imagine babies being squeezed until they oozed their therapeutic juices out of their fingertips or elbows.  Then it would be funneled into a clear Johnson & Johnson bottle.  The babies, of course, were never injured in your imaginary baby-squeezing factory.  They were given back to their mothers after their job was done, and they would sleep a little better knowing they were contributing to the healing of chaffed and irritated skin.

So upon seeing the "baby dust" statement, I was propelled into my own version Jack Handy's "Deep Thoughts".  Is baby dust available in stores?  Would it be found in the baby aisle at Publix?  Or is it sold on the street with other varieties of dust, like "angel" and "fairy"?  And most importantly, what is it made from?

If this stuff were actually bottled and sold, I would like to imagine it as being crushed up baby aspirin (to help with the pains of infertility) mixed in with some fine-smelling talcum and a little glitter.  The color glitter would be dependent upon what sex baby you hoped to have.  Application method?  Blown from the palm of a fertility fairy.  Duh.

The fertility fairy?  She would be a cross between this very cute cartoony fairy:

And this human one (but not as strung-out looking):

What outlandish or bizarre image popped up in your mind when you first read the words "baby dust"?  I can't possibly be the only one who put a picture to the idea.

I naturally wasn't satisfied with only my quirky thoughts on this topic.  I just had to Google "baby dust" to see what other crazy images and webpages I could discover.  Sure enough, I found this website, chock-full of free samples (of baby products, not the dust…), blog blinkies, and random pregnancy websites.  Like I want something like this flashing across my blog's main page:

But not all websites with "baby dust" in the title were all that obnoxious.  I found another woman's blog that focuses solely on her journey through infertility.  It's called "The Baby Dust Diaries".  She's smart, eloquent, and devoted to her readers.  Best of all, she's realistic and honest as is evident in her "About Me" page.

OK, now I've left my elbow to get back to my ass via the mole on my left shoulder, so let's close this one…

Since I bought the iPhone, it led me to download the iPeriod app, which led me to posting on the forum's message board, which elicited a response from a stranger wishing me "lots of baby dust", which gave me the topic to post on my blog.

Merry Christmas, friends!  Thanks for your continued support!

19 December 2010

18 Months TTC…and It Hasn't Killed Me...

The 20th of this month will mark a year and a half since Michael and I started trying to conceive.  In that amount of time, we have gone from "Let nature take its course" to "How many rounds of Clomid am I allowed to take?"  The latest news: my NP called Friday to let me know my progesterone level actually DROPPED this last month to a 6.4.  That's not supposed to happen when you're on Clomid.  But it did happen and now we have to face another "next step".  That step will be to start a more moderate dose of the fertility drug called Femara (yes, the one I recently blogged about that makes me a little apprehensive).  As for a silver lining, though, they are going to finally test my androgen levels to see if they are playing a villainous role.  They could very well be the culprit.  They could also be ruled out.  Either way, we'll have yet another much-desired answer.

I began using writing as an outlet for my frustration through this blog starting back in January as I timidly crossed the threshold of fertility testing.  Since then, my stress levels have greatly tapered and I continue to seek refuge through writing (plus an occasional yoga class).  That's not to say there aren't days where these 18 months haven't felt like an eternity, especially since I actually started to pay attention to the number of women who have since had a baby or are now pregnant.  It's at least 15 women whom I personally know, and three of those were added to the list in the last week.  I have to admit it's difficult to watch others grow babies in their bellies as my womb refuses to accept deliveries from my fallopian tubes.  Yet it doesn't diminish my hopes for our future parenthood.  I won't lie: news of a friend's pregnancy or new little bundle affects me the way a slap to the face would.  It's painful, but it's not experienced for long and the initial sting soon dissipates.  Then I put on my big girl panties and get over myself.  Just like my friends have been our cheerleaders during our struggle, I will be their cheerleader during their time of sheer exhilaration.

This road has been a winding, and often confusing, one, but there are a few things I have learned along the way.

  • First: you're never alone.  I have encountered so many wonderful women and their loving husbands who are either in the boat with me or were once on it.  It has reunited me with old friends, brought about new ones, and deepened relationships with those whom I knew only somewhat.  You feel a lot less lonely when someone understands what it's like to pee your 30th negative sign or when you want to punch a wall when you see a pregnant 14-year-old.  Plus, I have a pretty awesome husband who has walked beside me since day one.
  • Second: you'll get advice (even though you won't always want it).  Those who have been there already are the experts, and they will offer a nugget whenever they see fit.  Some of it is useful, like when I needed to know what to expect when starting Clomid or what brand of pregnancy test works the best.  But then I've also been told to do things like drink cough syrup, to relax/not think about our situation (like that's easy), to have sex all the time, to prop up on pillows, to stand on my head.  *sigh*  I know folks are trying to help, but sometimes I would rather dig my eardrums out of my head with the broken end of a plastic spoon before getting pregnancy advice involving positions and sperm gravity.
  • Third: the longer you go without getting knocked up, the more your peers start to tiptoe around the subject.  They don't mean to treat you like a fledging with a broken wing, but it happens.  They wait longer to tell their pregnancy news or they give you those poor-little-infertile-girl pats on the back.  They might even tell you, "I just know it's going to happen for you.  You'll see."  Let's be realistic!  Life still marches on even if my eggs don't.  Only God knows if I'll ever be pregnant, and I have to accept the fact that it may not happen.  No one wants to walk on eggshells, and I most certainly don't want to be the reason someone else does.  Save the sympathy cards for those who are grieving or stuck in a bed in ICU.  There are worse things than infertility.  I'm a realist.  Join me!
  • Fourth: stress plays a HUGE role.  Remember when I didn't have a period for 130 days?  That was after I had been transferred to a new school, sentenced to a year of teaching in a trailer (where it rained every other day and the heat/AC only sometimes worked), and was forced to deal with matters involving custody battles and other miscellaneous Jerry Springer-esque drama.  It's a wonder my ovaries didn't throw up a white flag and shrivel up on the spot!  Now that I'm in the main school building with a great group of kids and parents, as well as a team of teachers that are my family when my actual family isn't around, I've had as close to a regular cycle than I've ever experienced off birth control.  And yoga helps, too!

So, despite the setbacks and moments wondering if Michael and I will ever conceive, I'm still alive…and kickin', for that matter.  I remember thinking at one time that the worst news I could ever receive would be that I was not able to get pregnant or carry a child.  As much as I would be traumatized by such a blow, I am confident to say that I no longer feel that way.  It would be much more painful to be told I was not allowed near children or not qualified to adopt a child should getting pregnant not be in the cards.  The ultimate goal is to become a parent. Ever since I my diagnosis of endometriosis at the age of 20, I foresaw a future of fertility issues.  Maybe our situation is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Maybe it's a test of our determination toward a very meaningful goal.  Maybe it's merely a test of our patience.  Until I have a baby that I'm allowed to take home as my own, I will keep dreaming about and praying for one.

Dreaming of storks and butterball babies.


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