travel

A Review of the Coleman Family Tent

Canadian Tire has this commercial.

I did not know about this commercial thanks to the magic of PVR, but when I purchased this behemoth of a ten-person tent for a 5 day family camping trip, Coleman was unwittingly fulfilling all of my unexpressed desires. I wanted to be the envy of all the tenters out there, all one amongst the army of 30 foot trailers. I wanted a tent that would house me, my camping-averse husband, my four-year olds, and my wayward dog for 5 days in a temperate climate during a family trip without causing a domestic dispute.

Is that too much to fucking ask? Yes. Yes, it is.

Set Up

Pros: YES. FUCK YES. BUY THIS TENT RIGHT NOW.

Setting this tent up set me up for a level of optimism I can only describe as “overly confident” at best, but “delusional” is a more realistic term.

Cons: The worst part about setting up this tent was that I had to set down my beer to do it because the poles have clicky things that require two hands. I really tried not to set down my beer, friends, but things just couldn’t be helped. My husband fiddled with this random piece of material that we think is some sort of fly or perhaps, OH MY GOD I JUST FIGURED OUT IT’S PROBABLY A WALL FOR INSIDE THE TENT THAT IS SO SMART BUT HAS VIRTUALLY NO USE TO US NOW BECAUSE I AM HOME WITH ACTUAL WALLS MADE OF DRYWALL AND I AM GOING TO KISS THEM.

THERE ARE TWO QUEEN SIZED AIR MATRESSES IN THERE THIS IS PRACTICALLY THE HILTON

There are two queen sized matresses in there and room to spare. Camping is going to be goddamn aces, you guys. Optimism level: OFF THE CHARTS.

But really, this delivers on the promise of the instant easy set up, if you subtract the hours worth of fiddling with mystery material.

Staying In the Tent

Pros: This tent is large. There is lots of room. It seems durable. There are lots of windows. It is a rectangle. I am a tallish woman and can stand up straight in it, if you don’t count me nailing myself in the head with a lantern at least six times during this trip because I evidently don’t have a short-term memory anymore.

Cons: You guys, being dry is all well and fine when you’re in a car wash for a few minutes, but what do you get when you’re in a downpour with two small people with only passing knowledge of potty training, a camping-averse husband who said (for real, I am not shitting you) “I didn’t change my clothes for three days because I kept thinking we were going to shower” and a dog who prefers feces and rain-soaked kibble to anything else?

The answer is condensation. You get condensation.

I can see the water is beading on the outside, so why is it dripping on my head. This is my thought process for two hours.

I can see the water is beading on the outside, so why is it dripping on my head? This is my thought process for two hours.

This is what I figured out as I clung desperately to the side of the brand new air mattress that required complicated re-pumping every day after having seven children (five not my own) abuse it to the point of disrepair. I had four-year old feet in my face, I was half out of my sleeping bag, and I was getting dripped on. So I had some time to think. And I thought “FUCK YOU, Coleman. Fuck you for making a completely sealed off “family” tent.” No one wants to be sealed off with their family. That is why suite hotels and boarding schools were invented. It’s all well and fine that you can make a neato commercial, but the practicality of having a completely sealed off tent is nil. So basically, I was having angry thoughts.

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All that air took hours to escape because I did not have the cognitive ability at the end of the trip to open a door or window to let it out.

And then, just as I was getting some sleep, the voice of my dad appeared from the heavens. He’s not dead, so it was especially weird that he was offering us respite in form of a the hotel room key that he and my mom were checking out of, so we could take a hot shower. So weird that I grumbled “but there’s pay showers here”, and he retreated as quickly as he came, but left wine. I thought it was a dream until my husband lost his shit over the fact that there was no hot showers to be had and I tripped over the wine bottle on my way out of the tent. I am drinking that wine right now you guys, and nothing ever tasted so good.

Take home message: Coleman denied me a hot shower by making me think too hard. It does not matter how big the goddamn tent is, friends, if there is no ventilation and five mammalian bodies, you have a problem.

Take Down

Pros: Take down of the Coleman Family Tent is relatively easy because of the magic of presto buttons and neat shit like that. I completely fooled our spectators (my cousin and the assorted kids) that everything was fine because we got it all sort of down minus all the massive air/ventilation problem seen above. And they left for the beach, with us promising to follow shortly as soon as we got our tent in the bag.

Cons: And that is when the proverbial wheels came off the proverbial fucking piece of shit tent.

Friends, I said and did things this morning that I don’t care to repeat. A lovely, lovely couple staying in the campsite next to us who were quietly having breakfast, and who live-in-the-same-city-as-us-so-I-will-probably-run-into-them-at-the-Farmer’s-Market-tomorrow-because-they-seem-like-the-type and their two-year old daughter, did not need to hear the things that they heard this morning. There was a domestic scene of epic proportions, rivaled only by our camping neighbors trying to park a 35 foot trailer in pitch black the night before. I feel ashamed, dear readers. Ashamed at what that tent made me do.

All of this shit had to go back into our van. I would have just set it back up and lived there on a permanent basis if they let you stay more than 16 days. I could have been a charming campground resident who helped you back your trailer in. I had plans. A lot of plans.

All of this shit had to go back into our van. I would have just set it back up and lived there on a permanent basis if they let you stay more than 16 days. I could have been a charming campground resident who helped you back your trailer in and made hilariously burned pancakes every morning. I had plans. A lot of plans. I had a lot of time to make those plans.

I have many reasons for yelling, but that tent became the lightning rod for all of my frustrations this morning. I was furious at Coleman for disabusing me of the notion that a family camping trip could be the joyous family fun times that I was envisioning. Mostly though, I was furious at them for saving the shitstorm right for the end of the trip, when we had lost all organizational capacity. All I wanted was a hot breakfast, Coleman. What I got was a maelstrom of throwing shit around, patronizing, and accusations. Where is that in your goddamn commercial, Coleman?

But on the bright side, at least we didn’t leave the camping tradition of having a major domestic incident aside. It’s right up there with roasting marshmallows and beer fueled hikes.

Rating
Let’s review:
Pros: I was lulled into a false sense of security that everything was going to be ok.

Cons: I do not enjoy 1) being disabused of notions and 2) having all the shit saved for the end of things. I like the shit up front so I can deal with it.

This tent is recommended for the camping-averse and those with short attention spans. This tent is highly recommended if you have lost your sense of smell, prefer moist environments, and you can afford to just abandon it at the end of your trip.

This tent is not recommended for actual families, those in shaky marriages, or people with dogs of any kind, especially ones who have earned the moniker “Smelly” by a horde of children becoming collectively more odorous by the moment.

Must See NYC: Chess

So way back in October we went to New York. We saw many fabulous sights, including Broadway Shows, a taping of the Daily Show, a concert at a bowling alley in Brooklyn, and a lot of people buying toilet paper in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. I am told that last part worked out fine.*

All of those things were very exciting and deserve a long post about how much I love New York. But I am here to talk to you today about Chess Tourism.

Background

All my knowledge is courtesy of Mr. Giraffe, who spent his youth playing chess. Needless to say, (and thankfully) we don’t run in to legions of old girlfriends.

Tournament goers are very diverse, but tend toward eccentric. The one thing that they have in common is that they are brilliant with the sixty-four squares and seem to enjoy sitting. Forget your notions of ornately carved wood and comfortable leather chairs, this is low rent but serious business.

A typical chess trip is something like this:

1) Study chess. This requires reading books full of diagrams like this:

This is something really exciting that someone famous did.

2) Cram into car with as many chess players as you can fit (they’re more flexible than clowns this way due to budgetary concerns).

3) Check in to crappy hotel, and prepare not to see the sunshine for four days.

4) Sit with your head in your hands for six hours without movement, food, or breaks, occasionally moving a piece as needed. Other player observe in silence and occasionally nod in approval or defeat.

5) Hope to repeat #4 as often as possible because that means you’re being successful.

6) Review games with other players and fret over all of your key mistakes in life.

Anyway, because of all the hours invested into such things it was natural that when we hit New York we were going to fulfill a lifelong dream to hit all the chess landmarks.

There are three.

Washington Square Park

This is where the chess players play outdoors in all the movies. We met a charming man named NaShawn at Washington Square Park who held his own against Mr. Giraffe for many hours on a sunny fall afternoon.

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A chess player would look at this board and instantly tell me who is winning. I am telling you it’s a chess board.

This gentleman kept me company while Mr. Giraffe was playing and insisted I take his photo.

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Steeze

I assure you there was nothing untoward, as he was mostly showing me pictures of his girlfriend on his iPad complete with Barry White soundtrack. Their living situation is tragically complicated by his parole conditions, but I think those two are going to make it.

The Chess District

South of Washington Square Park in the hopelessly complicated maze of streets that is Greenwich Village, there is the largest chess district in any urban dwelling. There are over two stores packed to the rafters with chess books, sets, t-shirts, clocks and any kind of chess related paraphernalia you could ever imagine. My favourite part was that I was allowed to use the bathroom there because Jesus Christ, where does anyone go to the bathroom in Manhattan? Are you all chronically dehydrated? Is there a special brand of Depends for Manhattanites that gives you all pert asses?

New York 2012 080

This is not the one I used the bathroom in.

Marshall Chess Club

Two blocks north of Washington Square Park, inhabiting a beautiful townhouse in Greenwich Village, is the Marshall Chess Club. Some enterprising chess guy dedicated an expensive piece of Manhattan property to the pursuit and study of chess. The door is so elusive it will only appear to you if you know what a Spassky is. Grandmasters from all over the world have honorary memberships. This inspires a bit of class warfare between them and regular members who pay steep dues only to have their asses handed to them at tournaments. Even chess players have problems.

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Elegant old world charm accented with cheap $4.99 chess boards. Chess players care not for aesthetics, only for symmetry of the board. Or something.

Chess Tour Notes

Mr. Giraffe had thoughts about all of this ranging from awe to being underwhelmed by certain aspects. Unfortunately, I don’t play chess. Instead I contemplated the socioeconomic implications of the down and out players at Washington Square who eke out a living hustling chess not knowing that the high falutin’ Marshall Chess Club existed only blocks from them. On the whole, the players at Washington Square seemed to be having a better time.

The Rollergiraffe recommends the NYC chess tour for those who enjoy chess, chess history, and chess politics. All eleven of you. It may also be of interest to those who enjoy wafts of pot smoke, observing racial and socioeconomic tensions, conversing with ex-convicts, and watching old white men attempt to wrap bologna sandwiches in wax paper. Bathrooms are located in the Starbucks at NYU on the east side of the park, in the chess stores and NOWHERE ELSE IN MANHATTAN.

Summer 2012 440

There is a lot of this in my future.

*Hurricane Sandy did not work out fine at all. Please catch up on ongoing relief efforts at http://sandyrelief.org/

This post was inspired by the redoubtable Carrie Rubin, who braved a magic convention with her son. She also wrote a book while still being a doctor and a bunch of other stuff, and I am more or less convinced she’s actually Wonder Woman.

Broads on a plane

I just got back from a weekend of total debauchery genteel jazz music, wine tasting, spa, and very little internet. It was magic. We flew in to San Francisco and drove down the coast for our annual pilgrimage to the Monterey Jazz Festival, this time with three of our best friends in tow.

While we were waiting for our plane we witnessed one of those beautiful moments in life. There was a lady celebrating her seventieth birthday, and five of her sisters, along with an assortment of neices surprised her at the airport and were all going on the trip with her. She was ecstatic; the surprise was a total success. Everyone on the plane was feeling revelatory.

The flight was not without drama. The attendants were mostly on call for the sisters, who were apparently attempting to break some sort of drinking record. There was a medical emergency when one of them ran short of breath from all the excitement. Then something went weird with the plane and we had to abort the landing and circle around San Francisco until we went down for a bumpy landing met with EMS and air field security.

Everyone broke out into applause when we landed. At least those of us who weren’t throwing up or busy cracking out the valium. We were feeling a bit giddy from escaping death (that might be a bit of a hyperbole, but in my mind we were only moments away from being a national tragedy), the general euphoria of a vacation ahead of us, and witnessing the family reunion.

So when yet another sister was waiting for the sisters at the luggage carousel, it was just too much. Everyone was in tears. Mr. Giraffe approached them to tell them how touched we all were watching this beautiful day unfold. As he made his way over the birthday girl yelled “Oh my god, you guys hired a stripper too!”

He’s probably hot enough to be a stripper, but not the lewd one of the bunch. Also, not sure the broads would like the white guy punching dance.

My inner broad was doing a slow clap with a cigarette hanging out the corner of my mouth. Bravo ladies, you give me hope. And I think the least Mr. Giraffe could have done was take his shirt off.

Camping Tetris

I took the boys camping over the weekend. A great time was had by all, except that it was minus a gazillion in the mountains at night (I swear to god snow turned up on the peak next to us while we were there. Total bullshit. It’s STILL AUGUST, MOTHER NATURE) so no one got any sleep at all because we were too busy staving off hypothermia and convincing ourselves that camping is a good idea. Usually by 6 am we had come to terms with camping and drifted off to sleep, just in time for the kids to adopt tigger-on-ephedrine levels of energy and start bouncing around the tent so hard I am sure from the outside it appeared like we had set loose two small bears in there. It felt like that when I was woken up with a kamikaze ninja jump onto my head.

Anyway, this level of sleep deprivation always takes its toll. On the way out to the campsite I was patting my back for my superior packing skills. Everything was organized neatly into the back of the van, rolled up in their respective bags. Never mind that I had to text my husband eleven times to bring stuff out that I forgot; eleven is about average for a trip to the mall. For a weekend of camping, eleven is great news. When I got out there my neighbor had already set up her campsite, sans husband, with two small children in tow, and in the spirit of looking like I was up to the same level of amazingness I attempted the same. And it happened! The tent got up, the van got unpacked, the beds got set up and the husbands arrived to a very charming scene. With beer. Everything was perfect.

The ensuing lack of sleep caused us to flunk the post-camping cognition test. Despite the fact that we trashed a few chairs, ate most of our food, and drank all the beer, we could hardly fit everything back into two vehicles, much less one.

This is exactly as full as the van was on the way there. Packing up we took up the same amount of space.

Plus this.

And this.

Pre-camping, I put this pillow in the bag in under 30 seconds flat. Post camping I wandered around the campsite for nearly 20 minutes trying to just get one corner shoved in with this result:

A drunk lab rat could do better.

Putting the tent back in the bag proved to be too much for my damaged psyche and if it hadn’t been for my husband I would have just abandoned it. I might have cried a little. I might have also stomped my foot like a five-year old.

I have never loved this man more. Not even on our wedding day.

So in the spirit of this, I’d like to share an open letter to Coleman, purveyors of camping products everywhere.

Dear Coleman;

You make a fine camping product, it’s true. Your brand has been a part of many cherished family memories. But your storage bags are not condoms, ok? It does not matter if there is a little extra room in there because no one is going to get pregnant if it falls off. Let’s be honest, most of the people buying the fluffiest sleeping bag around are driving a huge SUV and parking it eleven feet from their tent. There’s no need to kid ourselves about conserving space and packing light. Think of the Sunday morning hung over and sleep deprived among us when you’re designing your products. We’re just pretending to be outdoorsy; make it easier for us to feel superior and you’ll have a lifelong customer in me.

Sincerely,

The Rollergiraffe

P.S. Also, if you can figure out an un-tippable camping chair I would be forever grateful. I am just saying that balance is not my best attribute after six Pilsners. I am funnier, just not more upright.

A Rollergiraffe’s Guide to PEI

When we had to go to Halifax for family reasons I declared that we were going to rent a cottage and sit still for a week, so we rented the cottage in Prince Edward Island and didn’t sit still at all. PEI is a teeny tiny little island off the east coast of Canada that is also a province. It is known for lobsters potatoes, Anne of Green Gables, and for being the birthplace of confederation. We came to know it for haunted houses, cracked out road systems where wild turkeys (not the liquid kind) cause traffic jams, hermit crabs and ice cream. I slapped a statue in public for failed comic effect then flashed a bunch of people in Charlottetown. A lot of lobsters died. Here are some pictures.

Confederation Bridge

Confederation bridge and two of the dudes I live with pondering the ocean.

Our cottage was walking distance to the Confederation Bridge. I was completely sure in my mind that it was the longest bridge anywhere until my personal fact checker (my husband) looked it up and assured me that China, the US, Saudi Arabia, France, Portugal, India, Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand, South Korea, Russia, Brazil and Germany all have us roundly beat (thanks, fact checker). So I might have been a little off but the Confederation Bridge is the longest bridge over ice, which is what I was trying to tell him. My husband never lets me finish my sentences.

Summerside

We crossed the bridge and I pretty much pushed our very kind cottage owners out the door so I could go find myself some lobster. The first night we went to a seafood shack, the second night we went and trashed the local legion and pretended to be in the local Lobster Festival Parade float.

I am not sure that’s how you’re supposed to eat it

Practicing to be the lobster queen. WAVE, boys, WAVE AND SMILE.

Kensington

The cottage was perfect, but not so perfect were our freakishly busy kids. After one day of watching our damage deposit disappear before our eyes we decided to go see every tourist site that we could in 6 days.  Cavendish beach on the north side of the island, but along the way we decided to stop at a boring historical train site. The guidebooks totally neglected to mention that there is an amazing Haunted Mansion. The train station was about 10 feet of track and some stores and you have a Haunted Mansion in your back pocket? Play that up in the guidebook, PEI. Anyway, we thought that would be a great idea for 3 year olds (because we’re terrible parents) so we went. Twice.

This looked way scarier in the dark. And smelled scarier too.

My love rating is “dull”

And then we got to carry a kid out of a haunted house screaming “I WANT TO GET KILLED BY A GHOST AGAIN” for all the strangers to hear. So we took him to a theme park and let him play in the ball pit which was probably posed the actual threat to his health and well-being all day (those things are so dirty, why are they allowed?). Then we took him back to the haunted house because who doesn’t need a good scare before bedtime?

Charlottetown

Charlottetown is the capital of PEI and where Canada happened. Or rather, where the first of a series of meetings happened where our drunk and disorderly illustrious founders decided Canada should be a thing. It’s easy to imagine our founders showing up in town and being greeted by adoring crowds a band of political enthusiasts a bustling populace an abandoned town and one guy with a key to Province House because everyone was at the circus that day. What can I say? Apparently Charlottetown residents get more excited about traffic circles than Confederation. So much so that when the first traffic circle went live everyone set up lawn chairs to watch the chaos. Traffic Circles 1, Confederation 0.

M. reenacting being the only guy not at the circus

I was on a mission to find oysters in Charlottetown because by day 4 I was kind of sick of lobster. What? It was cheaper than ground beef. My quest for oysters led me to several bars and a brew pub with the boys in tow and more than one disapproving glance in our direction. By the end of the day I was making some fairly questionable decisions.

I thought slapping a statue of our first Prime Minister was hilarious at the time. Turns out I was just drunk. And my husband kept yelling “make it look like he was touching your boob”. We are such good role models.

Cows Ice Cream is a PEI chain, rated second in the world by Reader’s Digest. Reader’s Digest. Obviously. Anyway, they have cows outside their stores, so this happened.

I want this exact statue on my grave when I die

And a lot of people saw my underwear while I was mounting that cow. That sounds bad. My husband helped me and afterwards said “I just got a face full of crotch in public. Don’t ever let a stranger help you onto a cow.” I didn’t ask him whether I should let friends help.

The Last Supper

The beach was magnificent. If you don’t like the beach, there is something wrong with you. Or at the very least, our power animals are not compatible. Our last day I was hell bent on creating Beautiful Family Memories. So we went into town and bought the two largest lobsters we could find and let them loose in the cottage to freak the kids out.

Lobsters

Mr. Giraffe and I sat on the beach drinking microbrews while our kids caught hermit crabs and the sun started to go down and it started making me sad that I had to go home ever again and then I berated myself for not being able to stay in the moment and then I tried to enjoy it harder, but it was already ruined. I hate my brain.

See? Everyone is having a good time. And I am letting my beer get warm.

So we went home and cooked our new pets and set the table for this glorious scene:

I WIN AT VACATIONS!

And it was perfect until moments later when the boys were eating my lobster in the nude and I was scraping citronella wax off the deck while my husband sat back and enjoyed the sunset. But I am used to fleeting happiness, so that one sip of wine will keep me afloat for some time to come.

Overall rating: Rollergiraffe gives a sound double thumbs up to PEI. We did a lot of other things that were relaxing and uneventful, so I didn’t mention them here but it’s an awesome place to travel.

Travel advisories: Watch out for the elderly drivers parking sideways on the highway outside of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s house.

In defense of kids on airplanes

I know, this one is a tough sell. But people like this who write about charging a tax for parents who can’t make their children behave make me feel all hulk style angry. Or maybe not angry, but a little hopeless.

Look, I get it. I have been there with a screaming two year old in my lap squashed into the window seat wishing we were seated in the emergency exit row so we could jump out end all of our suffering at thirty thousand feet. And I have twins so people are extra mad to see us on the plane. I have purchased drinks for strangers and closed my eyes and prayed to every god I could invoke for the screaming to stop. It’s useless; once a child is screaming that shit is happening and there is nothing you can do about it. Around the second hour in, most parents I know are in tears too and mentally calculating how much a one way rental from Montreal to Vancouver is going to be. Or how to build a raft to get back from Hawaii. Or whether their destination should just be their new permanent home. Stress begets stress, so the horribly embarrassed (and by now almost deaf) parent is worried about how to make a living as a hula dancer and whether you can actually live in a sand castle, the child is becoming increasingly distraught because they sense that when they get out of that horrible tin can Mommy is not even going to be able to keep up with their lego habit anymore. It’s a vicious cycle.

Traveling with kids sucks. If you’ve never tried it, go get a friend of yours drunk to the point of belligerence and try to get them from bed in the morning to a plane without incident. You are in charge of all the luggage, the transportation, food and drink, bodily functions, and everyone around you is holding you directly responsible for keeping the mood light. Sound difficult? Now imagine that your friend is not only drunk but only has a mild grasp of the english language and a seriously underdeveloped awareness that their actions have an impact on others. Basically, you’re fucked.

But I continue to travel with my kids anyway. Through the magic of airplanes my kids have been able to meet their great grandma and spend time with their grandparents, aunties, and uncles. In a world of limited vacation time where four day drives separate us from our loved ones, the airplane is the only way. Airplanes are the way kids get to experience the ocean and know that Europe is a real thing, not just some place that gets built when we arrive (am I the only kid who suffered from this delusion?). They expand kids’ worlds and there is so much value in that. The pain of traveling is well worth the experiences that it brings, which is something I always found before kids. Now it is just amplified.

I’ll tell you what separates the bad experiences from the good ones; a good seat mate. On our most disastrous flight I had an uncooperative seatmate who refused to even share the armrest and radiated hate lasers from his eyes at us for four hours. The flight was turbulent and our tv wasn’t working so there was no escape. Cue four solid hours of screaming. On our next flight I sat next to a very kind lady who engaged my kid when he started to get antsy beyond my control, whipped out her iPad and let him play Plants vs. Zombies for nearly two hours. I was so grateful I offered to buy her a house, but she felt that would be an inappropriate gesture.

You don’t have to like children. You don’t have to like my children. But the social contract requires you to be respectful and trust that I am going to do my best to keep them calm. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Instead of worrying about how we are ruining your day, rolling your eyes at me, shoving your seat back violently to show how put out you are, and writing hateful blogs about how all parents are terrible and children should be raised in cages like at large scale factory chicken farms, try shooting me a sympathetic look. Or ignore me for all I care. Just don’t build a voodoo doll in the airplane bathroom and concentrate on my untimely demise for the entire flight because I can sense it. If you want to try some advanced humanity, maybe struggle with the overhead bin for those parents who are busy trying to get their kid comfortable and under control (it’s a rare parent who won’t).

I am the first to admit that children don’t belong everywhere, but they do belong on planes with their families going the places families go. And maybe there should be family sections. But if they’re going to charge extra for that maybe it should be all you can drink too. With babysitters. And limo service with car seats already installed.