Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ain't To Proud To Beg: Vote For MyBrownBaby in the 2009 Black Web Awards!

My site was nominated for a Black Weblog Award!

MyBrownBaby has been nominated for FOUR Black Weblog Awards, the international internet showcase that gives recognition to the web's best Black bloggers. Since it's inception in 2005, the black Weblog Awards has recognized nearly 200 blogs in 30 categories, with participants from more than 90 countries; winners have been featured on media outlets like MSNBC, the Huffington Post, BET and many others.

And now, MyBrownBaby needs your support to bring at least one of these prestigious buttons on home. Click the button and vote for me for Best Blog Design, Best New Blog, Best Parenting and Family Blog, and Best Writing in a Blog, and I will love you loooong time. And trust me when I tell you this: You KNOW the acceptance speech is going to be nuts. That right there is worth at least one vote, isn't it? Isn't it?!

Again, just click on the "2009 Black Weblog Awards button" and vote for MyBrownBaby. You've got until midnight July 25th to cast your vote (but you might as well go on and get it done now—tee hee!).

My site was nominated for a Black Weblog Award!

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson: Icon, Legend, Missed—Forever

The babies want to know if Michael Jackson went to Heaven.

If his soul went right away, or if it’s gonna take a few days.

If he can still think, even when his body doesn’t work anymore.

If his skin and hair and nose will look like that when he meets God, or if they’ll all go back to the way God made them. Brown and thick and full.

If he’ll sing for the angels, and if so, which song (because he had a lot of them).

Maybe “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

Or “I"ll Be There."

"Can’t Help It.”

"Rock With You"

Or “Remember the Time.”

Do you think his children know he died?

His mom is probably really sad, huh?

Sad like you? Or more?

How long are you going to listen to Michael Jackson songs, Mommy?

Aren’t you tired of them yet?

Are you going to play his songs forever?

Forever is a mighty long time, babies.

And no matter the rumors, the controversy, the quirkiness, his music is worth that much.

Respect, Michael.

For your talent. Your grace. Your musical beauty.

Your gift.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

MyBrownBaby Goes Camping—and Survives Two Days (and Nights!) In The Woods

Yup—I did it. Two days and two nights, deep in the woods of North Georgia. And despite my initial protestations (and the tolerance of threats from my resident Go Green enthusiast/sister-in-law Angelou and much pleading from Mari and Lila), I have to say it wasn’t half bad. And maybe—just maybe—I’m willing to admit that I had some fun. Here, our journey in pictures and in words:

We stayed in Ft. Yargo, a state-run park in Winder, GA. It’s only about 40 minutes from our home, but the massive lake, pristinely-maintained forest, and primitive living made it feel like we were 400 light years away from Atlanta. And yes, that’s Angelou, acting like she’s about to check into The Ritz.

Signs welcomed our families—the Chileses, the Ezeiloes, and the Gees—to our campsite, located on small peninsula off a small corner of the lake. We dropped our stuff and got busy getting settled—setting up tents, unpacking sleeping bags and lights (all graciously provided by REI, the campground superstore). You know I was scoping out what mattered most: the bathroom (a two-minute walk from our tent site, it had running water and toilets, but lots of bugs, which meant I was going to do the drop and run; showers up in there were not optional), the cooking facilities (a rock pit with a sturdy grill) and an exit strategy (you know, in case a chick had to make a quick getaway). All in all, it was all quite nice… for the outdoors.

The kids got a kick out of the idea of sleeping on the ground, surrounded by the lake. They skipped rocks over the water, tossed around the football, danced to the Black Eyed Peas, Earth Wind & Fire, and Nice & Smooth, tooled around on their scooters, and, on many occasions, were caught looking reflectively out over all that God made. (A big highlight for Mari was being allowed to brush her teeth in the woods and spit on the ground. It’s the little things, y’all. The little things.)

During the day, we mostly chilled—went for a leisurely hike through the woods, took a dip in the man-made beach, talked, and read (Mazi got wrapped up in the latest Dan Brown novel, "Angels and Demons," while Nick and I shared Nathan McCall’s incredible novel, “Them.” We got our New York Times fix on our Blackberries (reception was crystal clear).

When the dark settled in, we whipped up dinner (grilled veggies, salmon, chicken, and potatoes the first night; hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sausage, and grilled corn the second) on the campfires, and then watched the kids gorge on S’mores while we played “When I Go to the Moon.” We followed that up with a raucous round of campfire singing, black people style, which means we were crooning Teena Marie, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Run DMC, and Sugar Hill Gang songs at the top of our lungs (the volume of said sing-alongs was wholly controlled by various adult elixirs).

The trickiest part? Sleeping on the ground, in the pitch black, in the middle of the Georgia woods. This truly is something that freaked me out, not a little, but a lot. I’m no fan of bugs or critters (though REI’s Jungle Juice, a bug repellant, is the truth, the light, and the way, for real!), but it wasn’t the creepy crawlies that bothered me. It was the noises. And the darkness. And the fear of what was lurking—the unknown. The first night wasn’t so bad, but the second night, Lila woke me out of a dead sleep, shivering, talking about how she heard noises and footsteps. I heard them, too, and felt powerless to do anything about it but cuddle Lila and try to be brave while she settled back to sleep. All the while, all I could think was, “Damn, James has the knife in is tent—how am I going to stab a mofo if I don’t have the regulator?!” I spent the rest of the night staring at the stars and waiting for Jason/Freddie Krueger/The Blair Witch/a group of guys in white robes to slice through the tent. Needless to say, sunlight couldn’t come fast enough for me.

When morning finally came, we made quick work of breaking down the tents, gathering up our things, and getting in our last looks at nature. I have to admit that it was quite a lovely experience, sleeping out in the open and waking up to such beauty. I’m not planning on becoming a camping enthusiast, that much I know (though REI has some pretty spectacular gear that did wonders for keeping us comfortable—from the tents to the lanterns to the coffee percolator to the backpacks, kids’ toys, and the Jungle Juice). But I wouldn’t be against going again… one of these days. (The picture below is of me and Mazi—proof that I was, indeed, there!)

A special thanks to REI for making this, my first camping trip, a comfortable, special experience; the tents were incredible, the lanterns lit the way, the percolator made great java, the sleeping bags were quite cozy, the portable stove made perfect Jiffy Pop Popcorn, and not one of us got bit by a bug thanks to your fantastic Jungle Juice (I'm SO buying stock in the JJ!)

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

CNN's Black In America 2: Finding Hope In The Streets Of Bushwick

It's not that I didn't appreciate CNN's "Black in America" series when it first ran last year; I thought Soledad O'Brien did a fine job of highlighting issues some of the most vulnerable African Americans face as they negotiate poverty here in the U.S. I was happy to learn, though, that Soledad is taking a second look with her "Black in American 2," which airs on July 22 and 22rd at 8PM (ET). This series will focus on emerging leaders, innovative community programs and business ventures that are addressing the most persistent and pressing issues and disparities facing African-Americans.

CNN's doing some pretty innovative programming over at its website to help promote the show, including an interactive map chronicling the historic migration of blacks in America as well as clips of stories that'll serve as part of the narrative in the main show. One that stood out for me was a piece on Malaak Compton-Rock, wife of the comedian Chris Rock, who scooped up a bunch of at-risk kids from her husband's native Bushwick, Brooklyn, and took them to South Africa to see what it really means to have little options and even less hope. Here, an excerpt of Soledad's blog, explaining the point Compton-Rock aimed to make with her trip:

Bushwick is recovering now, but half of the children under age 18 still live below the poverty line. A quarter of the adults never make it past the ninth grade and more than half never graduate from high school.

The children on this trip to South Africa are what educators and social workers call "at-risk" -- at risk of having babies as teenagers; at risk of never finishing high school or achieving their dreams; at risk of never knowing the world beyond their neighborhood.

Thirty of these children, between the ages of 12 to 16, have been paired up with college-aged mentors and brought to South Africa... to serve the impoverished and the AIDS orphans in this country with the highest HIV-infected population in the world.

[Compton-Rock]... wants the children to know, "that in the United States of America, even in Bushwick, we have certain services that I want the children to understand that they need to take advantage of."

Compton-Rock is talking about access to free public education, food, knowledge and social mobility -- elusive things for South Africa's impoverished and particularly so for 1.4 million AIDS orphans there.

One of the mentors on this trip is 20-year-old Alicia Gerald.

"I know that in my own experience," Alicia says, "just having someone put their hand out and say 'I believe that you can be great,' has really helped me rise to those expectations."

Click HERE to see a video excerpt of the show, featuring the children of Bushwick's journey to South Africa.

I love it! "Black In America 2" will also study whether barber shops can help black men in Chicago's Southside, where the life expectancy for Black men is eight years less than the national average; it'll also tackle issues like our obsession with the politics of hair, and much more.

I'm most certainly looking forward to the next installment, and hold out high hopes that people not only will appreciate what it has to offer, but use it as a springboard to make a difference in their own communities. Our American communities.

Photo credit: AngelRockProject.com.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Proof That The Boy Was Listening To The Friendship Lecture: Introducing Chad and Eddie

It would have been quite easy for the boy to surround himself with fools. Teenagers, after all, are experts at such things—you know, dragging the stoner/loser/loudmouth/wise ass/troublemaking dummy to the house and putting him/her off on family. What really ends up sucking the big one is if your kid starts picking up the traits of said stoner/loser/loudmouth/wise ass/troublemaking dummy, or, worse, he winds up being that kid.

Thankfully, my Mazi is a pretty good kid most days. And he happens to keep great company. For sure, Nick and I get quite a kick out of his best friends, Chad and Eddie, a sweet, delightful duo who bring great joy and plenty of laughter to our home whenever they darken our doorway.

Chad is being pursued by some of the top colleges in the country right now because of his skills on the basketball court, and he's also shaping up to be one of the top receivers on the football team. He stands at a cool 6' 7" and, next to my barely 5' 1" frame, he kind of puts you in the mind of a giant tree. But he's a super sweet giant tree. He's a country boy—never been any further north than Tennessee—but his southern charm is absolutely infectious. He's been teaching my boy how to fish, calls me "ma'am," can hold a grown-up conversation and get down on level with my girls and make them giggle, and, get this, helped me clean my kitchen after Mari's raucous, super-messy, 10th birthday party. He did my dishes, y'all. And dried them. And washed down the counters. And then asked me if I needed help with anything else.

Um, yeah. Chad can come through anytime! Best believe I hooked him up with a big plate of ribs, 11-cheese macaroni and cheese, and collards for being the most helpful party attendee that day.

And then there's Ed, the hustler. Just say his name around these parts, and every body falls out in laughter. The kid is, simply, Chris Rock/Dave Chappelle/old school Eddie Murphy hysterical—keeps us in stitches from the moment he hits the door until well after he's gone. Case in point: Here is a picture of Eddie at Mari's party, with Kermit the Frog painted on his face, to the delight of 10-year-olds everywhere.

What's also cool about Eddie is that even at age 17, he's quite the hustler. A budding fashion designer, he designs and sells his own t-shirts, and has two blogs, AtitAgain.net, which he runs with his girlfriend, Tai Destiny, and B4DaHype, which is the perfect display of his eclectic, super hip tastes.

I know they're going to clown me and call me a cornball, but I adore Chad and Eddie, and treasure them like they're my own sons. They're good boys. And I'm proud of Mazi for choosing well. I think it says a lot about the kind of kid he is, and makes me quite proud, considering that we've been preaching to the child for forever and two days the importance of surrounding himself with people who will make him a better man. Be clear: Nick and I don't let just anybody hang with the Chiles children; you've got to come from good stock, meaning you and yours are respectful, decent, intelligent, helpful, kind, open-minded people who will add value—a long-lasting, loving, worthwhile friendship—to our family.

It's good to see that Mazi was listening.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shameless MyBrownBaby Self-Promotion: the iVillage Hook Up

I've loved iVillage for quite some time, particularly for their commitment to bringing quality online content to women. Of late, though, they've gone above and beyond to create stories written by and designed to reach out to women of color, and I'm over-the-moon to see moms who look like me acknowledged, celebrated, and invited into the national debate on motherhood, womanhood and femininity. Just last week, the site's YourTotalHealth section ran a package on the effects of sun exposure on darker skin, dispelling the myth that people of color can't get skin cancer. (yes, sisters, we CAN get skin cancer—no matter how much melanin we have,) and I was, indeed, honored when an iVillage editor invited me to write an accompanying personal blog post about how I came to the decision to take sun protection seriously. Here, a little taste of what I wrote:

See, what you have to understand is that neither of my parents really cared about the health risks of my playing out in the sun; sunburn, melanoma, wrinkles, heat rashes—none of these conditions concerned them a lick. No, their reasoning for keeping me out of the harmful rays was much more practical: "The sun," they insisted, "will make you black."

And Lord knows, the last thing this little African American girl, whose family was integrating an all-white neighborhood in Long Island, wanted to do was be (gasp!) black. After all, light was all right, brown could stick around and black—well, as the little skin color ditty went, black had to get back. The message: Do what you gotta do to avoid getting darker. And if that meant avoiding pools/beaches/soccer fields/the great outdoors/any place where the sun could magically turn milk chocolate girls into Hershey's special dark chocolate, well, then that's how it was going to go down.

It wasn't until I got to college and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and joined an African sorority and got around some friends who insisted that "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice" that I lifted my head toward the sky.

To read the entire post on iVillage's Your Total Health, click HERE. If you're so moved, please leave a comment so that they know you appreciate their commitment to writing stories for, by, and about ALL of us.

In the meantime, the Chiles/Millner clan is back from the much ballyhooed camping trip. I'll give you all the delicious details about our two-day, two-night deep-in-the-woods adventure later this week, but I wanted to give you a little sneak peek at some of the fantastic pictures we took. Up top is my beautiful nephew Cole, who has amazingly expressive eyes and ain't afraid to use 'em. And here is my Lila, taking a swim with all her homies in the lake (and yes, she was sufficiently greased up with SPF 30 to protect all that lovely chocolate skin!).

Happy reading!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Teenage Car Traumas: A Dad Loses Control


Nobody told me it would be like this. Sure, I knew that when my teenage son got his license and we put together enough pennies to get him something with four wheels and a running (hopefully) engine, that I would lose a certain amount of control over the boy’s movements. After all, up to this point, I was the official Dad Taxi, responsible for carting the boy to and from football practice, and the job, and his friend’s house, and even to and from the mall or the movies with his girlfriend of the moment.

I complained bitterly about my taxi duties to anyone who would listen:

I’ll be glad when this boy can drive himself because I’m tired of being the taxicab!

Just when I thought I could rest for the evening, the boy needs another ride somewhere!

Little did I know how much and how quickly I would yearn for the Dad Taxi days. With stunning rapidity, I have discovered how much my life has changed with a teenager who drives. I knew in an abstract way that his mobility would cause me worry because of all those horrible stories and statistics of teenage driving fatalities. We live in a county in Georgia that has horribly deficient, practically non-existent public transportation, with no plans that I’ve ever heard about to rectify the situation anytime soon. So for a teenager to hold a job or do anything outside of the house besides travel to and from school, there has to be a car involved. This necessity leads to the troubling inevitability of teenagers having accidents. It seems like every year, a teenage boy (or girl, but it’s usually boys) at one of the local high schools perishes in a crash. So there’s always that worry in the back of the mind. But that’s not even what I’m talking about. What I didn’t expect was how disconcerting it would be for me to know that the boy is out there in the world, doing whatever it is that he is doing from moment to moment, and there’s barely a damn thing I can do about it.

At first I was Inspector Gadget, peppering him with questions about his movement, checking the football practice schedule on the school website several times a week, frequently eyeing his work schedule at the pool where he’s a lifeguard, trying to catch him doing something he’s not supposed to be doing or being somewhere he’s not supposed to be. I even caught him lying a couple of times, much to his chagrin and embarrassment—his boy told him that I was like a CIA agent. But recently something dawned on me: no matter how hard I tried, it was impossible for me to know where he was and what he was doing every second of the day. And with that realization came another one: if I couldn’t know what he was doing at all times, I was going to have to chill out a little about his whereabouts or else give myself a stroke. I was going to have to have a certain amount of trust in the idea that we did a pretty good job raising him, instilling values and judgment and decision-making skills, and from this point, just weeks from his 17th birthday, it was pretty much up to him to make his way safely in this world.

Of course, I was haunted by the memories of how much my life changed when I got wheels as a teenager—memories of things I did that I shouldn’t have been doing. My momma might be reading this, so I won’t go into further detail. (It was nearly 30 years ago, so I’m sure I would get all the details wrong. Okay, Ma?) But I guess I turned out alright after all, and those teenage days, even the crazier ones, all contributed mightily to my path and the choices I came to make over the years.

So as I watch him load his lineman’s bulk into his Jeep and take off with a wave in my direction, I know that we have crossed a major milestone in the parent-child relationship. Without control over his movements, I have relinquished a great deal of my authority. It is now in his hands, the power to make his own path. All I can do is sit back and watch. And breathe another deep sigh of relief with the sound of his squeaky brakes pulling back into the driveway.

About Our MBB Contributor:
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of six books, and the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine, Odyssey Couleur.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

On Father's Day, Remember That Enough Is Always Enough, My Brotha


There's one major concern and reoccurring worry that I have as a father, and that's that I'm going to forget to teach my three sons something very important before they grow up and leave the nest. One day I'll look up and my boys will be young men and they'll be faced with a scenario, a situation, or an opportunity, and they'll lack whatever attribute needed that they should have received at home (from me) and it will affect them deeply.

The reality is it's going to happen.

I can't stop it.

I know that I don't have all of the answers.

One of the Barnes Brothers may hold on to one of the many life lessons I share with them, and another may miss it entirely. That's just the way it goes. With their multitude of differences, skill sets, talents, strengths and weaknesses, it makes my head spin thinking about how best to prepare all three of them to set out into this sometimes cruel yet beautiful world.

I start to think about all of the things that I'm not that good at—how to work on cars, how to build an amazing tree house from scratch, electrical and plumbing repairs,etc.—and it makes me feel far more inadequate than any woman has ever made me feel. But instead of knowing how to fix a transmission and hang dry wall, my boys will be able to rundown the players on Coltrane's last three albums, know the difference between pad thai and jollof rice and a safety blitz and a corner blitz; they'll be able to clearly verbalize Alain Locke's importance to the Harlem Renaissance, and weave, with precision and passion, lyrics from Stevie's "Overjoyed" into a love letter to charm the girl of their dreams.

I was thinking about all of this after sharing a few words and some laughs, too, with an older Jewish gentleman with whom I was waiting on a flight in Baltimore. He told me how proud he was of his youngest son, a film student who was beginning a very promising career in his freshman year. And then he laughed heartily when he recalled how that same son called him the other day to ask where, exactly, one buys postage stamps. We both laughed even harder after recalling a couple of our own clueless moments as young men.

After boarding my plane, I came to this very simple, logical conclusion: As fathers, we need to understand the inevitable: We're all going to hit and miss with the gems we try to pass along to our children. Sometimes I think we worry too much about all the wrong things with our kids, instead of teaching them practical things, like how to wash their clothes, how to cook at least 10 good dishes, how to keep their composure during the most trying circumstances, and yes, how and where to buy postage stamps.

When Solomon, my 4-year-old, asks me, "Daddy, what do you think of this break beat?" before sitting down at his drum kit, I say, "That's me."

When my 8-year-old, Ezra, remembers in detail the outfit that the little 9-year-old object of his desires had on that day at school, and continues to remind me of how pretty she was, I say, "That's me."

When my baby boy, Silas, aka "Nestle Snipes," remembers to say, "please" and "thank you," and is always first in line to kiss his mommy's hand, that's definitely me.

What am I saying? On this Father's Day, fellow dads, remember that everything you are, right now, IS ENOUGH. You can't be what you're not, you can't teach what you don't know, and you can't worry about how equipped or ill-equipped your children will be when they go off on their own. They will, your children, in their own way and time, pluck from you every good thing they will need on their journey.

Continue to BE YOURSELF, love them unconditionally, and on a daily, even hourly basis, tell the most high how grateful you are to have been chosen for such an important task.

Happy Father's Day

About our MyBrownBaby contributor: Derrick D'wayne Barnes is the author of seven children and young adult books, including the saucy MyBrownBaby favorite, the Ruby & The Booker Boys series. He's given his insights about fatherhood on GreatDad.com, and is an incredible role model for brown babies everywhere. He lives in Kansas City, MO, with his wife and their three sons. Read more about him on DerrickBarnes.com.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Home Made Love: Of Course We Could Eat Possum, But Nachos and Pizza Will Do Just Fine

Okay, so I know I’ve been whining about this big family camping trip and I haven’t been all sporty about it. Blame it on the bugs. But there are a few bright spots I’m looking forward to: the looks on my daughters’ faces when we pitch the tent REI is donating to the cause, and make s’mores by the campfire; sipping adult beverages with my friends and talking smack under the stars; letting Lila fall asleep cuddled against me (I know doggone well she’s not going to close her eyes in her own sleeping bag). And especially cooking on the open fire.

Now mind you, I’m nice on the grill (second only to the grill master confaster, Nick), but there’s a difference between making barbeque over hot coals and burning on the flames of a campfire. I don’t really get down with fire like that, so, um, this might be a little tricky. But I look forward to the challenge. Plus, my dear friend Jennifer Fox, owner of the Young Chef’s Academy in Sandy Springs hooked us up with some recipes she featured in a special week-long summer class on campfire cooking. We’re going light with breakfast and lunch—cereal and sandwiches will get us through for those meals. But dinner is going to be communal, and each of our families will be contributing something delicious to the campfire pots. Here are a few of Jennifer’s recipes that I think I’ll try out:



• 2 cups grated cheese
• 1 bag tortilla chips
• 1 jar salsa
• 1 chopped onion
• 1 can chopped jalapenos
• 1 small container of sour cream

To Cook:

• On a square of aluminum foil place a layer of cheese, then onions, jalapenos, salsa, and finally a mound of chips.
• Make a pouch with foil and place it on the campfire. Cook for three to five minutes, or until you hear the cheese sizzling.
• Remove from the fire and open the pouch. Place a plate upside down on the chips and flip the whole thing over, so that the chips and cheese are on the plate; top with sour cream.



• 1 package flour tortillas (8)
• 1 jar spaghetti sauce
• Pepperoni
• Shredded mozzarella cheese

To Cook:

• Place tortilla on griddle then top with sauce, cheese, and toppings.
• Turn an aluminum pan over the top of the pizza to trap heat. Cook until cheese is melted.



• Bananas with peels on
• Mini chocolate chips
• Mini marshmallows

To Cook:

• Slice a small trough along the length of the banana.
• Peel back the flap, being careful to leave one end still attached to the banana. Remove the fruit that was cut out.
• Sprinkle mini-chocolate chips into the length of the trough, then top with mini-marshmallows.
• Fold the flap over the trough and wrap in aluminum foil.
• Place your banana on the fire for a few minutes, long enough for the chocolate chips to melt.
• Remove from the fire, pull back the flap, and enjoy with a spoon

These recipes are a part of the MyBrownBaby series, "Home Made Love: From The Chiles Girls' Kitchen To Yours," the cookbook in which Mari and Lila share special memories behind the beloved dishes they create in our house. The girls and I will try these recipes during our camping trip, and then include them in the book.

This Home Made Love series is sponsored by The Young Chef's Academy of Sandy Springs, GA, a cooking school for children. Learning food preparation skills is the main ingredient at YCA, and each class adds a heap of kitchen safety, a scoop of etiquette, a handful of table setting, a pinch of menu planning, and laughter to taste. To find out about classes, summer camps, and more at The Young Chef's Academy of Sandy Springs, click HERE.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

So If I Have To Sleep With Lions and Tigers and Bears, At Least I'll Get the Sweet Hook-up!

So we’re wrapping up a meeting with my sister-in-law’s Greening Youth Foundation and two of my fellow board members, cracking up about the fact I’ve still not warmed up to this whole family camping trip thing, let slip that some of our finer national parks have four-star hotels on the premises, bringing much joy to the camping experience. Oh yeah, kids, they have spas there and fancy restaurants and king-sized beds and marble bathrooms with running water and working lights and toilets and stuff. Uh huh. I practically caught whiplash tossing the stink eye at Angelou and her husband, James, because, well, when they were plotting family camping domination... er... this trip, they didn’t pick this place:

That would be the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Park, where a girl can find all the creature comforts of home—champagne, in-room movies, food someone else caught and cooked. Really nice, huh? But oh noooooooo: James and Angelou picked this place for us to pitch our tents.

That would be Fort Yargo, the state park that, though pretty, looks like it's short on comfort, looooong on creatures. Nick, the kids and I, along with Angelou and James and their two boys, and our friends Anthony and Jenny and their two kids are all going to set up camp on the grounds, where the toilets are communal and far away, all cooking is done over a campfire, and folks take soap to the lake to wash their behinds. Yeah. Just thinking about it makes me itch.

Lucky for us, though, REI, the world’s premier outdoor store, stepped in and gave word earlier this week that they’d be hooking up each of our families with top-notch camping gear from their Georgia-based stores. Thank the heavens somebody over at REI took great sympathy with my plight… er, heard about our awesome trip and offered to make our first-time camping experience spectacular so that we’ll want to do it again… and again… again. Um, for the record, I’m still not down with all this “roughing it” business, but after taking a look at REI’s site, I at least found a few things that could make mama reasonably happy while she’s out suffering through… er… enjoying the great outdoors. Check it out:

(Clockwise from top): Reviewers say this tent is easy to set up, UV-resistant, rain-proof, and has more organizational pockets, clips and sleeves than my closet (REI Base Camp 6 Tent, $399); I can get both a broad floodlight and a long-distance, focused beam out of this baby, so I can see creepy crawlers before they get anywhere near me (Coast LED Lenser P7 Focus Beam Flashlight, $80); This ain't the Holly Hobby sleeping bag you had in 4th grade, that's for sure. And I know it's shaped like a coffin but if that bad boy is thick enough to keep me from feeling gravel, oh, hell yes, I will sing it's praises (Marmot Helium +15 Sleeping Bag, $369); Hopefully, the warm light from this lantern will make the darkest part of our night more sexy, less Blair Witch Project (Brunton Polaris Lantern, $39.95); Um, because I don't sitting on the ground. Ever. And this bad boy is a rocking chair, perfect for all that rocking I'm going to be doing sitting out in the middle of the doggone woods (Alite Monarch Butterfly Chair, $59.95).

(Clockwise, from top): This solar-powered, hand-crank radio allegedly gets crisp FM reception, even all the way out yonder. Let this bad boy pick up Ryan Cameron on V103. What? (Eton American Red Cross Solarlink FR360 Radio, $50); Long-sleeved shirts will protect us from the sun and the bugs (ugh, bugs!); I don't have nan long-sleeve summer shirt, but this cute lightweight hoodie will do just fine (Under Armour Proxima Hoodie, $45); James swears a squirt or two of this stuff keeps mosquitoes away from sweet, dark meat like Angelou's and mine for days on end. You better be right, James. You better be. (REI Jungle Juice Plus Insect Repellent Spray, $8); This cooler will keep 54 quarts of food and drinks cold for three days in temperatures up to 100°, and it's retro fly (Coleman Stainless-Steel Cooler, $199); I'm all for the S'mores over the open campfire, and my good friends over at the Young Chef's Academy are hooking me up with some great campfire recipes (I'll tell you all about them in tomorrow's post), but you can't fry fish over open fire, can you? (Camp Chef Yukon Stove, $169.95); This is for just in case somebody gotta regulate (Gerber Big Rock Serrated Knife, $40).

Pray for me, y'all. Two days, one night (and yes, Mari is angling for two, but forget her!)—I can do this. I think.

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