Experiences, anecdotes, tips, how-tos, hiking, nature, motherhood, memories.

Adventures in Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is like pitching a tent upside down. Both are bound to fill with laughter and raindrops.

--Victoria Marie

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Finding Dry Shoes in a Camper When You’re Visiting a Land of Waterfalls

Okay, so maybe the children
still have some growing up to do,
like their mother.  Notice the “bunny ears.” 
“And the huge bear swatted at the earth,” I told the children one early spring night as we ate dinner, “as if scratching at tree bark to get at the insects underneath, catching New York in the west and leaving deep gouges that filled with his crystal clear tears when he found no bugs to eat.”

Nothing!  The children continued to chew their chicken and stare at me.  Finally our second daughter, the brainiac of the group, spoke up.

“Mom,” she began, “we’re not little kids anymore.” 

*Sniff!*  True, they were tweens and teens now.  The camper is getting cozier.

“Bears don’t live in space, so they can’t scratch the earth like that,” she continued.

“But,” I countered.

“Mom,” our son added, scratching at a mosquito bite.  “There are always bugs on the earth.  It’s their home”

“Yes, but…”  I liked this explanation of the Finger Lakes Region in New York State.

“They’re glacial-formed gorges gouged out of the rock,” my husband, the realist, told the children.  “With tremendous glens and waterfalls.  Would you like to see them?”

A round of “yeses” filled the room.  The direct approach seems better now.  My husband smiled at me and I stuck out my tongue.

Well…at least the children are growing up.  So is our laundry, by the way.  It grew tenfold this year, stinking up the little trailer.  We still use the old sea bag for laundry and throw it under the dining table as a foot rest. To discover one of our laundry experiences, please go here.

We traversed the trails at Watkins Glen State Park.  Lush green forests and ferns climb over thinly-sliced strata stacked in piles of charcoal and black, crying and dripping in front of us as we climbed to the top of the waterfalls. Gorge Trail is a manicured trail; perfect…except for the steps—over 800 of them!—rising more than 500 feet in a mile and a half.  We traipsed behind waterfalls, over waterfalls, and next to waterfalls.  We climbed into a cool cave, over stone bridges. 

From the narrow, ragged gorge of Watkins Glen to the towering Taughannock Falls, a steep-sided trough in a lighter shade of soft sedimentary rock, Finger LakesRegion is full of lakes, gorges, and waterfalls. 

Whenever you hike—especially with children as they like to run everywhere to show how much faster they are than you—wear sturdy closed shoes such as sneakers or hiking boots. 

Water sculpts and cuts the rock as if it were mere material for a Halloween costume.  It can even paint the rock a darker hue.  We marveled about the turquoise waters of this region and waded into frigid crystal clear streams at the base of waterfalls.    

By the time we returned to the cozy camper, we were happy to have dry shoes to change into as we prepared dinner.  The only problem was finding a matching pair.  I told the children to tie the extra pair of sturdy shoes together.  This way, we merely had to find individual sandals for pool and shower, not individual sneakers too.

But no, the sturdy shoes get nasty if you tie them together.  At least ours did.  They tripped us constantly in the trailer.  So we released them from their tethers and they wandered about the camper aimlessly.  Sometimes we’d kick them all under the other dining table during dinner, but they never stayed there long.  And whenever we went looking for the shoes, they went into hiding.  Sometimes it’s easier climbing mountains and steps than trying to find two matching shoes in a camper. 

            Do your shoes—or socks for that matter—have a mind of their own?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fun Things Camping with Kids in the Fall

Swim goggles may help keep smoke from children’s
eyes while marshmallows droop and tan to perfection.
If you haven’t tried family camping yet, autumn is a colorful season to introduce the children to short trips at local farms or forests.  As the temperatures cool, leaves deepen into crimson, gold, and tangerine.  And, if you’re really lucky, some of the peskier bugs have disappeared.  Aside from the tips I offered for Family Camping in Spring that also pertain to camping in autumn; dress in layers, bring warm bedding, etc., October holds other interesting elements.

In the United States, many campgrounds in October offer hay rides and campsite decorating contests.  I remember a camping trip when one of the twins needed to bring in show and tell that week and the letter happened to be “h.”  We gathered a few straws of hay from our ride around camp Saturday night and twistered them together.  She stumped everyone that day in school, including the teacher, with her show and tell bag of hay. 

Some campgrounds offer Halloween costume parades and trick or treating at the campsites as well as pumpkin decorating.  Sometimes, campgrounds offer haunted mazes as well as haunted hay rides.  Oooo…we did the haunted stuff after our youngest children reached 9 or 10 years of age, but all children are different.  As long as you are with them and remind them that the scary stuff is pretend, you shouldn’t have any nightmares to contend with in the tent.    

We remember seeing a young person wearing what looked to me like authentic camouflage gear.  He was hunkered down near the reeds by the lake with reedlike strands hanging across and down from his helmet and clothing.  The strands blended him into his surroundings.  I mean, if I wasn’t staring right at him, wondering why those particular reeds looked ever-so-slightly different from the surroundings, I wouldn’t have noticed him.  His father was very proud of his young son’s ghillie suit.  This was the first time my family had ever heard the term ghillie suit
Campfires are more inviting in autumn because of the warmth they bring.  Weenie roasts [hot dogs] and s’more toastings abound at campgrounds.  For tips on how to enjoy campfires with the family, look in Gotta Have-a Campfire.  I explain why it’s important to begin a campfire right after dinner and how to allow everyone to assist without mishap.

However, smoke will always be a problem with campfires, or at least it always follows me no matter where I sit around the family campfire.  My daughter decided to try her swim goggles to keep the smoke out of her eyes while toasting marshmallows.  It appeared to work.  In fact, I wished I had a pair. 

Remember to douse the campfire with at least two pots of water to be sure it’s really out.  And always finish the campfire before the children—or even the parents—become tired.

There are many reasons to camp in autumn.  Please share any memories you may have or offer some tips of your own camping with kids.  Thanks so much!     

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Size Matters in Camping and Nature

Finally...enough room at the dinner table
Finding elbow space at the dinner table is always a problem when you camp with seven in a small pop-up trailer, especially as the children grow longer each year.  We don’t notice it as much eating at the dining room table at home.  However, when we cram into the trailer for meals if it’s raining or if the children just prefer the soft cushions of our dinette seats after a day of hiking, it becomes an issue. 

This trip we journeyed to the beautiful and varied landscape of the state of New York.  We always learn something new when we camp with the family during the summer.  And I mean something besides the fact that the children are getting too long for the dinette tables.  We took the Uncle Sam Two Nation boat tour of the 1000 Island Region and learned why the Saint Lawrence River is so crystal clear.  Zebra mussels clean pollutants out of the water.  These tiny prolific mussels have few predators in the United States, and they are not good to eat.  The unfortunate circumstance of these invasive creatures, the boat captain explained, is that they cling to boat propellers and pipes and grates in many waterways and gum up the works of not only watercraft but also water treatment and power plants. 

            Nuts!  We discover a creature that cleans pollutants out of our water systems, but then they can in turn mess up the balance of the ecosystem.

            I tried not to dwell on this as I gazed into the glasslike, blue Saint Lawrence as we steamed around the luscious islands in the stillness of a sunny summer day.

            Then we visited Boldt Castle on Heart Island.  A masterpiece of architecture in the making.  But the owner, the creator of this work of art, never lived here.  Millionaire Boldt built this castle for the love of his life, his wife.  How romantic.  No expense spared.  [I know.  It’s easy if you’re a millionaire.]  Look at the size of that dining table!  And they only had two children.  There’s enough room at this table for the Lees crew to have a meal and not bicker…I mean bump elbows.   

            But then the wife died only months before the castle paradise was complete.  And Boldt abandoned the island project.  Another sad fact to learn in one day.  I was beginning to become depressed.  
Of course, there were many other interesting non-depressing facts given on the boat tour.  Like if there was a tree on rock above the waterline, it was an island.  However, those other two facts stuck with me.

            To brighten my spirits, my husband thought of a treat for the family.  No, we couldn’t eat dinner in Boldt castle’s dining room, but after a week of canned and boxed foods, we ate in an air-conditioned restaurant on the docks of the 1000 island region.  After baking in the sun while touring the 1000 Islands by boat, then melting on Heart Island exploring Boldt Castle, it took a while to “cool down” before we could enjoy our meal at the little island eatery.

            Even though we don’t have all the space Mr. Boldt had, we still enjoy our little pop-up trailer.  Besides, it’s easier to reach the cupboards or counters if we forget something or share foods between dinette tables when we eat now.  

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Exploring a new beach in Maine
“Mommy,” one of the twins asked, “why do we go some place different every summer?”

            I guessed, rightly, that she was referring to her friends who go to the same place each year for vacation.  Growing up, my family did the same.  My family took only day trips.  We went to the beautiful, sandy New Jersey beach or the rugged, forested Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.  It was familiar, comfortable, and fun. We had great times, wonderful memories, but somehow I needed more. 

I couldn't stop thinking, was this all there was?

I needed to explore and experience other regions, see what lay outside New Jersey's borders.  

Does the Atlantic Ocean look different in another state or another country?  What's the coast or beach like?  What about the mountains?  I was always curious about geology.  What are the Rocky Mountains like in the summertime?  Can you really see forever in Montana?  And what in the world is an aurora borealis?

What lay on the other side of the country?  What does the Pacific Ocean look like in California, in Washington state, in British Columbia, Canada?  Is the desert really painted with autumn colors?  Do the great lakes really look like oceans, vast with waves and currents?  Can islands sometimes be in lakes or rivers?  What about waterfalls and forests?  Fresh water and salt water?  Giant tides and giant trees?

I wanted experiences, not just information and pictures about these places.  I wanted adventures. 

            I need to go camping with kids—my kids, my family--to discover the answers to some of these questions together.  To help make my children become as curious about the world around them as I am.  To discover how landscapes change in different regions or what the locals do for fun.  

            I think parents are responsible for their children's education.  What better way to educate them than to go exploring together through family camping.  Not all who wander are lost.  Some, like me, are just curious.  

            I glanced back at my daughter, her eyes bright, expectant, waiting for my answer to her question.  It had to be good, I thought to myself.

            "Well," I began as I tried to make sense of all my thoughts.  "I think it's important to      
experience the world firsthand whenever possible."

            Now it was my turn to wait.  How'd I do?  Two minutes.  Three minutes.  She's thinking.  I can see her brows crinkle.
            She finally shrugged her slender shoulders.  "Oh," she said.  And then she went out to play with her friends. 

            And I began to breathe again.  What do you think?  How'd I do?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What to Do When the Power Goes Out

The evening sky after the storm. Our homes
were dark, so everyone came outside to look.
The sky turned to pitch.  Trees seemed to be growing sideways.  Thunderous lights lit the sky.  It was 6 p.m.  We were almost home.as 6 p.m.branches and clobbered the car.  My husband swerved blindly through the road.We were  Suddenly, blinding rain hammered at the windshield; hail pinged the hood, and branches clobbered the car.  My husband swerved instinctively through the road.trees seemed to grow sideways.  thunderous
            By the time we reached our home and all raced to the porch, the water was mid-calf.  The house is situated on a small hill.  House gutters were useless.  The yard was strewn with branches and leaves.  As we entered the house, the power blew.  Darkness.  Inside.  The eerie quiet that comes from a lack of electricity.

            Supposedly, tornadoes struck New Jersey in last Tuesday’s storm.  Many huge oaks and maples blew over, ripping down power lines and lifting up curbs, sidewalks, and streets.  Unfortunately homes and cars were damaged.  Roadways were blocked for days.  Our electric high speed line trains couldn’t run.  Some people couldn’t get to work.  Stores were closed, traffic lights out.  Cell phones lit, but Verizon was out.  We had no cell phone service.

            My heart goes out to anyone who deals with severe weather on a regular basis.

The next morning, my husband drove a distance to find a store with power, and purchased three huge bags of ice and laid them across the top of our chest freezer.  Clean running water kept us going.  Mind you, it wasn’t hot water or even warm.  Cold showers or no showers were the call. 

Right!  The children chose no showers. 

Time to pretend we were camping.  We ate outside for light, using our propane grill.  We grilled everything trying to use the perishable supplies in the house before they spoiled.  Wrapping pork, fish, and some vegetables in tinfoil kept them moist.  We emptied the refrigerator and placed butter, milk, etc. on top of the ice in the chest freezer.  The bright camping lantern followed us around the house when we were together.  Individual spot lights stayed in the bathroom and kids’ rooms.   

High water receded.  Luckily temperatures were seasonable, so windows stayed open.  We checked in on elderly neighbors.  Some people purchased generators to keep foods from spoiling.  As we explored the neighborhood, sometimes we could hear the laughter of children above the drone of generators.  As the days of no power continued, everyone took walks and read on porches. 

The power finally returned this past weekend.  However, between chain saws buzzing and wood chipping continuing in my neighborhood, my ears will be ringing for quite some time. 

I hope all is well and that the weather is behaving where you are.  Thanks for stopping by Camping with Kids and leaving a comment. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Summertime Means Family Camping And Star-Gazing

The Lees crew at Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland
I don’t know about you, but where we live in suburbia light pollution mutes an otherwise star-filled night sky.  So when we camp as a family, we’re also looking for nature’s nightlife.  I’ve talked about night creatures on the blog before.  This time I want to tell you about another phenomenon of nightlife.

We journeyed to the heart of Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.  We discovered scooped-out bays in Rocky Harbour.  Sunbaked, puffy, bread-loaf rocks tucked into an already worn-down coastline dotted with weathered logs.  Purple heather danced in the salty breeze on a hillside as forested mountains slipped into the sea. Yet the rock formations and coastline weren’t the only interesting aspects of Newfoundland.  The nights held wonder as well.

After a full day of hiking, then the feeding of a family of seven, tired as we were, we lugged blankets down to Deer Lake.  It seemed like only minutes before the night sky was awash with milk.  There were so many stars that it was difficult to pick out some of the constellations from our star chart that we always keep on hand during camping trips. 

We could have stared up at the night sky forever, but the children needed to go to bed.  The good news was that our camper was right by the lake, so after tucking the children in, my husband and I returned to the beach.  Couple time can be important, when camping with the family, a relaxing time to enjoy each other’s company and have uninterrupted conversation.  However, this time something miraculous happened.

As we were talking, as the night sky dazzled, it suddenly began to breathe.  Trapping our own breath, gazing upward, we watched spellbound.  An undulating curtain of rose and mint green—sheer as it was—muted the milky night drop.  We had never seen anything like it.  We didn’t learn until the next morning what it was.  We were at the camp store and the locals were talking about the aurora borealis last night.   

Our children gave us strict orders to wrench them out of bed if we ever see anything unique again.  The ephemeral nature of an aurora borealis is truly spellbinding.  We were unable to move to get the children at that time, hence we pretty much slept on the beach for the rest of the week, hoping for another aurora borealis.  Unfortunately, we never saw another one during our time in Newfoundland.    
One of the best reasons to camp with the family, aside from intimate time with each other, is time spent away from an otherwise electronic world.  So when you camp this summer, don’t forget to take a few moments in the evening and look up into the night sky to be amazed.  Have you ever seen an aurora borealis?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Family Camping in Spring

Spring is cooler. Dress in layers. Enjoy!
Spring is a perfect time to try out camping with the family.  The earth is awakening.  The days begin to grow; blossoms escape from fuzzy pods; leaves begin to unfurl, and the bugs are not out en masse …yet!  And neither are the campers. 

Campgrounds and national and state parks aren’t quite as crowded as in summer months.  It’s a perfect time for a weekend or extended weekend trip to try out handling the camping gear and allow the kids to see if they like camping.  

Just remember it’s a bit of work to camp with a family.  Please feel free to read other posts here at Camping with Kids to understand.  Don’t let one occasion of bad weather or someone not feeling a hundred percent end a lifetime of fun camping experiences.  It may take time to get the whole family into camping.   

The important thing to remember when camping in spring is to dress in layers.  The weather is highly changeable and depending upon where you camp, rain is a greater possibility than in the summer.    

Temperatures are pleasant during the day, but drop at night.  Bring extra blankets and warm sleeping attire if not using down-filled mummy or other types of sleeping bags.  Depending upon the unit you are using to camp with the family, i.e. a pop-up trailer, you may be able to use a small electric space heater if the campground offers electric hook-up.  If you do, make sure the small heater is on a level surface free from any clutter.  Heaters need plenty of space around them.  Never use any type of heater in a canvas tent.  It’s much too dangerous. 

            Store foods safely in sealed containers to stop any smell from calling to animals.  See how here and here.  Wild animals are awake and hungry.  

With the right planning, spring is the best time to try out camping with the family.  Which season do you like to camp in?  If you have any camping tips, please share them here.