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

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.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Importance of Soap When Camping with Teens

Upper Peninsula Lake Michigan
It didn't rain every day!
Spring makes me think of rain used to awaken the earth from its winter slumber.  Bulbs begin to bloom, trees begin to bud, lawns look greener, and families begin to consider camping trip vacations.  For tips on planning that family camping trip, please read here.  

            There is a connection between rain and camping.  Depending on length and destination of the camping trip, i.e. if you’re not camping in a desert, rain will be a part of the experience.  Be ready for it. 

The idea is to stay warm and dry when hiking with the family.  Bring quilted raincoats or wind breakers.  Dress in layers; short sleeve, flannel shirts, sweatshirts, and where nylon pants if possible.  Synthetic fabrics dry faster than heavy cotton when they get wet.  Even in summer rain can chill family hikers if they become drenched on the trail.  Always have a second pair of shoes to change into once you return to camp.  And stick newspaper into wet sneakers or hiking boots.  Somehow the pulpy paper draws the water out of the shoe.  It’s amazing.  Try it!

Rain can make trails muddy.  Adults and teens hiking in summertime—even in the rain—need showers.  After hiking in the rain through the forest in Upper Peninsula, Michigan, the children decided they didn’t need showers. 

“Can’t we just rinse off in the rain in our bathing suits when we get back to camp?”  Our son asked.

Leave it to the boy, but then his sisters instantly agreed.  My husband shook his head.

I glanced outside.  The rain had picked up.  Torrential rains ripped through the sky.  Ooo’s rang out in the van as lightning struck.  Then the children began counting to see how far away the storm was.  The boom of thunder startled everyone as we watched the pines along the road dance in the wind.

“First,” I said, turning my attention back to the children.  “Rinsing won’t be enough.”

“Why not?”  A twin asked.

“Because,” I began.

“We’re technically rinsed already,” our brilliant second daughter pointed out.

“Yes, but,” I started again.

“We just put on new clothes, Mom,” the oldest informed me.

My husband gripped the steering wheel all the tighter, as the wind buffeted the van from outside.

I sighed.  “You need soap,” I told the kids.  “You’ll feel better in clean clothes after your body’s washed.  Besides, it’s never a good idea to stand out in the rain, unprotected, during a thunderstorm.”

“Maybe it’ll stop,” the other twin piped up.

I rolled my eyes.  I hoped it would stop.  But it didn’t.  We changed into dry clothes once we returned to camp, but the flies followed us into the camper. 

Rain ripped through camp, huge puddles running everywhere. 

We tried to play games in the camper.  When we couldn’t stand the smell any longer, my husband drove us to the showers.  Everyone washed, dried off, and dressed.  Then became drenched—again—running to the van, and then to the camper.  More wet clothes to hang under the camper awning, plus the bath towels.  We ran out of clothes line, so I bunched the clothing together.  Clean on one side.  Wet dog on the other.  We left the wet sneakers outside the camper to keep wild animals from seeking shelter under our awning and amongst our laundry. 
Showers—complete with soap—are important for families sharing small living spaces when camping for a few weeks. 

Rain, it’s a part of spring and camping.  The only consolation?  Chances are it won’t rain every day.   

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Animals You Find on the Trail: The Importance of Maintaining Distance

Into the woods on another adventure
This can be more difficult than it seems depending upon the beast.  Sometimes you don’t notice them until you’re in front of them.  We’ve met many creatures while camping with the family; snakes and skunks, deer and bear.  Most were on or by the trail.  Sometimes we were on ranger hikes.   However, this time we were on our own, hiking back to the van on a coastal trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.  
We had hiked to a swift moving, icy stream lined with stone and rock.  By the time we got there we were hot and tired.  I must admit, I’m kind of strange.  I like to shed shoes and socks and test the water no matter how cold it is.  By the way, so do my children.  My husband’s the only normal one.  He’s content to remain along the stream bank, shifting the forces of water by shifting rocks.  

The children usually clamber over boulders to see who can get the farthest boulder to shed shoes.  Unfortunately, this time our oldest daughter’s shoe slipped from the boulder and caught in the current.  I screamed for her to jump in and get it before it disappeared around the bend, for we had a distance to hike back to the van.  To my surprise, my husband braved the frigid water to retrieve the floating shoe.

Everyone cheered, although I could see his teeth chattering as he glared, not at our daughter, but rather at me for starting this ritual of shedding shoes and testing mountain water.  I did a quick dip with my feet and then put on my shoes.  So did the children.  Hiding my smile, I cautioned them not to giggle as their father squished past us to the trail.  We followed behind.

As we ventured into the darkened wood, as the trail curled across the forest floor, suddenly we spied a dark mass moving close to the ground.  My husband hushed the children and stood still.  Since my husband squished as he walked, I moved a bit closer to see what it was.

A moose lay in the mud of the well-trodden trail.  He was facing away from us.  We decided the best thing to do was to move off the trail, yet remain near to it so as not to get lost.  We weren’t sure of the distance needed between us and the moose to keep it calm.  He seemed to be enjoying his mud bath this hot summer day.  But this was a straight out, straight back trail, not a loop.  We weren’t about to blaze a new trail through the forest to find a roadway with five young children in tow.

We told the children to remain silent and ventured off the trail by at least ten feet from the animal, keeping a wide berth.  Stepping lightly, I held the beast’s gaze.  He eyed all seven of us, flicked his tail, shook his massive head.  His antlers made a twin gasped and I held her hand.  Slowly, in single file, we passed the animal, remaining off the trail until it turned out of sight of the moose.  

No matter how docile some of these wild animals may seem, as they nose around your campsite looking for food, make no mistake.  They are wild animals.  Most of the danger comes when people inadvertently slip between a mother and baby.  The pair could be a distance apart, but the mother is always watching. 

Maintain a distance between you and any wild animal you meet.  Keep eye contact if you can and move slowly.  It’s best if you just back up until you are out of sight and then turn around the way you came.  Unfortunately for us, we needed to get back to our van, so we needed to approach and pass the moose. 

Have you ever met a wild animal on a hike?  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Nutrition on the Trail: The Lunchtime Saga

Of course they're tired on the trail. 
It was the third week of peanut butter and jelly.
Many times we camp as a family for three weeks, visiting national and state parks, hiking across mountains, through forests and deserts during the day.  Being on that “tent” budget and purchasing a few new experiences once in a while, we tend to brown-bag our mid-day meals.  

No big deal, right?  We pack lunches most of the year.  However for some reason when we camp, the children balk at our trail time lunches. 

My father always told me if the children are hungry, they’ll eat. 

Maybe.  But not just anything.

When hiking on a trail, you need to pack non-perishable, portable food that offers nourishment and stamina for each hiker.  Our hikes usually take hours.  It is imperative that young children eat foods while on the trail that offer energy.  Children have fewer reserves than adults.  They need to eat more often to keep their energy levels up. 

Where we got our children to drink water on the trail, they still won’t eat just anything.  I try to mix it up a bit.  Peanut butter and grape jelly on white bread.  Peanut butter and strawberry jam on wheat bread.  Only peanut butter on one slice of bread folded—not cut.  Peanut butter on celery, “ants on a log” for me and my husband [peanut butter on celery with raisins], and peanut butter only or with a choice of jellies on saltines, club crackers, or Ritz crackers.

            After one week on the road, the children scatter when I ask what their lunchtime choice of the day is and reach for the peanut butter jar.  

            We’ve tried the packaged cheese and crackers and peanut butter crackers.  The children will only eat “freshly spread” peanut butter on “crisp” crackers.  They won’t eat cashews, almonds, or even peanuts.  Only peanut butter.  We’ve tried the various protein or trail mix bars, but no matter how many chocolate chips are inside or chocolate on the bottom, the children think they take too long to chew. 

Fresh fruit doesn’t keep but a day or two when camping in the summer.  That’s what made the fresh watermelon such a treat after we entertained fellow campers setting up camp.  Our children don’t want apples, and grapes become juice by lunchtime in the backpack.  And the grapes that don’t are too “squishy,” according to the children, to eat.  They won’t eat dried fruit. 

            I’m reduced to pretzels, Wheat Thins, and Cheerios on the trail.  Sugar is not helpful in a summertime hike.  The body requires salt because of moisture lost through sweat.  Cheerios are a concession because we know our son will eat them.    

            Therefore, I suggest you start offering nutritious packaged protein bars to your young children now, before you hit the trails.  Cut them up on a plate as a snack.  Get the children used to a variety of more sturdy fruit and perhaps add dried fruit to your menus.  Feed them “ants on the log” at home and mix some granola into your jellies in peanut butter sandwiches or try the Nutella, which our children hate.  Try baby carrots or apple slices with peanut butter or Nutella. 

Picky eating shall pass, my husband assures me.  I still try all these suggestions every once in a while, hoping the children’s taste buds will change.  Who knows?  Maybe this summer the children won’t run from the sight of the peanut butter jar.  Unless you can think of another way to dress up peanut butter that my children may like.  Any suggestions are welcome.