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

Friday, July 1, 2016

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A World Heritage City

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Oh, and don’t lose the kids in
 the city when you go!
Working in the school system, I learn many things right along with the students.  Just before school ended, I learned that Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, had a new accolade.  June is a very busy month for the Lees family, so I wanted to wait until we had some time.

At breakfast one day, I broached a new subject with the kids. 

“Guys guess what?”  I knew they wouldn’t say anything, so I continued.  “Philly just became the first World Heritage City in the United States.

The children yawned.  “So what does that mean?”

“The city will be even more crowded when we visit it now,” my husband said.  

We’re not crowd people, remember?  That’s why we camp in nature.

I glared at my husband.  We couldn’t let this great honor go unnoticed so close to home.  I tried to entice them with a bit of history. 

            “Philadelphia was the seat of government at the birth of our new country way back in the 1700’s.” 

             “We know, Mom.”
 
This was going to be tough.  It looked like I needed to do a bit of research on the internet to get them interested.

            When we reconvened for lunch, I told them what I discovered. 

“In order to obtain the classification of World Heritage City, among many other things, a city must be important to the history and heritage of a country.”

They rolled their eyes.  My husband sat quietly eating his sandwich, smiling to himself.   

I sighed.  “In other words, guys, the process needed to start with an UNESCO site.”

“An un…what?” our oldest daughter asked.

Good!  At least someone heard me.  “A site approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.”

No reaction.  Unperturbed, I continued. 

“Philly has Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.”

They just chewed their sandwiches.

“And later the birth of the country’s government was created and signed there with the Constitution of the United States in 1787.” 

The kids were still unimpressed.

“That’s a lot of history rolled up in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park.”

Then I remembered.  “It’s the 100th Birthday of the National Park Service.  There may be special activities.” 

At least that made them look at me instead of their sandwiches.  I lost no time.

“They have horse and buggy rides around town.”
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All families love horse and buggy rides!

The smiles started.

“And we get to take the train into the city,” I finished. 

That did it.  Soon we had a daypack stuffed with treats and drinks.  I carried the smaller pack with sunscreen and bug spray.  A camera around the neck, comfortable walking shoes, and sun hats on the heads and off we went to discover Philadelphia, the new World Heritage City.

If you are visiting the area, here’s a webpage to all the fun in Philadelphia during the 4th of July Independence Celebration.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service: The Need for National Parks

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National Parks are a vital part of peace
and education for people everywhere. 
I believe the United States would be lost without our National Parks.  Places of natural beauty, storehouses of national knowledge are important treasure for people and families around the globe.  

As much as people need other people, they also need time to themselves, a place to go to find peace.  To stop.  To rest.  To listen within.  The beauty in nature helps people and families find solace. 

Now this is where the National Park Service can help.

National Parks and families go together like sunshine and blue skies.  Park ranger programs are the lifeblood of any stay in a National Park.  My family and I know this firsthand from our many adventures camping with kids.  I’ve addressed the importance of National Parks before on my Camping with Kids blog in the post entitled “National Parks and Families.”  I’ve also discussed the important issue of selling private land within national parks for commercial development in my post entitled “The Future Enjoyment of National Parks.”  

My family and I have learned from Park Rangers that National Parks are for discovery:  
We have found life within the emptiness of a desert, a diverse ecosystem, lichen upon rocks, the fragility of sand pavement. 
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Arches National Park
                the diversity of the desert
We’ve seen the ages of geology painted in the canyon walls of the west. 
We’ve wondered at the archaeology that uncovered artwork of an ancient people and learned about their culture.
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Mesa Verde National Park
                discovering the culture
               of the Ancient Ones
 
We’ve listened to volumes of history constructing the freedom needed to make our government great.

On our family camping trips to National Parks, we’ve discovered the excitement of watching the Milky Way pop out in a blackened night sky while reclining on a beach.  We smelled the heady fragrances of ponderosa pine in spring and wild rose in June.  We sought out shelter from the rain under the canopy of trees in a national forest, experienced the coolness of caves or crystal clear mountain water in summertime, and felt the moisture cling to our skin hiking up into the clouds on a mountain trail.

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The cooling mountain waters in
                 Yosemite National Park

The centuries of knowledge that the United States National Parks hold are not just for those who can visit the parks firsthand.  Not with today’s technology.  Teachers, schools, parents, and students around the world can discover facts and find lessons on history, science, art, geology, biology, archaeology, and much more on the National Park Service’s Find Your Park website.  Scroll down to "America’s Classrooms for Teachers" to find a treasure trove of resources for teachers. 
Choose a park.
Pick a program.
Receive lesson plans with a defined vocabulary list.
Find grade level distance learning programs [park ranger presentations] available.


National Parks are needed in today’s world not only for the beauty and solace they provide, but also for the knowledge they share with others.  Bravo, National Park Service.  Happy Birthday! 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hiking in Springtime

           
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Finding the mountains through the clouds!
 This was early on in our camping adventures.  Back when I couldn’t convince the children to come in out of the spring or summer rains when we were at home. 

We were camping in Maryland and hiking in the Appalachian Mountains.  The weather had been miserable, off and on rain.

I always try to look at things positively.  This is important when camping with kids if you want to enjoy what’s happening around you.  No one can predict what the daily weather will be like when you’re far from home.  You adjust your plans or deal with what you have.

We were telling stories at breakfast, trying to decide what to do that day.  I wanted to lift the children’s spirits, to help them see beyond the dreary weather.  I looked over at my husband, noticing that even his spirit was beginning to droop trying to figure out what to do with five kids smack dab in the middle of nature in the rain.

“Hey guys,” I began, a huge smile creased my face. 

My husband’s eyes widened.  Was it fear of my next words?

“Mom and Dad want to go play in the rain,” I told them.  “Want to come along?”

My husband breathed again and nodded. 

After all these years of camping with kids, rain happens.  If it wasn’t a thunder storm, we hiked along anyway.  Waterfalls are bigger in the rain.  Streams bubble along, rivers rage.  Trees cry, trails squish, and rocks show their true colors.  Mountains play hide-and-seek in the clouds.

Donning our quilted raincoats for warmth and protection from the rain, we sloshed through puddles that day wearing our old sneakers.  We climbed up into the clouds, spun around through rain drops in fields.  Maybe we were all pretending to be Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain—minus the umbrella.  
Iconic Kelly in Singing in the Rain


Camping is what you make of it.  Take the wet with the dry and create your own adventures.  Newspaper can be stuffed into wet sneakers later to help dry them out.  Just don’t forget to leave the damp sneakers outside the tent, under cover, to dry.  There’s a good chance they could smell like wet skunk.         

Hiking in the springtime.  Sometimes it can be like giving the kids permission to go play in the rain.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Get Gear in shape for the Camping Season

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Okay, so maybe I did work the children
a bit too hard cleaning the camper. 
But now we’re ready for a season of adventure!
Ahh…the fresh air of springtime.  The flowers are popping.  The birds are yakking.  The temperatures are warming.  And the sun—glorious sun—is happy.  *Sometimes!* 

Early spring is a good time to lug all that camping gear out of the attic, basement, or garage to make it adventure ready for the camping season.  Here are a few tips we use.
           
Sleeping bags and tents can become musty or damp-smelling stored all winter long.  Open sleeping bags flat and flip them over the clothesline on a less humid, sunny day.  Set up tents in the backyard to air.  

If a sleeping bag must be washed, check the manufacture tag first.  Then unzip the bag to wash.  Most sleeping bags can be washed in large washing machines.  Front loaders or the high efficiency top loaders work best.  We’ve found air drying the bags on a clothesline is the best way to dry them.

            Tents, on the other hand, need to be scrubbed if the canvas is soiled. 
·       Set the tent up and stake it down to keep it taut.  This allows for air flow.  
·       Use low phosphate detergent to protect the waterproofing.  Nikwax seems to be a good cleaner for waterproofed fabric.  Follow the directions and mix it with water. 
·       Wash inside the tent and then outside.
·       Hose down the tent and let it bake in the sun on a dry day.

Lightweight nylon pup tents work best this way as well so you don’t lose the water proofing of the material and you can work on particular stains.  Kristin Hostetter, gear expert at Backpacker.com, offers 6 steps to cleaning tents

            On our Jayco Eagle pop-up trailer, the inside bed and window curtains slide off to wash, but the canvas is easier to just scrub lightly while the trailer is up and open using a weak detergent mixture.  

At one time, we had a bit of mold on the canvas because we had closed the trailer in the rain, and then our passenger van broke down.  We needed to leave both trailer and van at the mechanics, for about three days.  We rented a car to get home as we were only about four hours away after travelling across the county.  We used a weak bleach mixture to be able to kill the mold and clean the canvas. 

Open tents or trailers to air dry thoroughly as soon as possible after any rain closures to prevent mold buildup.

Wipe out any cupboards with a mild cleaner in trailers or campers and clean coolers, food storage containers, or drinking/water cavities with a disinfectant.

            Next, check out the equipment. 
·       Test the propane grills or barbeques. 
·       Check hoses and connectors for clogs or bug nests. 
·       Run water or air through them when possible. 
·       Look for cracks or holes. 
·       Use a proper repair kit found at a camping store or online if the damage is small or replace the hose when necessary.  

Depending upon make and model of tents or other camping equipment, a quick search online showed me that parts are available for purchase. 

Oh, and don’t forget to check the port-a-potty, if you have one.  Make sure any seals are firm and air tight.  Wipe it down with a disinfectant before use this season.

And remember to allow the children to help whenever possible.  Camping with kids is a family affair. 

Now you should be all ready for your next great camping adventure.  Please offer any tips you may have to maintain your camping gear.  Thanks! 


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Difference Between Weather and Climate When Camping

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Oh sure, with the sun out it's warm.
These things are drafty!
It’s important to understand the difference between weather and climate when camping.  Simply put, weather is day to day.  Climate is not.  Climate is how a region behaves over the long term.

Case in point.  Wisconsin is just below the Canadian border.  It’s by the Great Lakes.  It has cooler summers than New Jersey, way south of it.  We forgot about this when we went camping one summer.  I mean we knew to take layers: long pants, tee-shirts, long-sleeved flannel shirts, sweatshirts, windbreakers, quilted raincoats. 

But we never thought of winter coats and hats and scarves.  It was July!  New Jerseyans don’t think of winter coats in the summertime.  We’re too busy melting in the humid weather.

When camping with the family, you need to remember where you are heading and bring appropriate accessories: blankets, warmer clothing, even heavy coats. 

We were visiting state parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota, right in the middle of the lumberjack championship competition.  We found that out once we got up there.  It was why the campgrounds were so full.  Our son and the twins wanted to go to the competitions.  This was Paul Bunyan territory, with Babe his humongous blue ox.  We even saw the huge statues of Paul and Babe at Paul Bunyan Park by Lake Bemidji in Minnesota.  But the competitions were sold out.  So the children had to satisfy their curiosity watching the lumberjacks practice at camp.  Large piles of logs were splintered daily.  The kids loved it!

But back to my climate story. 

It was maybe 60 degrees and drizzly.  The sun hadn’t shown its warm face for two days.  Then one night the temperatures dipped to 40 degrees. 

This was colder than when we camped in Newfoundland.  And would you believe, that was the only night we had rented a reproduction of a Native American Plains teepee for the family at camp—with no hook-ups.  We thought it would be a novelty for everyone. 

Oh, it was a novelty all right.

“Rent a teepee!”   My husband grumbled as his whole body shivered violently.

“It sounded good in theory.”  I tried to console him—and steal some of his heat.  But he kept moving away.  I needed contact for this heat thing to work.

We all slept in a huddle in the middle of the teepee and wore all our clothes and then heaped whatever didn’t fit over everything else on top of the blankets. 

My husband tried to roll over again.  He fluffed the blankets; and then fluffed them again.

I never knew such a disruptive heat source!  You would think with seven warm bodies inside a tiny teepee, we could produce enough heat to warm up the space slightly.

Unfortunately not.  Did you know that real teepees have open air space at the bottom?  This teepee came within three inches of the ground.  The thick canvas was attached to long wooden poles secured to a concrete pad covered in what looked like AstroTurf.  Even the top of the teepee was open, just like you see in books and Native American artwork.  You know, the flap that is peeled back to let the smoke from the fire out the top of the teepee.

Fire!  Gosh, did we wish we had the benefit of a warm fire that night.  But nooo, only the rain came through that opening.  It also dripped down the outer log poles and left puddles around the base of the teepee.  I thought for sure they’d become ice before dawn. 
 
My noes hurt it was soo cold.  I shivered and shook so much; I almost fell off the port-a-potty.  

It was a fluke, the locals said the next morning while wearing their winter coats—complete with hats and gloves.  It never goes below 50 degrees in the summer; they assured us. 

We learned our lesson.  When heading north, bring out the heavier coats. 

The sun finally returned to the area, though, while we hiked to the source of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park in Minnesota.  It burned brightly in a crystal blue sky and the temperature shot up to a toasty 65 degrees.  The next night wasn’t so cold and the week continued to warm up for us.  However, we were very happy to be back inside our camper for the rest of the camping vacation.

When you want to try something unique at camp, make sure you know what is provided.  Somehow we missed the fact that the teepee was just that, a teepee…with nothing inside.  We had our camping gear, but we didn’t know it would be so airy.  Of course knowing about the climate of a region you plan to camp in helps too.


            I hope spring returns soon to your area.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Snow And Sand Are More Alike Than You Think

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My husband trying to be a tree and shade
 the children as we hike to the top of
Great Sand Dunes National Park
The snow piled up in New Jersey last weekend, painting the world in a beautiful whiteness.  I couldn’t help but think about how the ice crystals were like fine grains of sand in the wind as the snow drifted and swirled.  As I made my prints on the freshly fallen canvas later, the ice crystals stung my face whenever the wind kicked up.  Snow is ephemeral, I thought, although my neighbors wouldn’t believe it.  Not yet, not while we are all still shoveling slush and ice, leftovers from Jonas, the blizzard of 2016.

            I’ll admit it.  I’m odd.  I love trudging through the snow. 

            But the patterns I saw displayed in the snow from this storm on my walk with the children reminded me of another element in nature: sand.  Lots and lots of loose sand, undulating and dancing in the wind.             

We were camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.    

My husband, in his great wisdom, announced, “Let’s hike to the top.”

The children and I stared at the enormous sand castles.  I looked over at the kids.  Nuts!  They had smiles on their faces. 

“Where’s the trail?”  I asked, grabbing my canteen for another drink.

“There are no trails,” he informed me.  “Nothing to worry about.”  He moved forward, the children following behind.

I wiped my brow and trudged along behind.  Nothing to worry about, except miles and miles of thick, loose sand, blowing, sweeping, giving way under my feet. 

Closed footwear is essential.  This sand can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit according to the park rangers.  It’s best to hike the dunes in the morning or evening in the summer.  We hiked in the morning. 

            We climbed and climbed, stopping constantly, it seemed, to rest and drink; sand stinging our flesh in the breeze, sticking to our sweat-drenched, sunscreened bodies.  I would always instruct my children to wait in the shade whenever we hiked the mountains.  Sand dunes have no shade.  My husband and I provided the shade for the children when we could, using our shadows.

Because the sands shift constantly, the trek is different each time.  That’s why the trails aren’t marked.  There’s nothing to mark, just shifting sand.  We blazed our own trail.  There’s no need to worry that you’ll get lost.  It’s open 360 degrees around.  You can see the world laid out before you on top of the Great Sand Dunes.  It’s breathtaking for two reasons:  climbing in the loose sand and gazing at the view.

            I was the last to make it to the top of High Dune, the tallest peak, breathing like an old nag on her last legs.  Wait!  I did feel as though I was on my last legs.  I felt like I was standing—barely, mind you—in the middle of the Sahara, except I could see the magnificent Rocky Mountain peaks in the near distance. 

It just stuns the mind to have all these sand peaks—waves really, about 700 feet tall according to the park ranger—with a backdrop of the mighty Rocky Mountains.  The Rockies are green with trees and shrubs, capped in rock and snow, decorated in lakes and streams.  The fragile Sand Dunes are trapped between two huge mountain ranges:  the San Juan Mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.  The Sand Dunes rest at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Of course, the Lees crew still needed to get down from these mighty sand dunes.  The children had a blast racing straight down the dune sides.  I, on the other hand, wished to survive this endeavor.  I plodded along the edges of the dunes when I could, like that tired old nag.  I took “straight downs” only when absolutely necessary.  You see, I knew there was a “straight up” on the other side.  Over two hours to climb to the top; we made it down to the small creek from which we started in about 40 minutes.     

Recreation?  Trudging through soft sand for almost three hours…uphill…both ways!  Yes, we could see forever, but the trek up nearly killed me.  I didn’t learn about a “dunes-accessible wheelchair” until after we made the trek to the top.  This wheelchair is loaned out free of charge for those in need at the Visitor Center. 

I made my husband buy ice back at camp.  And while they all swam in the pool, I bathed my feet in ice.  The eerie moon scape of the Great Sand Dunes invaded my dreams at night for days, at least until my feet stopped throbbing.  


I hope the weather is good where you are.  I always enjoy my seasons.  Okay…maybe not shoveling the snow.  Just hiking through it. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Visiting Family During Holidays or at Vacation Time

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Slow and easy does it--even on a quad!
Happy New Year, everyone!

            Holidays are a time for visiting.  Families and friends get together to catch up on each other’s adventures during the previous year.

            So it can be during camping trips.  It’s easy to combine visiting family or friends who live in different states or even countries with your vacation plans.  You build your camping trip around the parameters of the visit.

You must remember, though, that you can’t assume your relatives or friends will be able to accommodate your family.  This much I know.  I have seven.  It is a burden to the hostess to expect her to provide shelter for your family.  So when we visited my cousin in Michigan, we camped at Metamora-Hadley State Park.  This is a beautiful park available even in the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.  There’s a cross-country ski trek by candlelight on January 23!      

We visited in the summertime and one evening our son—ever the fisherman—caught yellow perch and catfish in Lake Minnewanna.  Ohmygosh!  There is nothing like fresh fish prepared and eaten within an hour of catching.  Since we were camping, we coated the fish with egg and crushed cornflakes.  It’s true.  When camping, there is no need to crush the cornflakes.   

             Camping and vacation are for trying new activities.  This can be done while visiting friends and family, too.  At my cousin’s home, she has over an acre of land…and an ATV.  Immediately, six people lined up in her driveway to ride.  Luckily my husband, who has a motor cycle license, decided not to get in line.  It took me most of the afternoon to get my turn!  The children enjoyed “driving” the ATV—albeit slowly—through a field complete with manmade hills and bumps.  Yes, I drove slowly too.  You couldn’t see all the moguls through the tall grass.    

Another good reason to visit people when camping?  Delicious food prepared by someone else…who has a full kitchen and oven at her disposal to bake homemade macaroni and cheese (my children’s favorite!), and whose husband has a fully operational barbeque grill that cooks in less than an hour what would take us days to cook on a propane stove, barbequed chicken, with zesty homemade sauce.  We ate like we had been camping for two weeks eating only hot dogs and hamburgers prepared at the campfire or on a propane stove.  Wait…we had been camping for two weeks by the time of our visit.  Aside from our son’s fresh catch of the day, this meal was a godsend!

            Visiting family and friends while on vacation can be beneficial for other reasons.  No one knows an area like the locals.  My cousin tipped us off about another great Michigan state park in the Upper Peninsula, the Tahquamenon Falls State Park.  She pointed out that there was nothing like the tawny brown Tahquamenon Falls.  And she was right!  This state park is also open in winter for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing with breathtaking views.  They’re having a snowshoe race in February!  


I hope your holidays are full of family and friends and visiting.  Enjoy!