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 2, 2014

Keeping Children Safe in Crowded Vacation Areas

Disney World and balloons, a great combination
Now about that other time when the twins were five. 

We were visiting one of America’s best playgrounds for families:  Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  

I always worried about losing a child in crowds.  Only this time, it happened.  But I was prepared.

We were visiting Disney World in January during one of Florida’s rare cold snaps.  [Of course!]  I had each child wear their school backpacks to carry their autograph books for the characters, pens, water bottles, trinkets they purchased, and raincoats in case of rain. 

Like we do for our camping trips, we brought layers to wear.  We wore everything; short-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, and raincoats.  Still we shivered.  Thank God for the It’s a Small World ride.  It was the only ride for young families—inside! 

Each day, I would buy a helium balloon at the park gate and tie it to the children’s backpack strap.  Instinctively, I counted balloons all day; each time we went into a restaurant, rode the monorail, watched the parades, or waited in line for a ride.  I held backpacks while the children rode the rides.

One day, as we left the monorail in another noisy swarm of people, I counted balloons above the heads.  Five.  Everyone got off.  We gathered our coats, camera, and collapsed double stroller and left the platform, heading up the swift escalator. 

Then for some reason, I decided to count balloons again.

One, two, three, four!  My heart stopped.

Just as we do when we hike, my husband was in front of the line of balloons; I, at the back of the line of children.  Frantically, I looked at my balloons and found one of the twins missing.

Above the din of music and conversations, I shouted to my husband.  Turning around on the escalator, I spied a balloon still on the platform in the throng of people. 

I screamed her name and the word balloon as I fought my way through the people jammed on the escalator, attempting to race down the up escalator.

I continued to scream balloon, pushing and shoving people out of my way to get to the platform before my little girl got swept onto the next train by the crowd.

Yes!  People stared at me and gave way.  I kept screaming balloon.  The train had come by this time.  Then a lady had cleared people away from a ballooned little girl who was crying and the crazy lady screaming balloon reached her in time. 

We both cried, sitting there on the train station floor.  I thanked the woman.

When a vacation spot is very busy and popular, such as Disney World, using balloons as markers can be a good idea.  Especially if you have more than two children.  The balloon allowed me to find my daughter from the escalator.  I could see the balloon above the crowd.  And of course, the kind lady who kept her from being swept into the train was an angel.

How about you?  Do you ever worry about losing your children in the crowds?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

From the Mountains to the Sea - Nova Scotia Harbors

Connected by the hips, but I know where they are.
We started small with the harbors along the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island.  Village harbors had fingers stretching out onto a mirror of icy blue.  Homes sat on spindly legs; a cloak of green warmed the hills and secured escarpments; lobster pots, most stacked neatly in hills.  Rainbows of coiled nets and ropes line the docks.

We moved on to Digby Neck with its beach of basalt, angular, chiseled cuts of rocks defying gravity as they perched on precipices.  The most glorious beach filled with the seven of us, my husband and I walking hand in hand along the water’s edge, sharing heartbeats, sharing smiles.  The children trailed behind drowning out the crashing of waves upon the shore with their hoops and hollers scaring the birds from the sand.

Peaceful, secure in nature.  Wild roses and hemlocks, ocean and brine filling the air with a myriad of fragrance.

Then my husband wanted to see the Tall Ships at Halifax Harbor.

“You can’t come this far and not,” he told me.

This is true, but unfamiliar cities make me nervous with five children.  Crowds, buses.  In nature, I always know where my children are.  They’re never quiet, remember?  But the festival, distances, and parking required we take a bus—all seven of us.  Of course we needed to scatter throughout the double bus with the accordion middle, a place the children loved to sit.  It was impossible to see everyone.        

The bus snaked through the city streets, toward the harbor and the ships.  At each stop, I’d stand up and scream to the children NOT to get off.  A cacophony of languages filled my ears.  I watched, unblinkingly, for my children to remain on the bus.  Crowds of people pushed them farther away. 
Once at the harbor, a world of ships greeted the crowd and my husband told me to relax.  I just kept counting children as we boarded ships and disembarked, as we walked along a pier, checked out the stockades, or watched the bagpipers play.  

Thousands of smartly dressed sailors told us of fore and aft, port and starboard.  We got lost each time—but we got lost together.  The children collected the stamps of various ships, marveled at the culture, the music and dance, the stone and clapboard buildings mixed with the ultra-modern skyscrapers of glass and metal.  And still I counted.

My husband finally tugged at my arm and broke my concentration. 

“They’re fine.  We’re both watching,” he reminded me.  “Enjoy the sights of the city.” 

Halifax is a vibrant city.  Sunshine reflected off harbor and skyscrapers that day, filling the hearts of my family.  I smiled.  The children were older now, the twins—our youngest—were nine.  They knew to listen and stay close to their parents.  There are two of us watching, just like when we hike in nature. 


This experience was much different from the time when the twins were five and we took them to another crowded vacation spot.  But sometimes I have trouble letting go of my memories.  Does that happen to you?  Have you ever worried about your children in a crowded place?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Importance of Water and Snacks When Hiking

The top of Mt. Franey Trail
From Peggy’s Cove, where our daughter learned not to dunk her new camera into the salt water while climbing on the rocks—too late, unfortunately—to Cape Breton Highlands, it was a Canadian camping vacation of firsts.  First trip where we ate delicious, if not tiny, fillets of fresh fish for dinner.  First trip where we over-hiked the children on an exhausting trail. 

At Cape Breton Highlands National Park, we took a loop trail.  We usually hiked loops for variety of scenery and positive proof that we’d end up in the same place after beginning, the parking lot where the van was.  It’s kilometers in Canada, not miles.  Like I’ve said before in my Camping with Kids blog posts, it’s very important to understand length and challenge levels before hiking a particular trail.  We know this.  You know this.  But sometimes mistakes happen and you need to be prepared for them.

We misunderstood the Mt. Franey Trailwith its steep climbs and switchbacks clinging to the wall of the valley.  In our case, the sweeping climb came first, the sharper descent came last.

We learned only afterwards that it was 7.4 km [4.6 mi], a challenging Level 4 difficulty.  It took us about six hours to hike this trail as we stopped frequently for snacks and drinks. 

This is the tip to remember when realizing that you’re on a lengthy trail, stop often, drink and snack often.  You should always hike with lots of water and nutritious, salt replacing snacks like nuts and pretzels.  We love a challenge, but time length requires replenishment.

At the close of the day after our long adventure, I attempted to congratulate the family from the comfort of our padded bunks.

            “Cape Breton is called the highlands for a reason,” I started tentatively, remembering the sweeping views from the top.

            The children were pretty much comatose.  My husband turned his head, but I think that was all he could manage.

“Weren’t the mountain streams beautiful, tumbling from crevice to rock to plateau to pool?”

Not a sound in return. 

I turned my head slightly.  Yep.  They were all in the camper.  I tried again.

“Remember how we stuck our feet into the crystal clear stream?  Gosh, it was icy-cold and bathed in sunlight.  You guys climbed on the boulders.”  Because it was at the beginning of the hike, but I left that part out.

I listened closely.  Good.  They’re still breathing.

“The sun shimmered through the sugar maple leaves creating lace patterns on the moss when we hiked through the forest.”  Boy, you could tell I was tired; still a smile creased my lips at the images my mind created.  “Anyway,” I finished, “Dad and I are very proud of you.”

Finally I received a response, a pelting of dirty balled up socks.  Lucky them…I didn’t have the energy to get mine off. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Angling Adventures: A Fisher of Camping Dinners

Fresh dinner tonight. Holy mackerel!
Our son has always been the fisherman of the family.  Whenever we camp, we stop at local visitor information centers.  While I gather brochures for things to do in the area and my husband asks about road conditions, our son marches right up to the clerk to ask about fishing.  He would collect oodles of fishing brochures by the time he returned to the van.

            We were in Nova Scotia this time.  Our son’s a morning person as I am, and we’d walk down to the dock on the bay to watch fishermen cast their lines.  Fishermen love to share knowledge, and our son learned lots.

            “Mackerel’s running now,” he told the rest of the family at breakfast.

            The twins, his best fishing buddies, listened intently.  The older girls yawned, and his father cringed and glared at me like it’s my fault his son likes to fish.  He was probably reliving previous fishing trips when he had to fillet the fish because our son was too young to handle the knife.   

            “Did you ever catch a mackerel before?”  I asked our son.

            “Nope.”  He continued to eat breakfast. 

My husband squirmed in his seat.

“The man says mackerels like red,” our son told everyone.
           
            “Red what?” His oldest sister asked.
           
            “Do you have a red lure in your fishing box?”  Dad asked with hope in his eyes.

            “No.”  He got up to rinse his cereal bowl and spoon.
           
            His father smiled at me, thinking he was off the hook.  But I knew better.

            “But you can use anything,” our son added.    
            Immediately I started looking around the camper for something red, avoiding my husband’s eyes. 

“They’ll be running again at 4 p.m.”

“First we explore Peggy’s Cove,” I reminded my fisherman.  Purposely, I didn’t look at my husband.

            “But we’ll be back by 4,” our son said.  “Right, Mom?”

            I had my head stuck in a cupboard by this time, searching for something small and red.  I sighed.  It’s going to be a long afternoon. 

            We headed for Peggy’s Cove only after I had received approval from our fisherman for the use of three red bread twisters as lures.

            Just as I had suspected; instead of hearing the crash of waves or the call of sea birds, all we heard that afternoon was a barrage of “Is it 4:00 yets.”

            By the time we returned to camp—yes, by 4 p.m.—our son had talked the twins and Dad into accompanying him on his fishing exhibition.

            Well his mentor was correct.  The mackerel were indeed “running.”  But so were the mosquitoes.  The boy couldn’t swat and bait and unhook the lines fast enough.  He and his sisters snagged slippery, silvery, squirmy fish out of the water each time they cast their lines.  They returned to camp in a cloud of mosquitoes.

I searched the camper for something to coat fish in, and choose corn flakes to crush.  I also grabbed the bottle of calamine lotion to coat the fishing crew.

            “His mentor’s advice about a red lure worked too well,” my husband complained handing me little chunks of mackerel in a pot while he scratched.  “I finally told the kids we had enough.  I’m going to shower before dinner,” he grumbled and took the bottle of calamine as he left the camper.

            Our three fisherpeople, faces lit with triumph and bug bites, chorused, “There were schooools of mackerel, Mom.” 

            That night, we thanked God and our fisherpeople for a delicious fresh meal, and Dad for filleting the fish in a swarm of mosquitoes. 


Family camping trips should afford any budding fisherperson an opportunity to learn new ways to catch fish and to practice.  This can be a delicious hobby when camping.  Even better, my husband adds, if the fisherpeople clean their own fish.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Temporary Insanity: Jumping off Cliffs in the Adirondack Mountains

Feet first when jumping from a height.
West Virginia wasn’t the only state that the Lees crew jumped off cliffs into a swirling river.  On another camping trip, there was no guided river run adventure.  I had no raft to hurry and catch up to, no lunch to miss with the group of fellow rafters, and no bus to find in order to ride back to our van with the family. 

I had only my paralyzing fears of falling and rocks hiding in dark waters.

We had planned an exciting camping trip hiking and climbing up switchbacks in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, beautiful mountains with rugged terrain and stiff terra firma.  Our hiking boots were stowed in the camper.  I had no visions of screaming and flying off craggy outcroppings of mountains into rushing water.

Until my teenaged son went fishing one morning in the Ausable, a tannin-colored river. 
It was relatively close to our campsite. This was a catch and release section of the river.  At breakfast he shared some interesting news. 

“Hey, Mom,” he began.  “There’s this neat place you can jump into the Ausable from.” His chocolate brown eyes fairly danced with excitement.

“How do you know,” his sisters asked in unison.

“Wait!”  I tried to get back to the jump word.

“Is it close by?”  His father asked.

“The kid I was fishing with told me you can park right after the bridge on Route 9 and follow the path.”

“Is it safe?”  I finally got a word in.
“Mom,” my son looked into my frightened eyes.  “Everyone who lives around here does it.”

“That doesn’t necessarily make it safe,” I tried to explain.

“They’re teenagers now,” my husband reminded me as we drove to the parking place.

“And I’d like to give them an opportunity to attend college.”  Sometimes I think I’m the only sane person in this family.

As we walked down the path, I heard screams, laughter, and rushing water.  We came upon a craggy precipice where people were indeed jumping off into the deep brown waters of the Ausable River.

I shook so much; I needed to sit down before I fell off the cliff.  The top of the cliff was 30 feet above the water, but I noticed people jumping from narrow ledges below that height.  This jump off point was a short distance downstream from waterfalls on the opposite bank of the river.  The bridge we drove across to get to the parking area was on the upper side of the falls where huge boulders pinched the thundering Ausable into a narrow channel. 

            Watching others jump off cliffs still doesn’t make it easy for a mother to allow her children to jump.  I watched the people jump for a while as my family pestered me.  The people were jumping away from the ledge to hit the water about 10 feet from the river bank.  The lower level jumpers looked up to the precipice and waved their hand, “I’m jumping,” and the top person backed away from the ledge. 

“Let Dad go first,” I finally said, “on the lower ledge.”

My husband climbed down the side of the cliff to the lower level and leapt.  He came up cheering, and the children scurried down to the lower level to jump—the first time.  They all quickly moved up to the 30 foot precipice.   

            Only once did I venture up there, with the insane, to that dizzying height.  Staring into the rushing waters of the Ausable, I tried to convince myself that I was only temporarily insane, and that as soon as I took the plunge, I would swim over to the big boulder and continue the recitation of my rosary. 

You never dive into dark waters.  Even after you check out the riverbed.  Everyone jumping that day went in feet first.  It’s also a good idea for ladies to wear t-shirts over their bathing suits.  Take note that hitting water from the height of 20 or 30 feet repeatedly bruises the body at the point of impact.  Our feet were a bit tender on the drive home.

            We all survived the big plunge.  But then the children wanted to come back the next day after hiking and the next.  Luckily we headed for home on the fourth day.  I didn’t think I could have convinced myself one more day that I was only temporarily insane.  Ahh…the thrills of camping with the family.    


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Wet and Wild: Riding the New River Part 3

We survived the wild waters of the
               New River in West Virginia 
“Who wants to ride on the bull-nose,” Seth asked my excited but tired children during the calm before the last rapid series on our New River whitewater rafting trip in West Virginia.


            I think the children only heard, “Who wants to ride…” before all five hands shot up.  One of the twins—our youngest—was quickest. 


            “Okay,” Seth said as I started to tremble.  “Now position yourself on the bull-nose of the raft [the front nose of the raft], legs out, facing the rapids.  Hold the rope with one hand, one arm up, and shout ‘Yahoo!’ as the raft plunges into the rapid.”


            I started screaming.  “Are you crazy, Seth?” 


He just smiled and shrugged.


“I’ve spent the whole trip trying to keep the children in the raft during rapids and you want one of them to ride the raft like a bull?”

“She’s wearing a life jacket.”


“As she falls into the hydraulics of the rapids and rocks and the raft covers her!”


My husband said I was becoming hysterical—again.  “Seth wouldn’t have suggested it if it wasn’t safe.”


“Safe for whom?!”  I screeched.



The twin did ride the nose over the rapid, but I noticed her squeak her rump back into the raft as opposed to sitting on the lip.  As soon as the raft nosed into the hydraulic, she slipped herself into the raft bottom, arm still up, still shouting “Yahoo!” as instructed.


We all thought she was brave, but I still glared at Seth who just smiled at me.


Remember that the guides do know the river and what is safe to do at the time and conditions of the river, but you are the parents.  You are always in control of what your family participates in and what you’d rather just ride through. 


Another thing we learned on this river trip was to wear synthetic fabrics. They don’t hold the water like cotton does.  Therefore you feel dryer and stay warmer especially if you raft in the springtime.  Shoes are very important; sneakers are best as they are stronger than water shoes and tie on your feet.  You always need to consider that you will tumble out of the raft and have to negotiate the rocks and boulders as you bob downstream feet first [always feet first!].  Life jackets are life savers when whitewater rafting.  Believe it.


Whitewater rafting is exhilarating, surprising, and strenuous.  But oh so fun!  There are age limitations that must be met for children to accompany the journey.  Have you ever faced the whitewater on a raft? 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wet and Wild: Riding the New River Part 2


Whitewater rapids here we come!
“Who wants to jump off a cliff into the New River?” Seth asked our whitewater rafting family crew as we came around the next bend in the river in West Virginia.


            “Cliff?!”  I turned to my husband behind me in the raft.  “Did he say ‘to jump off a cliff’”?  I screeched.


            “It’s a huge boulder, really,” Seth assured me as the pale pink sandstone cliff came into view and we saw our other rafts pull over to the bank.

            As I gazed up from the water, I told my husband, “It looks like a cliff to me.” 


Some mothers have problems when you combine certain words, like “jumping off a cliff” when it comes to her children.  Yet my children scampered up the huge boulder with the rest of the rafters. 

Once we all left the rafts, the guides pulled the rafts back into the swift moving New River and floated downstream. 


“Wait!”  I shouted after Seth. 

“Just jump off the boulder and swim to the raft!”  He shouted back to me. 

I was the only one left on the beach.  Everyone else was on top of the boulder jumping into the current of the river and swimming toward their rafts.


“C’mon, Vic,” my husband called down.


Grudgingly, I climbed up the boulder and lay flat to peer over the lip at the tannin-colored water 30 feet below.


“Hurry, Mom,” my children called from the safety of the raft.


No one was paddling, yet the raft was gaining distance from the boulder.  I had to jump or forfeit the picnic lunch which was next on the agenda.  After a morning of digging the paddle into a cauldron of whitewater, I was starving.  With my heart pounding in my head, probably because of the tight vest, I decided to bless myself and depend on that vest to keep me from drowning.  The shriek that escaped from my lips as I jumped from the boulder frightened the birds from the trees. 


Once in the water, I struggled to catch up to our raft and found I couldn’t pull myself over the huge tube.  With the assistance of Seth, I flopped into the bottom of the raft like a drowned pelican.


“When’s lunch,” I gasped to Seth.


“Right after the Double Z,” he said with a smile.

As I struggled to my position on the tube edge and tucked my sneakers under it, I thought again how odd to actually name rapids. 


Lunch was a welcomed break to the day, and for the first time, my children ate everything included in the “boxed” lunch provided by Appalachian Whitewater Outfitters. 


As we plied our paddles that afternoon at the command of Seth, through many classifications of rapids from ripples to hydraulics, classes I to V, we came up to the rapids the guides called “the bloody nose hole,” an undercut at Millers Folly Rapids. 


We were almost finished with our exhilarating ride on the New River, and my children had remained in the raft during deep hydraulics and high level rapids on the river because of my continued shouting to shove their sneakered feet under the huge tube.  Just when I thought I could stop hyperventilating, Seth had one more question to ask my children.