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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Christmas in July

            I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas filled with family and friends. And may your 2019 be full of health and happiness.

My Christmas was indeed filled with family and friends. We are truly blessed! While we were enjoying many tasty homemade treats, the children asked for a camping story from our many adventures. As I thought about which one to tell, my eye caught the Santa doll by our tree.  The interesting things about family camping are the surprises you find along the way, if not on the trail, then at camp.
Christmastime at our home

It was July, our usual camping time, and we were visiting the Appalachian Trail and some New Jersey State Parks and forests
The children were younger on this particular trip. And when we came back from a short hike, whom did we find at camp? Santa Claus. He wore shorts and a white t-shirt with his boots and Santa hat. The children’s eyes were taller than the trees. They searched for his sleigh. But he explained that he uses his hay wagon in summer. Suddenly, the children became wary. They peppered him with questions. [They are definitely MY children!]

“Why are you using horses to pull the wagon instead of your reindeer?” Our son asked.
“Well you see,” Santa explained. “My reindeer think it’s too hot to come so far south.”

Okay, so the children thought about this.

“Can your wagon fly through the air, too?” Our oldest daughter asked.
 “Well actually,” Santa began, “only my reindeer can fly. And since they refused to come along on this trip, the wagon is grounded.”

Our children became quiet, an unusual state for them. Santa still had helpers all around him. There was even a Christmas tree under the pavilion at camp. 
One of the twins visits Santa

My children weren’t the only ones at camp who had questions. Another young camper asked how Santa got here if the wagon didn’t fly. Santa explained that he needed to fly the traditional way, by airplane to New Jersey for this trip. But he did bring along a few small gifts for those who were good so far this year. All the children quickly lined up! 
Our son visits with Santa

After Santa visited with the children, he asked if anyone wanted a ride in his summer “Santa” wagon. Suddenly, children of all ages believed and climbed into the wagon for a trip around the campground. It was a great way to end a summer visit from Santa.
Everyone climb in!
Riding in Santa’s summer hay wagon around camp. 
Have you ever visited with Santa at a time other than at Christmas? Please share your experience here at Camping with Five Kids. It would truly be appreciated. May your New Year be full of adventure!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Simple Tree I.D. Using Leaves and Seeds

            The children and I are always looking for easy ways to remember which tree is which. Much to the children’s dismay, it’s not always so simple. The first thing we learned was that the seeds of a tree are called its fruit. Some seeds seem like they have parachutes, think of the fluffy “wishies” that float in the air. Think of the sycamore tree as having a brown wishie. Some seeds have blades like sailboats and catch the wind, twirling effortlessly to the ground. Think of the maples and Tulip Poplar. And then there are the nut seeds like the oaks.

I’m using some photos from our walk around the neighborhood, looking at the trees to help clarify the information we are sharing. After our walk, we went home and researched further online or in our tree and nature books to learn more about the trees. This post is a summary of what we learned.

American Sweet Gum Tree
The American Sweet Gum tree is the star tree with the spiky balls as my children calls it. Many children identify trees by describing their leaves and seeds. This is a great way to have children pay attention to detail. Have the children look around the base of the tree or even up into the tree for clues as to its identity.   
Sweet Gum leaves and seed pods

            We found out that the Sweet Gum is among the last trees to leaf out in the spring and among last trees to drop leaves in fall. It has deeply-lobed, star-shaped leaves. The seeds for this tree burst out of the pods. You’ll notice in my photo the green pods are closed. Once the seeds explode out, the pod has open portals and turns brown. We found both kinds of pods on the ground.  

Sycamore Tree 
The Sycamore tree is the easiest one for my children to identify by the trunk of the tree. The sycamore is the peely-barked tree. In other words, the tree sheds its bark. A sycamore can be called a buttonwood tree. It is a North American plane tree with broad leaves measuring almost six inches and has three to five lobes. The seeds are tightly packed in a soft hairy ball that blows apart in strong wind. Think of tawny wishies here. It’s not a woody ball like the sweet gum. 
Sycamore seed 

American Sycamores have smooth, whitish bark, which peels off in large flakes. Splotches, where bark has peeled off, can be brown, green, or gray. These trees grow near rivers, streams, or lakes. They need moist, but well-drained ground.  

Tulip Poplar Tree leaves
The Tulip Poplar tree is the cat face leaf tree. If you look at the leaf of this tree, it looks like a cat face. The leaves have four points on them. They have winged seeds, like little helicopter blades, but we couldn’t find any on the ground. I use an internet picture here. This fruit [or seeds] is a cone two to three inches long, made of a great number of thin narrow scales attached to a common axis. Each cone contains sixty or seventy of these scales, of which only a few are productive.
Tulip Poplar seeds

Tulip trees are large and grow to a great height. On an average, these trees grow up to 80-100 feet tall. The tallest tulip tree found on the Earth is about 200 feet tall. A distinguishing characteristic feature of this tree is its very straight bark. The bottom branches of the tulip tree start nearly 70 to 80 feet from the ground. But the children and I still use the cat-faced leaf to identify this tree.

The Ginkgo tree is an odd tree. The little golden leaves are shaped like a fan. These trees can live as long as 3,000 years, we’ve read online, and have both a male and a female tree. Since the female trees can smell a little, so the information says, the trees we found in the neighborhood are most likely male.
Ginkgo Tree Leaves in Autumn 

A fascinating fact we found about the ginkgo tree is that it is a living fossil. The earliest leaf fossils are dated from 270 million years ago. It was rediscovered in 1691 in China and then brought over to our country in the late 1700s. The seeds and leaves are still used in medicine throughout the world. [Info from https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/treedetail.cfm?itemID=1092

            *A great place to find tree information is the Arbor Day Organization.* 

I could go on and on, but I’ll finish with a few facts about maples and oaks. There are over 100 species of Maple trees. Maples have sweet sap and double-winged “helicopter” seeds or fruit. The leaves are varied in sizes, but maple leaves have 3 major pointed sections with tiny, stout lower sections by the stem of the leaf. Here are a few that we saw on our walk. 
Silver Maple Leaves
Sugar Maple Leaves 

Small Maple Leaves called Swamp Maple

As for the Oak trees, there are approximately 600 existing species of oaks. But for my children’s purposes, we researched the two main groups:  
The pointy-tipped Pin Oak are the red oak leaf trees. The red oak trees have the points on their leaves. I told my children to remember r-e-d, 3 letters for pointy p-i-n, 3 letters oak leaves. 
Pointy leaf Red Pin Oak Tree

Rounded finger White Oak Tree leaves
The rounded finger oak leaves are the white oak trees.  Again, I told my children to remember w-h-i-t-e, 5 letters for the r-o-u-n-d, 5 letters finger oak leaves. 

But red oak or white, all oak leaves have the same amount of lobes or teeth, about eight. And all oak trees bear the acorn as fruit.

The leaves from the Red Oak Group have pointed lobes:
Black oak
Pin oak
Red oak
Sawtooth oak
Scarlet oak
Shingle oak
Shumard oak

Leaves from the White Oak Group have the rounded lobes:
Bur oak
Chestnut oak
Chinquapin oak
English oak
Swamp White oak
White oak

I hope you’ve learned something new by reading this post. Please feel free to share any knowledge you may have about nature or trees here at Camping with Five Kids. It would truly be appreciated. Enjoy your Holiday!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

How Do Leaves Change in Autumn?

            One of the twins asked me how leaves change in autumn. Instead of saying, “I don’t know,” which I didn’t. I said, “Let’s find out together.” True, my kids groan when I say this. But I think it’s part of a parent’s job. I truly believe that parents are their children’s first teachers—in many ways.

            So back to how leaves change color in autumn. Please understand that I am not a science major. I started as I usually do when asked a nature science question by my children. I turn to the United States National Parks Service. We learn so much from the park rangers when we camp with five kids at national parks.

This time I used the Department of Agriculture Forest Service site. So this post is a summary of what we learned from national and state forest services and my tree books:
            Fruit Key & Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William M. Harlow, Ph.D.
            A Field Guide to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey by Howard P. Boyd.    
            You may know that the deciduous trees—the trees with leaves—are the trees that change color in autumn, and only those leaf-bearing trees in the temperate zones change. The temperate zones are found about 30 degrees above Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere to about 60 degrees near the top of Canada, and the same degrees in the southern hemisphere, south of the Tropic of Capricorn to about 60 degrees near the edge of Antarctica. 

            The key to leaves changing is the growing length of night in autumn.

            Here’s a little chemistry:
Chlorophyll gives leaves their basic green color and is necessary for photosynthesis, the chemical reaction that enables plants to use sunlight to manufacture sugars for their food. What we learned was that there is a second chemical present in the leaves throughout their growing season [spring and summer]: Carotenoids. Carotenoids produce the yellow, orange, and brown colors in plants.
A third chemical appears in the leaves during autumn. Anthocyanins offer the red and purple colors to leaves and plants.
Now, during the growing season, chlorophyll is continually being produced and broken down and leaves appear green. As the night lengthens in autumn, the chlorophyll production slows down and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is destroyed.

            The carotenoids [the yellow and orange] and anthocyanins [the red and purple] that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors.

“Ta-da!” I told the kids. I thought it was fascinating. I thought it answered all their questions.


            “But Mom,” our son asked, “what makes the leaf fall off?”

            Back to the books and websites. I found more science.

            Since the daylight fades faster in autumn and the night lengthens, the veins that carry fluids into and out of the leaf gradually close off. A layer of cells forms at the base of each leaf. The clogged veins trap sugars in the leaf and promote production of the anthocyanins, the red and purple colors. When most of the green is gone from leaves, the leaf is ready to fall.

            I thought this would be enough. Not for my kids.

“It’s cold in the winter,” the other twin said. She’s my fellow tree-hugger. “Wouldn’t the tree be warmer with its leaves on?

More reading steered us to this:

            Leaves are too tender to withstand a freezing winter. The trees have protection for the thicker stems, twigs, and buds to survive extreme cold. Therefore, the trees must release their leaves so we can crunch through them, I told the kids.



            “But what about the pine trees,” our oldest asked. “Do they lose their needles in autumn?”

            *Who taught these kids to ask so many questions?*

            The evergreens or conifers keep their needle-leaves. The pine needles are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluid inside their cells contains substances that resist freezing.

“But why do we find brown needles on the ground around pine trees in the forest,” our brainiac wanted to know.

I should have studied science instead of English. But I was curious, too.

We discovered that evergreen needles survive for some years but eventually fall off because of old age—not seasonally for autumn. That’s why you can find brown pine needles on the ground or a few on the tree. It’s not seasonal, it’s old age.

            The leaves of broad-leafed plants are thin and vulnerable to damage. These leaves are not protected by any thick coverings. The fluid in the cells of these leaves is usually a thin, watery sap that freezes easily.

            After our science lesson—which took over a week to learn everything—the five kids grabbed some bags and we took a walk in the woods near our home to gather leaves and talk about trees.

Maybe I’ll share what we’ve learned about tree species next time. This is just a summary of what we’ve learned about how and why tree leaves change color and fall off in autumn. I hope you’ve learned something new. Please feel free to share any knowledge you may have about nature, autumn, or trees here at Camping with Five Kids. It would truly be appreciated. Enjoy your seasons!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fall Adventures Abound When Camping with the Family

            Autumn is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere and the leaves are beginning to change. It’s the perfect time to squeeze in a short camping trip to a forest, the mountains, anyplace there are lots of trees and trails. Depending upon where you go, the air can be refreshingly cool or downright nippy.
The Pocono Mountains in
Pennsylvania show their fall colors.

I love my seasons, but sometimes I like cooler temperatures better than the heat of summer. I can always put more on to be warmer, but no matter what I wear or don’t wear in the summer, I still sweat. We don’t have air conditioning in our Jayco Eagle pop-up. It’s a hard-top, crank-up camper with pull-out beds on the ends. Lots of screens, though. It gives the effect that we’re camping out in the woods, which we are, but the bugs can’t get us. And, we get to sit on the soft cushions at our dinette tables. But it can get hot.

In autumn if we get chilly, we have canvas wind/rain flaps to zip up over the screens. They’re tinted, so we can still see out as we dine. We also use a tiny electric space heater on really chilly evenings. You need to have electric hookup to do this. Staying at rustic campsites with no electricity, you need to bring your subzero sleeping bags or warm, wool blankets and long underwear, if you have any. If you decide to use a little space heater while camping, never use a kerosene type. Here’s a good site to find information about tent heaters for camping. 

Our small electric heater cycled on and off in the camper and was the type that turned off if it tipped over. We used the low setting during the evening, placing the heater on the counter by the sink, free from anything near it. We had no room on our tiny floor space. My husband and I turned it off once we went to bed. It’s not really safe to leave a space heater, no matter what type, on overnight because the heating element or a flame for the propane type space heaters could start a fire. We didn’t think it was worth the risk. Pack for the weather in layers as I’ve said before at Camping with Five Kids.

Campgrounds offer much for the fall camper: scary hayrides, Halloween parades, and decorated campsite contests, to mention a few. The warmth of a campfire and roasting hot dogs and toasting s’mores is more inviting in autumn because of the cooler temperatures. Always remember to douse the campfire with at least two pots of water to be sure it’s really out.  And finish the campfire before the children or the parents become tired. Please see my Camping with Five Kids blog post for more on fall camping fun here

Seed pods explode in autumn along
the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.
But what I really like to do in the fall, is hike through the woods. Now you need a deciduous [leaf bearing] forest to be able to fully appreciate this hike. I suggest going for a walk or hike into the woods several times during autumn. You want to be able to enjoy the luscious fall colors on the hardwoods; the various shades of crimson in the maples, the rainbow of golds for the oaks, birch, and sycamores. It simply fills the senses. The crisp air of the forest. The earthy smell of the trail.

I don’t know about you, but my feet become heavier in autumn. They drag along the trail or path through the woods. No, I’m not tired. I’m not sweating much either. My children have this same seasonal condition. It’s called “crunchitis.” The only treatment is to drag your feet through the crisp, crackling leaves that fall from deciduous trees in fall.

Try it! You’ll be glad you did. Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids. Do you have any favorite trips or activities you do in the fall? Please leave a note. I’ll be sure to respond. Thanks!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Importance of a Name: Never Touch Wild Animals in Their Habitat

To continue with our day trip motif, have you ever visited the sea shore or any lake beach? My children are beach bunnies. They love sand, surf, and sun. We have the good fortune of my husband’s parents living in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. A beautiful home, with an upstairs for noisy family visitors. 
The Lees crew at the point
              in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Stone Harbor shares its sandy barrier island with Avalon, another beach town. Visiting my in-laws gave us the luxury to hike the point in Stone Harbor often. The point is the tip of Stone Harbor and Hereford’s Inlet between Stone Harbor and the Wildwoods.

Just like when we go camping with five kids, when we’re down the shore, we remind our children that we’re visitors to other creatures’ habitats and need to respect both the creatures and their homes. Our family always gets excited when we see a new sea animal at the beach.

The best time to visit the point is during low tide. Here in New Jersey, low tide occurs about every 12 hours and 20 minutes or so. Tides are primarily caused by the moon. There is an excellent short video about what causes tides at science.howstuffworks. https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geophysics/tide-cause.htm Look toward the bottom of the blog for the video on tides.

Now on this particular journey to the point, our family found the most interesting animal. When the tide goes out at the point, it leaves behind tidal pools. On this occasion, the pool was about three feet deep. As we and other families were wading through, kicking and splashing each other, I noticed a dark, round object gliding just beneath the surface.

“Everyone out of the water,” I told my family.
“Mo-om,” our son protested. [There’s always one!]
“Look!” I pointed to the dark shape, and the children scampered up the sand bank.
“What is it?” Our oldest daughter asked.
We found safety at the
              sandy banks of the tidal pool.

Good question. Other families heard me and left the water, too. As I watched the animal glide through the water, I realized we were looking at stingray. Gracefully, it seemed like he was flying through the water. The white edges of its water wings curled and flapped under the sea. We watched in wonder. The stingray we saw was about the size of a large roundish platter, with its stick of a tail poking straight out its back. Here’s an informative short video of swimming stingrays at the National Geographic site.  

Again, we reiterated to our children how you do NOT touch or approach wild animals—even ones found in the sea. Seriously, I thought other people understood this. Unfortunately, one father, who told his family to step out of the tidal pool, went back into the pool to try and lift up one side of the stingray.

I couldn’t believe this! Everyone watched from the banks of the pool. Think about the animal’s name, I thought to myself. It’s a STINGray. Suddenly, the gentleman screamed out in pain, holding both his hands palm up as he hurried to the sandy bank and his family. I couldn’t help myself. I scooted closer to his family and saw the angry red blister-like marks on his fingers. I guessed he was stung by the ray’s wing edges.

“Never, never touch wild animals in their habitat,” I told my children. The stingray may have looked docile, but I didn’t know where the “sting” part of the animal lay. Apparently, there are stingers at the edges of its wings.

The children couldn’t wait to get back to Gram and Pop’s house to tell them about seeing the stingray. We all learned a valuable lesson that day. And, unfortunately, so did that father and his family—the hard way. Poor thing! I wondered if he needed to have stingers taken out or just the wounds treated.

Thanks for visiting Camping with Five Kids. I hope you’ve had a great summer, too. Please leave a comment about your favorite trip to a beach or the shore.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Day Trips: Summer in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

You know, not every family trip needs to be a long camping excursion. Many times we took the children on day trips. Day trips are a convenient way to spend quality time with the family, away from home obligations and distractions. At the same time, you can learn about an area or a local national park. 
Philly's a beautiful place to visit!
For the Lees crew, one of our favorite local trips is to see what’s going on in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the new World Heritage Cities. To obtain the classification of a World Heritage City, among other things, a city must be important to the history and heritage of a country, which Philadelphia is for the United States of America. The World Heritage City site must also be approved by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO. 
A country and government was
              born right here at Independence Hall.

Philadelphia’s importance to the United States should not be underestimated, especially during the country’s formative years. Philly was the seat of government at the birth of our new country way back in the 1700’s. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 at Independence Hall. And the country’s government was created and signed into effect with the Constitution of the United States in 1787 at that very same place.  Philly served as the capital of the new-formed country from 1790 to1800, while Washington, D.C., was being constructed. And during that period, the Bill of Rights was drafted and adopted.

That’s a lot of history contained at Philadelphia’s Independence National HistoricalPark.      

But that’s not all Philadelphia has to offer. Mighty universities sprung up, like nation’s first university, the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League created by Benjamin Franklin in 1749.

A mini history of the university from its website says that “Penn went on to obtain a collegiate charter (1755), graduate its first class (1757), establish the first medical school in the American colonies (1765) and become the first American institution of higher education to be named a university (1779).”

Another beautiful day trip can be had at Boat House Row along the Schuylkill River. It’s a great place to picnic under a tree, walk the paved paths, bike ride or roller blade. Boat House Row is right by the Philadelphia Art Museum, another beautiful place to visit. 
A perfect day for a picnic as we
               explored Boat House Row park.

Philadelphia has one of the largest parks of any city, Fairmount Park, and within that beautiful park full of hiking trails and streams is the Philadelphia Zoo, America’s oldest zoo. Families of all kinds enjoy the zoo, or at least mine does.

Now I realize these are but small tidbits of what to see and do in Philadelphia. I’ve included websites so you can plan your own visits. Actually, to really enjoy all Philadelphia and its vicinity has to offer, it’s a good idea to make several day trips out of this. That’s what we do. Of course, it could easily be a full vacation in itself.  

So stuff a daypack full of treats and drinks. Grab the camera to catch all the memories. And don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes and sun hats and carry sunscreen and bug spray. Then head out for a day or two of family fun.

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

            Thanks for visiting Camping with Five Kids. Please leave a comment about your favorite day trip to take.
Also, please note that I will not post in August of 2018. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading about my Camping with Five Kids adventures. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Time for a Story: How to Don a Swimsuit Inside a Sweltering Tent Trailer

            Oh sure, it’s easy to put on a bathing suit at home, in the privacy of your own room, with the air-conditioning on. Did you ever try to put one on in a hot and sticky tent after a day’s adventures on the trail? Enjoying the pool or lake at campgrounds is my “thank you” to the children for allowing me to see this beautiful country of ours. It’s refreshing. It eases the joints after a day’s hiking. It relaxes the mind. …If you can get the suits on! The good news is that children don’t sweat as heavily as adults. At least mine don’t. Their bodies weren’t as sticky as mine.  
Changing into a swimsuit in
a tent in a desert is brutal.

            Well after years of trying to accomplish this feat as quickly as possible, I’ve come up with a few tricks. Allow me to enlighten you.

Start with the children. This way when you’re finished, you can just run for water.
Parenting tips to get pool ready when it’s 110 degrees in the tent trailer:

Peel off sweat-drenched clothing. Do not leave on cushions! This is the part my children keep forgetting. I’m not sure if it’s because I tell them not to leave their clothes on the floor at home. The kids can’t seem to distinguish between sweaty, damp clothing and good clothing that can be worn again; specifically, unsmelly church or holiday clothing.

Dab at sweat pouring off body with beach towel. Do not use bath towel! This is not a difficult job to distinguish between the towels. I don’t know about you, but my bath towels don’t say, “Surfing at Stone Harbor” on them or have huge, colorful sailboats in the middle of them.

Now, tackle spandex bathing suit. Boys’ bathing trunks are much easier. No fair! I have four girls who can’t seem to get their suits on when they’re hot and miserable. [Okay, so maybe I do try to see too much when we camp in certain areas.]

Stretch the tiny leg holes as much as possible. Force legs through the fast-closing gap.

Squeeze the now sweaty, drippy torso into the shrunken, sticky suit. This is the adult part. It’s amazing how difficult this is to do. In my case, it’s like cramming an adult body with a lot of mileage on it into a neoprene wetsuit meant for a two-year-old.

Rip suit up towards bosom. Another difficult task!

The Lees crew enjoys the natural coolness
of a mountain stream after finally
wrestling their suits on. 
Thrust dripping arms through suit straps.

Run out of the sauna— I mean trailer—screaming “Water, water!”
Too bad we only visited family campground. It would have been much easier to just go “skinny dipping.”

Have you ever tried to get into a bathing suit while in a cramped space in the heat when you’re all sweaty? Feel free to offer any tips you may have on how you remedied the situation.

Thanks so much for visiting Camping with Five Kids and leaving a note. It’s greatly appreciated. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. Thank you!