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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Weather Changes Suddenly in the Mountains: When Hiking with Children Be Prepared

The Alpine Visitors' Center at
Rocky Mountain National Park
Here we are in the winter season, and as the children say their nightly prayers, they slip in a prayer for snow.  As an added plea, they stick a piece of silverware under their pillows before they go to sleep, to help them dream about snow. 

And all we get is rain.  I still don’t understand the concept of placing spoons under your pillow at night for snow, but the children assure me that their friends do it, too.  At least when I run out of spoons, I know where to find them.  Funny what children pray for sometimes. 
However, when we listen to our children’s prayers at night while camping, we hear a prayer for dry weather and add one of our own.  Rain can make for damp campers.  And damp forests.  And damp mountains.  And damp…well, you get the idea.  And the children are fine with all that, most of the time.  What they can’t understand is when the campground pool is closed because of a rain storm.

            “We’re wet anyway,” my seven-year-old would complain.  “Why can’t we play in the pool?”

            It’s all about the severity of the rainstorm and if there’s thunder.  No one should be in the pool or a large body of water during a thunderstorm. 

            You should also not be on top of bald rock during a lightning storm. 

When we visited the tundra at Rocky Mountain National Park, the park ranger opened his daily talks with, “Make sure you’re off the tundra by 3 p.m. because thunderstorms seem to hit precisely at 3.”

            Interesting, we thought.  We wanted to see it.
            We hiked on marked trails only, always a good idea when hiking with children.  We hiked in the morning and early afternoon, hiking from the visitors’ center at a lower elevation, up onto the tundra, but made sure we were back at the visitor’s center by 3. 

As a family who didn’t watch a clock when we camped and hiked, we still knew the hour was approaching 3 p.m.  It was like watching a movie. 

The sky blackened.  The wind howled.  We needed to be inside the visitors’ center by this time as hail mixed with rain began pelting anything in sight. 

Suddenly, the sky lit brilliantly in craggy, jolting lines. 

The children oooed and ahhed from the safety of the plate-glass windows at the Visitors’ Center at Rocky Mountain National Park. 

And then as fast as the storm came up, it stopped.

We waited a little longer, and then ventured out upon the tundra.  The air smelled earthy and fresh.  Lichen, clinging to its gritty gray host, popped in brilliant patches of rust and yellow green.  We shivered as the temperature had dropped.  Hence the reason you should wear layers when hiking.  Quilted raincoats or windbreakers come in handy, whether you tie them around your waist when not in use or shove them into a daypack.    

Another tip to think about is whenever shoes are wet after a hike, store them outside the trailer when at the campground or in the back of your vehicle when driving to save everyone from asking who brought the skunk along.  Never store wet shoes in a closed-down camper.  The entire little vacation home will need to be dipped in febreze if you do.

I hope your 2015 will be dipped in laughter and memories.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Camping with Kids: Keeping Clean at Camp

It’s tough camping with four independent young ladies.  No, they help out at camp, as much as they can.  No, they don’t complain on the trail…much.  It’s the showering.  Just as I'd wait as long as possible with the laundry [read it here], when the children were little, I’d wait until we could barely sleep in one tiny pop-up trailer before taking my flock to the showers.
Look, Mom, 4 states at once!

            Why?  Many reasons.  It’s our vacation.  We’re tired from hiking.  There’s a line at the ladies' showers.  We can rinse off in the pool.  Okay, that last one is the children’s excuse—not mine!  

My husband had it easy.  He had one charge to look after—and his had short hair!  The ladies all had long hair. 

I’ve notice, camping with the children all these years, that even when camping, most women shower all the time.  Hence, there is always a line at the ladies’ showers.

But I had a system.  It only backfired once that I can recall.

It was the second night of trying to shower while we were visiting a popular desert section of Colorado, and I gathered all the toiletries and towels and marched my girls to the line forming at the ladies’ showers.  It was already 15 women long.  Nothing to do but wait this time.  I would always shower last, in case the girls needed something.

By the time the twins were ready for showers, I had figured out how to adjust the temperature settings by helping my older girls.  But the twins didn’t want help.  They both went into separate stalls and locked the doors behind them.

“Are you sure you can turn it on?”  I walked back and forth, questioning the closed doors.
Then one twin opened the door.  She poked her head out.  “It doesn’t work.”
I hurriedly turned the shower on and adjusted the temperature for her.  Then waited by the other door. 
Nothing.  No water sounds.  No words.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yea,” she chirped.

Suddenly, a lady came out of the adjoining shower.  I jumped in so as not to lose it and tapped on the changing room wall.  “I’m next door to you, honey.”

Still no sound from her stall.  Sometimes the twins can be stubborn.  I hung up my towel, placed the toiletry bag on the damp bench, and frowned.  The shower curtain was four inches short of the bottom of the shower and puddles formed in the changing area.  I sighed and took off my clothes. 

Then I noticed the toes come under the half wall between shower changing rooms.  I recognized those educated toes fluttering to get my attention and realized that my little girl hadn’t turned on the shower yet.

I tried to explain how to turn on the shower through the wall.  It didn’t work.  I wrapped myself in the towel and went to her door.
“Open up,” I shouted.
Once inside, I could see the tears of frustration in her eyes and I softened.  I showed her how to work the mechanism and checked the temperature. 
“These are tough,” I assured her.

When I returned to my shower stall, I found the door locked and legs under the half wall.
“That’s my shower!”  I pounded on the door.  She had to see my stuff in there.
I heard what sounded like French coming from the other side of the door.
“You still know that someone is using this shower,” I said, language barrier or no language barrier. 

She finally came out.  Yes, I did glare at her.

After my shower, I felt refreshed and pleased, realizing that I wouldn’t need to go through this again for at least a few days.  I attempted to dress in the now flooded changing room and dropped my last pair of clean underpants into the cruddy water.  I sighed.  Dried them with my towel and finished getting dressed.

            Such is the life of keeping clean at camp.  How about you?  Did you ever have troubles showering at camp?

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.