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Tag: camping with kids

Is a Family Campground Right For You?

An early morning walk along the pond with friends.

An early morning walk along the pond with friends.

A few weeks ago, I packed the boys and what seemed to be the greater part of our earthly possessions into the Honda minivan and joined the northbound traffic from Massachusetts to Maine on a Sunday in August. The minivan parade slowly thinned as we passed first Kittery, then York, Cape Neddick, Ogunquit and Kennebunkport. By the time we exited and turned our course inland, just north of Portland, the steady stream of minivans had trickled down to a fleeting few, mixed mostly with pick up trucks pulling pop up campers or fifth wheels.

Through the power of peer pressure, the boys both completed the hike to Pulpit Rock from the pond below on their own two feet.

Through the power of peer pressure, the boys both completed the hike to Pulpit Rock from the pond below on their own two feet.

We were headed for a legendary place – one we’d long heard about and often seen photos of, but never once set upon with our own eyes. We were heading north to meet my moms’ group at Papoose Pond Family Campground.

A few years ago, when one of my awesome mom friends invited the whole group to tag along with her on her family vacation to this fabled place, a few brave souls joined her for a week of fun, friends, and family. Last year a few more joined. And this year, we along with 8 other families made the trek 3 hours north to experience it for ourselves.

We are not new to camping but this trip was unique in two ways:

First, it marked the first time I’d brought the boys on anything close to a camping venture without The Captain along to help. 

And second, it marked my first experience with a family campground. 

The boys bike along with friends under many watchful eyes.

The boys bike along with friends under many watchful eyes.

These facts almost canceled each other out. On the one hand, I was the only parent responsible for the packing and patrolling of my little crew, but on the other I had the hands and eyes of many trusted friends to help me out. In many ways it was the perfect experience to ease into solo-parent camping with my boys.

So did we like the family campground experience?

Family campgrounds aren’t for everyone, but I definitely saw the appeal and the purpose they serve. Our group was more or less centrally based along one dirt road leading down to the pond. It was easy enough for the kids to run amuck under loose supervision. There were hours of bike skid outs and wood gathering missions. There were squeals of childhood oblivion as our crew of 19 kids splashed one another in the pond, prodded fires with marshmallow-laden sticks, and ventured onto the beach in the early morning glow, mugs of hot chocolate in hand.

It wasn’t what camping has always meant to me, but it wasn’t a resort vacation either. It was somewhere in between.

Is a family campground right for your next family adventure? Here are some points to think about as you decide.

Our hutnick, with bunkbeds in the enclosed cabin space and eating area outside on the covered porch.

Our hutnick, with bunkbeds in the enclosed cabin space and eating area outside on the covered porch.

Decide how much privacy you really need. Papoose Pond is really well set up to accommodate a wide range of comfort levels. They have plain tented sites, but also have cabins, huts and campers. We stayed in a “hutnick” which had a cabin-like sparse room with bunkbeds inside and an open porch with picnic table, sink, and electric stove outside. It provided us with so much added privacy and convenience and it didn’t break the bank. We had a separate dark place for sleeping, the boys could easily nap as needed, and bonus- there was no need to light a fire every morning just to make my coffee. Many of the tented sites had private vestibules (commonly called ‘the garage’) set up off the tents where people could change clothes, store gear, or just sit in peace. The sites are very, very close together so the only privacy will be the privacy of your accommodations. Choose wisely!

Moving logs was serious business for this crew.

Moving logs was serious business for this crew.

Decide how comfortable you are letting your kids run wild, even out of your sight. The boys spent much of our time at Papoose digging in the dirt and riding their bikes crazily down the slope of a gravel dirt road. Most of this was done in combination with feral shrieks of glee. There were many scraped knees but surprisingly few tears. I was lucky to have the added security of knowing that many other eyes were watching and knew my kids, but even without all the company, it would have been nearly impossible to keep the kids within sight and under my verbal control all day. They immediately made new friends and took off in packs like wolves on a scent. There was a very casual communal supervision over them all which is more than fine by me, but it may not be for everyone and I can imagine that it would not be fun to be the one parent chasing down the pack of kids every five minutes, squawking about staying close to the campsite and not getting dirty. If you have trouble letting go of that control, this may not be for you.

All day every day.

All day every day.

Decide how much peace and quiet you need. Is the answer very little? Then you should be good. Papoose Pond had quiet hours between 10PM and 7AM which we found were generally well respected. We also found that in the middle of the day our site, which was somewhat set back from the beach, stayed relatively quiet since most people were out doing activities. But for the most part, there was a low background noise throughout the day, pierced regularly by screaming kids. I normally enjoy the quiet solitude of camping quite a bit, but when most of the ruckus is being created by your own kids or the rest of the pack who you love like your own, I found it didn’t bother me as much. On the flip side, had I been camping without my crew of close friends, I think I would have found it exceptionally grating. Then again, I’m not sure who goes to family campgrounds looking for peace and quiet. There did seem to be multiple extended families and groups camping together so maybe there is safety in numbers on this. If you are looking to simply get out into the woods and enjoy the birdsongs, this won’t be your jam. That said, we did enjoy a silent night on the beach after putting the kids to bed, watching shooting stars and the amazing Milky Way.

Little Bear takes advantage of the nightly carousel.

Little Bear takes advantage of the nightly carousel.

Decide how involved you want to be. Papoose Pond is made for mingling. Throughout the week there are various tournaments to be entered ranging from tennis and ping pong to volleyball and washer toss. There are also structured events throughout the day – kids’ kickball, sand castle contest, limbo, tie dying, and nightly entertainment including an old carousel which runs for an hour each evening. All of the activities are casual and done out of the way so they don’t intrude on anyone’s scene, but that also means that if you want to participate you’ll need to be proactive in reviewing the schedule when you arrive and seeking them out during the week. We especially enjoyed some of the kids’ sports since they provided an opportunity for the boys to get out some energy without me having to facilitate. And it didn’t hurt that they were given free slushies for their troubles.

Any occasion for s'mores is a hit with these boys.

Any occasion for s’mores is a hit with these boys.

All in all we had an amazing time and would love to go back. Family campgrounds aren’t what I think of when I think of camping but they are an awesome way to ease into the camping experience and they are a wholesome family vacation with something for everyone if you can get by without the peace and privacy of your own home. They make it easy and they make it communal. I don’t foresee The Captain choosing a family campground for his next outdoor adventure, but when the pressure’s all on me to provide the experience, it’s nice to have the friendship and support of a group trip to Papoose Pond.

Morning fishing trip - this lasted surprisingly long considering there were no nibbles.

Morning fishing trip – this lasted surprisingly long considering there were no nibbles.

Happy Birthday, 365Outside.org!

September 2015

September 2015

Although the original 365Outside Challenge started for our family nearly two years ago, this week marks a year since I started the 365Outside blog. It also marks my seventh wedding anniversary with The Captain, the beginning of our first extended sailing trip with the kids (heading out for 10 days on Friday, more on that coming soon), the first time I’ve ventured camping with the boys on my own, and the last week before the boys head back to school. It’s a week of many milestones and as such, I’ve been reflecting on the past year quite a bit.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

October 2015

October 2015

We know all the cliches about how fast kids grow up. Looking back at some of our first posts on the blog, I can hardly believe that less than 365 short days have passed since my boys were that little. They are growing stronger, smarter and feistier by the minute.

And as our kids grow, so do we. 

A lot has changed for me this year. Our first year of the 365Outside Challenge cleansed my mental health. This second time, I’ve recommitted to a healthier physical lifestyle – eating more nutritiously, drinking less alcohol and exercising more regularly. In doing so, I’m regaining some of the energy and strength I lost after having 2 kids in a year and a half. I can do pull ups again and my endurance is finally back. There are little shadows of abs and biceps that were hidden for years. My body will never be the same as it was before babies, but I’m proud of it and confident in its abilities. The softness in my belly was my babies’ first home. These saggy boobs provided their first meals. The streaks of white rubbery stretch marks outline sacrifices to create new life.

November 2015

November 2015

I’ve recommitted to my writing career this year as well and achieved my goal of getting published offsite at least once a month. Since the launch of my writing website I’m finding work as a content writer too, producing pieces I’m proud of for companies I believe in and getting paid along the way.

I’m proud of my kids all the time. But it feels good to be proud of me for once, too. 

December 2015

December 2015

And of course, with all our growth and change comes more independence all around. The boys play for extended periods in the yard on their own. They climb trees. They build ramps and jumps for their bikes. They know how to dig clams and paddle a surfboard. This summer I’ve started taking them out on the boat by myself. Knowing I can trust them on the boat has allowed us to explore the river on quiet days when The Captain is working. And now we are camping without the Captain for the first time. We are with good friends, so there is plenty of support. But the packing and parenting are all on me.

January 2016

January 2016

The first time we were preparing to go for a boat ride without The Captain, Junior asked sweetly, “But who will drive the boat?” I froze. I thought I was raising feminists and here was my four-year-old thinking that I can’t even drive a boat on my own. After an uneventful trip to the beach and back he turned to me and said, “Good job, Mama. Good job driving that boat.” I smirked back, kind of grateful and kind of indignant, and told him “Good job to you too, honey. Good job riding in that boat.”

February 2016

February 2016

It was kind of sarcastic but kind of true. If it weren’t for each other and the ways we’ve grown this year, we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own. But here we are, just one short year later, and somehow one long year stronger, one year smarter, one year feistier.

Happy anniversary to us. 

There’s another big year ahead. Look out, world.         

March 2016

March 2016

April 2016

April 2016

May 2016

May 2016

June 2016

June 2016

July 2016

July 2016

August 2016

August 2016

How to Camp With Kids: 5 Secrets to a Successful Adventure

Camping in Tasmania, the night after we got engaged.

Camping in Tasmania, the night after we got engaged.

When the Captain and I got engaged, we were camping in Tasmania. We had flown there without a shred of camping equipment, stayed in a hotel for New Year’s Eve, and then hit an outdoors store on New Years Day, both feeling a bit hazy and under the weather from the festivities the night before. Though we were completely unprepared in terms of gear (or reservations) we didn’t have a worry in the world because camping was no big deal to us. The idea of hitting a down-under version of Dick’s Sporting Goods and then heading into the wilderness for a week didn’t phase either of us in the least. And when it hailed all night our first night out there, we obviously decided that this boded well for our future and promised to spend our the rest of lives together. We were at camping level: expert.

Wild and free kids in their natural habitat.

Wild and free kids in their natural habitat.

But camping with kids is a different story. I’m all for letting my children embrace their inner jungle creature during normal waking hours, but in the round-the-clock eternal lavender glow of the summer solstice wherein free range kids are up until midnight and wake with first light at 4AM? No thanks. We are still admitted novices at family camping. We have only brought the kids a few times. And each time, it takes days of planning, packing, and forethought before I can comfortably wrap my head around our plans. But we’re getting better at it and each time is a little easier than the last. In fact, I’m developing a system to simplify the process. Someday, we are going to be able to decide that it’s a great weekend for camping on Friday afternoon, chuck our camping bins in the car, and hit the road. Here are my top tips for family camping so far.

The dish team puts the buckets and bins system to double-use.

The dish team puts the buckets and bins system to double-use.

  1. Pack in bins. Duffel bags are for air travel and sporting events. Backpacks are for backpacking. Plastic lawn bins and beverage tubs? Totally for car and boat camping. They are sturdy enough to get knocked around, they hold tons of gear and they can double as wind, water and animal-resistant storage at the campsite. Think about it: bags would need to be packed into the tent each night to keep them dry and safe. Bins and buckets can stay outside. They also stack easily and can double as kitchen area worktops when they have lids on. Large beverage buckets are similarly great for hauling things like sleeping bags, pads, tents, etc and then can double as dish buckets at the campsite.

    Boat packed with bins and buckets for camping.

    Dedicated camping gear means grabbing an already-packed bin from the basement and putting it straight in the boat.

  2. Have dedicated camping gear. Though it originally seemed silly to me that we would have one set of cooking ware and cutlery at home, one set on our boat and yet another set packed away and only used for camping, it really does make it so much easier. When you have a dedicated set of plates, bowls, cutlery, cookware and serving utensils, you can keep your camping kitchen bin packed and ready to go. Include your camp stove, a dish towel, sponge and dish soap. By keeping as much of your gear as possible packed and ready, your pre-camping prep gets trimmed significantly.
  3. Make a packing checklist and SAVE IT. Type your list up and each time you go camping, edit it down to delete things you didn’t need and add things you wish you’d brought. I know it seems anal and borderline obsessive, but a list takes so much of the stress and forethought out of the equation. Need a cheat sheet to get started? Check out my packing list here: 365Outside Camping List: A Work in Progress

    Just a glimpse of some of our gear - there is a lot to remember!

    Just a glimpse of some of our gear – there is a lot to remember!

  4. Prep food ahead of time. There is something about camping that makes a hot meal seem beyond luxurious. But prepping it, cooking it and cleaning it up outside makes the whole thing ten times more complicated than at home. I simplify the process by doing as much prep ahead of time as possible. I pre-cook as much as I can and freeze it before it goes in the cooler. I try to make things that can be reheated over the campfire to conserve space on the stove. Bonus points if it can be cooked in foil for no-clean-up. On our latest trip I cooked chili, breakfast casseroles and quinoa salad ahead of time. Friends brought meatloaf-stuffed peppers and onions along with foil-wrapped sweet potatoes and a ready-to-eat chicken salad. Coordinate with camping buddies and host a potluck. And include a few super easy meals like hotdogs or precooked sausages and some instant oatmeal so that you have some simple options to fall back on in a crunch.

    Little Bear, dirty-faced and enjoying a s'mores

    Little Bear, dirty-faced and enjoying a s’mores

  5. Indulge the little ones. We run a pretty tight ship around here, but camping is another story. Kids are happiest when they feel like they are experiencing something special and being given extra freedoms. When we camp, they stay up late, they run wild, they get dirt and food caked into their sunscreen and bug spray plastered cheeks. And we don’t care. They snack all day long. They stuff their cheeks with s’mores and they enjoy steady peace offerings of glow sticks and bubbles. Some may say we spoil them, which may certainly be the case, but vacation is a chance for everyone to indulge and any adult who doesn’t eat, drink and indulge more often on vacation clearly isn’t doing it right. Why not give kids the same experience we create for ourselves?
Our tent and hammock set up overlooking the beach.

Our tent and hammock set up overlooking the beach.

Our camping trip last weekend was the stuff of summer dreams. We were surrounded by good friends in a full-on multi-family camping slumber party. There was plenty of good food, indulgent drinks and relaxation. But at the same time, we were surrounded by natural beauty and removed from the chaos of daily life. The kids romped across the tidal flats, catching crabs and snails. We watched the sun set slowly and the nearly full moon rise. We sat around the camp fire late into the night with sleepy kids who eventually, thankfully, asked to go to sleep. We woke early and sipped our steaming coffee while watching the gentle water lap along the shore. We spent long hours exploring the sound in our boat. And when the last day arrived, we packed up slowly, regrettably, glancing back over our shoulders as we left the island behind until next time. It’s still a bit of a ordeal to create these moments, but it’s getting easier and it’s always worth the hassle.

The Captain wades out for a calm morning swim while the boys play onshore.

The Captain wades out for a calm morning swim while the boys play onshore.

 

Little Bear

Little Bear

 

A friend's son ponders his dad's strategic lounging.

A friend’s son ponders his dad’s strategic lounging.

 

Father's Day gifts: Woohoos. They're as fun as they look!

Father’s Day gifts: Woohoos. They’re as fun as they look!

 

Junior shows off a crab he's caught

Junior shows off a crab he’s caught

The moon rises over the bay.

The moon rises over the bay.

Junior snuggles into the hammock at sunset on our first night.

Junior snuggles into the hammock at sunset on our first night.

10 Things I Learned From Camping with the Kids

I will admit it.  About 12 hours into our camping trip, I was already fantasizing about bailing.  I was lying in our tent’s predawn glow, essentially on the ground (because my circa-1985 Thermarest had slowly deflated over the course of the last 6 hours) and I was trying to stay as still as possible so that I wouldn’t wake Little Bear who was about 18 inches away.

I had it all planned out.  The Captain and Junior, sound asleep in their own tent, could stay the course and I would bring Little Bear back to my parents’ house, not far away, where I would sleep on a real bed, in complete silence and darkness, and wake to espresso.  It would be decadent.

Our campsite, finally all set up!

Our campsite, finally all set up!

You have probably already figured out that our family is not one to dabble.  We do not in general lightly sample but instead tend to dive headfirst into whatever adventure is next (after The Captain checks the water, that is.)  This is how we came to spend four years living on sailboats, how we came to buy a house sight-unseen, and how we came to have two little boys in the span of 19 months.  So it should not come as a surprise that when we decided to take the boys camping for the first time, we booked an off-grid site for the middle of September in New England.

Truthfully, the site books up six months in advance so, having not come up with the idea until March, September was the earliest availability.  But timing aside, we did purposefully choose a campground that had no running water, no electricity, and no street access.  There would be no retreating to the car for a morning coffee run, no asking our neighbors if we could borrow some dish soap, no packing the car full of supplies for every possible what-if scenario.  We would have to arrive, with all commodities, by boat and rely only on what we had packed.

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Sunrise on the first morning (aka what convinced me not to pack my bags and head for the hills!)

But, I did not end up leaving early.  I ended up lying perfectly still for another hour, until Little Bear began to stir, and I dared to unzip the tent and step into the dewy morning.  After my morning coffee and a sunrise swim, the world was right again.

We only spent two nights out there with the boys, but it was long enough to know that we wished we could stay much longer and that next time, we will.  The learning curve was steep, and I’m sure there will be plenty more to learn next time.

To get started, here are ten things I learned this time along the way:

1. Never underestimate the power of simple comforts from home.  

My children are creatures of habit and nothing says comfort to them like a cup of warm milk and a snuggle with their lovies.  This was one area in which we didn’t skimp.  If you have a comfort routine at home, stick with it on-the-go.  Along these lines, I left my pillow at home, and missed it all weekend.  If you have the space, pack the things from home that bring you the greatest and most basic comfort.  A pillow and a steaming mug of hot coffee in the morning are pretty much all I need.

2.  Surrender the schedule

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Early morning beach romping for Little Bear

Before I had kids, I was one of those extra-annoying people who talked about how, when I did have children, they would be super flexible and “just along for the ride.”  HA! I’m officially sorry to everyone who had to listen to that bull.  My kids are the opposite of “along for the ride.”  In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s me who’s being taken for a ride!

We have a pretty rigid schedule that we usually stick to in  order to make sure that the kids are getting enough rest and eating healthily.  When we can’t stick to the schedule, they tend to transform from adorable, affectionate little munchkins into holy terrors.  Have you seen what happens when you feed a Gremlin after midnight?  Very similar experience.

In any case, when camping, it went out the window.  The kids were up late with the campfire.  They were up early with the sun.  They rested multiple times during the day, sometimes napping, sometimes not.  They did a lot of snacking.  A LOT.  But since the entire day was pretty open without any commitments, we were able to make it work.  They were still mostly well-rested and well-fed, so this laissez-faire approach worked better for our schedule while camping.  It was not easy for me to let go of our usual schedule, but things were SO MUCH easier once I waved the white flag.

3.  Good company is key!

Our private beach!

Our private beach!

Since The Captain and I already spend enough time staring into each other’s eyes (just kidding . . . kind of!) we brought along some good friends and their daughter.  It was awesome to have our friends along, and not just because they brought all the things we forgot.  Friends also bring a fresh perspective and, when needed, a different voice to tell your kids to quit it.  These friends in particular were a huge help because they had spent a lot of time on the island in the past, and could show us around!  Plus their daughter playing with our boys is just about the cutest thing ever.

4.  Coffee.  As much as possible.  As soon as possible.  

Enough said.  But really, this is no different from my daily life.

5.  No shame in plan B.

Even though I didn’t end up taking Little Bear to seek refuge with Nana and Poppy, if he had not started sleeping better and had the weather not been as good as it was, we would have.  It was comforting to even know that was an option.  And there is no sense in making everyone miserable just to say you finished what you started.  Remember, 365Outside is not a competition – it is supposed to be fun.

6.  The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

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Sunrise swim for Junior and The Captain

Though it would have been a lot easier to drive up to a campsite, pull the tent out of the car, and set it up right there, it wouldn’t have been as fun.  We are adventurers, after all! We didn’t want to be in a cramped campsite, wedged between strangers and tripping over each other. Instead we chose a campground accessible only by personal boat, with only 10 campsites total.  It was quiet and there was a ton of space to spread out.  Our campsite even had its own private beach.  We spent most of the weekend blinking at each other, repeating how we couldn’t believe how amazing the place was.

7.  Pray to the weather gods

We seriously lucked out!  When we booked this back in March, we knew that September could be a gamble.  It could have been 50 degrees and rainy.  There could have been a hurricane.  It could have been completely miserable.  Instead, it was 77 degrees and sunny.  There is no way we’d have been able to stick it out if it had been horrible weather.  We are all for enjoying the outdoors regardless of the weather, but with nowhere to truly dry off and warm up, the kids would have been a wreck within a few hours.  We were so grateful to enjoy this last gasp of summer!

8.  It gets easier the longer you’re there.

We wished we could stay longer not only because we were having so much fun, but also because it takes a while to settle in and get the hang of things.  The second night was much easier (as in, we actually slept) and the kids were really getting the hang of things.  It only took a full 36 hours of repeating “Do not wear your shoes in the tent,” before they began to listen.  Imagine the possibilities if we’d stayed a week!  They would have probably achieved world peace . . . or world domination.  Hmmmmmmm.

9.  Children are primal, wild beasts.  

The kids, going berserk.

The kids, going berserk.

As soon as we got off the boat and unloaded what was, literally, a boatload of gear, the kids went nuts. It was like returning a wild animal to its natural habitat.  They sniffed around for maybe two minutes and then were immediately running in circles, kicking up dirt, making crazy little hooting sounds.  Our friends’ daughter was literally picking up handfuls of dirt and rubbing them into her scalp.  Little Bear found an old half-burnt log and smeared the ashes on his face before he tried to take a bite of it.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  No, I’m not going to let him eat things he finds lying around in the woods, but it’s ok for them to get filthy.  It’s ok for them to let loose.  That’s why we’re here.  It’s nothing a dip in the ocean won’t take care of.

10.  It’s all about the memories.

Our kids had their first s’mores.  They watched their first sunrise over the water, in their jammies, before stripping down for a morning swim.  They built sand castles, dug rivers, foraged for firewood, and went “bear-hunting.”  They went to sleep when it got dark and woke when it got light again.  For a few days, they lived a simpler, happier life.  And that makes me happy too.  We will definitely be back.

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