Guest posting

If you’re interested in guest posting on this blog, please email me at ashley {at} twentysixcats {dot} com. I usually only write about the things I have experience about, so by having others add their experience I think it will help this blog be more well-rounded.

I am open to almost any topic as long as it relates to family camping and doesn’t simply rehash the same information located elsewhere on this blog. I am especially interested in detailed campsite reviews. (Once I publish mine, you’ll be able to see the format I want to use.)

Also, I’m still working out all the kinks of this website, so I’d love to hear any feedback you might have, especially in regards to topics you would be interested in reading about. Thank you!

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Our first camping trip

Me

April of 2007 was the first camping trip that my husband and I took together. We didn’t have kids yet, but we were joined by our beagle puppy. We decided to go to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is a nice state park up in the northwest corner of Georgia, near Chattanooga. It’s funny to think about that first trip, and our inexperience. 🙂

The walk-in camping (tent only) section of Cloudland Canyon is still one of the more rustic places we’ve camped. They have 30 sites on one side of the parking lot and off to another side were the bathrooms and the sole water source for all the sites. They were only $6 a night at that time (they’re $16/night now!). In those days, my husband worked on Saturdays, so we arrived early Saturday evening, when most of the sites had already been claimed. We chose one of the few remaining ones – which also happened to be one of the farthest away from the bathrooms and water. We got lost on the way there and added an hour to our trip, so we didn’t have much time to get the tent set up before it got dark.

I camped with my family a lot as a girl, but stopped once we moved overseas when I was 8. My husband had never camped before, but he is fairly outdoorsy and adventurous. We had registered for camping gear for our wedding and I had spent a lot of time researching some of the other things we would need, namely the tent. We had settled on a pretty expensive one from REI because I wanted something that was good and would last. We chose a bigger one because at the time, being able to stand up completely in the tent seemed important. (The next summer, we bought a much smaller tent that fit our needs better.)

So, our first camping trip, we way overpacked. We had this huge tent, and we brought way too much padding for sleeping. We also brought our huge dog crate, which we lugged all the way from the parking lot to the site and set up into the tent. (That was the only time we brought the crate – our dog did much better just sprawled on our sleeping bags, and the crate was a little ridiculous to bring due to its size.)

We weren’t used to setting up the tent so it took us a little while, and was dark by the time we finished. I set about making dinner, while Paul tried to figure out the fire. I don’t remember why, but for whatever reason the fire didn’t happen that night. We also could not get our camp stove turned on – it was one thing we had never tested before our trip, so we thought it was defective. We ended up eating cold baked beans and graham crackers because they were two things that didn’t need to be cooked.

The next morning, our puppy woke us up early. I had a big breakfast planned because that just seemed to be what you do when camping. With the help of the light of day, I realized I had hooked up the stove wrong the night before, so I was glad to see that we would be able to use it to cook. We had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

Paul and I in front of one of the falls

We then spent the morning hiking Cloudland Canyon which is beautiful. Our puppy LOVED the many stairs to get down to the falls. She was a bundle of energy. We really, really enjoyed our day exploring the park. In the early afternoon, we went back to the campsite and the dog and I took a nice, delicious nap in the tent. It wasn’t hot outside, but I was really warm from hiking so I left the doors of the tent open to catch the breeze. Unfortunately, because of that I woke up to several insects flying around inside.

We’ve come a long way from those first few trips. Here are some lessons we took away from it:

  • For the two of us, a big tent was unnecessary. It took up a lot of space in the trunk and was complicated to set up. Also, the expensive Kelty tent was a little overkill for our needs – we found the much cheaper Walmart tent we bought the next year did just fine.
  • We ditched the idea of bringing our dog crate after that trip – it was definitely way too cumbersome and heavy. At that time we thought a tent big enough for also a Pack & Play for any future babies would be important, but once our baby came along that was another item we didn’t even consider. 🙂
  • We abandoned the memory foam bed topper and extra sleeping bags for padding because they took up SO much room. I wrote more about that here.
  • We now test out all new equipment before going camping!
  • We now bring jugs of water with us for cooking (easier to carry and keep the water clean), and we usually carry our dishes to the spigot to wash them instead of lugging buckets of water back to the campsite.
  • We don’t do big breakfasts anymore. Paul hates getting up early, and I felt like we were either eating very late (at like 11am) or I was cooking and eating by myself, which wasn’t much fun.
  • We don’t leave the tent doors wide open due to bugs!
  • I realize I take a lot more pictures now. (You can see all the pictures I did take at this album on Flickr.)

We have yet to camp at Cloudland Canyon since then, but we really need to. It was a great campground and had a lot of activities to keep the whole family occupied. (We did stay in a cabin there a few years later, and got a chance to explore all the playgrounds!)

On the way

12 Great Camping-Themed Books for Kids

camping-books-for-kids

Since we want camping to be as much a part of our kids’ lives as school or church, we try to keep our bookshelves stocked with children’s books about camping. Since our kids our younger, they don’t necessarily remember what camping is during the winter so this is a great way to talk about it. We only have a couple so far, but I try to pick them up when I see them and have the extra money to spend. We also bring them with us when we go camping, for reading in the car and in the tent. I thought I’d share with you some of our favorites and some of the others on our wish list.

*Note: these are books for younger kids that feature characters going camping. There are also a number of nonfiction camping books meant for older kids that I would love to get, but I am keeping for focus small for this post.

1. Maisy Goes Camping

MaisyGoesCamping
Maisy Goes Camping: A Maisy First Experience Book, by Lucy Cousins

When Maisy sets off to go camping in the country, it’s only natural that all her friends come along, too. But they soon find that pitching a tent is not an easy thing to do. Even if they do manage to keep the tent up, there’s the matter of fitting them all in — Maisy, Charley, Cyril, Tallulah, and finally, the huge elephant, Eddie. What a squeezy squish-squash! Good night, campers! Uh-oh-what’s that popping sound? (Age Range: 2-5 years)

2. Curious George Goes Camping

curiousgeorgegoescamping
Curious George Goes Camping, by H.A. Rey

When the man with the yellow hat takes George camping, George is very excited. There is so much to do at the campsite— pitching a tent, gathering water, meeting fellow campers—that George hardly knows where to begin (he only hopes the day will end with a roasted marshmallow!). When George’s knack for unintentional mischief gets him lost deep in the woods, George is scared… and being sprayed by a skunk only adds to the trouble. But George puts on a brave face, and he ends up saving the day when he puts out a small fire that could have endangered the forest. (Age Range: 3-5 years)

3. Fred and Ted Go Camping

fredandtedgocamping
Fred and Ted Go Camping, by Peter Eastman

Fred and Ted—beloved canine stars of P. D. Eastman’s Big Dog…Little Dog are back in an all-new Beginner Book written and illustrated by P.D.’s son, Peter Eastman! In this story Fred and Ted go camping, and as usual, their uniquely different approaches to doing things (such as packing equipment, setting up camp, and fishing techniques) have humorous—and sometimes surprising—results. A charming introduction to opposites that beginner readers will find ruff to put down! (Age Range: 3-7 years)

4. Just Me and My Dad

justmeandmydad
Just Me and My Dad (Little Critter), by Mercer Mayer

This well-loved Little Critter picture book has become a modern classic. It’s the tale of a father-and-son camping trip filled with Little Critter’s mistakes and good intentions. In spite of difficulties, however, the happy father and son manage to put up their tent, catch fish for dinner, and sleep beneath the stars. In spite of minimal text, the story is full and rich, with endearing illustrations from start to finish. (Age Range: 3-7 years)

5. A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee

campingspreewithmagee
A Camping Spree With Mr. Magee, by Chris Van Dusen

Mr. Magee and his trusty dog, Dee, are enjoying a peaceful camping trip when all of a sudden they find themselves plunging down a mountain and teetering on the edge of a huge waterfall! How will they find their way out of this slippery situation? Chris Van Dusen, the creator of Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee, has filled this new adventure with charming illustrations and a playful, rhyming text. A fun read-aloud for children (and adults!) on campouts or snuggling at home! (Age Range: 3-7 years)

6. Olivia Goes Camping

oliviagoescamping
Olivia Goes Camping, by Alex Harvey

Olivia is super excited to have her best friend come along on her family camping trip. However Francine is not a huge fan of the Great Outdoors and is less than excited about the mud, the bugs, and the idea of sleeping in a tent. It’s up to Olivia to help Francine get in touch with her inner nature lover in this funny story that’s based on an episode. (Age Range: 4-6 years)

7. Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

scaredysquirrelgoescamping
Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, by MĂ©lanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel is not too comfortable with the idea of camping … unless it’s on his couch! There will be no mosquitoes, skunks or zippers to worry about when he watches a show about the joys of camping on his brand-new TV. But first Scaredy must find an electrical outlet, and that means going into the woods! Will the nutty worrywart’s plans prepare him for the great outdoors, or will his adventure end up as a scary story told around the campfire? (Age Range: 4-8 years)

8. Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping

ameliabedeliagoescamping
Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping, by Peggy Parrish

Amelia Bedelia has never been camping in the great outdoors before. She’s trying her best to do exactly as she’s told, but pitching a tent is not the same as throwing it into the bushes, and catching a fish with your bare hands isn’t easy. As usual, the mixed-up housekeeper makes this camping trip one hugely entertaining adventure. (Age Range: 4-8 years)

9. Camping

camping
Camping, by Nancy Hundal

Who can forget their first camping trip? “Holidays, lolling days. Mom wishes for museums and art galleries. Dad talks about fancy hotels. My sister Laurie wants malls, anywhere. Duncan dreams of arcades. And I long for Disneyland.” This year won’t be like the others. There will be no paintings or fluffy towels, clothes racks, jackpots or mouse ears. Nancy and her family are going camping. Just the thought of camping is bad enough. Outhouses, mosquito bites, burnt food and lots of work – what kind of holiday is that? But from the moment their campsite is established, the family slowly begins to discover the magic of life in the wild. Nights so quiet and dark, it’s like being wrapped in a blanket. Food that warms the stomach and awakens the senses. Swimming in the lake, climbing trees and lolling in the sun. And millions, no, bajillions of stars. More time, less o’clock. That’s what camping is about. (Age Range: 5+ years)

10. Stella and Roy Go Camping

stellaandroygocamping
Stella and Roy Go Camping, by Ashley Wolff

This delightful children’s picture book tells the story of a camping trip in Yosemite taken by siblings Stella and Roy and their mother. During the trip, Roy continually tries to find evidence of bears in the animal tracks around them. Each time he does, he is contradicted by his sister, but then one night a bear really does appear. The book is populated by the animals and birds that call Yosemite home, and there is additional information at the back about each. The full-color paintings are engaging and true-to-life, guaranteed to capture the interest of just about any child. (Age Range: 4-8 years)

11. When We Go Camping

whenwegocamping
When We Go Camping, by Margriet Ruus

In this beautifully illustrated book, one busy family finds lots to do from sun up to sunset. At the campsite, there’s wood to chop for the fire and fish to catch. And there’s lots of time to explore, climb rocks, splash in the lake, and discover animals in the shadows of the woods. As afternoon turns to evening, supper needs to be made, and just before bed, stories are told around the campfire. Each painting highlights the tracks of one animal, which curve from the text into the illustration. Readers can turn to the glossary for more details about the wildlife depicted on each page. When We Go Camping is a perfect way to preserve summer memories all year long. (Age Range: 6-9 years)

12. S is for Smores

sisforsmores
S Is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet, by Helen Foster James

From what to pack, where to go, and what to do when you get there, S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet takes readers on an A-Z trail exploring this outdoor pastime. Veteran camper Helen Foster James tackles topics such as unique camping environments, equipment necessities, famous conservationists, and national parks and other attractions. Whether your idea of “roughing it” is a blanket in your own backyard or the subarctic ecosystem of Alaska’s Denali National Park, S is for S’mores is a fun and informative guide that is sure to help campers of all ages make the most of their wilderness adventures. (Age Range: 6-9 years)

Camping in the rain

Getting rained out

It’s cold and rainy here in Georgia this weekend. A friend posted on Facebook, “I’m so glad we decided not to camp this weekend!” Boy, isn’t that the truth.

We seem to have had a string of bad luck when it comes to weather the past few years. I think it’s because our camping trips have been more planned, less spontaneous – we used to wait until we were close enough to check the weather and then decide to camp. (That’s one reason why we haven’t camped in some of the more popular campgrounds.) But the past few years, we’ve been in situations where we’ve chosen to camp anyway despite the weather forecasts.

I have to admit, I really really hate camping in the rain. Even more than that, I really hate camping in thunderstorms.

Our campsite

Our first time camping in the rain, we strung up a tarp over our campsite which worked okay (though the tarp split as you can see from the picture – I highly recommend getting a heavy duty tarp for camping). We found a large stick for support and put the fire underneath so we were still able to use that (though we had to be very careful not to damage the tarp – the fire didn’t cause the rip).

One thing I didn’t count on was how boring it can be to camp when it’s wet and rainy. In this instance, it rained during the nights, and just off and on during the day. Our tent kept us nice and dry, but you can’t stay there all weekend. We normally like to explore the campground and hiking trails during the day. On this particular trip, we found ourselves stuck under a pavilion during a sudden downpour. We entertained ourselves, so it wasn’t a terrible experience; just not ideal. We also decided not to do any hiking because everything was so wet.

Savannah and Daddy

Our second time we planned a bit better – we had a heavy duty tarp and better stick supports, so we had a nice little area to move around. We had some activities for our daughter, and I believe that it stayed dry most of our visit at that campground so we were able to enjoy the activities the park offered.

Doing Sudoku

The last two times though – phew, those were the worst. The first of those was actually not in a campground, but rather in Indiana, in the backyard of some friends we were visiting who didn’t have enough room for us to sleep inside (we were one of several families visiting that weekend). It only rained one night, and my husband and I awoke in the middle of the night to a horrible thunderstorm. For the next two hours, we laid there with hearts pounding as we listened to the wind slash angrily at our tent, to the thunder and lightning. At one point, the tornado siren went off, and we bolted upright, unsure of what to do. We didn’t necessarily want to make a dash to the house with our toddler, and then sit up the rest of the night. But, we didn’t want to stay outside in a tornado either! I don’t remember that we made a decision before the storm died, but I was so scared. I swore up and down I would never camp in a thunderstorm again.

However, we all know what happens when you say “never”. I got my chance about a month ago, when we went on a family camping trip down to Richmond Hill. The days were dry, but the second night it stormed the entire night. I could not let myself fall asleep with the storm raging around me, and I got about an hour of sleep that night. Our tent started leaking too, so in some ways it was good that I was awake to move everything out of the way. (It was a small leak.) Unlike my previous experience, with a fast and furious storm, this one lasted all night and would alternate between raging and quiet. During the quiet times, the trees swaying (and leaves brushing against our tent) and long shadows cast on the tent made my imagination go wild, which was almost worst. At 7am my husband woke me up and said that the rain had stopped but was supposed to start again in an hour, so we needed to hurry and pack up. We did, and sure enough right at 8am the rain started up again. It’s miserable to pack up in the rain, and it’s miserable to pack up wet camping gear. I am so glad we were able to make it out of the there without too much trouble.

And now in a future blog post, I plan to discuss what to do when you don’t unpack your wet tent soon enough and it gets all mildewy…

Our eternal dilemma: sleeping pads

We started camping about 9 months after we got married. I spent a lot of time researching the various camping equipment we would need, since it was my husband’s first time camping ever and my first time since I was a girl. My husband is a minimalist, so I tried not to get too crazy about gear. Despite that, we way overpacked and our first camping trip was rather funny and another post for another day.

The age-old question for us has been sleeping comfort. There are a variety of ways to solve this problem, with air mattresses probably being the most popular among car campers. Due to significant weight differences between my husband and me, we don’t care for air mattresses, and besides – we wanted to be true authentic campers. Air mattresses just seemed to be cheating to us. (I have since come down from my pious horse and say, whatever works for you!)

We initially had a complicated system of one of those memory foam bed toppers and a really thick sleeping bag. It was very comfy, but took up SO much room in our trunk. Once we got our Toyota Corolla, we had to rethink our strategy.

memory-foam-mattress-pads

We then bought blue foam pads from Walmart – only $5 each I think. We were so proud of our minimalism! We used these for several years, even when we camped while I was pregnant.

blue-foam-pad

Then at some point in the past year or two, I said enough. I couldn’t do the hardness of those blue foam pads anymore. So, I set about researching what other options were out there. Space in the trunk was a huge concern for us, but it’s hard to balance that and personal comfort, especially when you’re car camping.

At our last camping trip, we ended up renting self-inflating sleeping pads from REI. As an aside, I really love having the option to rent camping equipment. These babies are not cheap at all, and we wanted to make sure we liked them before we invested any money in them.

rei_camp_bed

I had the best sleep of my life on these pads. (Okay, exaggeration, but probably the best sleep I’ve ever had while camping.) I couldn’t believe the difference. My husband and I zip our sleeping bags together, so we each had a 3.5 inch pad underneath. For my 3 year old (who really doesn’t care), we rented the much thinner 1.75 backpacker’s sleeping pad. It worked out really well. (And, as I’m looking at REI’s site right now, turns out they have kids’ sizes of those self-inflating pads, which would definitely be worth checking out…)

My only hesitation with biting the bullet and getting the sleeping pads for us is the packed size is still pretty big – 6.25″ x 26″ and 5 lbs. Also, they’re fairly expensive, especially when you need to buy two. So… I am not sure. We might be better off just getting over our issues with the air mattress and going that route. Despite a positive test run with the sleeping pads, we haven’t decided anything yet.

One good thing is it’s fairly cheap to rent them from REI – only $6/day. We rented 3 pads for 5 days for only $36 total. At that rate, we can camp almost 9 times before we would spend the same amount on buying them outright. So, we’ll probably do that until we make a decision.

Image sources:
Memory foam topper source here
Blue foam pad source here
REI camp bed source here

Food for camping – eating real food

I have been meaning to get a “Camping food” post up, but haven’t gotten around to writing it yet. In the meantime, check out my friend Elizabeth’s post about eating real food while camping.

You’re going camping, and you want to eat real food, not food from a box with funky ingredients, and you don’t want to spend a small fortune on already prepared commercial camping food for the family. What to do?

  • First, realize that with a cooler and some dry ice, just about any food you would like to take along becomes a real possibility.
  • Second, prep your foods as much as possible.
  • Third, enjoy real food, instead of coming home feeling bloated and icky from eating a weekend of junk food (s’mores are an obvious exception, yum!).

Read the rest of the post here.

The down-low on camping vocabulary

As I’ve been talking to other families about camping, I’ve noticed a variety of reactions. Of the ones who seem skeptical, it seems that they have a view of camping in their heads and children don’t fit into that view very well. I can totally understand this – sometimes, depending on the ages, kids DON’T fit into certain types of camping. My purpose though is to encourage you to take the leap and pursue a camping style that you CAN do with kids. Why don’t I go over some terms to help clarify?

RVs, campers, and pop-ups are vehicles designed to provide maximum comfort while camping. My parents had a pop-up and a camper when I was young, and I have many happy memories of the latter. A popup is a trailer that basically provides a place to sleep, perhaps a table for eating, and usually a minimal food prep area (small sink, and perhaps a stove). Some can be a lot nicer with other features, and some can be just a glorified tent on wheels. An RV (recreation vehicle) can be either a trailer or its own vehicle, and is designed to provide all the comforts of home while on the go. Again, they can range from simple to fancy, but in general you have bed(s), table(s), seating, a kitchen, and bathroom.

Tent camping, on the other hand, is as it sounds – sleeping in tents. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be on the ground (you can sleep on a cot), but generally people do use sleeping bags and sleeping pads/air mattresses.

Car camping is the term used to describe my style of camping – where you pack your car, drive to the campsite, set up camp usually pretty close to where the car is parked. You use the site as a base camp for day hikes, etc. Car campers don’t have to worry about weight and allows them to focus more on comfort than space (for example, bringing a bigger tent).

Backpacking is when you carry everything you need in a pack on your back, and usually hike a ways before stopping for the night to set up camp. When you’re backpacking, weight and space are your #1 priority, and you make decisions based on that. I’m not sure how feasible it would be to backpack with small children, but if you do it then you should leave a comment because I want you to write a guest post! If you’re used to backpacking, then perhaps for this season in your life, you could consider car camping.

I wanted to define these so others can figure out what style fits them and their families the best. Overall, the main point is to get out into nature no matter what your family looks like. 🙂