Alex’s First Camping Trip

We are generally a camping family, though we haven’t been camping since Alex was born. It’s hard enough to get a camping trip together without all of the accoutrements necessary to bring a baby (and hard enough to fit 5 people in our car without all the camping gear).

However, this first camping trip was about as perfect as could be. The weather more or less cooperated (our tent didn’t leak, and while it was pretty cold in the mornings, the flipside is that it wasn’t too hot in the afternoon), and we got in tons of fun activities! Paddleboats, kayaks, hiking…you name it.

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(I love how Ollie is kind of photo-bombing us in this pic)

Alex literally could not have had a better time. When we were putting him to bed on Saturday night he said between sobs, “More walking!” That dude was just go-go-go the entire weekend.

You might say he got a little tired out…

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Father’s Day Part 2

Last week I mentioned the special father’s day activity that Evelyn planned for me, and this weekend it was Oliver’s turn.

He and Sara had secretly planned a one-night camping trip, just for the two of us.

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Unbeknownst to me, they had made reservations and hidden all of the camping stuff in Ollie’s closet (which Ollie had helpfully labeled “KEEP OUT”). In fact, the day before Sara had sent me to the grocery store to get hotdog buns, and I still had no clue. ūüôā When I opened the envelope on Saturday morning containing my instructions, I kept saying, “Really?”

It turns out that there is an honest to goodness campground inside Cook County. Who knew? It’s called Shabbona Woods¬†and it was actually quite lovely, especially for our purposes.

We had a lovely campsite, hotdogs, smores, and a couple of miles of hiking trails. Perfect!

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In fact, perhaps we had a little TOO many smores, because Ollie was a bundle of energy. Even after I made him run laps around the campsite, he still had no desire to go to sleep. I told him a story, and then he told me a story, during which I promptly fell asleep. Then he quized me on parts of his story and then said, “Let’s keep going back and forth, telling each other stories!” I was like, “Uh…I don’t think so,” and he said, “Do you want to run a mile??”

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But the REAL story of our trip was the story of the incomparable Buddy. Let me tell you about Buddy, the most wonderful firefly that ever lived.

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It turns out that Ollie has never seen fireflies before. We don’t have them in Chicago, and when we’re camping, he is usually in bed before they come out. Naturally, he was enthralled; not so much by the glowing, but more on how easy they are to catch. They just sort of hover slowly at 6 year old eye-level, and even if they escape they go right back to hovering in front of you.

So this particular firefly was just sort of hanging out on his hand, and I made the mistake of throwing out a comment, “Oh hey, I think this one likes you!”

*Boom*, Ollie was smitten. Suddenly he had his life all laid out: he and Buddy were going to live together forever, travel the world, possibly fight crime… Buddy was suddenly the best friend he ever had.¬†Periodically I would say, “Eventually you’re going to have to let Buddy go…” and he would scream “NO!” at me.

Unfortunately, during a game of release-and-catch they were playing, Buddy made a break for it and escaped into the woods.

Desolated does not describe the way Ollie felt. I am talking the absolute depths of despair here. He was inconsolable. Somehow he had so internalized the “this one likes you” that he couldn’t believe that Buddy had left him. In panic, I asked if he wanted to call mommy and tell her about Buddy, but he was crying so hard he couldn’t even talk.

I kind of thought it would be over soon, but every few minutes he would remember his good friend Buddy and start wailing anew. “Buddy!” he cried into the woods. “BUUUUUDDDYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!” I don’t know how many times he asked me if he would ever see Buddy again.

Even the next day, he was still crying about it. We were leaving and he sobbed, “I saw a flash from the woods, but I don’t think it was Buddy. I think Buddy told the other fireflies to watch over me, and they were letting me know Buddy was okay.”

He even told me that he was going to write to Santa and ask to be reunited with Buddy. ::sigh:: What is it with this boy and testing the limits of Santa’s magic?

Quote Monday goes camping

::Ollie getting out of the shower at the campground::
Ollie, to the feet under a different shower: “So, I see you’re done with YOUR shower!”

That boy can start a conversation with anyone…

Me: “Oh no, I forgot my hat and now my head is in the sun.”
Ollie: “Well, I could ride on your shoulders, and then my hat would protect you too!”

Evie: “I’m going to go talk to Grandma about going to the store.”
Me: “Honey, it’s too early, the store’s not open yet.”
Evie: “Well, there’s no sign saying we can’t talk about the store when it’s not open.”

Me: “Can you say thank you to Grandma for buying you that shirt?”
Ollie: “Well, I picked it out.”

Me: “Don’t fall asleep right now, we’re going to stop in a minute.”
Ollie: “You know what? I don’t fall asleep on purpose, I only fall asleep on accident.”

Mosquito Haven

Well, we made it out on our first camping trip of the year. I have to say, things could have gone better.

The Haven was still partially underwater. The water wasn’t nearly as bad as when we were there a couple of months ago, but the fact that any was there at all is a bit troubling. The first time¬†it was forgivable because it had been raining cats and dogs for quite awhile. This time, however, it hasn’t been particularly wet.

Unfortunately, as we guessed, the raspberries seem to be kaput. That was a big bummer, since that was one of the fairly major projects of last year. More generally, it’s kind of a bummer that there’s so much water around everywhere, making it difficult to get around and sort of unpleasant to contemplate living there at some point. Especially since all of that standing water lead to the inevitable conclusion – mosquitos.

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It was unbelievable. As a person who has done a lot of camping, I’ve never seen anything like it. The clouds of mosquitos were so bad that it was almost like you had a hard time seeing somebody through it. I cannot imagine there is enough wildlife up there to feed that many mosquitos, which means they were just that much more hungry when we got there. The picture above really does not do it justice AT ALL.

Oh, the poor kids. The poor, poor kids. I feel like such a bad parent even telling you. Even covered with bugspray, pants, and sweatshirts, the kids were all but carried away by the buggers. Their poor, sad little bodies are covered head to toe. Ollie’s left hand had so many bites on it that it was swollen like a sausage, and he couldn’t flex his fingers. His ankles were so bad, he had trouble walking. He’s got 5 or so that actually turned into big, white, swollen blisters and popped. Evie absolutely looks like she has the chicken pox.

Between that and the extreme lack of sleep, moods were pretty foul by Sunday, and we left hours before we had planned. Since we had gotten there so late on Saturday, we were only there well short of 24 hours. I still think it is safe to say that it was the most miserable less-than-24-hours of Evie’s life. I’m actually worried that she’s been soured on camping altogether, she was so miserable. Both children had to get up for benadryl in the middle of the night just to make it to morning.

Thoroughly unenjoyable.

The worst part of the whole thing is that I am relatively untouched, which make me feel a little guilty. With 3 tasty morsels around to snack on, I was distinctly less appetizing. My secret? When nobody’s looking, I quietly release a little mosquito repellent in the air, like one of those Glade air fresheners. Halbach brand repellent – absolutely repellent since 1980.

The one good news is that I was finally able to get around most of the property and hang the “no trespassing” signs back up. 3 sides are good to go, and the 4th is maybe a 3rd of the way done. I found every sign except 1, and they are much more secure this time, so hopefully they don’t just keep falling down again. It was somewhat depressingly difficult to find the signs, downed or otherwise. Isn’t it kind of half the point that someone can easily see them?

It’s especially depressing knowing that I sacrificed my kids to the mosquito gods, just to re-hang some invisible signs that will probably just fall off the tree again.

Finally, a camping trip where it didn’t rain for once!

We spent two nights at The Haven, and we had beautiful weather. It was in the 80’s during the day, and down to the 60’s at night. Most importantly, NO RAIN! I don’t know why I’m such a camping rain magnet, but I’m glad my powers were not active for once.

We’re really starting to know our way around the land a little bit. We spent most of the day on Friday carving paths to various things with our new loppers (especially the potty tree). Most importantly, I think we might have found the location for our future tiny house! It’s in a sort of clearer area between a triangle of truly massive pine trees. Well shaded, midway back in the woods, and not too far from a clearing that may serve for fruit trees. Definitely some potential.

Equally importantly, we did find the mythical blueberry bushes towards the back of our property, and they were delicious. We might need to bolster our stock with a few extra bushes next year.

We’re starting to know our way around South Haven a little bit as well. On Saturday morning, we hit up the most excellent farmers’ market, followed by coffee @ Julias. I think this is going to become a Haven tradition (especially considering we all were in need of a real bathroom by Saturday morning!!) Also, strange coincidence, one of the vendors at the farmer’s market was the City Hippie, a family from Evie’s school and a maker of extremely beautiful things. Evie and Ollie did a kids’ activity at the market and colored some canvas bags with fabric markers and stencils, and they both turned out really well. They’re both very proud of their bags and they’ve shown them to everyone they’ve come in contact with since then.

By lunch time, some friends had arrived, and the work portion of our trip was over. Although I don’t think she really realized it at the time, I think that Evie probably had one of the best days of her life. To have friends her age there to play with (who don’t get frustrated with her no matter how bossy she is), to hike with and make up potty stories with, and to hide behind the tent and tell secrets with was about as fun as it gets. We found a dog-friendly beach and all had a great time, even if the water was a little cold and the waves were a little sneaky (some unexpected water in the face a time or two).

Ollie also had a great time with Maya and Elsie (he said his favorite part of the weekend was singing “Twinkle Twinkle” with them), but for his money, he was just happy to play in the sand. All day, every day, nothing but sand. We would no sooner wash his hands or put on his pajamas or whatever, and he’d be back in it again. He had sand everywhere, including what was basically a sand hood over his head and neck, which got pretty disgusting when we were forced to put a layer of vaseline¬†on top of it all. Yuck.

Ollie played in the sand so much he was literally¬†delusional.¬†He shouted in his sleep, “I want to go under the sand!” I thought he must have meant, “I DON’T want to go under the sand,” nightmare style, but he repeated it several times and he definitely wanted to go under the sand. Based on how much sand he had on him, he almost got his wish.

And the best part about The Haven? You can be as LOUD AS YOU WANT:

(I love how Ollie just flinches a lot and looks confused, but still wants to be part of the group.)

Unfortunately, the worst part about The Haven is ticks. We found at least a dozen crawling around at various times, and poor Ollie won the dubious honor of being the first person to have a tick attached to them at The Haven. We checked him pretty thoroughly at bedtime, so it must have crawled up to his head during the night. We handled it pretty quickly and calmly, and Oliver didn’t quite seem to mind, handling it with his usual good-natured nonchalance (“The ladybug bit me!”).

Finally, on the way home, we stopped and picked 7 3/4 pounds of blueberries. Evie in particular did a great job. I was really surprised. The last time she went picking, she did what Ollie did this time, which was basically eat every blueberry that went in her bucket. She was pretty proud of herself, and cried quite a bit when she accidentally spilled her bucket. But she got back to it and ended up picking a full quart by herself!

A great trip and, as always, it makes me want to go back again!

Mother Nature seems to hate us

So we’re back from vacation and, despite some bad luck with the weather, we are mostly okay. Vacations with little kids tend to be exhausting, but this one seemed particularly exhausting for some reason. On the other hand, we had a good time, particularly Evie and Oliver. They have such a great time just being outside, that I feel guilty for not giving them more outside time. It’s like our kids love the outdoors by default, and then we train them to stay inside.¬†Or maybe it is because Mother Nature does her best to make sure that we never go outside again. She certainly tried to ruin our trip this time. Hey, Mother Nature! We’re on the same side here! It’s in your best interest to have children who are raised to like you! In case you haven’t noticed, most people seem pretty hell-bent on destroying you!

Friday night we stayed at my Grandma’s house, so Mother Nature didn’t get her crack until Saturday. We had just put up our tent and put all of our things inside, when an enormous storm came up out of nowhere. Oliver and I were sitting in the sand box as these ominous black clouds came roiling over the trees, blotting out the sun. Luckily we had a building to go into, since there was thunder, lightning, crazy rain, and 60 mph winds. I believe about 6 tents were blown over or otherwise destroyed, including our own. One of our tent poles snapped, ripping a gash through the rain fly. However, the tent next to ours was blown away completely, with 6 holes in the side where the wind ripped it away from the straps, which remained staked down. So it could have been worse I suppose.

We managed to construct a frankentent out of the discarded pieces, taking a new rain fly from a broken tent and a piece of pipe that once served as the bottom of a solar powered light, the top of which had blown away during the storm. Our bedding and everything was absolutely soaked, and this was a little discouraging, seeing as we had just put it in there. All of our clothes were in there as well, but only a few articles of clothing actually got wet. It was hot enough to not need blankets and we had some extra sheets, so we managed to make do in the frankentent.

Sunday morning we manged to dry out our tent and things and then packed everything up and moved to the next camping location. We had barely gotten our tent up and our bedding put in, before Mother Nature came back for more! This time the torrential downpour included some hail, and our tent collapsed under the pressure. That tent has never collapsed before, so I don’t know if the rain was just too strong, or if maybe something about the way we cobbled things together caused it to collapse (maybe the ill-fitting rain fly put pressure in unusual places). In any event, everything was soaked yet again. This was even more¬†disappointing, since we had just gone through it the day before. Luckily for us, my mom was renting a cabin there, and we managed to squeeze in with them, including displacing them from their bed (thanks mom!).

We weren’t discouraged yet, so Mother Nature turned to another set of tricks, making it so oppressively hot and muggy that nothing could dry out. However, we were able to borrow towels and bedding from other people and decided to make a go of it in the tent, even though there was a rumor that another storm was rolling in. So Monday night we were back in the tent, and it started raining at about midnight.

Evie woke me up saying, “Daddy, my pants are wet!” It turns out, she was sleeping in a huge puddle at the lowest point in the tent, and was soaked head to toe. I helped her out of her pajamas, and then she began to softly cry. “What’s the matter, honey?” I asked. “I don’t want to lay back down!” Poor girl. I guess I never expressly said that she didn’t have to lay back down in her puddle!

So, Evie started her birthday the same way she came into this world; in her birthday suit. Tuesday rained all day and sort of put a damper on her birthday. We had to cancel the big potluck dinner with everybody we had planned for the evening (though it went off on Thursday without a hitch). Later, when mom borrowed a shop-vac from the office, we found out we had a gallon and a half of water in the tent! We were struggling to keep the kids inside the tiny cabin all day, but we eventually gave up and drove to Appleton, where we found two awesome places that totally turned what could have been a really crummy day around into something fun.

The first was a fun, family oriented lunch joint known as the Ladybugs Bistro. They had kid-friendly food (and paninis for parents), and a play area with toys. Oliver mostly enjoyed pushing around a baby doll in a stroller. Then it was across the street to the aptly named Building for Kids. This was a surprisingly good children’s museum, on par with any that we’ve been to in bigger cities. Evie and Oliver would have stayed for longer, but we were all pretty exhausted at that point. Finally, we returned to the campground and had banana splits¬†with¬†everyone. Evie was really excited about these, and I think it was her favorite part about her birthday. She was mostly excited about the sprinkles.

After all of our weather troubles, we were still in a good mood, so Mother Nature relented a little bit and gave us a few nice days. We got some pool time in, and some guitar time, not to mention playground, sandbox and visiting time. Unfortunately, with all the rain and humidity, the bugs were pretty bad. Evie counted something like 43 mosquito bites on Sara’s legs. We also had to deal with swarms of gnats, who liked to swarm around sweaty heads (particularly Oliver’s), and some kind of mystery biting insect who seemed to only go after men’s ankles. Everybody kept asking us how the kids were handling the bugs or the rain, but honestly, the kids didn’t seem to notice that stuff. Evie complained about her bug bites sometimes, but mostly they were just happy to be on vacation with family.

We got a chance to check out the local water ski group, the Webfooters. All of the kids (ours and two of my cousins’ kids) thoroughly enjoyed it, but none more than Oliver, who thought it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. Every time a boat would make a pass, Oliver would leap to his feet, point, and say, “Whoa! Whoa!” Then he would clap wildly before returning to his watermelon feast.

Finally, on the last weekend, we went to the reunion on my Grandma’s side of the family. I knew it had been awhile since I had been to that reunion (we usually go to the first one and then cut out during the week), but we figured out that it must have been something like 11 years since the last time I went! But it was very enjoyable, and there were lots and lots of kids there! It was nice to have so many kids of age with our kids. Reminds me of when I was a kid and I would go to the reunions and play with all of my cousins. Probably the highlight of the weekend for me was Sara and I taking Evie on a canoe ride. I love to go¬†canoeing, and I believe that was Evie’s first ride on a non-motorized boat.

Obviously, we were having too much fun in the outdoors. Almost slapping Mother Nature in the face! Well, she decided not to take it lying down, and reports began to circulate about thunderstorms coming in Saturday night. Sure enough, right as we were about to get the kids ready for bed, the wind picked up, the sky darkened, and thunder began to growl. As we were taking the kids in to the bathroom for their nightly routines, Sara said, “Should we just pack up the tent and sleep in one of the cabins?” There were large, shared-room cabins (think army barracks) that had some vacancies due to some of the people who left early.

It was certainly worth thinking about. First off, I don’t know if I could have born another soaking night in a tent. Second off, packing up wet gear is awful. And third, we don’t really have anywhere we could dry our tent when we got home. If you have a yard, fine, just put up your tent and let it dry. But for us, about the only option we have is setting the tent up in a parking spot!

I was sort of against going in the cabin though, because it was time for the kids to go to bed, and it would have involved packing up everything, then unpacking some things into the cabin, then packing everything up again the next morning, just to turn around and leave. So I was ready to just brave it out in the tent. But then it occurred to me: if we were going to pack everything up, why not just get in the car and drive home? It was only 6:30 and we were only 5 hours from home. Let the kids sleep in the car and just go.

So that is what we ended up deciding to do, and I think it was the right choice. With the help of many family members, we were pulling out less than 40 minutes after we decided to leave. It was a long drive home (thanks to Sara for driving while I nodded off a time or two!), but it stormed hard for most of the way. Much better to face it in a car than in a tent. And it had the added side benefit of giving us all of Sunday to unpack and get back into the routine, rather than arriving just at supper time. I can’t tell you how much of a difference that made. It might have had the added benefit of letting us sleep in a bed for an extra night, except that Evie was so upset that we were leaving, that Sara promised her that I would have a “sleep out” with her on the floor of the family room. Small enough¬†concession¬†to end a tantrum, and I was so tired by that point anyway, I would have slept on a bed of crushed glass and razor blades. We didn’t even get home until after midnight.

I won’t lie, it’s good to be home. Towards the end, the lack of sleep was getting to everybody, especially Evie, who was having a lot of trouble listening. When we got home, we took the kids grocery shopping. It was like all that time out in the wilderness had turned them into wild-children, who didn’t remember how to behave in society! But things are coming back to normal now. Oliver has stopped crying and pointing at the outside, like a bird in a cage. One of the cutest things was that Evie made a bunch of “raffle tickets” and insisted on holding raffles for prizes such as pens and rubber bands (which we’re not¬†allowed¬†to keep, by the way). So I think it is safe to say they had a pretty good time.

One last thing I wanted to mention that didn’t really fit anywhere else. Some of these people are a little too comfortable while “camping”! None¬†more so¬†than the guy with the¬†48 inch flat screen in his RV. Why bother going to (living at?) a campsite?¬†Honorable¬†mention goes to the crazy couple across the street, who set up more and more stuff every day. The fake candelabras and¬†porcelain¬†eagle head were something to see, but the 25 pinwheels and Uncle Sam hat and picnic table runner were such a nice touch. And it’s pretty obvious they do this a lot too; every single item was in it’s place. My description doesn’t do this scene justice. And lets not forget the meticulously placed hunter-orange construction ties around any item that could even remotely be tripped over. How long does it take to pack all of that stuff up??

Waupaca Camping Park

I’m writing this is support of my candidate for “best campsite ever”, Waupaca Camping Park.

I have camped all over this great country of ours (well, mostly all over the Midwest) and I would be hard pressed to name a better campsite. There are undoubtedly reasons to camp at other places: some particular item of natural beauty, hiking trails, lake access, etc. But I don’t think you’ll ever find another campsite where the owners are so passionate about their property.

The idea of this post all started when we were camping somewhere else and Sara said, “You know, we were really spoiled by the bathrooms at Waupaca.” (Sara has, by the way, quite literally camped all over this great country of ours, so you’d do worse than to take her recommendation.) It got me thinking about how much better Waupaca is, overall, compared to other places we’ve been.

They clean their bathrooms often. I believe twice a day, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, the bathrooms are always clean. This can not be overstated. Bad bathrooms / showers are one of the hazards of camping life. State park bathrooms seem to be particularly bad, due to low budget and high usage. Believe me, I would pay a premium for a good bathroom.

Waupaca Camping Park has all the amenities of a good campground: good camp store, swimming pool, playground, game room, laundry, etc. There are lots of trees so sites are obscured from each other. But none of that necessarily sets them above the rest, that just gets them in the conversation for best campground ever. (Actually though, the cleanness of their bathrooms puts them in the top 5% automatically)

There are a few things they do that really put them over the top. First off, there are solar panels on the roof that heat the pool, so the water is never cold (it’s usually around 86 or so). Second off, they have many different types of¬†accommodations¬†to choose from. They have big cabins and small cabins, tent sites and RV sites, permanent sites, sites with a view of the lake, and everything in between. They even have an air-conditioned yurt!

But third off, and most importantly, they just really care about their site. Every year there is new construction somewhere. Either they are installing air conditioners in all the cabins, or they are building a new roof over the bathroom area, creating new patios for the fire pits, etc. This year there was a brand new, enormous (wood! not plastic!) playground area. Every year there is something new. I see them going around to scoop out the fire pits. I see them cleaning the cabins. The owners send us a Christmas card! I’m not joking!

This probably doesn’t sound like much, but I’m telling you, this is the best campsite I have ever been to. If you are looking for a campsite in mid-Wisconsin (almost directly West of Green Bay), then this is the place for you.

If you recall, Evie said, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a person in charge of Waupaca.” I don’t see how you could come by higher praise than that.