Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe

With the little kids we much prefer the convenience of having them sleep to their normal waking time, feed them at a table, then get them out the door for the day. We don’t always have this luxury when there is a long travel day ahead of us. Living in southern California provides us with a lot of “nearby” hiking and camping options that are three hours or less of a drive, but the state is awfully long, so our traveling quickly becomes seven hours plus to get where we’re going. That means no leisurely breakfast or well rested kids. So what do we do? Toss the kids in the truck still in PJs, and have breakfast ready to go for when the hunger pangs start growling.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Knocking Down Lemons Portrait

After some experimentation we’ve narrowed down our preferences of traveling breakfasts. We try to stay concerned with what we are feeding ourselves, not just what happens to be convenient. Even on trips we try to eat real foods that we would also eat at home, as determined by taste, nutritional value, and variety. However, after a stressful and busy week we have been known to break our own rules and hit the McDonald’s drive through on our way out of town. I try not to think about what is and what isn’t in the food as we eat it.

Here’s our most typical travel day menu:

Hard boiled eggs
Scones or muffins
Fruit – usually bananas or blueberries
Coffee and water

Sounds simple but thrown into the mix of everything else going on to prepare for a camping trip, the scones/muffins can get forgotten or pushed to the last minute. Making them ahead a week or two in advance and freezing them is a great alternative. Another alternative is to get store bought scones or muffins, but these are usually not the ideal nutritional specimens.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Broken Scone Display

Scones are something that I’ve been working on for awhile to try to perfect for our particular set of taste buds. They’ve become a tasty treat for the family as we munch away in the truck. Any that aren’t eaten for breakfast end up as snacks later on in the day.

And now, how to make “Excursion Scones…”

So of course we have got to do inventory on ingredients. I commonly will start to make something only to realize critical ingredients are not present in my house.

DSC_0017

Add sugar to flour in a large bowl. Biscuits are similar to scones, but scones have 2 tablespoons of sugar whereas biscuits do not.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour plus Sugar

Add the baking powder.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour Plus Sugar and Baking Powder

Zest two lemons. An orange does a great job too. Just be sure to wash the fruit before hand and make sure there’s no bird poop or dead spiders stuck to them. These are side effects of having a lemon tree in the backyard.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Lemons Ready to Zest

I wish these pictures were scratch and sniff because this part smells so good.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Zested Lemon

Add zest to dry ingredients and mix together. Make a well in the center.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour Plus Sugar, Baking Powder, and Lemon Zest

Add wet ingredients to the well: egg and milk/cream/whatever milk like substance happens to be in your fridge at the time. Beat eggs and mix with milk.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Flour Mix Plus Egg and Milk

While your hands are still dry, be sure to line your jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper, dust with a layer of flour, and set aside a cup of craisins.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Floured Parchment Paper and Craisins Ready

Use your hands to moisten the dough, making it into a shaggy looking dough. The less handling the better as more mixing makes for tough scones. Transfer to the sheet and fold in craisins.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Shaggy Dough Ready to Fold Craisins

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 1

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 2

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 3

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Folding In Craisins 4

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Dough Folded and Ready to Cut and Shape

Look at those layers of nummy goodness!

Look at those layers of nummy goodness!

Cut lump of dough in half.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Batter Cut In Half

Flatten and form into the shape you want. Dough should be 0.75 – 1″ thick.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Batter Patted Into Two Discs

Cut into rectangles if you shaped the pieces into a square/rectangle, or if you prefer wedge shaped scones the cut like a pie. Depending on how you cut will determine how many scones you get. I like to make my scones a little smaller to accommodate the little squawkers that will be munching their way through them.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Round Batter Cut Into Scone Size

Separate scones to give them a chance to rise without bumping their neighbors.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Cut Scones Ready for Freezer Top View

The dog is always looking on, finding the right time to steal something when I’m taking pictures…

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Cut Scones Ready for Freezer

When the scones are ready for the oven, don’t put them there. Put them in the freezer uncovered for 20 minutes. Thirty minutes is too long because the butter will freeze. We just want the butter chilled.  After you slide them in the freezer preheat the oven.

Twenty minutes will chill the butter enough to make 'em nice and moist after baking. Mmmmm.

Twenty minutes will chill the butter enough to make ‘em nice and moist after baking. Mmmmm.

When you chill the scones prior to baking, the outer layer of the scones create a slightly harder crust on them as they rise a bit that will be retained after cooking. During baking the chilled butter with evaporate in such away that the inside of the scone is extra fluffy and moist. This step gives the scones the extra wow when it comes to texture and scone eating experiences.

There's some good rise here. See the yellow specks from the lemon zest?

There’s some good rise here. See the yellow specks from the lemon zest?

Bake for 22 minutes, rotating half way through. After pulling them out of the oven, leave them on the sheet for a few minutes then pull them off. I have a feeling one of them won’t make it to the cooling rack!

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Display Scone on Plate Front View

EXCURSION SCONES (you know, since we’re leaving on a camping excursion whenever they’re made)

Yield: 8 – 15 scones (depending on how you shape and cut)

3 cups all purpose flour
2T sugar
1T baking powder
zest of two lemons
0.25 lb unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream (or whatever milk you happen to have available)
1 cup craisins
egg wash: 2 large eggs eaten with 1T water)
2T brown sugar

Toss dry ingredients and zest together in a large bowl, beat egg and cream together in a small bowl
Cut in butter and make a well in the center
Pour egg and cream into well
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and flour
Mix by hand to make a shaggy dough, less handling the better
Transfer dough to lined sheet and knead in craisins gently until just incorporated
Cut dough in half and pat each lump into 3/4″-1″ circles or rectangles
Cut to desired size of scones, being 8-12 pieces when done
Spread pieces out from each other so none are touching
Place in freezer for 20 minutes, right after placing in freezer preheat oven to 325 degrees F so it’s ready when the scones come out of the freezer
Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar
Bake 22 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool slightly on sheet when done.

2014-07-15 Travel Morning Breakfasts with Scone Recipe Finished Scone on Display

Sneak one when it’s still warm! They taste excellent when reheated in the microwave for 10 seconds also if you’d like.
They’ll keep up to three days in an airtight container, and can be frozen if cooled completely and put in an airtight container.

What’s your favorite travel breakfast?

Homemade Tortillas

Homemade baked goods: the smell and savor of these items is like no other. Thrown in the mix for us is the unexpected homemade tortilla. It doesn’t have the hours and hours of anticipation like a loaf of bread, or the need to finish ALL of our dinner first to get a slice of pie for dessert, but rather the anticipation and satisfaction are short and sure.

The tortilla perhaps isn’t one of the first things you’d think of as an item high on the list of thing to make at home because of how readily available they are at the store. However, once you try a hot, homemade tortilla, I think your mind will change (especially with honey butter slathered on it…mmmm). We started making our own tortillas after reading the contents of what the store bought ones had included, and doing a cost analysis. I can make them with three ingredients and for a fraction of the cost.

2 cups flour = $0.34 (I used organic whole wheat)
0.25 cups butter = $0.96 (I used organic salted)
0.5 cups water = negligible $ (I used unfiltered from the tap)

Makes the total cost $1.30 for eight tortillas, or $0.16 each. The cost may differ depending on the materials you use. At the store a pack of 8 can be several dollars depending on which kind you get.

So how can tortillas be used in camping? One of our favorite campsite meals is pollo asada or carne asada. Tortillas made at home, packed in the cooler, then reheated in camp to be used with fajitas makes the meal that much tastier…and healthier. We’ve also used them with our breakfast burritos, as “pizza” crust, for cheese quesadillas, and for just munching on as snacks. There are so many uses for tortillas. We’ve even taken them backpacking and ate them for breakfast.

Hubby and the Sous Chef Firing up the Backpacking Stove to Cook Tentmade "Tortillas" for breakfast at Cottonwood Lakes, Sierra Nevadas

Hubby and the Sous Chef Firing up the Backpacking Stove to Cook Tentmade “Tortillas” for breakfast at Cottonwood Lakes, Sierra Nevadas

Well…I can’t say it worked out so well in this setting. I didn’t have a rolling pin or hard flat surface to make them nice and flat, and it so happened that while I had to put them together I was also nursing a baby inside a two man backpacking tent while my husband was heating up the stove on a rock outside the tent. We had only brought the flour and oil (instead of butter) since my husband didn’t want to carry the water weight from pre made tortillas and was convinced the crisp alpine stream would provide a delightful taste to the tortillas.  As you can imagine our tortillas really just turned out like little flat cakes roasted in the pan. And even though I used hand sanitizer, I can’t say all the dirt was off my hands prior to making the tortillas. After patting the tortillas and mixing the ingredients they were nice and clean.

We not only brought tortilla makings backpacking, but we also brought a six month old baby and crossed an icy stream to get to our camp.

We not only brought tortilla makings backpacking, but we also brought a six month old baby and crossed an icy stream to get to our camp.

Thankfully at home we have indoor plumbing, which is delightful in itself, even if it doesn’t produce crisp alpine water. I can wash my hands prior to making the tortillas.

As listed above in the very detailed and complicated cost analysis, there are only three ingredients. However, with these ingredients a lot of interchangeableness is possible, as described below.

Finished plate of eight tortillas.

Finished plate of eight tortillas.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups flour: all-purpose works great, as does flour with the germ not sifted out. Whole wheat makes it more crumbly and difficult to work with but usually I’ll compromise by doing 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat
0.25 cups butter: if it is unsalted I’ll probably dump a few shakes of salt in the flour
Alternate: 0.25 cups oil: Oil makes tortillas a lot more crumbly and hard to deal with. We think butter tastes better and heats up better than oil tortillas.
0.5 cups water: you can use crisp, alpine stream water if you’d like, or from the tap will do

DIRECTIONS
Put flour in a good size bowl (add salt here if using unsalted butter).

Start with the flour. Here it's whole wheat.

Start with the flour. Here it’s whole wheat.

Chop butter into smaller pieces to prepare to be cut into flour.

You'll need a quarter pound of butter. You can use 0.25 cups of oil instead if you'd like.

You’ll need a quarter pound of butter. You can use 0.25 cups of oil instead if you’d like.

Slice the butter so it's easier to cut into the flour.

Slice the butter so it’s easier to cut into the flour.

Add butter to flour and cut in with hands until texture is mealy and course.

Drop sliced butter into the flour.

Drop sliced butter into the flour.

Toss flour over the butter to prevent your hands from getting gummed up by the butter while cutting it in.

Toss flour over the butter to prevent your hands from getting gummed up by the butter while cutting it in.

Cutting the butter into the flour.

Cutting the butter into the flour.

Make a well in the middle and add water.

Butter has been cut, and well is ready for the next ingredient.

Butter has been cut, and well is ready for the next ingredient.

2014-07-08 Homemade Tortillas Pouring in the Water
Mix water in with flour and butter to create dough.

Push flour mixture into the water.

Push flour mixture into the water.

Push more flour mixture into water well - prevents hands from getting as gummed up with the water.

Push more flour mixture into water well – prevents hands from getting as gummed up with the water.

Mixed dough ready to form into a ball.

Mixed dough ready to form into a ball.

Form dough into a ball.

Dough ball is ready to go.

Dough ball is ready to go.

Cut ball into eight pieces.

Cut dough ball into eight pieces

Cut dough ball into eight pieces

Roll cut pieces into eight little dough balls.

Roll cut pieces into eight little dough balls.

 

Dough balls can be put back into fridge until later, or stored here while rolling them out

Dough balls can be put back into fridge until later, or stored here while rolling them out

Sprinkle pastry board or other flat surface with flour. Place a dough ball in center of surface and press down with your palm. Use rolling pin to roll out a tortilla that’s 7″-8″ in diameter. Set aside and repeat with remaining seven dough balls.

Use flour on pastry board or flat surface while rolling out tortillas to prevent sticking.

Use flour on pastry board or flat surface while rolling out tortillas to prevent sticking.

 

Flattening out dough ball.

Flattening out dough ball.

 

Roll out the tortilla. Looks like this one thinks it's going to be square.

Roll out the tortilla. Looks like this one thinks it’s going to be square.

When all tortillas are rolled out, or as you are rolling them out, heat a fry pan or skillet on medium heat. Spray with oil. Cook each tortilla approximately 20 seconds on each side. When a side is done tortilla will start to bubble.

Spray fry pan with oil before each tortilla cooks.

Spray fry pan with oil before each tortilla cooks.

 

When tortilla starts to bubble it's ready to be flipped.

When tortilla starts to bubble it’s ready to be flipped.

 

Cooked already on one side and finishing up the other.

Cooked already on one side and finishing up the other.

Set cooked tortillas aside.2014-07-08 Homemade Tortillas Finished Plate of Tortillas  Side View

And here it is without all the photos in between:

INGREDIENTS
2 cups flour
0.25 cups butter
0.5 cups water

DIRECTIONS
Put flour in a good size bowl (add salt here if using unsalted butter).
Chop butter into smaller pieces to prepare to be cut into flour.
Add butter to flour and cut in with hands until texture is mealy and course.
Make a well in the middle and add water.
Mix water in with flour and butter to create dough.
Form dough into a ball.
Cut ball into eight pieces.
Sprinkle pastry board or other flat surface with flour. Place a dough ball in center of surface and press down with your palm. Use rolling pin to roll out a tortilla that’s 7″-8″ in diameter. Set aside and repeat with remaining seven dough balls.
When all tortillas are rolled out, or as you are rolling them out, heat a fry pan or skillet on medium heat. Spray with oil. Cook each tortilla approximately 20 seconds on each side. When a side is done tortilla will start to bubble.
Set cooked tortillas aside.

STORAGE, REHEAT, and SERVING
Store cooled tortillas in a ziplock or other airtight container to bring to the campsite.
If you want to save them till later, they can be put in the freezer. I’d recommend putting parchment or wax paper between each tortilla and include a paper towel in the container to absorb moisture and prevent them from sticking together with ice incase of condensation.
They can also be stored uncooked either as dough balls or flattened dough balls separated by wax paper, or already rolled out and separated by wax paper. I have found that the rolled out dough sticks to the wax paper easily and I end up having to reroll them out because the tortilla doesn’t want to come off the paper. Flouring the tortilla seems to help with this issue.
In camp, fire up the stove and with a fry pan, toss each tortilla on with medium heat and reheat each side about five seconds and serve immediately.

We don’t just like to eat these tortillas in camp, but at home too. Whenever we have a dish calling for tortillas, the family is calling for homemade ones. They’ve tasted the difference and don’t want to go back to store bought ones.

In so many blog food pictures the food appears to have been set down in an idyllic circumstance with calm and appetites ready to be satisfied. I find it amusing as to what’s going on around my blog photos as they’re being taken:

Nutmeg looking to be an official taste tester.

Nutmeg looking to be an official taste tester.

Hubby chopping wood while I take blog food pictures.

Hubby chopping wood while I take blog food pictures.

 

What do you like to eat with your tortillas?

The Camp Kitchen

One of the essentials in camping: the camp kitchen. This needs no fancy written introduction or hook because the camping experience starts with this, because, hey, camping and food go hand in hand. It may come in the form of a plastic tote, cardboard box, or just packed here and there amidst the rest of the camping stuff, be a store bought set up, or be a homemade beauty. No matter the form, it’s there with you in camp. It’s there at all the meal times, when your kid spits up or pukes on your shirt, when you need a trash bag, when you want to roast marshmallows, make ice cream, stash random things you don’t know what to do with, or even just need a surface to put stuff on.

Setting up the kitchen area with the camp kitchen and bear box in Sequoia National Forest

Setting up the kitchen area with the camp kitchen and bear box in Sequoia National Forest

When we started out car camping, we had a tote, keeping the bare essentials in it. What this really means is that all our “camping” food equipment really was just all our backpacking food equipment put in a box. We did have a cast iron skillet that my husband picked up somewhere. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Over the years we’ve gradually accumulated more car camping appropriate items. We have found the best way to get items is to keep our eyes on sales and to wait until parents clean out the attic (thanks dad!). We are able to keep a set of equipment specific for car camping and keep our backpacking equipment ready to go for when we’re backpacking.

Camp kitchen set up in Onion Valley. Terrain was too steep next to the trailer so it went next to the bear box. Very convenient location.

Camp kitchen set up in Onion Valley. Terrain was too steep next to the trailer so it went next to the bear box. Very convenient location.

The tote’s nice, but a designated unit as a camp kitchen is even better. Does this seem more like the evolution of our camp kitchen? It does to me. My intent is to give you ideas for your own camp kitchen, see examples of what we’ve done, and perhaps you can pursue fine tuning of your own equipment stash and camp set up. It’s taken us ten years to go from backpacking cooking equipment to a designated camp kitchen.

Camp kitchen located next to bear box.

Camp kitchen located next to bear box.

Many folks end up with a store bought set up. We’ve taken many strolls through many campgrounds observing pretty impressive structures, some looking like a real kitchen. Six months after we were married a family invited us to go camping with them in Yosemite Valley. They had a structure that accommodated the stove, room for the cooler underneath, plenty of counter space, and even morphed into sinks afterwards to do the dishes. There were then hooks and racks to hang up pots and dishes to dry.

I did a google search for “camp kitchen” and a lot of interesting things came up: ovens, modular buckets for washing, storage, etc., utensils, cast iron cookware, and so on. Camping seems to be becoming more of a mainstream activity so the number of products available are becoming more numerous and more akin to our kitchens at home.

Here are few links to camp kitchen set ups if you’re interested. The first is more unique as it is made out of wood and the rest appear to be metal fab structures all very similar to each other: The OutdoorsmanCabelas, REI, Grub Hub, Kelty, and Bass Pro Shop.

Ours is a creation of it’s own. The ones in the links above are made to be an all in one structure to accommodate and anticipate for all kitchen needs in camp. Since we do a mixture of tent and trailer camping, we found that it would be redundant to have the extra structures for the stove, dishwashing, etc. So our set up is essentially a kitchen cabinet, holding all necessary items to be used in camp. With our trailer the stove attaches to the exterior of the trailer so we can strategically place the camp kitchen adjacent, using the counter surface to aid in preparation and cooking, as well as having the contents within close range. When tent camping, everywhere we go there are bear boxes that triple our counter space and act as a safe place to put the stove, BBQ, etc. because it is made from metal plates (we have very persistent bears in CA). Once again, the camp kitchen is set up adjacent to the bear box creating an excellent, functional work space.

He not only makes great camp kitchens but also makes great bacon!

He not only makes great camp kitchens but also makes great bacon!

Are you convinced yet that you need a camp kitchen of your own?

Unlike much of the rest of our equipment, we did not wait for this one to go on sale or wait for the parents to clean out the attic. Rather, we waited until my parents retired. Just kidding – the timing just happened to work out that way. Camping while growing up my parents had a similar camp kitchen but smaller. The formica on top even matched the formica on the kitchen counters at home. As soon as my husband saw it he wanted one of his own. My husband claims I try to sweet talk him to get something, but if there was any sweet talking done it was here and by him to his father in law. After what was dozens and dozens of hours, a lot of fine materials, and hard work, plus some improvements such as the additional counter top wings, and rectangular shape, instead of square like my parent’s original (downside is that it is heavier and takes up more space, but we can fit more in it).

Our camp kitchen has it's place in the garage. It's easily accessible so we can load it up easily for camping.

Our camp kitchen has it’s place in the garage. It’s easily accessible so we can load it up easily for camping.

It also includes two spice boxes, a paper towel holder, and a cutting board.

Being a cabinet, it ends up being like our cupboards at home: they start out organized and tidy and end up messy with everything out of place.

Cut cardboard boxes were included for easy organization, and I added two coats of chalkboard paint on the exposed end so we can quickly see what is in each box and even change the labeling as necessary.

Waiting for the chalkboard paint to dry.

Waiting for the chalkboard paint to dry.

Items we’ve included in the camp kitchen:

TOP CABINET

  • Papertowels and Holder – In Door
Top Cabinet organization with labeled boxes and convenient paper towel dispenser

Top Cabinet organization with labeled boxes and convenient paper towel dispenser

  • Spice Boxes – Miscellaneous landing place – can opener, potato peeler, cheese slicer, bottle opener, wire whisks, clothes pins, picnic table pins (for holding down the table cloth and pinning garbage bags to the counter wing), bandaids, deck of cards, shims, heavy duty foil
After taking inventory of the spice boxes for this post I'm thinking we need to reorganize this stuff again. We've never used a tape measure while camping, so not quite sure how it got there.

After taking inventory of the spice boxes for this post I’m thinking we need to reorganize this stuff again. We’ve never used a tape measure while camping, so not quite sure how it got there.

  • Box #1 – hand towels, washcloths
You'd be surprised at how fast we go through towels and washcloths while camping.

You’d be surprised at how fast we go through towels and washcloths while camping.

  • Box#2 – coffee mugs (one for each family member), steak knives
  • Box #3 – Eatingware: paper plates, paper bowls, plastic utensils, metal utensils, table cloths, napkins

BOTTOM CABINET

  • Cutting board attached to door

    Built in cutting board holder on door of lower cabinet.

    Built in cutting board holder on door of lower cabinet.

  • Box #1 – Meal Prep: plastic cutting board, hot mitt, hot pad, measuring cups, measuring spoons, cheese grater, ladle, spatula, stirring spoon, spoon rest, long matches, lighters, roasting sticks

    Contents of the food prep box.

    Contents of the food prep box.

  • Box #2 – Cookware: saucepan, small fry pan, cast iron fry pan
  • Wash bin – shammies, dish soap, hand soap
  • Percolator box – percolator, filters

    Lower cabinet organization and labels

    Lower cabinet organization and labels

We do not store spices, oil, coffee, and food in camp kitchen because of the bears. The soaps we remove when getting to camp to keep in the bear box too. The wash bin just makes a nice container to transport and store at home in case of leakage.

Likewise, all our food ends up in a clear plastic bin or the cooler.

I’d like to eventually move to no disposable eating ware or table clothes in camp just because of the waste. It seems counter to the idea of enjoying the outdoors. Since I’m usually doing dishes to clean up the pots and percolator, the dishes and utensils aren’t that much extra to do. However, if we haven’t set up camping as a base camp for several days, there is a great advantage in terms of time and fuss to use disposables when daily the camp is being taken down or set up.

We are also unable to fit in our BBQ utensils and the ice cream ball due to their larger size.

What sort of camp kitchen set up do you have? What are your must have items when it comes to camp cooking?

Group Camping Learning Curve

Ah, a crackling fire, sticky marshmallow hands (or whole bodies in the case of our kids), our friends, the family, and the outdoors. Two weeks ago I mentioned we’d be adventuring with our friends this time around in the great outdoors.

Building the campfire

Building the campfire

I think it was a success! How do I measure that success? Those who had not camped before now want to go again! I call that a victory for family camping! Our reputation as hard core, intense campers is hopefully waning. I think having kids has helped with that (as discussed here). Our concern for other campers to be prepared seems to have caused our own strategy of preparedness for a simple overnighter to have fallen by the wayside.

One family couldn't come camping with us because they were traveling, but their dog got to come since we were dog sitting. Kona's first camping trip!

One family couldn’t come camping with us because they were traveling, but their dog got to come since we were dog sitting.

As you may recall, with anyone, newbie, or experienced camper, there’s a need to be properly prepared. And who especially makes the emphasis on being prepared? Ya, me. “Take Only What You Need, But Still Be Prepared. When I pack for a trip my thoughts are usually, what’s going to keep me warm and comfortable for where I’m going (check the weather!), and do I have enough food.” Do you remember reading these words from a couple of weeks ago in my post on Camping Advice for the Newbies?

Our son is trying to give Nutmeg a hug

Our son is trying to give Nutmeg a hug

Craig came home from work, hooked the truck up to the trailer, and took off for the county park to get set up. I continued to pack up last minute stuff, and once the kids were up from their naps we loaded in the dogs, kids, stuff, and met everyone at the park. By this time it was dinnertime and some families were underway with their meal preparation (including take out from Wendy’s). My husband mentions that we too should fire up the stove and feed the kids. After a few seconds of thought, I realized I had left the cooler with all the food on the kitchen floor!! At least I followed my own advice for, “Pick a Campground Near Home.” I can’t imagine how disappointed, no, upset, my family would be to forego dinner and s’mores. I am so thankful we were only ten minutes from home.

Hanging out after dinner

Hanging out after dinner

So we ate a late dinner. At least it was easy: heat up the spaghetti sauce, boil the noodles, and eat strawberries while waiting for the first two.

In the mean time the kids were able to explore the campsite and some of the campground. The nice thing about having a group site instead of a couple of regular sites was the space. The kids had more area to roam around while still being in the campsite. They picked weeds, played in the dirt, played with the dogs (two other families brought their dogs too), rode bikes and trikes, sat in the camp chairs, watched us eat our spaghetti, played in the trailer, and did whatever moved them at the moment. Some Riverside mounted patrols were their on vacation with their horses. Of course the girls were loving seeing all the different colors and type of horses, smelling the hay and manure, and talking about horses with the policemen and policewomen. Wait, maybe that was me.

Riverside Mounted Posse horse name Kingsford. His coat really did look like a briquet.

Riverside Mounted Posse horse name Kingsford. His coat really did look like a briquet.

S’mores were on time.

S'mores!

S’mores!

Someone had the ingenious idea to get flexible light sticks for the kids. While the kids were running around in the dark it was actually possible to keep track of their exact location. 

Group Camping Learning Curve 2014-06-24 Kids and Light sticks

After pumping the kids full of sugar and running them around extra, it was time for bed. All the other families were so well equipped. We had brought along our pop-up tent trailer to make sure everything worked on it for a longer trip that we’re planning for later in the summer, so I had left the sleeping bags at home thinking we wouldn’t need them as no one in our group indicated they were short bags. We have designated sheets that stay in the camper for the beds, so I was making them.

Hanging up the lantern. Our son didn't get the memo about no phones while camping.

Hanging up the lantern. Our son didn’t get the memo about no phones while camping.

We have down comforters that we also use for the trailer, but these are usually stored in our closet at home to be used for the 2 nights out of the year where it actually gets cold enough in our town for us to use them. Lo and behold! They are still in our closet at home! Once again, thankful for our ”Pick a Campground Near Home” advise. Craig drives home at 9:30 at night.  I don’t think my family would have been disappointed or upset with this one but downright grumpy as they shivered through the night without down comforters.

Finally asleep

Finally asleep

So around 10:30 at night our kids finally got to bed. After one night of camping I think it took them three days to detox from such a late night. Detoxing in the form of crying fits, temper tantrums, and several behaviors stemming from lack of sleep that I’m sure you could name. Nonetheless, we finally got them down. Craig and I were ready to play cards or talk by the campfire, but when we came out all our friends had gone to bed already!

We finally got to play cards in the morning

We finally got to play cards in the morning

After crawling in, apparently only 1.5 – 2 hours of sleep was enough for me. The rooster in the schoolyard next door to our campsite was cock-a-doodle-dooing most of the night. To make things worse, my husband slept through it all.

Once again, I am thankful for ”Pick a Campground Near Home” because we have six Starbucks in a town of 50,000. They all happen to be walking distance from my house too. One of our camping friends was having her birthday that day and so her husband drove to the nearest one to the park and picked us up some joe. Can I say that this is camping Orange County style?

Taking advantage of having a Starbucks near the county park

Taking advantage of having a Starbucks near the county park

Some things we learned from our group camping experience:

  • We had so much fun! It was worth the amount of work putting into organizing, rallying the families, instructing them on how to prepare, and expense.
  • We had several families back out at the last minute. This is OK, happens with any activity, and is to be expected. People are so busy these days and I’m OK with them saying no. Camping can be exhausting, especially if not used to it, or if you forget your food and bedding at home.
  • The families who were unable to come, both those that initially said no and those who had to cancel, all expressed wanting to go at another time. I think rather than reserving a group camp and trying to sync everyone’s schedules again, I think we will just give everyone our camping schedule and the location of where we will be camping each month, as our family makes a point to go camping once a month. If a date and place works for one or more of the other families then we’ll be bringing them along.
  • Instead of spending so much energy ensuring everyone has what they need, I need to pay more attention to ensuring I have what I need.

How have your group camping experience gone? What sort of lessons learned do you have?

Camping Advice for the Newbies

So coming up real soon we have the privilege of taking several of our friends camping! Clearly camping is something we love to do as a family and have found a good routine to make it happen frequently and also look forward to the refreshment it brings to our lives. For families who have not worked their way to this point (and many may not want to!) the thought of going camping with the whole crew may be overwhelming and very daunting. We have found a few things that seem to help take away a lot of the stress and reduce the prep time involved for these families that are coming along with us, so everyone, including us, can just enjoy the time we are spending together in the great outdoors! After all, isn’t that what our goal is?

Nana and Kid #1 enjoying the sunset reflecting off Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley.

Nana and Kid #1 enjoying the sunset reflecting off Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley.

So if you’re an experienced camper and bringing along the newbies, or are a newbie looking for some advice, here are a few recommendations we have:

Pick a Campground Near Home. There’s something daunting about going hours from home on a brand new adventure. Sounds like a lot of fun to me, but for something like a camping trip it may be easier and more prudent to stay close to home. If you find you don’t like camping, there’s an issue, kids are screaming all night, or whatever it may be, it’s easier to cut it short if the drive isn’t so cumbersome. For us, we’ve found that our non-camping friends are actually more excited to go camping knowing the location is close by. Some of the families who are unable to spend the night because of activities happening early the next day are planning to still eat dinner with us and enjoy s’mores and the campfire before heading back home. So at least part of the camping experience is accessible to those who would have otherwise been unable to come.

We love the local county park for grandparents, in laws, and friends to camp with us!

We love the local county park for grandparents, in laws, and friends to camp with us!

Use This Trip As a Test Drive for a Bigger Trip. Make the camping trip a one-nighter. This reduces stress, makes things as simple as possible, and isn’t a drain on anyone’s schedule. This coupled with the location close to home helps make the trip more of a win-win. I’ve already had families tell me they’re relieved for the one night only because there’s not as many clothes to pack, food to prepare, and so on. Their focus is more on just getting out and having fun with the family. If they like it then, this baby step of a trip will lead to more excitement and more confidence with preparation and planning for a bigger trip. From our angle, we just “upgraded” our tent trailer so this is a perfect opportunity to test it out before we take off on much longer excursions planned for later in the summer that are a lot further away from home.

An overnight trip test drive close to home can make a longer trip in faraway places more enjoyable and make you better prepared.

An overnight trip test drive close to home can make a longer trip in faraway places more enjoyable and make you better prepared.

Make Meal Preparation As Simple As Possible. There’s something to say about a grilled steak, fire baked potato, and grilled veggies going well with camping. However, bringing along this fresh food can be overwhelming with preparation, packing, planning, etc. for someone who hasn’t gone through the drill before. Hey, it can be overwhelming for me to if the family is going through a busy season surrounding the camping trip. Keep the meal as simple as possible. My recommendation? Plan for something simple and easy to eat a few days before the trip such as spaghetti, chili, stew, or similar, but make a double portion. This way you eat half for dinner that night and put the other half in the back of the fridge to reheat at the campsite a few days later. Or, you can do this a week or even earlier and just freeze the other half so all you have to do is grab it and go. 

Having little squawkers along is reason enough to keep the meals simple.

Having little squawkers along is reason enough to keep the meals simple.

Take Only What You Need, But Still Be Prepared. When I pack for a trip my thoughts are usually, what’s going to keep me warm and comfortable for where I’m going (check the weather!), and do I have enough food. So that’ll cover the basics: tent, sleeping bag, sissy pad, flashlight, etc. to keep us cosy at night; basic cooking gear such as stove, pot to reheat dinner and heat water, frying pan for bacon, serving and eating ware; and clothing to keep me comfortable during daylight and warmer stuff appropriate for the temperature in the evening. One night makes it easy because there’s not a lot of need for multiple pairs of one type of clothing. Just one of each of what’s needed. A more extensive list can be found here and some other suggestions for a campsite with kids can be found here.

Even backpacking I'd bring along my down coat in the summer. I like to be warm. However, bringing a whole packet of jello chocolate pudding is not necessary.

Even backpacking I’d bring along my down coat in the summer. I like to be warm. However, bringing a whole packet of jello chocolate pudding is not necessary. At least in a campsite with our friends we can share it!

Borrow and Rent. If you’re a newbie, find others with equipment that you don’t have, and rent if necessary rather than purchasing gear. This will prevent you from buying something that isn’t a right fit for you or your family and give you an opportunity to “test drive” different types of equipment and get an idea of what will work best for your family. Borrowing and renting is definitely a more economical way of getting yourself into the outdoors without a big overhead. In our case, we have accumulated a lot of gear over the years and this enables us to bring people along and equip them with a few things that they don’t want to purchase and eliminates any doubts on whether they should go or not because they don’t have the right stuff. 2014-06-10 Camping Advice for the Newbies  Tent in Death Valley

Have Specific Parameters and Activities in Mind. As adults we usually have already in mind things that require extra awareness such as the hot stove, the location of the fire, how not to get lost on the way to the bathroom, or not wandering into the woods alone. Sometimes in the excitement of going camping it’s easy to let the kids run around to explore the area, because, hey, they’re super excited too! Prior to going camping though, especially if it’s not the usual family activity, is to go over the dangers of the area, and then go over them again at the camp site, and repeat as necessary. This can be not running or even walking near the fire, don’t touch the fire ring even when it doesn’t look hot or there’s not a fire going, don’t go anywhere by yourself, what the specific boundaries are to stay within for the campsite, don’t approach or try to pick up snakes, don’t stick your hands under a rock, log, or anywhere else snakes can be hanging out, don’t walk through the bushes (poison ivy, poison oak), etc. etc. Some of these may be different depending on the region you’re in. It’s easier to provide parameters up front rather than trying to rein in the kids as they’re running around or wandering off.

Kids were told they couldn't go past the stumps. They were great finding ways to play within the boundaries given.

Kids were told they couldn’t go past the stumps. They were great finding ways to play within the boundaries given.

Be Flexible and Understanding. Whether you’re seasoned campers like us bringing along the newbies or you’re the newbies, things may not always go as planned or be as expected. Remember why you’re there and what you’re camping for. The unexpected always makes for great stories afterwards and helps make each trip unique (although I wouldn’t recommend to go looking for crazy adventures). We have some dear friends who aren’t regular campers, don’t have a lot of gear, or experience, but they are so much fun to camp with! They just roll with it and try to make the most of the experience. I love it because in the mornings their kids are running around the campsite with their footies still on from the night and have built a fire and are roasting s’mores before breakfast. They have truly embraced the camping experience!

Here are some of our favorite camping friends taking a break from eating s'mores for breakfast.

Here are some of our favorite camping friends taking a break from eating s’mores for breakfast.

Camping is so much fun. It comes down to finding a way to just get out there with the least amount of hassle and reducing what can be an overwhelming task of preparing to go. If you’re an experienced camper and looking for some camping buddies, try some of these recommendations and see if you can make some camping buddies out of your buddies. And to the newbie camper, I’m still finding ways to improve our prep, things we should of brought, things we don’t need, and so on. Camping logistics is an on going process, but the company is always good and God’s creation is always beautiful and so worth seeing from the middle of it in the outdoors. 

A Giant Sequoia

A Giant Sequoia

 

 

Dry Camping with Kids and a Dog

Recently a friend asked about dry camping with kids. Lately water and campgrounds have been on my mind anyway, as mentioned in my post last week (post link here). I have been thinking about what we do usually when we don’t have easy access to water, how do we prepare to camp in a dry camp, what are we currently doing even in a wet campground to conserve water, and what can we change to make water conservation a natural thing in our family while camping. Here are a few things I’ve come up with. By all means it is not exhaustive. I’d like for us, my family, to improve on our water use practices but of course still make it an enjoyable and realistic experience for all of us.

After thinking through what it is we do with limited water, I realized that even when we go wet camping, a lot of our preparation is the same, except with dry camping we have to bring our own drinking and cooking water. Perhaps you may think that calls for a “duh” but we are accustomed to using water in many situations: washing hands, dishwashing and rinsing, teeth brushing, washing faces and limbs (or more with kiddos), rinsing out dirty clothes to dry and reuse, and so on, all gathered from the friendly campground water spigot. So really it’s the planning ahead, knowing where we can get water, and ensuring we bring enough for all the applications we truly need it for. Well, I think the end result differing from wet camping and dry camping is that we’re probably just dirtier after dry camping. But who cares? We’re camping. If we all stink and are all dirty, we won’t notice as much. Like when everyone eats something really garlicky then no one suffers from smelling everyone else’s garlic breath.

Rinsing clothes and hanging to dry is easy in a wet camp. In dry camp, well, we may all just be a little dirtier.

Rinsing clothes and hanging to dry is easy in a wet camp. In dry camp, well, we may all just be a little dirtier.

So how do we prepare for camping when it comes to water? Here’s what we do for both wet and dry camping, with small differences noted:

  • Make an In Camp Spigot: Have a hand washing station. It seems like unnecessary water use because of hand sanitizer, but we feel so much cleaner and refreshed when we use this with some soap, especially with the kids. What this becomes is our in camp water spigot. For dry camping the water container will need to be filled prior to departure or at a stop on the way to the campground. Need refills? We’ve been known to stop at wet campgrounds on day excursions to use a water spigot. We have a 10 liter container with a handle and spigot. I think over Memorial Day we used about 15 liters of water for this purpose (3 days, 2 nights camping). We used it for toothbrushing, rinsing silverware and some pots, and misc other stuff. With the kids this helps us maintain our regular procedures of washing hands before meals after playing, before bed, etc.
  • Keeping clean: To reduce the amount of water used from our in camp “spigot” a pack of baby wipes for washing faces and getting dirt off hands helps, with some sanitizer to zap the germs. This is really the only time we use sanitizer so the kids are usually pretty excited to rub it on their hands, chemicals and all.
  • Dishwashing: Rather than rinsing dishes, wiping out pots and silverware is an easy non-water alternative. Along these same lines, we often will use disposable silverware and plates. It is very wasteful to us but unfortunately it is what it is sometimes. For us, some pre-planning works to have non disposable utensils and plates available, especially in wet campsites where we can wash after each meal. But in dry camps it may be more practical with the disposable stuff. Or we’ve been known to do a hybrid by everyone using the same silverware but still have the paper plates and bowls.

    Somehow the dishes follow me even on vacations. This is one of the first things we drop in a dry camp.

    Somehow the dishes follow me even on vacations. This is one of the first things we drop in a dry camp.

  • The Pooch: For the dog we fill up 2 gallon bottles of water before we leave so we have water for her on the trip there, back, and for day trips. We use left over cider bottles. I think we used 5-6 gallons total of water for her over a 3 day weekend. That’s including having to replace water in her bowl at the campground because of the kids throwing her food in the water and playing with it. Hopefully as they get older this will be less of a problem. While we’re out and about on a day trip and don’t have our in camp spigot we’ll sometimes use this water for rinsing hands or whatever.

    We love bringing the dog with us! She always needs to have access to fresh, clean water to keep her healthy, hydrated, and happy.

    We love bringing the dog with us! She always needs to have access to fresh, clean water to keep her healthy, hydrated, and happy.

  • Drinking Water: Usually at a wet camp we’d bring nalgene water bottles to fill up at the spigot, but dry camping we’ve found that the purchased water bottles (like a flat from Costco) are sometimes easier because we can keep them in the truck or trailer for easy grabbing. It also ensures that we drink enough water. We always cringe at the expense and wastefulness of the bottles, but it does make our lives easier. If we bring nalgenes we’ll just dump the water in them each time. The kids seem to drink more too because it’s something different they’re drinking out of. This is where I think we can make a change. We can buy the gallon jugs of water to use for refilling our water bottles while in camp or in preparation to go out for the day. Maybe a smaller flat of the half liter water bottles could still be on hand for in the car or for small hikes. Or better yet, reuse the gallon water bottles on a following trip with tap water to save on the expense and from throwing the bottles into recycling after each trip.
  • Meals: For cooking we’ll try to use food that doesn’t require water. That usually eliminates Oatmeal, boxed dinners, or even hot chocolate. If some of these are goody treats that you look forward to while camping then it’s up to you as to how much water you want to bring. Making a dinner ahead of time at home and packaging it in a ziplock or seal-a-meal makes it super easy with the kids since it just has to be dumped into a pot and heated up and requires no water. For breakfast the first morning is usually easy because eggs, bacon, or whatever are still good in the cooler. But if you can keep them cool for another day or so then that’ll delay the use of oatmeal or something else requiring water. In the end it may be easier to bring a jug or two of water to be able to cook what’s easy.

So one thing I’d like to address with dry campgrounds is the pit toilets. No water means no flush toilets. Well, is it not any parents’ fear that their kid will fall in the pit? Sounds gross but also sounds deadly. At the last campsite we stayed at in Sequoia National Forest we had pit toilets, and thankfully we had no incidents. Interestingly enough the pit toilets at Hume Lake had bars about two feet below the seat. It appeared a little comforting to me but little kids are just that, little. And they can fit into small spaces.

The view from our Kirk Creek Campsite was spectacular, but the bathrooms were awful! After we visited this campground went dry. I'm thinking the bathrooms may have actually been improved with this change.

The view from our Kirk Creek Campsite was spectacular, but the bathrooms were awful! After we visited this campground went dry. I’m thinking the bathrooms may have actually been improved with this change.

We are in the habit of bringing a portable potty for the potty trained one to use. As much as possible we convinced her to use it but there was also the novelty of using the pit toilet and nature call #2 that had us hoofing it up the campground road to the pits with the kid happily dancing along the way. She was very responsive to our warnings about the pit toilets and she did a very good job clinging to mommy or daddy’s legs while doing her business. She was not aloud to mess around or stand near the pit. So parents, it can be done. We will still proceed with caution.

As we continue to camp this season, my goal is to make our water use be different by the end of the year than it is now. I’d like for us to reduce the overall amount we need while camping, be more efficient with our water, and find ways to reduce our wastefulness in other areas of camping (for sure disposable eating stuff).

What have you found effective while dry camping with your water use?

You’re One of Us

This week we’ve been recovering from a weekend away camping in Sequoia National Forest. The weekend is always worth it, but the clean up usually takes more days than the camping trip actually was. So I’ll be keeping the blog post short this week to get back to vacuuming peanut shells out of the back seat and sniffing the clean clothes to make sure all the campfire smell got out.2014-05-27 You're One of Us Big Camping Site

In the aftermath of a camping trip there’s a lot of stuff to deal with: equipment to be organized and put away, dirty dishes, laundry, cleaning out the truck, etc. We also review things that happened on the trip, what we took, needed, should change, what made an impression on us, and so on. Even so, the clean up is not much different than usual.2014-05-27 You're One of Us Teddy Bear in the Woods

But there’s not just the stuff. There are the kids. They too take several days to recover. Late nights, no naps, large amounts of sugar being hoarded by them in the forms of hot chocolate and s’mores, and constant exploration and new areas to roam, are a few components of the camping detox the children must undergo. This is no small feat. Nonetheless I am bombarded by questions of why we couldn’t stay longer, when are we going to go again, why can’t we go potty in the bushes at home, can we have hot chocolate and bacon for breakfast, and so on. Well, I’d much rather still be camping as well.2014-05-27 You're One of Us Boy Setting Up Tent

Lucky for me, they’re still hungry for a dosage of the outdoors. I can send them to the backyard for extra playtime and get to work. Some of the quirkiness of camping is retained as shown in the following picture of my son wearing socks with his sandals, which he is the one who INSISTED he wear the socks with his sandals.2014-05-29 You're One of Us Sandals and Socks Baby

This is actually a dormant trait found in true Washingtonians. It is further explained in a commercial by PEMCO Insurance, based in Seattle Washington. The Youtube link is here.

As we clean up and put away our equipment, clothing, cooking stuff and so on, I am thankful for camping in California because it seems to be a whole lot easier than camping in my native Washington in many aspects. Sure there are usually more people, rattlesnakes, and long drives, but in western Washington they have the rain. There’s always a need for a whole lot of extra clothing, equipment, and gumption to face a weekend of wet camping. So in Washington there is the blue tarp camper guy. If you’ve camped in western Washington, you’re nodding your head yes. If you’re from anywhere else, you’re probably shaking your head in confusion. Watch this.

2014-05-27 You're One of Us Rubber Snake

One of the several snakes we encountered while hiking this weekend.

We enjoy our camping trips here in California. One thing we noted about this trip is the lack of snow in the Sierras and dry outlook for the rest of the year. But really, as Washington is known for it’s rain, California, especially lately, is known for its lack of rain. I may enjoy not having to bring all the extra rain gear and extra pairs of dry clothes, but there’s a sobering reality to the dryness. On our drive home we read billboard after billboard about the lack of water. Googling about water in the Central Valley brings up all sorts of information from politics to farmer’s water rights to the price of produce. Reading provides a lot of information but actually driving through the Central Valley is a sobering reminder of where so much of our food comes from and the desperate need for adequate rain and water supply to sustain a whole complex system of jobs, food, and drinking water for millions and millions of people.

So once again, as I finish our camping trip cleanup and get a chuckle out of my son wearing socks with his sandals, I can remember the days growing up camping with a blue tarp, soggy and cold, ready to pull back on some dry socks to wear with my sandals. But my thinking goes to the dryness of our state, how I use water, and how early it is in the season for campgrounds that we drove past to already be closed due to lack of water. It’s only May. What’s the situation going to be like by August or September?2014-05-27 You're One of Us Jumping Off Sequoia Stump

In past Family Trip Reports of the Central Coast I’ve mentioned how several campsites there have gone dry (Kirk Creek Campground and Plaskett Creek Campground). And that’s on the coast where one would think all the fresh water would be drained to. Well, as a resident of California, I think we’re going to have to get used to pit toilets and packing in our drinking and cooking water.  I guess we’ll be smiling at our campsite neighbors who also have accepted pit toilets and bringing in water as the new California norm, and with a wave say, “Pit toilet and water packer guy, you’re one of us.”

What did you do this Memorial Day Weekend? What is something that stood out to you?

Advocating for the Sustainability of People (Not Just Materials) through Fair Trade

So this is an outdoor blog. We talk about camping, hiking, camp food, preparation, etc. With bringing the kids along there are always lessons on being good stewards of plants, animals, the earth, and the things we have. We are out enjoying God’s creation, let’s not abuse it but take care of it. There are lessons about healthy eating. Camping is not the time to throw out all thought on nutrition, balanced meals, and what goes in and on our bodies. Our bodies are working harder than they do in our normal routine of life, so why not provide them with the nutrition needed. 2014-05-20 Advocating for the Sustainability of People (Not Just Materials) Through Fair Trade Anza Borrego WildflowersSo you get it, we take good care of ourselves and what’s around us. But what about other people? We have the freedoms and means to take camping trips, go on hikes, explore different states, and sometimes even different countries in this manner. We in the United States are the exception to be able to do these sorts of things. Most of the world is wondering where their next meal will come from, or if they know, it’s going to be a meager portion of food. Many people don’t get paid enough to be able to feed and care for their families and some are forced to extreme measures in order to provide and survive. Others are ostracized from their communities because of stigmas of a disease they may have or something they were born with. If we are trying to teach our children to care for ourselves and environment, why not teach them to take care of others too?2014-05-20 Advocating for the Sustainability of People (Not Just Materials) Through Fair Trade Kirk Creek Campsite

Just as teaching camping skills such as putting up the tent, packing a backpack, how to prepare food, etc. is part of what we do with our kids, the actual source of the things we use hasn’t been. Up to this point I’ve been somewhat aware of fair trade, ethically sourced items, and so on. More of my focus has been on reusing, repurposing, recycling the things I already have, and when I can I’ll buy something labeled as fair trade without really knowing the trade information and process involved. Several outdoor companies, such as Patagonia, are known for their recycled garments or sustainable sourced materials, but what is really involved with this and how does this compare with other brands? Are outdoor brands more socially conscious than mainstream, or are they even socially conscious at all? What about the rest of my outdoor gear? What about the things I use in my daily life? The real question I’m asking now is, how sustainable is the manufacturing process for the people who are making the things we use?

2014-05-20 Advocating for the Sustainability of People (Not Just Materials) Through Fair Trade Recycled Toys Made in China

Since having kids we’ve made an effort to buy things, especially toys, made in the US, specifically not China, and of wood or recycled materials. Why? Because the standard of the product is usually lesser than something made in the US, even if the factory where it came from says it’s up to par. My motive has been for my children, and us, to not ingest lead paint, or toxic plastics, and so on. But what about the people who make these things? What is being done about the working conditions and the environment there? Toys may be an issue, but aren’t the clothes I’m wearing an issue too? There are all kinds of chemicals on our fabrics that make me itch unless I wash it with multiple rinses first. If one garment bothers me, what about the people who are making them and handling hundreds of the same garment? These may seem like lots of questions but I feel like it’s only the beginning of my questioning of a complex, convoluted system that has been set up in almost every industry and hasn’t had the amount of questioning, awareness, and education devoted to it that is needed.

It’s time to do the research and start making decisions that will affect people for good. Not just my people – my kids, husband, family, and friends, but people who live in Lesotho (thanks Costco, I had never heard of this country until I bought some work out clothes from you), Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Philippines, India, Thailand, and Nicaragua. I could probably name more but I don’t want to risk waking the kids by continuing to walk back and forth between the closet and computer trying to remember all these countries. Those are just from my outdoors clothing tags: The North Face, Pearl Izumi, Speedo, Mountain Hardware, Smartwool, Road Runner (I actually found one piece made in USA by RR), REI (I found one piece made in Canada), Eddie Bauer, and Icebreaker. My one Patagonia sweater is the one made in Nicaragua. Interestingly enough it listed a website on the tag for manufacturing date and location: pcpsia.com. After several searches I couldn’t find the exact numbers attached to my sweater, but the same sweater (but apparently difference batches) were also made in Yucatan, Mexico and Managua, Nicaragua. I found it interesting that Great King Garment in Taipei was listed as the importer and sometimes Patagonia was listed as the importer. Hmm, OK. Not sure what I was looking for but I’m thinking I didn’t find it.

Clearly my clothes are better traveled than I am. Patagonia knows that recycling stuff is important to it’s clientele because it’s good stewardship of the environment. There are other outdoor brands that are concerned with the same and want to use sustainably sourced materials such as wool, bamboo, organic cotton, etc. These things are important to me and people I know, but I have unfortunately not made the people involved in the sourcing of the materials important to me.

2014-05-20 Advocating for the Sustainability of People (Not Just Materials) Through Fair Trade CoffeeFor awhile now coffee and chocolate have been on my awareness list. Perhaps this is a start. For years I’ve been buying the fair trade Kirkland brand/Starbucks roasted coffee from Costco, and I even wrote a letter last October to Jose’s coffee requesting more information about their sustainability practices as not a lot of information is included on the label. Their response was affirmative but not too descriptive, “In response to your question regarding sustainability, at this moment we are involved in social projects in Nicaragua and Mexico. We have organic coffees and are Fair Trade.” The chocolate industry seems a little less onboard with fair trade, although Trader Joe’s has some bars labeled as Fair Trade, which I will get when we are camping for our s’mores, and Costco has Kirkland brand chocolate chips with some info on the bag, “Costco has co-created an ongoing program to develop a more ethical and sustainable cocoa supply…grown in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.”

Not all the chocolate chips made their way to the end of our picture taking.

Not all the chocolate chips made their way to the end of our picture taking.

Recently I became an Ambassador for Noonday Collection, a socially minded jewelry and accessories company (you may have seen the added buttons to the right on my blog page) committed to providing economic opportunities to the vulnerable by providing dignified jobs, livable wages for them to support themselves and their families, sustainable work, loans, scholarships, and so on. Where there was no opportunity before, there is now with Noonday through the purchases people make. They do not have to work for someone who may or may not pay them or subject them to unbearable working situations, or be unreasonable when it comes to their family. Already in the month I’ve been working with Noonday I have become more aware of the specific situations in the countries Noonday works with. This is one step forward for me to not just being aware but promoting fair trade and sustainable business practices where the people are treated as valuable and as a real person, not just a commodity or a resource to be squandered. The jewelry, bags, scarves, and other things are beautifully crafted by someone who is earning enough to feed their families, to care for them, and even buy a house, car, or even go to school. These are things we take for granted but were unobtainable to these people before becoming part of the fair trade.

Photo graphic Noonday Collection

Photo/Graphic by Noonday Collection

Noonday Collection has recently partnered with the International Justice Mission for a blogging tour to Rwanda. They have a contest going on called #StyleForJustice where anyone can enter to win the trip, partnering with several known bloggers, the founder or Noonday, and a couple of other Ambassadors, to start conversations about the subject of poverty, sustainable work for those in poverty, and to create awareness for the situations these people are in. Read more about it here

This is just a start for me. I would like to educate myself more on what I’m buying, not just how is it affecting the environment, but what affect does the manufacturing have on the person(s) making it. Are they being paid a fair and livable wage, is the working location and environment safe, and so on. What brands of clothing and things do I buy are advocating for these people? Which ones are not? I don’t want to be at the consumer end of a clothing chain using a factory like the one that collapsed in Bangladesh last year.

I challenge you to take a walk with me and think through the sourcing of the things you have and the people who made them. Check your labels. Let’s do some research, read some books, and start making informed decisions. These people don’t have a voice because they may be stuck in poverty or forced into their jobs and have no other option to provide for their families or get other work. We can be a voice through advocating for fair treatment and fair wages, and how you spend your dollars speaks loudly.

What baby step are you going to take towards educating yourself on fair trade? What small step can you take right now to advocate for those without a voice?

Noonday Collection
Style for Justice
International Justice Mission
Bangladesh Garment Factory Collapse

Day Tripping in the Outdoors

For the last couple of weeks we’ve explored a few potential places to go for Memorial Day Weekend: the coast and the woods/canyon. Even though a two to three night camping trip isn’t that long, it’s still a lot to prepare for. There are some busy months that as we approach a camping weekend I really don’t have the energy or the mind to put everything together: meals, clothing, gear, itinerary, etc. Why not just take a day trip instead? 2014-05-06 Day Tripping Capo Beach Watching the WavesThe extra day in the weekend provides for a more relaxing weekend, enough time to chill at home but also spend a day in the outdoors. If you’re thinking this is you, then what are some potential places to go? Well, it does depend on where you live as to what’s available, but when it comes down to it, just pick a spot where you can enjoy the outdoors, your family and friends, and food. Don’t forget the food!2014-05-06 Day Tripping Capo Beach Playing in the Sand

Southern California is notorious for boasting of the potential to surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon and still be home for a nice dinner. As it may be possible, it doesn’t sound very fun with two little kids in tow, although the drive up to the mountains would be a good nap time. 2014-05-06 Day Tripping Capo Beach Dig HereAnd, we could pick up In-n-Out for lunch, another nice perk here in California. Well, I’d recommend to stay in one spot for a day and enjoy all times of the day there.

Picnic Dinner

Picnic Dinner

So what are some places to go?
The beach: play in the sand, eat a picnic or BBQ, watch the sun set over the water (for the west coast of course), and have a beach fire and roast s’mores. See? You don’t even have to camp to have a fire.
The park: play in the grass with balls, frisbees, or whatever else is fun, have the kids play on the big toys, BBQ, read a book, take a walk, or whatever else the park has.2014-05-06 Day Tripping Salt Creek Park Watching the Sunset
The woods or wilderness area: take a hike, bird watch, take pictures, identify plants, have a picnic, BBQ, have a campfire and roast s’mores (depending on if there are fire rings available where you’re at).

Looking for dropped food

Looking for dropped food

The water: go canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing, read a book next to the water, picnic, bird watch, take pictures, etc.

As mentioned in earlier posts, Memorial Day Weekend is a great kickoff to the camping season, but this also includes a welcome to warmer weather, more sun, and of course more time outside, even if it’s just for a day.2014-05-06 Day Tripping Picnic O'Neill Regional Park Food in Water

Where ever it is you go, please always be prepared, especially the further away from civilization you go. Being outside and in sunnier, warmer weather there’s always a chance of being too exposed: drink lots of water, wear sunscreen, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, hats, the proper shoes, and be smart about what you’re doing. 2014-05-06 Day Tripping Picnic O'Neill Regional Park Helping Pull the StrollerIf you’re out hiking, have the ten essentials…and some extra snacks for the kiddos. My kids always seem to be happy when I keep feeding them. Actually, I think I’m happy to be fed too.

Speed bumps apparently double as a playground

Speed bumps apparently double as a playground

Know the dangers of the area, especially if it’s new you may need to look into that. Orange County, where we live, has several wilderness areas that have a lot of fun and easy hiking trails, but these places aren’t just popular with hikers but are popular with the rattlesnakes too. 2014-05-06 Day Tripping Sutton Peak Rattlesnake Hiking BuddyPrepare yourself and your kids for these dangers, whatever they happen to be where you’re at! Be sure to give your kids parameters to remember. For example, if you’re at the beach, let them know that they can’t go past the picnic table on this side, the bathrooms over here, and off this cliff over there. If you’re on a hike, be sure to let them know not to stick their little hands under rocks, on ledges, and so on as they may already be occupied by a critter.2014-05-06 Day Tripping Newport Back Bay Dog Wants to Canoe Also

If you have a pet you’re bringing along, be sure to be prepared for them too and always have fresh water available for them to drink.

I am for sure excited for the weekend. Although, I admit we don’t really have a plan as to what we’ll be doing. Camping is always so fun because it’s like being in a different world where the busyness and chores of everyday life aren’t there. 2014-05-06 Day Tripping Newport Back Bay Dog Swimming after CanoeBut sometimes it is nice to use the weekend to either catch up on all the chores, or even just ignore the chores and spend some extra time reading and taking a day trip or two and still be able to sleep in my comfy bed.2014-05-06 Day Tripping Newport Back Bay Dog Getting in Canoe

So what have you planned for this Memorial Day Weekend? Has anything here given you any ideas of what to do?2014-05-06 Day Tripping Newport Back Bay Dog in the Canoe at Last

Family Trip Report: Kings Canyon National Park

It’s May, but just the beginning. Even so, Memorial Day Weekend always seems to sneak up on us and most of the time we’re unprepared for what to do. Memorial Day Weekend is a great time to jumpstart the camping season. What is the best way to do this? Of course this would be by camping, in our humble opinion. But camping where? Last week we covered the coastal location of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (click here for the post) as a potential spot, and this week we’re going to be heading more inland to a hidden beauty of a National Park: Kings Canyon National Park.

SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS
We visited Kings Canyon National Park on accident last Memorial Day. It wasn’t even our destination but it’s where we ended up. I am thankful that the snow wasn’t around too much last Memorial Day as usually it is there in Kings Canyon over this weekend, causing the roads to still be closed and access limited. According to one of the rangers last year was the first year in several when the canyon was open and accessible for campers like us to explore.

Grants Grove Trees

Grants Grove Trees

Our intention was to visit Sequoia National Park. It seems as if that was everyone else’s intention as well because out of the two parks it has more visitors. It also has reservable campgrounds that were full well in advance. I insisted on getting a reservation, while there were still spots open, but my looking-for-adventure-husband said no, there will be spots open when we get there.

IT’S NOT YOSEMITE
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are usually squished together like they’re the same thing. They’re different but the both have some pretty big trees. Sequoia seems to have lots and lots of trees, but Kings Canyon has that plus the spectacular canyon. It is a longer drive, many times closed because of snow, so it is harder to get to.

Kings Canyon Scenic Highway and Kings River

Kings Canyon Scenic Highway and Kings River

According to the rangers, many people will show up and ask where Yosemite is because that’s really where they were intending on going. Nope, it’s not Yosemite but it’s nearby. Some of the scenery in Kings Canyon is just as beautiful. The parks share a common mountain range and area of the world so they’re going to share similar points but still have their own unique beauty and history. For maps and driving directions for the parks and their proximity to Yosemite please visit this national park website, click here.

GETTING THERE
We entered the parks from the south entrance after going through Visalia and driving seven hours on a Friday afternoon. We reached the Ash Mountain entrance station on Highway 198 leading to the General’s Highway. Thankfully for us there’s a sign at the station indicating which campgrounds in the park are Open and which are Full. They all say Full next to them.  My husband asks the ranger just to make sure they didn’t make any errors on the sign, and the ranger had a full laugh then told him they were all Full by Thursday night. There’s also a sign that there’s no gasoline in the parks as well.

Fire Hydrant to the right of the base of the tree in Grants Grove

Fire Hydrant to the right of the base of the tree in Grants Grove

So we take off up the General’s Highway. If you have a trailer, this is NOT the way to go. We just tent camped but if we had our trailer with us the north entrance through Kings Canyon is the way to go. Sure enough, even as we traveled further north we saw more and more trailers and motorhomes who had knowingly taken the north entrance because of the treacherous, but fun and scenic, Generals Highway. Nonetheless, on our way through the park that we had planned to spend the weekend in, my husband was still in disbelief. We had to stop at some of the campgrounds just to ask the rangers in the entrance booths if it really was true that they were Full or if they were just saying that. This whole thing is not amusing to me as I would prefer not to sleep on the side of the road with a toddler and a baby. But secretly I was getting a kick out of it because my husband likes to wing it sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t work, like at this time.2014-04-29 Kings Canyon National Park Welcome

SUNSET CAMPGROUND
We waved good bye to Sequoia National Park and entered into the Sequoia National Forest. The campground here is Full as well. Well hello there, Kings Canyon National Park. Are all your campgrounds Full too? By this time it was a little past dinner but thankfully not dark yet. We rolled into the Grants Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park and hit Sunset campground. Any clouds that were in the sky parted and the sun shined through and I think I may have heard angels singing: the campground was not Full. It had just opened, that day, so praise the Lord we found a nice spot. The next night, Saturday night, it was Full. Whew! Good thing we came on Friday.

Sunset campground was a wonderful campground. The spaces are not too close but still cozy, all 157 of them. 2014-04-29 Kings Canyon National Park Grants Grove Sunset CampgroundThere are lots of trees around to give it a nice woodsy feel and to keep it cool. Several spots are overlooking a valley to the west so these spots are able to see the sunset. I’m guessing maybe this is where the name came from. It is a little down the road and across the street from the ranger station, John Muir Lodge, and the rest of Grant Grove Village. There’s coffee sold in the lodge. The amphitheater is also close by, and there are two group sites available.2014-04-29 Kings Canyon National Park Grants Grove Sunset Campground Campsite

Campground amenities include flush toilets and running water, water spigots, fire rings, and bear boxes. Pack your food and anything that’s remotely smelly to be able to fit into the bear box. In Grants Grove Village are showers and laundry (coin operated), and if you don’t feel like cooking in the campground there’s also a restaurant there. There’s a nice walking path out of the campground that parallels the road to the village, passing the group camps and amphitheater on the way so you won’t have to walk on the road or drive. We tried out all of the above. Walking on the trail was definitely the best, but once we drove because we had to feed the baby once we got there. There’s a lot of people everywhere at the Village so it may have been better to feed the baby at the campground.

Exploring the campsite with Daddy at Sunset Campground

Exploring the campsite with Daddy at Sunset Campground

There were two ranger programs in the amphitheater while we were there but we only attended one because we just had forgotten after a busy day and a full dinner meal. The rangers did an excellent job going through the history of the area, the logging, and how the parks came into being, not a day too soon. Some history here on the National Park website. Even though the sequoias are such magnificent trees, their wood is not good for anything structural or can be used in large pieces. Many of the trees were felled and left on the ground because they splintered so much from the fall.  The ones that were used were sold to be used for fence posts or roof shingles. It is sad that the magnates would continue to try to log them even though over and over again they would go bankrupt because it just wasn’t profitable. Grants Grove is a tiny area of these magnificent trees that once covered the slopes of the surrounding mountains.

WHAT TO DO IN KINGS CANYON – GRANTS GROVE

Ranger during walk through Grants Grove. Of course our daughter had to check out the fire place while the Ranger was giving his spiel.

Of course our daughter had to check out the fire place while the Ranger was giving his spiel.

We first explored the Grants Grove area. We saw the General Grant Grove that contains a lot of fun history we learned on a ranger led walk, the national Christmas tree, a tree used as a hotel, a cabin, and several other interesting features.

The General Grant, the Nation's Christmas Tree

The General Grant, the Nation’s Christmas Tree

Big Stump is also located in Grants Grove area. I’m sure you can guess from the name what is there. There used to be the mill that processed the trees in a meadow in this area but it burned down at one time. 2014-04-29 Kings Canyon National Park Big stump Mill SiteThere’s a remaining “feather bed” used to soften the blow of one of the trees falling, and there’s a stump, the “Mark Twain” tree,

Bridge to Mark Twain in Big Stump

Bridge to Mark Twain in Big Stump

with a ladder going up to it that makes it almost like a dance platform. A cross section of this tree was sent to the east coast to convince people that the stories of the larger than life trees were real. People still thought it was a fabrication. There are some of these cross sections remaining in museums in the US as well as England.

Mark Twain in Big Stump

Mark Twain in Big Stump

For both Big Stump and the General Grant Grove we were able to push the stroller around and the kids wandered around on foot a bit. At the end of Big Stump though the hike back up the hill to the parking lot is a bit strenuous and pushing the stroller was a challenge.

Big Stump Trail

Big Stump Trail

Panoramic Point is also a pretty view looking east at the Sierras. It’s a very short hike from the parking lot.

Panoramic Point. I'm not sure what he's pointing at, but Hume Lake is below his hand.

Panoramic Point. I’m not sure what he’s pointing at, but Hume Lake is below his hand.

Except that there’s a lookout about two miles away. On a whim we decided to go.

Panoramic Point Trail to the Lookout

Panoramic Point Trail to the Lookout

We didn’t have any extra water, clothes, or anything because we had just gotten out of the car to see the Panoramic Point. Unpreparedness seems to be becoming a theme for this trip. We hiked to the lookout on foot. 2014-04-29 Kings Canyon National Park Panoramic Point Lookout Unfortunately we got there after 5:00pm so it was already closed up but we were still able to climb some of the way up to take in the view. To expedite our trip back to the parking lot we decided to “take a short cut” by walking back on the road rather than taking the trail.

Down the road from the Lookout

Down the road from the Lookout

At least this one really worked as a short cut. We arrived back happy and a little footsore. Looking back it was probably one of the funnest activities we did.

Tops of the Sequoias in Grants Grove are peeking above the other trees to the left of my husbands right forearm.

Tops of the Sequoias in Grants Grove are peeking above the other trees to the left of my husbands right forearm.

WHAT TO DO IN KINGS CANYON – KINGS CANYON
The drive to the actual canyon is quite a ways from the Grants Grove area. The road is curvy but scenic as it makes its way through the Sequoia National Forest.

Middle Fork Kings River merging with Kings River

Middle Fork Kings River merging with Kings River

There are a few things to see along the way: Chicago Stump, Boole Tree, Converse Basin Grove, Hume Lake, Junction View and Boyden Cave. The Caves are operated by a private party but have just recently opened up for tours. We stopped at the parking lot for a pit stop but perhaps next time we’ll take a cave tour. There’s also Grizzly Falls to see prior to actually entering the Park.

Grizzly Falls

Grizzly Falls

While in the canyon some notable things to see are Roaring River Falls. It is just a short hike to a rocky viewpoint.

Roaring River Falls

Roaring River Falls

Zumwalt Meadows also has a loop around the meadow with an accompanying nature hike brochure.

Zumwalt Meadows, Nature Trail

Zumwalt Meadows, Nature Trail

At the end of the road is a ranger station issuing backcountry permits. Of course we stopped here. The wilderness area here is the second largest in the lower 48 without any roads. The area is accessible by trail, and all the roads go around.

Zumwalt Meadows Trail

Zumwalt Meadows Trail

Maybe someday we’ll be able to backpack the area. We’ve done a lot of backpacking in the Eastern Sierras but haven’t attempted the Western side as yet. Maybe when the kids get older…we’ll be bringing them too with their own packs on.

Zumwalt Meadows

Zumwalt Meadows

Overlooking the river is also the Muir Rock. It is said John Muir liked to sit there and contemplate. Now people use it to jump off into the river. I wonder if John Muir did the same occasionally.

Muir Rock

Muir Rock

The valley really was beautiful. We went early in the morning and are so thankful we did. After we hit the end of the road and turned around it was after lunch. Apparently that’s when the crowds show up. We had stopped to see Roaring River Falls on the way back and had to park more than a quarter mile down the road. We hiked further to get to the trail head than the trail was to the look out point. The campgrounds in the canyon were also not Full. The drive into the canyon is definitely further. 2014-04-29 Kings Canyon National Park Throwing Rocks near Muir RockWith Sequoia National Park and the Grants Grove Section of Kings Canyon National Park comparatively more accessible, those areas are catching most of the people and the Canyon portion of Kings Canyon National Park turns into a day trip. However, with the not Full campgrounds, beautiful scenery, the river, and miles and miles of hiking trails, it looks like an awfully nice place to stay at if you really are looking to get away or relax a bit. Next time we go we’re hoping to stay in the canyon and do just that. Next time we go and plan to go to Sequoia National Park we’re making a reservation.

THE JOURNEY HOME
Grants Grove area is fairly small but the trek to the canyon and back is a long one. The last place we got gas was in Visalia. The Generals Highway guzzles the gas pretty hard with the hairpin turns. When it came time to go home, the gas gauge was pointing towards the E. As indicated by the sign when we entered the park, there is no gas in the parks. We decided to exit on the north side of the park, highway 180, and hope it was downhill all the way to a gas station. Well, it was. Of course my looking-for-more-adventures-than-his-wife-husband was wanting to see just how far the truck would take us. This once again was not very amusing to me because I did not want to be stuck on the side of the road with a toddler and a baby. Thankfully we made it to a gas station in a little town outside of the park. I’m thankful the weekend adventures just contained “almosts” because we still got a campsite and still didn’t run out of gas. The funny thing is, I think my husband sees these kinds of things as normal when it comes to family vacations. I don’t see it as normal or desirable when it comes to going on trips. Well, hopefully our next trip to the area will be, better planned out, and maybe even with a gas container stowed in the back of the truck.

What sort of memorable camping “almosts” have you had? Is there an out of the way camping place you’re looking to go back to soon?

Some links that may be useful:
Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park website
Campgrounds in SKCNP
Park driving map to SKCNP
Area maps SKCNP
Campground Reservations

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Storage Closet