Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park

One great thing about living in Southern California is being able to camp year round. While almost an unheard of practice in our home state of Washington, we’ve made a habit of setting aside the Thanksgiving holiday long weekend each year as a time to spend outside camping, enjoying cooler weather, and friends who share the same love for celebrating a favorite holiday in gratefulness of our surroundings of flora, fauna, and friends. We were actually surprised by the delightful time at this unexplored park, and, if you’re in the area, encourage you to take a weekend there as well.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Setting Up the Tent

Agua Caliente Campground San Diego County Park Description
The park is located directly south of Anza Borrego State Park and about a one hour drive from Julian, CA. It is surrounded by some foothills and known for its geothermal heated hot springs. There are also several trails out of the campground going to overlooks, nature hikes, and local geographic features. The campground has 140 campsites consisting of tent sites, partial hook-up (electrical) sites, full hook-up sites, a group camp, and also has seven new cabins equipped with temperature controls, two queen beds, and a bathroom.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Campground Aerial View

The park takes advantage of the hot springs through three spring fed pools: an indoor adults-only (age 14 years plus) jacuzzi-jet therapeutic pool heated to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and outdoor cool-pool that produced violent shivering from all my family members while they were in it, and an outdoor kid pool that happened to be under construction while we were there. And of course the kids took advantage of the warm pool runoff stream by playing in it as they would any other small creek.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Digging in the Creek

Family Activities in the Park
The Pools: This is one of the main draws to the park. As mentioned above the only pool open for the whole family to enjoy together was the cool pool. I’m not sure what the temperature was supposed to be but it was even colder than the local swimming pools we have at home. All ages had trouble getting in and staying in the pool. Especially teenaged campers we observed  would anticipate the colder water temperature by daring each other to be the first to jump in as if they were making a suicide jump off an ocean cliff. Our kids, aged two and four were in love with the idea of swimming but spent most of their time clinging to the wall, too cold to move, while my husband danced around in the pool in an attempt to not lapse into hypothermia. Our camping friends who stayed in the tent site next to ours would also sit on the stairs leading into the pool with their children clinging to the handrail. The mom several times waited until her husband was parked next to the kids in the cool pool and would take off to the indoor adult pool to thaw out for a half an hour and then come back to extract her popsicle children and husband from the pool. The outside temps maxed low 80s, furthering the gap of the water temperature differential, rather than creating a refreshing effect that perhaps the pool water was intended to be.

Sorry, no pictures of the pools, but here are some potato pancakes we ate for breakfast one morning!

Sorry, no pictures of the pools, but here are some potato pancakes we ate for breakfast one morning!

The pool facilities were almost immaculately clean and it was clear the rangers were hard at work several times a day to keep it that way. The indoor adult pool has a communal changing area attached to it, complete with separate rooms for individual showers, toilets, lockers, and a couple of sinks. The showers are controlled with Chicago faucet push buttons that only emit the warm spring water. There are other bathrooms in the campground, also extraordinarily clean, that have quarter showers where the temperature can be controlled. Also, the pool house and the campground restrooms all had soap with the sinks! I can’t remember when the last time I’ve seen this in a city, county, state, or national park campground!

Barrage seen on the ridge from our campsite

Borrego seen on the ridge from our campsite

Hiking: There are several trails leading out of the campground into the the surrounding landscape. Many are easy enough for our small kids to tackle. After nap times and before dinner each evening, the kids and some adults would take a hike as the temperature had cooled to pleasant (even in November the temps get into the mid 80s!), amply working up a dinnertime appetite. The campground trails are as follows:2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Campground from Viewpoint
Desert Overlook Trail – 0.25 mile (considered steep)
Ocotillo Ridge Trail – 0.5 mile loop
Marsh Trail – shares part of the Ocotillo Ridge Trail then connects with a trail that follows the wash out of the campground. Maybe it’s 0.25 mile+
Nature Trail – 0.25 mile
Store Trail (Yes, there’s a general store that sells mainly ice, ice cream, and alcohol) – 0.25 mile
Airport Trail – Not indicated on the county’s trail map, but the airport is about one mile from the park. The airport is 160 acres with one runway. The kids loved watching the small planes take off and land.
Moonlight Canyon Trail – 2.5 mile loop
On Sundays there are ranger led trail hikes.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Fork in the Trail

Playground: Remember the tall slides with minimal handrails and long swing chains that give enough momentum to launch yourself 15 feet in the air if you bail out mid-swing? Well, you too can now relive your childhood and so can your kids. The playground does consist of a very tall slide, one long chained swing, and a metal bar jungle gym. Our kids had a lot of fun with no incident.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Old School Slide

Potential Proximity Adventures: Both Julian and the southern entrance to Anza Borrego Desert State Park are an hour away, in different directions.

By the last day, the kids were slowing down with their play

By the last day, the kids were slowing down with their play

Hanging out at the campsite: This is always an option at any campground. I think because we went over Thanksgiving weekend a lot of the other campers chose to do this too so the campground was actually pretty noisy most of the time. We had a big advantage for the kids with the stream flowing between the two campsites we reserved. All the kids in our group spent the majority of the time in the creek. 2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Repairing the DamThe adults were then able to munch on snacks not allotted for kids and play board games. As we have kids who are still napping, our afternoons were spent inside our popup camper with “napping” kids (they were really just antagonizing each other, reading, or resting a bit). Because it’s really dry the shaded areas were very pleasant even when the sun was intense and hot.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Hanging Out in the Campsite

General Thoughts About the Place
People definitely pushed the allowable noisy hours, but thankfully we didn’t have to suggest to anyone to quiet down. The campsite next to us blared ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, etc. I was kind of disappointed they didn’t play any of The Eagles. Surprisingly our kids slept through several nights of really loud music being played outside the trailer. Perhaps it’s a testament of all the fun they were having during the day that exhausted them to this point. One fellow from our group felt like he was in the wrong campsite as he danced along with their music. Perhaps more bushes need to be placed between the campsites as a couple from the noisy neighbor campsite stumbled into ours looking for whiskey. They were disappointed.2014-12-10 Family Trip Report: Agua Caliente San Diego County Park Tent Trailer in the Campsite

I wouldn’t call having noisy neighbors a bad experience. I overheard them complaining a few times about our children crying in the mornings. Perspective, right. Nonetheless, the campsite we had is one we would try to get next time we go.

Useful Links:

San Diego County Website for Agua Caliente
Agua Caliente Park Map
Agua Caliente Campground Map
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Julian, CA

Chocolate Companies’ Plans To Eliminate Child Labor and Slavery

Last week we started a mini-series on s’more chocolate. The topic and title of last week’s blog, Is Your S’more Chocolate Made using Child Labor and Slavery, covered a small summary of child trafficking and child workers on cocoa farms. We are continuing on the topic of s’more chocolate this week by looking into what the large s’more companies say they are doing about the issue.

My family is a little intent on eating ice cream in somewhat regular intervals, so it was no surprise when I get a phone call on my way home from errands one day to swing by the store and pick up some ice cream. While I was at the store, I thought I’d check out the candy aisle to see what fair trade chocolate was available. The chocolate candies stretched down half an aisle. After looking up and down the shelves, all I could find was ONE chocolate bar that had any resemblance of fair trade certification. It was a “silky smooth Dark Chocolate Dove” bar, of all things, with a “Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa” seal on the wrapper. There were no other chocolates with a fair trade certification or even a claim to sustainable farming practices. None. I was amazed. It had been thirteen years since the big boys in chocolate signed the Harkin-Engel Protocal to start on a path to eliminate child slavery on cocoa farms. I was expecting a little more than one type of Dove bar (Dove is made by Mars).

When I was explaining to my husband this candy bar was the only one in the grocery store with a certification, he grabbed it from me and ate half before I could finish my sentence.

When I was explaining to my husband this candy bar was the only one in the grocery store with a certification, he grabbed it from me and ate half before I could finish my sentence.

Hershey bars are usually what pops into everyone’s mind when the topic of s’mores chocolate comes up. In recent years we’ve expanded our tastes and have tried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Ghirardelli salted carmel, white chocolate, cookies ‘n’ creme, mint chocolate, etc. My favorite two are Reese’s and Ghirardelli salted caramel. That is, until I started researching the chocolate industry. Now I’m not sure (tune in during the next couple weeks as I’ll be hopefully finding a new favorite!). In light of last week’s post, briefly summarizing the atrocities of child labor and slavery used to harvest cocoa, I really do want to give big chocolate the benefit of the doubt, see what they’re saying about this issue, and see what sort of plans they have laid. I’m just going to hit a couple of the big companies that source s’more chocolate that we have used, as of course, we’re a little biased as to what chocolate around here should be used for.

HERSHEY

S’mores chocolate bar options (at least what we’ve tried out): traditional milk chocolate bar, Cookies ‘n’ Creme, Special Dark, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

“Bringing sweet moments of Hershey happiness to the world everyday” is Hershey’s Mission, as shown in the July 2014 Fact Book by Hershey. I’d like to believe that is true for everyone from the farm workers to the consumer. Hershey is a consumer-driven company, and engages in manufacturing, distribution, and sale of consumer food products, as also stated in the fact book. Even with this statement, the pushback from society on to Hershey to reevaluate the farming practices of where their cocoa is sourced, has forced the company to look further up the supply chain rather than just from whom they are purchasing the imported cocoa products (cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, and cocoa powder). The Fact Book is very detailed about the market information that is directly in their control, but the section on the cocoa supply I find ambiguous by only stating, “The cocoa beans utilized by our suppliers are imported principally from West African, South American and Far Eastern equatorial regions. West Africa accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s crop,” as found on page 52 of the July 2014 fact book. I would like to know the percentage of cocoa products originating from West Africa used by Hershey rather than the world’s percentage, but from reading between the lines I am guessing a large amount of Hershey’s cocoa comes from this region.

On page 24 of the fact book there is line item 107 that does address the use of child labor in the West African cocoa producing countries. “In October 2012, the Company announced that it will source 100 percent certified cocoa for its global chocolate product lines by 2020 and accelerate its programs to help eliminate child labor in the cocoa regions of West Africa. Certified cocoa will be verified through independent auditors to assure that it is grown in line with the highest internationally recognized standards for labor, environmental and better farming practices. As Hershey increases its use of certified cocoa, the company will also continue to support community-based programs with local African partners, national governments and development agencies. These projects include village school construction, mobile phone farmer messaging, literacy and health programs and training in modern farming techniques.” Here is a link to the press release of this initiative.

I am disappointed that Hershey did not resolve to do this following the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol thirteen years ago, but I am thankful they have this one on the books. I am in doubt as to whether it will actually happen, but I am hopeful. If a company as large as Hershey (Top 10 chocolate companies Wordwide) starts sustainably and responsibly sourcing their cocoa, that can make a big difference in the lives of thousands and thousands of people. Hershey has not only said they would do third party certifications, but have also developed a program to aid farmers with their business growth as part of its $10 million commitment to improve farms, healthcare, and community growth. In 2012 it started out by targeting the Assin Foso district in Ghana’s central cocoa region to, “help more than 1,000 farm families and 5,000 cocoa community members improve their livelihoods by learning the latest in modern farming techniques and agricultural stewardship, including appropriate and inappropriate uses of labor,” (source).  

The good news is, it appears Hershey has continued to expand on this program. In October 2014, they issued another press release about the Learn to Grow’s spread into the Ivory Coast. By 2017 Hershey plans to have enrolled 19,000 more farmers in the program. Here’s a quote taken from the press release: ‘“This significant expansion of the Hershey Learn to Grow Cote d’Ivoire farmer training and community development program is another example of how public and industry partners, who have deep expertise and a commitment to cocoa sustainability, can positively impact the lives of farmers and their families,” said Terry O’Day, Senior Vice President, Chief Supply Chain Officer. “Through skilled trainers, we help farmers raise their income by adopting modern agricultural practices, while also investing in schools and infrastructure projects, important to local communities.”’ It is encouraging to see Hershey covering multiple aspects of the farmer’s and workers lives to help improve their way of life, income, and options they have.

Even though the poor Dove bar is alone in the isle at the grocery store, it appears it will soon have some fair trade friends. “Hershey is committed to buying 100 percent certified cocoa for all of its products worldwide by 2020,” a statement found in the 2012 as well as the latest 2014 press releases. Hershey appears to be addressing the issue directly on the farms, raising the quality of life for not just the farmers but for  the workers, the children (even building schools!), and providing much needed updating to farming practices. “A major benefit of the Learn to Grow Cote d’Ivoire program will be to accelerate Hershey’s purchase of sustainably grown cocoa. Hershey is working with Fair Trade USA to certify many of the farms participating in this Learn to Grow program,” as stated in the same press release mentioned above. My hope is that soon buying a Hershey bar would not just mean more s’more enjoyment for us here in the states, but it would represent that even the farmers and workers in West Africa are also benefiting from sweet moments of Hershey happiness in their life everyday.

Hershey Links of Interest:

Hershey’s latest press release on expanding the Learn to Grow program to the Ivory Coast October 22, 2014
Hershey’s latest press release on the CocoaLink Program September 29, 2014
Hershey’s initial press release of the Learn to Grow program in Ghana April 26, 2012
Learn to Grow/CocoaLink Program website
Hershey’s Cocoa Certification Programs (from Learn to Grow/CocoaLink Program website)

I was also planning on covering Lindt & Sprungli (Ghirardelli) and Trader Joes this week but the information on Hershey is more than I was expecting. Expect to read about these two companies in next week’s post. See you then!

Is Your S’more Chocolate Made Using Child Labor and Slavery?

This week we stepped into the Twilight Zone. No, not the TV show or the Tower of Terror in California Adventure, but IKEA. Have you ever tried to leave halfway through the showroom? On our way out of the checkout line were big stacks of boxes filled with three different kinds of chocolate bars, then surrounded by various other similar stacks full of boxed chocolate, Christmas advent calendars with chocolate, and a plethora of other variations of chocolate. Aside from contemplating the life story of the furniture we just bought, I began thinking about the labor used for the gobs of inexpensive chocolate that lay before us in aisles.

As a camping family we look forward to our times around the campfire as a family, and specifically for roasting marshmallows and stacking the gooey mess into a s’more. However, in an effort to make special memories and have bonding time with my own kids, am I subjecting other kids, who are potentially permanently separated from their families, to a life of slavery? This is a hard question and definitely causes rain on the parade. Even so, I have decided to do a little more looking into the state of the cocoa industry and formulate a conviction of my own chocolate eating practices. Africa is a long way away and has a lot of cocoa farms there, but the thought of my own children (and any other children!) being kidnapped, trafficked to another country, and forced to work without pay, education, access to medical supplies, abused, and not allowed to leave, is heart wrenching and sickening. My stash of s’mores chocolate in the pantry is no longer calling my name in the late afternoon, before a camping trip, or any other time.

Here’s some basic information to get you started:

  • The chocolate industry is expected to be making $98.3 billion per year by 2016.
  • Most cocoa comes from Ivory Coast and Ghana (73% of the world’s cocoa), but is also sourced in Latin America and Asia.
  • In 2001, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by all the big boys in chocolate to voluntarily remove child labor and slavery from chocolate making in accordance with International Labor Organization Convention 182 by 2005. The deadline has been extended to 2008, then 2010,…etc. Before it passed, among other things, it required companies to include a “child slavery free” label on their chocolate or something of that sort. After an uproar from the chocolate companies, that part was eliminated, and in the end there were no consequences written into the Protocol if companies do not comply with the final Protocol that was signed by the parties involved.
  • Tulane University did a recent study concluding the big chocolate companies are not tackling child labor as they agreed, and the problem is still very present.

So…we’re back where we started.

As I started looking into information about child labor and slavery the content of the information was overwhelming as was the quantity of information.  I was hoping to find some recently hard numbers but most of the information has trickled in over the past several years as the issue has gotten more light. The closest information to what I was looking for is the Tulane University study referenced above. Even so, it appears governments, farmers, and conglomerates alike are uncooperative with the world as we are now glimpsing at their labor force practices…or forced labor practices rather.

The children working on the cocoa farms are in general 12 – 17 years old, some older and some younger. They are forced to work, given no pay, cut off from their families (and may never see them again), provided no access to education, are working with pesticides without protection, have no access to proper first aid or healthcare, given beatings for slow work and for trying to escape, and so on ( http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/). The farmers themselves only make a small income through their business that provides no incentives for them or their children to continue in the trade, make improvements to working conditions, equipment, etc., (http://responsiblecocoa.com/the-challenge/), not to mention hardships from crop pests and diseases, wars, and unsupportive governments (http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/03/20/hersheys-mars-sweeten-market-cocoa-farmers).

Business and money making aside, the problem also appears to run culturally. Families live in poverty and are desperate for money are basic provisions for daily living. Parents or relatives may sell their children, send them away with expectations that money will be sent back, or the kids are simply kidnapped while walking along side the road. Some are lured into a car with the promise of money to send back to their families. Children are kidnapped in poverty stricken villages located in neighboring countries and trafficked across borders to the cocoa farms. A girl rescued at the Mali border while attempting to be trafficked to the Ivory Coast, as shown on the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate, gives off the distinct impression that she is not happy, to say the least, about being sent back to her parents without money.

I can only imagine that a life lived in this way would truly be like the Twilight Zone, but with no exit door hidden in the corner like at IKEA. The issue runs deep and is multi-faceted. I don’t feel like anything I write could do the situation justice or paint the picture that needs to be painted. I encourage you to click on the links in this blog to read for yourself some of the information. I don’t know what the best solution is for this, although I do think the big chocolate companies need to really step up and address the issue. How am I personally going to address the issue? When I buy chocolate I want to make sure it is legitimate fair trade chocolate. Chocolate isn’t a necessity but a special treat, and if the cost is a little higher for fair trade, that’s OK. I am sending a message through my purchases. I can encourage companies to have a positive social impact, or I can be OK with getting what’s cheapest just because the cost and availability while turning a blind eye as to why it’s inexpensive. The price really isn’t cheap as children’s lives are being used to provide me with this chocolate. Thankfully, there is a growing amount of legitimate fair trade chocolate companies to choose from (List of Fair Trade Chocolate to Buy).

In coming weeks I plan on discussing the fair trade chocolate, what our favorite makers of s’mores chocolate are doing (and not doing), about the situation, and my favorite, a review of different fair trade chocolates available to be used as s’more chocolate.

What is your favorite s’mores chocolate? How are you going to address the situation?

Some more interesting links worth reviewing:

http://www.worldcocoa.org

http://responsiblecocoa.com

http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/
Organization Set Up as Part of the Harkin-Engel Protocol
Here’s a brief info graphic on the cycle of cocoa by CNN:
Cocoa-nomics Explained Infograph.
Here’s another
info graph with some interesting pricing information from “bean to bar.”
CNN’s Special Series on the Cocoa Industry and Child Labor and Slavery

Kid’s Play in Anticipation of Being in the Outdoors

As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, we LOVE to be out camping, hiking, and enjoying God’s beautiful creation. Our kids soak up the whole experience each time: birds, critters, sounds, smells, sights, rocks, dirt, whatever it is creating the present experience for their little minds to become enthralled and absorbed in. However, we have our everyday life to attend to between outings. So what do we do when the kids are itching to get into the outdoors? We don’t really have any tricks up our sleeve, but we try to make our everyday fun activities into play with an outdoor slant to it. Here are a few of them. You too can join us in these fun things in anticipation, or even in preparation of the next camping trip.

Daily walks always involve picking up sticks, rocks, observing bugs, flowers, etc.

Daily walks always involve picking up sticks, rocks, observing bugs, flowers, etc.

1. Take daily walks. We need the exercise anyway. The kids are starting to get old enough where they don’t want to ride in the stroller anyway. They are usually asking to go hiking or camping every so often, so to motivate them, and me, I suggest we go on a walk to help keep our bodies in shape. That way when we do go for a hike we can enjoy our time in the outdoors rather than having to turn back before we’d like to because of tired little legs.

2. Pitch a tent. I’m not meaning an actual tent (although that’s definitely an option). I mean ye ol’ blanket fort in the living room. We can pretend it’s a tent. Add some flashlights and the kids keep entertained for long enough for me to do the dishes.

3. Read books. We love going to the library anyway. When we’re missing camping a lot we’ll check out books at the library that have to do with camping. We’ve exhausted the supply of camping and outdoor themed children’s books at the local library, but we do have some favorites we go back to.

By no means is our list exhaustive (as these are the titles we’ve checked out at the local library), but these are a few the kids have enjoyed reading:
Because Your Mommy Loves You, by Andrew Clements
A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, by Chris Van Dusen
Sally Goes To The Mountains, by Stephen Huneck
Monk Camps Out, by Emily Arnold McCully
The Berenstain Bears Go To Camp, by Stan Berenstain

and their favorite one, is
Three Bears of the Pacific Northwest, by Richard Lee Vaughan.

We didn’t get it at the library, but it was lovingly supplied by Nana and Papa, along with three stuffed bears who resemble the three bears in the story. They only get to read it when Nana and Papa visit, which really usually only happens when we go visit them at their home or when we meet “half way” between our homes at a camp ground. Nonetheless, they’d love to read it between camping trips if they had the opportunity.

4. Go through past pictures. We keep all our pictures digitally, and many times after we come back from a trip we don’t have time right away to go through them to delete the blurry ones, or the ones where we have our eyes half opened, or whatever. The kids love seeing these pictures from past trips and remember the fun we had, along with coming up with ideas of what to do on future trips. While they’re reminiscing I’m able to sort through the pictures.

Casper's Wilderness Park Adventure Great Horned Owl

Casper’s Wilderness Park Adventure Great Horned Owl

5. Go to a local ranger talk, star party, or other outdoor activity. The local county parks have ranger talks every Saturday that are open to public, not just campers. The only fee is for day parking, but it’s a fun, educational evening out with the family when the camping hankering comes along, or if we’re just looking to do something. Some of the parks have once a month “star parties” where local amateur astronomers bring in their high powered telescopes and let the attendees check out the stars. A lot of the county parks have playgrounds that are outdoorsy themed. Occasionally when we want a change of scenery we’ll go visit the park playgrounds.

I keep thinking of things we love to do in the county parks as I type away. Maybe I should just write up another blog post on those things.

Of course a few other things we do are have s’mores for dessert occasionally in our fire pit on the deck. Even if you do not have a fire pit, many local or county parks, or the beach, have fire rings that can be used to make s’mores.

What are some things you do when you miss camping and being in the outdoors?

The Base Camp That Is Home

You may or may not have noticed the constant sounds of crickets coming from Family Base Camp over the last month or so. The crickets were most likely accompanied by owls hooting, frogs croaking, and the sound of a creek rushing by. At least that’s what I like to listen to when all is quiet.

Manzanita Lake at Sunset, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Manzanita Lake at Sunset, Lassen Volcanic National Park

I wish I could say that in that span of time Family Base Camp got an overhaul, advancements were made on the social media front, and I have a treasure chest full of posts ready to go. Nothing of the sort has happened. Rather, the family behind Family Base Camp has packed up and moved to a different campsite. Yup! We moved.

Kids and dog walking behind out new "base camp"

Kids and dog walking behind our new “base camp”

Although no advancements were made to Family Base Camp, our everyday base camp, ie our new home, now has more room to accommodate for our growing family, and of course all our camping gear. Unfortunately the trailer is still tucked neatly in the garage, but that’s OK, we don’t need a special space for everything in our house, just someplace to put it.

Bridge over "creek" behind our new base camp

Bridge over “creek” behind our new base camp

One thing about being an outdoor family is that our frequent experiences “roughing it” in the outdoors made the whole process of moving more palatable. The timing of our escrows closing gave us exactly one day to move. “Why just one day?” You ask. “You’re crazy!” Well, because we had a camping trip planned months prior that we were set on making. Rather our campground reservations just happened to be perfectly timed. It added an extra edge and urgency to our packing, but it was the best set up for our family.

Paved trail nearby new "base camp"

Paved trail nearby new “base camp”

Before packing up the house we packed everything we needed for the camping trip. No need to worry about that anymore. Food? We brought a grocery list and a cooler with us so we could just purchase what we needed on the way. The kids? Wow, who would have thought the anticipation of going camping would be the needed distraction in what could have been a very upsetting experience for them.

Throwing Rocks into Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Throwing Rocks into Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Really, I think it ended up being a great distraction for us adults too. While in the heat of packing up, moving boxes around, not being able to find anything we need at the moment, and eating eggs for the seventh time in even less days, we could take a deep breath and imagine the lake we’d be reading next too, or the stream we’d be throwing rocks into, or the meadow we’d be hiking through the very next week. Moving, escrows, late nights, scrambled eggs again, and tired children soon won’t even matter anymore because we’d be camping.

Walking on the Logs at Emerald Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Walking on the Logs at Emerald Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

I think I will actually recommend to anyone who is moving to plan a camping trip immediately afterwards. There’s nothing like the outdoors to diffuse any stress or worries and smooth out any big transitions.

Hiking between Terrace Lakes and Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hiking between Terrace Lakes and Shadow Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Even upon our return, the kids were so tired it took them a few days to realize we were not going back to our old house. They asked a few times but I think they are now content to know that our old house is occupied by someone else and we now are blessed with this one.

Hiking in the Woods near our new base camp next to a dry creek

Hiking in the Woods near our new base camp next to a dry creek

That’s one thing I love about camping. Unlike a permanent address, there is always the potential to go back to a beloved campsite. We’ve done it before. It’s like going back to a second home. Settling in is always quicker: I know where the bathrooms are (or the best bush or tree), what water spigot won’t spray all over my shoes, which dumpster has the best bear latch that won’t pinch my fingers, and of course where the best views are, what loop is most enjoyable to walk around with the kids, and so on. A chapter may be closed when it comes to which roof is over our head, but the outdoors is always there. Regardless of where we are at in life, the smell of the woods, sound of water, a chilly breeze, and time spent in the great outdoors is always like going home.

Kids at Manzanita Lake at Sunset

Kids at Manzanita Lake at Sunset

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