Thursday, July 10, 2014

But I Can't Camp With A Baby!

Some of you like the idea of camping, but your kids are still very young and in diapers. Or you may even have a newborn. Don't rule out a fun camping weekend just yet!

Camping with babies and toddlers does take some extra planning and flexibility, but it can be done. Here are some tips and suggestions.

Ditch the stroller. "Are you insane?" I hear you cry. Yes, but that's not the point. Look, a stroller is great for sidewalks, roadsides, and the mall. It is a royal pain in the patootie if you're trying to go for a walk in the woods. The wheels get caught on tree roots and lurch over rocks. Both you and your child will be Very Angry. Leave it home.

"But I can't carry them the whole time." you say. "My arms will fall off!" And you'd be right, if I expected you to hold them in your arms. But what if I told you about a miraculous thing called baby wearing? There are big-name brands out there willing to sell you a baby-wearing rig for big-name bucks. But for a weekend camping trip, there's no need to spend lots of money for a new carrier that you or your kid may or may not like. Check around for a local baby wearing group. Some of them have lending libraries of different carriers that you can basically rent for a limited period of time.

Or, if you're in a rush (like I usually am) and need something right now, you can make your own. The Internet is a great resource for tutorials on making and tying a wrap carrier. A cotton-knit, no-sew, stretchy wrap carrier can be made in 5 minutes. Spend another 15 minutes online watching how-to videos for wearing your baby or toddler, and you're all set to try it yourself!

"What about bottles?" That's a great question; I'm glad you asked! Your preferred powdered formula brand probably has a pre-mixed variety you can use for the weekend. Another tip is to pre-fill baby bottles with safe water (mixing instructions state that the powder be mixed with boiled or bottled water), & stash them in the cooler. You then add the powder and shake to combine just before feeding. Some babies like the cool drink in the summer months; if yours still prefers to have their bottle warm, you can heat the bottle in a pan with a couple inches of water over the fire or camp stove. Obviously, you will shake it and test it on your arm to ensure a safe temperature before plugging it into your baby's mouth, because you're responsible like that.

Diapers are pretty much a given with tinies. I've camped with kids in disposable diapers, and I've camped with kids in cloth diapers. I've camped and run out of disposable diapers and had to MacGyver a cloth diaper out of a dishcloth, then fashion a cover out of a plastic grocery bag! Just take a bag for dirties and make sure you pack more diapers than you'll need, and I promise, you'll be fine. My rule of thumb is to take a dozen more per kid than you think you'll need. And remember to pack wipes and diaper rash cream!

Take a play yard (formerly called play pens when I was but a wee lass). It will do double-duty as a safe place for baby as you make or break camp while also acting as a nice, comfy bed. And sleep is a huge deal for parents of small children. You'd like to get some, amirite? Generally, there's enough going on that camping kids are worn out and sleep better.

One last thing: make sure toddlers get their own flashlight or light stick. They will annoy you with it, true, but they will be occupied and more importantly, feel empowered once it gets dark. It's generally around bedtime that toddlers stop thinking of camping as a fun adventure and realize they're outside at night. The light will be part talisman against scary sounds, part light-saber to defend against imagined scenarios. It's also handy for making silly faces or shadow puppets to distract any littles who become frightened.

See, you can camp with your baby! Is camping with a baby more work? Sure, but life in general is more work with kids. You can make this happen with a little extra planning.

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

But What If It Rains?

So, you've planned your camping trip down to the last detail, packed your gear, and are ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Except, it's raining. And raining. And raining.

Don't despair! There are still plenty of things you can do as a family in the rain.

Go frolic. Well, not frolic, exactly, but if it's not a thunderstorm, there's no reason you can't go out for a walk. If you don't have ponchos (and the campground store doesn't sell them - or you don't want to become a victim of highway robbery by paying $15 for a $1 piece of plastic), cut holes in trash bags to make your own. Let the kiddos splash in puddles. Explain the water cycle to them. Watch the wildlife that enjoys the rain and point out which critters are absent.

Play games. Our family loves Farkle, which is easy enough even our 2 year old can play - and sometimes wins! A deck of cards is also great to bring, because they are compact and there are so many variations you can play. Little ones can simply match colors or numbers, or adults can play poker or Texas hold 'em. Beyond that, there are games like charades or concentration which don't require packing anything extra.

Take a drive. If you've dealt with rainy weather several days in a row, you're all probably tired of seeing the inside of your tent or camper and/or being wet. Take a drive and see the surrounding areas. Stop off at points of interest to your family members. Make sure to visit things that are fun for the kids, too, not just hit all the antique stores for Mom. Go ahead and visit the local ice cream parlor; use the time to really listen to your kids talk about their experience (even if they're complaining about the rain!) and be sure to share your (least) favorite parts, as well.

The most importing thing is that you're bolstering your relationships and encouraging family unity.

Monday, July 7, 2014

So, You Want To Go Camping?

Depending on your preferences and past experiences, just the word "camping" brings to mind something wonderful or something to be avoided at all costs.

If you've been bitten by the camping bug and want to give it a shot, here are some quick and dirty tips.

1. Plan your trip.
By this, I don't simply mean making reservations at a park. Yes, absolutely, make your reservations, but also plan what adventures you'll have while camping. Hiking? Swimming? Fishing? All of those activities will require specific gear you'll need to pack. Which brings me to

2. Make a list.
There are some people who love lists. They love seeing what they've accomplished and ticking off the boxes. I am not one of those people. You might not be, either. In order not to have a huge, overwhelming, seemingly impossible list, I break what I need into three smaller lists: Food, Clothing, & Gear. You can also find printable camping supply lists online.

3. Enlist help.
Assign tasks to your fellow campers. Even kids can help out - just be sure to double-check their work. You don't want to end up like us and have a 6 year old who has 4 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, & no pajamas for a 3-day camping trip!

4. Spread it out.
Don't frantically pack everything the night before or (God forbid) the day of your trip. You will be frazzled and you WILL forget something important. Instead, designate an area in your home (or camper, if you have one, or the trunk of your car) as the camping trip staging area. Everything that goes in that spot will be taken out and packed once you've made sure it's on the list and accounted for.

5. Be efficient.
It's a fine balance to make sure you have everything you need but also don't overpack. Streamline meals by incorporating supper leftovers into the next day's breakfast or lunch. Take one pair of all-purpose shoes (preferably with drainage in case of rain or walking through swampy areas), or if you must, a pair of good quality sneakers and a pair of flip-flops for using in the camp shower. However, you don't want to skimp on first aid supplies (the best way to guarantee needing one is not to pack it!) or dry socks. Plan on at least two extra pairs for each person.

6. Keep it together.
Once you've made camp, assign a specific place for gear. For instance, have everyone take their shoes off before entering the tent or camper, and keep them in a bin (or a pile) just inside to protect from creepy crawlies. Hiking packs can go in the car or (if they contain food), can be tied together and suspended from a tree branch away from the site to deter scavengers.

7. Clean it up.
When you break camp, be sure to leave everything as you found it. Thoroughly douse your campfire, gather your trash, and be certain you've packed all your gear.

Following these tips can help keep your adventure from becoming a misadventure. Have fun!