Where to Find Interesting People

On our recent camping trip I found myself doing a lot of laundry. I certainly planned on visiting the laundromat at least twice. There are 8 of us, and I did not want to pack two week’s worth of clothing for us. (yes, I know the Duggars do, and they have hanging racks and a trailer just for clothing. . . but we do not have a reality TV show funding our adventures!)

Several days of rain, and the resulting mud necessitated another trip. Little and big boys who failed to supply me with their dirty duds caused me to make two more visits.

Secretly, I enjoy doing vacation laundry. The laundromat is a bit of a getaway (and the Northshore Dairy and Laundromat has a stunning lake view and a front porch perfect for enjoying it.) Essie and I brought the three little girls with us on our first (rain prompted) laundry day. The girls were pretty good, considering that the laundromat can be boring. They pushed around the laundry carts, until other patron’s legs were in danger, and they watched their clothes wash in the front loading machines.

The best part of the laundromat is the people! On that first visit I spoke with a woman who managed a nearby motel. Their commercial washer was on the fritz (during a busy July 4 week!) so she was washing hundreds of sets of sheets and towels at the laundromat. It made my two loads of muddy clothes seem tame.

Then there was the grandma who was washing clothes with her three year-old grandson. She said that he “wanted” to share his M&Ms with the girls. He actually did not look very willing, but the girls were happy to help him share!

I helped a college student who had just returned from the Boundary Waters navigate his first dirty laundry experience.

I had a chance to chat about travel and changes in the airline industry with an ex Pan Am flight attendant.

I learned about  tenure challenges with a retired Washington University Anatomy and Physiology professor.

I heard about backyard barbecues.

I heard about marital troubles.

Some people were very quiet, so I just made up stories about them. I imagined that the young lady wearing cowboy boots with her shorts and folding 20 Western style shirts worked at a dude ranch.

The lady with the swirly skirts? Surely an artist.

I’m hoping that 10 pairs of yoga pants lady was a fitness instructor.

My favorite load of laundry I saw floating through the dryers? A load of fluffy diapers!

Everyone has a story. And a laundromat reminds us of that!

Camp Cooking

healthy camp cooking

healthy camp cooking

Everyone has been asking what we ate, and how I managed food on our camping trip. Food is always my favorite part of every vacation, so I’m glad to share with you!

I heavily relied on the book, The Family Camping Handbook, Real Food in the Big Woods.

My bloggy pal for the first week of the trip, Essie, posted about how she handles food on a camping trip. We share some similarities and differences. The main difference between the two of us is that she brought nearly all of their food with them, which can work for a smaller family on a shorter trip. We knew that we would be camping for at least two weeks and would be feeding at least 8 people and 11 people on the second week. That is A LOT of food. So, I packed some nonperishable foods and we purchased all of our fresh foods in town. By the end of our trip, the good folks at Glen’s IGA knew me! I consider it doing my part to support the local economy.

On this trip, I decided to simplify what I brought to cook with. I’ve been guilty in the past of packing up my entire kitchen to take camping. While that may be convenient…it is a devil to clean up, and we had pretty limited space to pack. So I bought some essentials.

  • coffee percolator (of course)
  • large cutting board
  • 1 good knife
  • 1 large bowl for mixing and serving (I could have used one more, plus a serving platter)
  • 2-quart saucepan
  • colander
  • 2 wooden spoons, 1 whisk, spatula and grilling utensils
  • stockpot
  • 12 inch cast iron skillet
  • 4 quart cast iron Dutch Oven
  • 8 quart cast iron Dutch Oven
  • 10 melamine coffee mugs
  • and I cheated and used all paper plates and plastic utensils
  • 2 burner Propane gas stove (this time we brought a large propane tank instead of little individual ones, it saved us a lot of money, and was less wasteful and far more convenient.)

With all of this equipment, we made some fabulous meals.

One of my dirty little secrets is that I don’t care for hot dogs and I only mildly enjoy bratwurst or sausage. My kids tend to share my feelings on this. So, we did grill some hot dogs and brats on our first and last days, just to be traditional!

The grill grate was clean enough to grill on, however, the grates were too widely spaced! Aluminum foil to the rescue!

I’m not a fan of doling out snacks all day long (though my kids are fans of snacking) so I made sure that they had three complete (usually cooked) meals a day, and then I kept a variety of fruits on hand for snacking. (Nectarines went on sale mid-trip so we ate a lot of those!)

Breakfasts were almost always cooked by my husband. and were usually eggs (fried or scrambled) or pancakes, or both. I brought a large Sam’s Club package of Krusteeze Pancake mix and we finished that and started a new three-pound bag from the grocery store partway through our stay. We love pancakes. We usually added fresh fruit; blueberries were a favorite, and we also added chopped apple, chopped pear, and chopped nectarines on different days. All of the kids, including the twins, loved helping make pancakes!

At lunch, I still cooked, but I did rely on convenience foods for speed. Sandwiches generally don’t cut it for our crew, and let’s face it…cold cuts can get expensive for 8 or 11 people! We usually had macaroni and cheese, canned ravioli, Spam (once for the few Spam lovers in the family) or canned soups.

Dinners were delicious! We had the two hot dog meals, and one desperate, rainy day take-out of Sven and Ole’s Pizza. Other than that, I cooked (with help, of course!). We had chili, grilled pork chops, steaks, and even a beef stew …with a story.

July 4 started out sunny and warm. We went and hiked Devil’s Kettle, we got home and relaxed, and then it began to rain…I had planned grilled steaks for the evening and was going to attempt to “bake” some potatoes in the Dutch oven. But the rain began coming down harder and more intently, so I began to chop the potatoes, then some carrots, then some onions, I crumbled in some ground beef, added a can of corn, a can of tomatoes, some water, some salt and pepper, and popped the lid on. I added some coals to the lid just as the storm finally began to let us know it was really here and I got everyone in their tents. We waited in tents for 3 hours!

When we got out, my “stew” was not very cooked. The coals extinguished early on. So, we transferred it to the stock pot and finished cooking it. Then, my husband decided it needed some thickening…so he added (a bit too much) flour. So we had July 4 porridge stew, but we were hungry, and it was good!

We made a camping version of my stir fry and served it over ramen noodles (with scrambled eggs, as we had had a clumsy egg mishap!)

I made this excellent pan fried zucchini and potato dish several times. I just began the baby reds, chopped up, frying in some butter, then added sliced zucchini near the end. Hearty and delicious!

But my favorite meal, by far, was the roasted chickens! I was determined to master my Dutch ovens. I kept picturing us eating yummy roast chicken for dinner! Then, I was I was in the store and the whole chickens were on sale for $3.99 each. So I picked up two. I was so confident that it would work out that I also picked up some egg noodles to add to chicken noodle soup the next day!

I tossed my chickens in the 8-quart pot, added some quartered red potatoes, wedges of onion and baby carrots. I liberally seasoned with salt and pepper and I added a half cup of water to the pot. I arranged 12 hot charcoal briquettes underneath and another dozen on the lid and I let it sit. I added more hot coals halfway through. After about 2 hours we smelled some great smells! I also made some refrigerated biscuits in the 4-quart Dutch oven…I stacked it on top of the larger oven to save space and to share heat! I should have taken pictures during cooking  . . . but this bad blogger forgot!

We moved the chicken into the stock pot for serving because it was fall-off-the-bone good! Then we stuck the whole pot in the cooler and I made a huge pot of delicious chicken noodle soup the next day!

I even baked a few cakes! The 4-quart Dutch oven is the perfect size for a boxed cake mix! I mixed up the cake according to the package directions and then baked it in the coals. My first cake, which I was making for Essie’s family was a fail! I over-baked it (but the middle was good!). The next one was perfect!

You can see some of our favorite camping pins here.

I think we ate pretty well!

Chime in! What is your favorite camping food?

Healthy Camp Cooking

What Camping Taught Me About Housework

Yesterday we arrived home after a two week tent camping stint in Grand Marais, MN. We had a lot of fun. I was able to spend a week with my best blogger, Essie, and then we spent a week camping with Dakotapastor’s parents and our nephew, CityBoy.

Camping is one of our favorite vacation activities. We’re a large family, so we don’t fly cheaply, we don’t fit legally into hotel rooms, and we don’t even fit into one vehicle at home, so vehicle rentals can get expensive. Camping, however, is relatively inexpensive (our 14 days of camping fees cost the same as 3 or four nights in an average hotel), we can cook the foods we are used to eating for a fraction of what restaurants would cost, and the entertainment is built in.

However, a camping vacation is not necessarily a vacation for me. There is still clean up to do, diapers to change, squabbles to referee, laundry to do and food to prepare. Somehow though, it seems less stressful when we can sit around the campfire and laugh after the kids have gone to bed, or sleeping bag, as it were.

I did come to realize a few things though, on this trip. None of these revelations are earth shattering. They are all things my mom, or my grandma or my aunts have told me. . .but somehow, they make more sense camping.

  • Wash all of the dishes after every meal. I washed a lot of dishes while camping. (to be fair, Dakotapastor did as well, until he grew weary of it.) The municipal campground in Grand Marais has a great dish-washing sink outside the newest bathhouse. While I had to walk there a few times a day, swish, swish, my dishes were done in a wink . . . hot running water is a precious luxury when tent camping. What made dish-washing so simple though? Well, admittedly, we used paper plates and plastic cutlery. BUT, we used reusable mugs, water bottles, AND we ate three hot meals a day, so there was always at least a cast iron skillet to wash. What made dish-washing easy was that there was never a three day, or even one day build up of dishes, rendering the pile insurmountable. Five minutes, and my work was done.
  • Pick a work buddy. For the first few days I lugged the dishes to and from the sink alone. But, not only was that a lonely walk, sometimes I had more dishes than I could comfortable carry. So, I began choosing one boy per meal to help me carry dishes back and forth and keep me company while I worked. They may not have been thrilled, but spending one on one time with each of my kids was worth the groaning.
  • Get up early.It is hard to sleep in with camping. Sunrise comes early, and with it a hot tent. Also, we had the “joy” of a flock of crows that would descend on our campsite every morning at around 5:22. . .it was loud, and more than a little unsettling. But, getting up early allowed us time to have a cup of coffee and to cook a hot breakfast every day. The kids loved the pancakes and loved taking turns making and flipping them. The girls, of course, loved their eggies! Once breakfast and dishes were done, we were ready to take on the day’s adventures.
  • Everybody works. At home, it is easy to take advantage of Mom. She just does everything. And, she could do the same at camp, except, she really would like to go for a hike, or go walk downtown, or go rock hunting. So, in order for mom to not be tied to camp all day picking up after Messies, everyone has to pitch in and help. Some kids fetched water, some took out the trash, others looked for litter, others wiped down tables and chairs. Mealtime preparation was a family affair as well, which kept things running smoothly.
  • Put everything away before going to bed. Remember those crows I was telling you about earlier? Well, I did not like the idea of them picking through our stuff. So we put it all way before bed at night. That way our campsite was safe from all kinds of creatures in the night and we had a clean site when morning came. This can, and should translate well for home as well. Though we may not have critters or birds in our house, we DO have an inquisitive two year-old who is often up with the sun and ready to explore!

I did not think I’d pick up good housekeeping habits while living in a tent for two weeks, but I did! How is that for a vacation souvenir?


How To Set Up Your Campsite

As you might know, @essieburns from The Mommy Diaries and I have taken our families and our blogs on the road to the beautiful Harbor town of Grand Marais, MN.

Essie and I have not been together face to face in a very long (too long) time. We used to live 27 miles from each other and now we live three states away from each other. Such is the deal with pastor’s families.

So, yesterday we both arrived at our adjoining campsites, screamed like schoolgirls, then sized up the nine children. But, after 15 minutes of silliness, it was time to get to work. We had three tents, a screen tent and a dining fly to set up.

This is not my first camping trip, and not our first trip camping with our two families. So, we had worked out some of the kinks. Let me share my camp set up tips with you!

  • Make reservations. Seriously, camping is more popular than ever and don’t expect that you can just roll into a campground, especially on a holiday weekend. We made our reservations a few months ago, and were lucky enough to get two adjoining sites.
  • Scope out your site(s). There are good spots and bad spots within your campsite to pitch your tent. If the previous camper just left, you can see where they left their tent. While that might be a good spot for you to pitch your tent, it is poor camping etiquette. It is better to give grass a chance to recover. Dakotapastor has become very good at picking out tent spots. I tend to pick out “pretty” tent spots that end up flooded. . .or worse. Also, pick a spot to put your table (you can move it) and, if you have a moveable grill (we do) pick out a fire spot.
  • Give everyone a job. We’ve been camping enough that the kids all know what their jobs are. First we set up the tents (we use two for our crew), then the dining fly (we got a replacement for our beloved but discontinued Gander Mountain dining fly), and then the chairs around the fire.
  • Keep little people busy. The twins are cute, and so is Essie’s Emma (she’s my Goddaughter!), but they are less than helpful around camp when we are pitching tents. I bought them an insanely huge box of brand new, pretty, sharp crayons, and some coloring pages. I had trouble finding my skillfully packed coloring pages, but we did get a campground map. This is not our first , or even our second time at this campground, so I handed the girls our map. . . happiness prevailed.
  • Don’t forget to put garbage bags within reach. You would think that camping is a clean vacation. However, nine children and their parents can create a lot, a lot of trash. keep your park beautiful. Pick it up. Toss it out. Our park has recycling and I have several kids that can take care of sorting things out!
  • Have an easy first night meal planned. You are going to be tired. You may have driven many hours to reach your destination. Your first night meal needs to be easy peasy. We had canned corn, brats and canned baked beans. Exciting, no, but quick, yes. Our fancy meals may or may not follow. Want to see how Essie plans her camping meals? (she is way more organized in that department!)
Keep posted for more camping tips, tricks and hints! @Essieburns and I (@dakotapam) are tweeting our vacation with the hashtag #campingtrip2012.