Archive for May, 2011

Me and Lambie – Classy We Ain’t

No one can accuse us of being high brow. Classy we ain’t. Sure we buy our share of $5 coffees, but we’re simple girls. Our preferences lean towards donuts and away from tiramisu. We love a good cup of Tim Horton’s (double double, no fooling around here) and a chocolate dip. On Wednesday June 1st, there’s an even better reason to haunt your local Timmy’s than the Ice Cap’s.

lambie loves massasauga

I was waiting for the subway today and I took my usual place on the platform. Instead of the boring old ads that I usually ignore, one bright one caught my attention. Six happy kids in pfds enjoying themselves at camp. It was an ad for camp day at Tim Horton’s. Here is an excerpt from their website:

Camp Day is the one day a year when Tim Hortons Restaurant Owners across Canada and the United States donate every penny from coffee sales to the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation. In 2010, Camp Day raised more than $9.7 million CDN.

Every time a guest buys a coffee at Tim Hortons on Camp Day they will help send more than 14,000 kids – who could otherwise not afford it – on the camping adventure of a lifetime. All children who attend one of the Foundation’s six camps are selected from within the communities where Tim Hortons Restaurants are located.

When I say “we”, I am referring to the only other girl in our immediate family. I am of course referring to Lambie. Lambie is our ever-present third child and Zach’s best friend. She comes with us EVERYWHERE! She has a full wardrobe of seasonal sweaters, handknit by mom (that’s me). She has a bed, a car seat, and a fabulous personality. She hates baths and LOVES camping. Lambie has her own Therm-a-rest (a bum pad) and brings her own dolly (teddy) on trips to keep her company. Only one important piece of camping gear was missing. This was heroically provided by a boatload of Tim Horton’s Camp trippers on a summer trip to Massasauga Provincial Park.

The family was busy sunning ourselves on a rock (not unlike many of the local species) when the campers approached us. They told us that they were on a mission. They were going from site to site in order to trade objects with all of the park visitor’s. Did we have anything that we could part with and they’d give us something in return? The only thing we had that we could do without (we tend to only pack the most essential of items) was a Canada flag patch…brand new. It was in the zippered pocket of Luke’s pack. They thought that they had hit the jackpot! So what did we get in return? “We’ve got a beer cooler”. “Oh? Okay”, we said and shrugged our shoulders. One more thing to pack out, I thought to myself. I walked around to the edge of our site where their canoe could pull up close enough for the exchange. I leaned over and they handed me a little individual bottle cozy. Thank goodness it wasn’t the 2-4 pack I was expecting! I thanked them and they went on their way to the next site. I brought the little treasure back to our sunning rock and put it down. Luke looked over and casually commented, “that would be a perfect fit for Lambie”. By golly, he was right! I realized that the cooler was novelty shaped to look just like a miniature pfd complete with buckle closures! Many a time, I’d worried that Lambie might fall overboard and would be lost to a lake somewhere. Now she’d be forever safe in her

lambie getting ready for a paddle

pfd just like our other kids.

best friends relaxing after a long day

Thank you Tim Horton’s Camp! That little jacket has made it on every trip since and is now part of our essential kit 😉

Tempest in a Teapot

Weather is a magnificent beast. The sun can beat down, the rain can pour, the snow can pack you in. You can

spring - hike out of Algonquin

experience all the weather extremes in the backcountry. The elements can be a challenge to a camper both physically and psychologically. You must accept that conditions are not always going to be ideal, but a trip can be all the better for it. Testing your mettle is a part of the game. The key is not to blow it out of proportion. It is not the end of the world if you get wet. Plan, plan, plan.

a rainy day view

When planning a trip, take into consideration the season that you are tripping in. In the early spring or late fall, it is almost inevitable that you will go to sleep on a nice cool evening and wake up to a blanket of snow. Plan for it! Bring proper clothing and you’ll be laughing…and taking great pictures! Layer, layer, layer. In shoulder seasons, you can have nice warm days and very cold nights. In order to make the best use of your packing space, and ensure you are comfortable in any weather condition, dress in layers. Long underwear, quick dry pants and top, fleece, down vest or sweater, waterproof shell pants/jacket, hat and gloves. You can take off what you don’t need, or add what you do for a perfect fit. One thing to keep in mind if it might rain, but still be cold, is down loses its loft and

a rainy morning

therefore its ability to insulate when it gets wet. You must keep down dry, both jackets AND sleeping bags.

In the summer, plan for rain. Bring a tarp. You’re going to want to have somewhere to sit and cook if the weather turns bad. You don’t want to have to hide in your tent for hours on end. If it’s a moving trip and it’s raining when the time comes to pack up camp, pack up inside your tent or under the tarp. Leave the tarp for the last and try to keep everything dry. Use dry bags for packing your sleeping bags and clothes…well, use dry bags for everything if you’ve got enough! If you’re on a paddling trip, you should be doing this anyway in case your boat dumps. In the summer, wet clothing and gear is uncomfortable, but in the cold, wetness translates into potential danger. Anyone who has experienced or come close to getting hypothermia can tell you it’s no joke. Make sure you fully understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Like so many things in life, camping can be a head game. You are going to have as much fun as you allow yourself to have. It can be pouring rain and you are miserable about it, or it can be pouring rain and you have a blast. Either way, it’s raining. You can’t control, the weather, but you can control how you deal with it. Have fun for

perfect layers for spring

goodness sake, it’s up to you!

Rarely have I found myself in over my head. If you’re planning on taking little ones with you though, you must take extra precautions. Don’t skimp on the right gear. Don’t skimp on the planning and research. Tell someone where you are going and when you are supposed to be back. Always leave your plans with someone back home and let them know what you’d like them to do if you don’t check in when you are supposed to. Don’t take unnecessary risks with your family. Make smart choices to ensure everyone’s safety. Most of all though have a good time no matter what the weather. Rain and snow? Bring it on!

Gimme Shelter

At work, I often get asked, “is this tent waterproof?” and I think to myself “of COURSE it is!  Why in the world would we sell a tent that wasn’t?!”.  Of course there are plenty of stores that do.  Yes, you can buy a tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses and chairs in a camping kit for under $200, but don’t.  A tent needs to have a watertight floor (preferably a “bathtub” floor that wraps part way up the sides of the body) and a full fly.  The last thing you want is to get stuck in a storm with water pooling in your tent and a tiny little fly “cap” that only covers the tip of your tent!  I understand that quality gear can be expensive.  The problem with buying lesser quality gear is that it can leave you cold, wet, bug bitten and bitter.  Do you think that convincing the family to go back for round 2 is going to be easy or difficult after a bad experience?

a big helper from the get go

There is a solution.  You can RENT quality gear from any number of reputable outfitters and even some retail stores (Mountain Equipment Coop for example).  You will likely still have to buy some of the smaller stuff like dishes and I don’t know of anyplace that rents clothing,  but a fleece jacket is awesome in the city too, so you’ll get good use out of it.

Tents are usually rated for three or four seasons.  A three season tent will have better air flow (more mesh panels) to help prevent heat build up and condensation inside.  They are lighter and can have more headroom inside (winter tents keep internal space to a minimum so the body doesn’t waste energy trying to heat empty space).  Best of all, they are less expensive.   A four season tent will have beefier poles to help with snow load and high winds, less mesh to retain heat and probably heavier duty materials and a thicker coating of waterproofing.  All of this adds up to a more expensive and heavier tent.  Unless you plan on winter camping, a three season tent is more versatile.  On a rain-free night in the high heat of summer, you can even leave the fly off and enjoy the breeze and the view…my favourite!

Go to a reputable store and try lying in some of the tents.  Is it too tight? too short?  Are there enough windows? Vents? Vestibules? An inevitable question we get is “what is the best tent you sell?”.  There is no best tent, but rather the best tent for you.   Do you mind close quarters?  If not, you can get a compact tent that will save weight and pack size.  Are you going on a cycling, backpacking or kayak trip?  Size will make a huge difference as there is a limit to what you can bring…not a lot!  Do you want a free-standing tent, or will there be plenty of easy spots to place pegs?  How many people will it need to sleep?  What colour do you want it to be?  I know this sounds like a weird requirement, but if you’ve ever had to sit inside a blue tent all day during a rainstorm, you’ll already know what an awful colour a blue fly casts inside a tent.  It almost makes me queasy.  A gold or medium yellow tent isn’t the “prettiest” choice, but it’s nice and bright and sunny feeling inside.  It can really affect your mood.

setting up the poles

My point is there are many things to consider.  Make sure you do your research and ask lots and lots of questions.  Picture the topography of where you are going and try to anticipate any challenges you may have.  Georgian Bay in a windstorm?  How do you guy out your tent when the ground is all rock and no soil?  Hint:  instead of pegs, tie the guy lines to heavy rocks 😉  And DON’T try to weigh the tent down with rocks inside.  As the tent blows around, those rocks rub holes right through the floor.  Yes, I have seen this happen to an unfortunate couples brand new tent.

A few other things…keep your tent clean.  Set it up in the backyard when you get home and hose it down. Dirt quickly destroys zippers and material.  Make sure it is completely dry before you pack itup.  We hang ours in the basement for a week before we pack it away.  Drying it in the sun too many times can break down the materials due to uv damage.  Tents are intended to be packed up every couple of days.  If you plan on leaving your tent up at a base camp (maybe you’re a tree planter?) do your tent and your wallet a favor.  Throw a cheap blue tarp over it.  It’s much easier and less expensive to replace the tarp than the fly/tent!

There, now it’s time to buy a tent! Yay tents!

Paddlefest Burlington

Just a quick note while I’m on my lunchbreak…
Check out Paddlefest in Burlington tomorrow! For more info see the website

Pigtails and Paddles

Boys are gross.  There’s no way around it.  They are dirty and stinky and think bodily functions are funny and meant to be shared.  I constantly find myself shaking my head in disbelief at their antics.  They are the perfect tripping buddies.  I had no idea what I was in for when the doctor announced, “it’s a boy!”.  What would have happened if the doctor had proclaimed “congratulations, it’s a girl!”?

The truth is, I don’t know.  This is an experience that I’ve never had.  We do however have a friend that just this week had a baby girl.   This is one of Fraser’s tripping buddies.  He expressed his fear that he might end up with a “girly girl”.  You hear people use this term all the time.  I’ve used this term.  What does it mean exactly?  Does liking clothes and tiaras and tea parties exclude you from liking other things?  I may not have a girl, but I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret…I’M a girl (shhh).  I have a piece of advice here.  Expose her to EVERYTHING.  There is no such thing as boy activities and girl activities.  Your kids will like what they like, but I can tell you that they tend to lean towards the things that YOU like and that you expose them to early.

pink fleece jacket

pink fishing rod

So you’ve got a girl.  Take her fishing, take her camping, buy her a little paddle.  She likes pink?  Buy her a pink pack and a pink fleece and hit the park.  Please don’t assume that she’s not going to like it.  You may inadvertently be sending her cues that you expect her not to like it.  Don’t set her up to fail.  Use positive reinforcement.  This is going to be fun.  This is going to be a tough trip, but luckily you’re a tough kid.  You are an important part of this trip, we’re really going to need your help!  Entrust her with something integral to your trip, something to carry and be responsible for.  We always let Zach be in charge of the stove and fuel when he was little.  It’s heavy enough to feel like real cargo, and important enough to make a kid feel like they are really contributing.

These tips work equally well for boys and girls.  I’m emphasizing the girl thing because I’ve heard so many times from parents at work and at the playground, “I don’t think she’ll like it, she’s a girly girl”.  Yikes!  There wouldn’t be a whole industry based on female campers/paddlers if we didn’t exist!  Some of the best paddlers I know are women.

I’ve got waist length hair, painted toenails and a pink Coach purse.  Take it from me, girly girls can be hardcore.  Just give them a chance.

Under the Influence

Is is possible to influence yourself?  I was glancing over some of my posts and I feel the seed of an idea.  Things that have been on my mind lately…Parks Canada, kids needing to up their exercise, epic trips, spending more time with my family.  Do you see what I see?  It feels like the perfect storm.  Do you think that one wacky brood could influence enough Canadian families to make a real difference?  I do.  Now I just have to figure out how.

40 Minutes…Really?!

water bug (exoskeleton) destroying the valvoline car

luke paddling the wave

On my morning commute today, I read an article in the paper about how poorly Canadian kids are doing at getting the daily recommended amount of exercise.  It is suggested that kids need at least 40 minutes a day of physical activity.  Really? 40 minutes? and only 4% of girls and 9% of boys aged 6-19 are accomplishing it!  That’s kinda depressing.

I admit, my kids absolutely love the tv and video games.  I’ve seen a few tears when I’ve said no to a movie.  That’s the culture we live in now.  Technology rules.  I too, am a tv addict. The difference though, is that my whole life isn’t spent in front of the tube.  In fact, we have a “no electronics” rule when we go tripping.  Yes, it would be easy to allow Luke and Zach to bring along their iPods or the portable dvd player, but why did we go then?  It is my opinion that if you make tripping a technology free zone from the very beginning, there will be no arguments later.  I’ve found that if you’ve said yes to something even once with your kids, you’ve set a precedent that they won’t forget.  It will be a struggle and a fight every time going forward.  So what can they bring?

frog in a boat

We don’t bring much in the way of toys when we go camping.  They will bring an action figure and a toy car, and of course Zach brings Lambie.  My advice is not to bring so many toys that you lose track.  A couple of things keeps them from feeling deprived, but they value them more.  And get this…they use their IMAGINATIONS to occupy their time.  I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true.  Trees, rocks, slugs, bugs, snakes, frogs and dirt, dirt and more dirt.  These are all fabulous distractions.  Let them get dirty, don’t freak out about keeping them clean and dunk them in the lake every once in a while.  This is what I remember about being a kid.  They hadn’t even released Walk-man’s yet when I was my boys’ age.  We had a 13″ black and white tv and no cable.  It can be done!

frog catcher

You know what else is nice?  YOU get a chance to use your imagination too.  On our last trip, I wove a frog catcher with some grass and a stick and Zach spent hours catching frogs.  Luke and I built birch bark canoes (from fallen wood, not off of a live tree!) and grass and then guess what we put in them…storm troopers and frogs!  My point is, the opportunities for exercise and exploration are all around us.  We should be ashamed that our kids aren’t able to squeeze 40min of exercise into a day.  You don’t have to wait for your next canoe trip to get them outside.  Walk them to school, play at the park, get a wagon and pull your groceries instead of giving them a first class lift home in your trunk!   They grow up so fast, and you’ll remember the time you’ve spent together, but will you remember what happened on this weeks episode of American Idol?

Annual Father’s Day Trip

we love portaging!

Our next trip is fast approaching.  Every year there is a father’s day trip.  It’s the perfect gift, and it never needs to be returned!  We are going to Frontenac Park this time.  We haven’t been there before and it looks less rugged than our usual locations.  I think it might even have outhouses!

charlotte flanked by her cousins

There is a reason for “takin’ it easy” this time.  We are taking my brother Steve and his daughter Charlotte along with us.  It is going to be Charlotte’s first canoe trip.  I couldn’t be more excited.  The opportunity to introduce a little one to the great outdoors gives me chills.  I know, I’m a big camping nerd.  Charlotte is six and this could be the start of a lifetime of loving the wilderness.  Steve used to work at the camping store with Fraser and I, so he’s an old hat at this.  It’ll be great to have an extra adult to wrangle the kids and another playmate for the boys.  Charlotte is a very high energy kid, so she’ll tucker them out in no time.  Hopefully they’ll be exhausted at the end of the day, but I suspect that hyjinx will be running high in that tent 🙂  We’re planning a two night trip and are going to move lakes after the first night.  A moving trip helps fill the days and keeps the scenery fresh.  It’s a good chance to practice site set-up and take down in a timely manner.  This will come in handy for our BIG trip next summer.  I might even attempt to carry one of the boats 😛

a canoe always makes a vehicle look better

I will of course post pictures and a recap of the trip.  Where is your next trip going to be?

A Quick Trip Update

Well, as expected, our epic trip has grown more epic.  The proposed route has grown from the original 11 days to a whopping 16 days!  I wanted it to be longer, but it would have taken us into an unmaintained area of the park.  The portages looked long and grueling and well, unmaintained.  On reflection, we opted to extend the trip, but stop short of potentially endangering the kids and ourselves.  We’ll wait until they are older for that 😉  Kidding, kidding…sort of.

absolutely NOT me completing the Dickson-Bonfield portage (Fraser and his buddy on that one)

To Eat or Not To Eat

I’m going to be candid here.  Plain and simple, I don’t like freeze-dried food.  Okay, now that it’s out there, lets talk menus.  Of course

zach enjoys his breakfast from a mug

there is a time and place for freeze-dried meals.  For example, on this epic trip next summer, there is just no way that we have enough room, nor can we carry the weight of “regular” food.  There is also the problem of fresh foods going bad before we get a chance to consume them.  As a general rule, we plan meals that will keep until the day that we need them.  There is a strict menu, and every meal must be eaten on the preplanned day.  We always have steaks, couscous and corn on the cob the first night.  It’s a rewarding meal after a long paddle.  The obvious drawback to meat is that it will spoil.  If frozen before you leave, it is thawed and ready for the first night.  The next morning, Fraser makes his traditional breakfast of croissants with cheddar cheese, bacon and fried eggs.  Fabulous.

hot breakfast cereal?

There are a ton of tasty foods that keep well for days, and there are a couple of tricks to keeping those not so ideal foods fresh for a couple of nights.  In terms of bread products, look for dry pita (not that nice squishy pita that goes moldy), bagels and croissants.  They can get a little squished if not protected in your pack (a food barrel is better for this) but taste great all the same.  If you’re adventurous and have the time, you can also bake bread at the campsite.  Bannock bread for example is a simple mix of flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and water.  You stir it all up and put in your pan, flipping it when the bottom is browned.  Try adding fruits for a breakfast bread.  It’s always nice to have some stick to your gut warm food on trip.  Or how about using an Outback Oven?  This handy contraption turns your pan into a little oven to properly bake prepackaged foods.  The cost of buying pre-packaged mixes can add up, but I have to admit that they make some really good ones.  I’ve been known to bake up a batch of coffee cake in the backyard from time to time.

Breakfast time.  After the luxury of fresh eggs for the first day, you can turn your attention to powdered eggs.  These are good for making omelets or adding to other ingredients in recipes that call for eggs (pancakes anyone?).  They are kinda gross on their own,

breakfast with a view

but throw some veggies and cheese in there and sandwich it in a croissant or a bagel, and you’ll hardly notice.  Cereal is always good.  Dried cereal without the milk (or powdered milk reconstituted), granola or hot cereals like oatmeal do the trick.  There is a product we love to take on trip that came onto the market not that long ago.  Ready Crisp is a precooked bacon that is flat packed and doesn’t require refrigeration.  No, I don’t know how they manage it, and no, I don’t really want to know for fear it will scare me off.  Suffice it to say, I’m pleased as punch that it exists because it is a luxury to have meat products that taste sorta fresh-ish two weeks into a trip!

On the topic of meats, there are also pepperoni and sausages that are cured and don’t require refrigeration.  They are usually referred to as “European”.  If you can find it on a shelf at the grocery store rather than in the cooler, you’re pretty safe.  They are good just to chew on for snacks or lunch with a pita and some humus, or why not slice them up with some pasta for dinner? And of course jerky!  We LOVE jerky at our house.  You can get all sorts of jerky, not just beef.  Try salmon and bison along with dozens of others. Cheese sprinkled on anything makes it better.  Look for hard cheeses like parmesan that will keep.  Oh!  and here’s that tip for keeping cheddar for a couple of days…put it in a waterproof container (like a freezer bag) and put it and anything else you’d like to keep cold into a mesh stuff sac.  Tie a cord to the sac and drop it into the lake.  The water is always cooler than the air and helps preserve the perishables.  Of course there are times when the water is bath warm and it won’t make a huge difference, but it’s better than nothing!  Don’t forget to haul it in and add it to rest of the food when you hang it at night.  You all hang your food in a tree at night right?  I’ll get more into that in a later post.

hanging the food pack

Not big on meat?  If you are vegetarian or concerned with meat spoiling, there are plenty of options.  One of our go-to meals is penne with red pepper pesto, black olives and parmesan cheese.  Mmmmm.  It tastes like a restaurant meal.  Pasta is a great food for the outdoors.  While we love our mac and cheese, you don’t have to resort to that if you don’t want to.  You can buy dried ravioli and tortellini in any local grocery store.  The smaller the pasta, the faster it cooks, so angel hair and spaghettini are good choices.  This will save time and fuel (if you are using a stove).  Sundried tomatoes perk up pasta quite nicely, or you can use a dehydrator to

lambie cooking herself up a spider dog

condense tomato sauce down to a fruit leather type consistency.

Stews, soups, chilli, casseroles…the sky is the limit.  Don’t be intimidated by meal planning.  A food dehydrator is a great investment and will save money, but you must plan ahead.  It takes time to stockpile home dehydrated food, but properly dehydrated food should last upwards of a year in an air tight container. Buy prepackaged meals from a camping store if need be, and try not to keel over at the cash register.   Troll the shelves at the grocery store.  Ignore that advice that mom gave you about only buying food around the perimeter of the store (fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses and meats) and get inspiration from all the weird and wonderful stuff in the middle 🙂  Pick out a fruit that will travel/keep well like oranges.  Oh yeah, as mentioned in an earlier post….SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS.  You will power through snacks at an unbelievable rate.  Stock up at the bulk food store.

Explore new recipes and test out all cooking equipment at home BEFORE you rely on them for sustenance in the field.  And for goodness sake, have FUN!  That’s why we get out there.  Involve the kids in meal choices and prep so there is less complaining and more participation.  So much of a trip revolves around making, eating and cleaning up food, so give it the attention that it deserves. .  Yay food!

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