We took the kids camping this summer. I haven’t done much camping in my adult life due to my inability to develop a talent for sleeping on the ground. And it is a talent, I can only assume, given that other camping people don’t seem to end up sleeping in puddles at 3 a.m. or have boulders rise up out of the ground to stab them in the shoulder, despite the tent area being a smooth sea of cushy grass at set-up time. Clearly, there is some sort of genetically-linked gift (strategically placed fat pockets?) that allow some people (the power of slight, unconscious levitation?) to sleep comfortably on the ground (bones that rubberize after dark? Internalized water repelling capabilities?). I don’t have that gift.

Despite this, when I think of my childhood, the times spent crammed into a tiny camper, eating Dinty Moore beef stew and roasting marshmallows, take up a surprising amount of memory space considering we only went for a week or two per year. Sometimes we took an old Army tent instead of the camper, and I can bring to mind the exact smell of that damp canvas, the ring of the metal poles as they clanked together in their bag, the feel of grit under my sleeping bag.

In contrast, I remember nothing about my entire second grade year. Not a thing. It’s a complete blur.

Anyway, given the importance that camping memories have for me, it was clear that I would need to find a way to take my kids off into the wild. And that way would have to keep me off the ground. And because we still have a half-built house, that way would have to be justifiably cheap. These conditions puzzled us for a while, but last fall some friends were selling their pop-up camper. Have you experienced the wonder of the pop-up? It’s got the scrappiness of a tent…but with beds. Beds that are a good five feet off the ground. My god, could anything be more perfect? Needless to say, we snapped that up and last weekend, we finally got around to taking it out.

Like other events on the child-adult experience divide (*cough* Christmas *cough*), once you cross to the other side you suddenly realize that things don’t just…happen like they did when you were kid. You don’t just “go camping” like I remembered. Before the camping part there is the buying and the cleaning and the packing and the sorting and the winnowing and reminding and the reserving and the panicking and the frantic searching and the testing and the hooking up and the driving and the unpacking and the…well. You probably get the point. It wasn’t how I remembered it.

Except for the part where “I just need to hook up the trailer. It will only take a minute” turns into an hour of sweating, swearing, debating, cajoling, wrestling, banging, finally connecting, and “Oh, hell, the lights don’t work. What should we do? Just drive carefully?” That part was EXACTLY how I remember it.

Other things were how I remembered them, as well. We went to Cobscook Bay State Park, which I tented in once, many moons ago, with Michael before we were married. (I know it must have been before we were married, because I sure wouldn’t have volunteered to sleep in a tent AFTER we were married.) My mother insists we went there when I was a kid, too, but I have no memory of that. In truth, I probably do have memories of it, but it’s just blurred into all the other state parks we’d camped in through the years. When we arrived, it was like a sudden time warp back to my childhood. Same pine needles, same pit toilets, same initials carved into the picnic table shelters, same state park brown paint slapped on every wooden surface. These state parks. They never change. They exist outside of time. They are stable and eternal. They are perfect.

It was a successful trip, but not perfect. We went fishing. We traipsed around back roads. We foraged some of our food–clams, mushrooms, berries, fish.  We washed dishes outside. The kids seem to fight more than I remember fighting with my sisters (SHUT UP, MOM), Sam got sick and didn’t sleep well, and I had to take Annabel on a middle-of-the-night run to the pit toilets where I heard something large breathe right next to me. It poured torrentially our first night and, while the camper didn’t leak, that unpleasant, musty dampness hung on.But I didn’t mind, what with being five feet off the ground.

On the morning we left I spent some time snuggled with Annabel on her bunk, looking out at the carpet of pine needles to the ocean beyond. “I really like this, Mom,” she said. “Do we really need to go? Can we do it again?”

Yep. We can.

camping

As you may remember (or maybe not; it’s been a while), my relationship with hiking has been a mixed bag since I had children. While the image of scaling mountains with a toddler strapped on your back seems very wholesome and appealing (to me anyway), in reality it, well. It looks more like this (see 2011).

But good news! Last year, we went hiking. A lot. We signed up for a local hiking challenge that required 12 hikes over the course of the summer and, whether it was the chance to compete for something or whether they were actually big enough to like hiking, we did it. (This one. I recommend it, local folks. It’s fun.) The kids already have started asking about the challenge again this year, AND I’ve taken them on one successful hike this season independently, so I figure this heady level of success makes me an expert on children’s hiking. Please, let me share my knowledge with you. No one else cares.

1) Harder, not longer. The worst, whiniest hikes were the ones that were gentle meanders because those? Were boring. Steps so steep they required stabilizing iron rungs? Yes. Borderline rock climbing? Yes. Vertical descents made of nightmares and maternal heart attacks? Yes. Long slow switchbacks that allow you to breathe while they give you a chance to take in the view and enjoy the day? OH GOD THIS IS SOOO HAAAARD. I’M BOOORRRRED. ARE WE DOOONE YEEEET? I’M HUUUUNGRRRRYY. So my advice is to pick your mountain, find the shortest, most brutal way to the top, and go for it. Your quads may not thank you, but your sanity will.

2) Talk some trash. After you’ve selected your trail of torture, make you mention to your children that you’re pretty sure they can’t handle it. Are they feeling strong enough? Really? This is going to be really hard. Are their muscles big enough? Really? Can you show me? Hmmm….I don’t know. Maybe we should pick another trail, this one might be too hard… and on and on. If your children have even the tiniest bit of the competitive spirit that mine do, they will eat this up with a spoon and throw it back in classic I’LL SHOW YOU style. (We are a completely functional family, I swear.)

3) Don’t make them carry anything. This runs contrary to my usually rock solid parenting rule of Ye Shalt Carry Thine Own Crap. You know those parents carrying their kids’ backpacks into school? Yeah. That’s not me. You want it, you carry it. Momma ain’t no pack mule. But…in this case, it works better to leave them backpack-free. This makes it easier for them to scamper through the woods without getting their backpack caught on trees and also (critical when you are climbing rock walls, see #1) helps keep their center of balance where they expect it to be.  It also prevents them from stopping every 13 seconds to drink from their fun new water bottle. Which reminds me…

4) Each kid gets their own water bottle. Obvious, I know, but something you may ponder skipping once you realize you are going to be carrying all that water. Don’t. To save on weight, sometimes if it’s a short hike I don’t bring a separate bottle for me and just drink alternately from theirs (sidenote: I am not a germaphobe). They don’t at all mind sharing with me or Michael but with each other? Oh ho ho. No.

5) Make a game of finding trail markers. Obviously, if you are taking small children in the woods, staying on the trail is a minor concern. While not getting lost is the number one reason why this is important, we also talk about the lesser reasons: to avoid stepping on plants, so we don’t scare or hurt animals, so we don’t accidentally make a new trail to confuse people, etc. Anyway, we find this easier to do if they think “finding the blue marks” is some great scavenger hunt created just for them. Feel free to use some feigned idiocy around this concept during low points, too. “Oh, you bumped your knee? I’m sorry. Hey, which way are we supposed to go? Do you see a blue mark? I can’t find it. Oh silly me! It was right there. Let’s go.”

6) Keep band-aids in your bag. One hike last year was pretty much at the kids’ maximum ability. Covering 500 or so vertical feet in two miles round trip, it is a trail that most adults consider pretty moderate, but it is challenging for those with shorter legs. By the time we were coming down the mountain both kids were pooped and, as a result, careless. They both had minor spills that resulted in slightly bloody scrapes. Notice my wording there? “Minor,” “slightly,” and “scrapes”? Apparently it didn’t feel that way to the overtired sufferers of these wounds, who howled like they had lost one of their smaller appendages. In the midst of the fracas we discovered that we forgot to bring band-aids. Cue a whole new round of woebegone wailing. Everyone got over their boo-boos within five minutes but the scarring left by our lack of preparedness lives on. From then on both kids checked before every hike to make sure we had band-aids and that was the very first thing Annabel asked this year when I pulled out the pack. “Did you check to see if there are band-aids in there? Make sure you pack band-aids!” So. Band-aids. Bring them. Also, learn to say “It’s just a little blood. You’re fine” in a totally nonchalant way.

7) Bring a friend. Most commonly uttered refrain when hiking with my children: “Keep going, guys! Good job! Not much further now!” Most commonly uttered refrain when hiking with my children and a friend of my children: “Wait up, guys! I said hold up! Fine, if you can’t wait for me than at least make sure your brother doesn’t run off the mountain, okay? Hello? FIND THE BLUE MARKS!”

8) Put chocolate in the trail mix. Trust me.

Ready for another round of birthday questions? I hope so, because I’ve got a newly minted four-year-old with some answers and nothing else to blog about.

Hit it, Sam. Tell us what life is like at four. [And I'll tell you the truth in snide italics.]

What is your favorite color?

Blue [True.]

What is your favorite food?

Macaroni and cheese [True. Any pasta, really. Sam is not a likely candidate for a gluten-free diet.]

What’s your favorite thing about school?

Playing. [Like, duh, lady.]

What makes you happiest?

When I play. [I said, duh, lady.]

What makes you sad?

When someone pushes. [Funny. His sister could say the same thing. Ahem.]

What is your favorite thing to do with Dad?

Playing games when Mom and Annabel aren’t here. [I tried to get him to explain what kind of games, but apparent the father-son bonding code prevented him from telling me. Or else he was getting bored with this activity.]

What is your favorite thing to do with Mom?

Making cake. [I do things with these children other than bake. I swear.]

What is your favorite thing to do with Annabel? [This question added by a certain, possibly jealous six-year-old. But it's a good idea.]

Playing trucks. [True. And also a little game they like to call "Play With All Our Animals  Until a MONSTER COMING. THERE'S A MONSTER COMING. HIDE ALL THE ANIMALS. HIDE! HIDE! HIIIIIIIIDDDDDEEEE!" But I'm not 100% on the name.]

What is one new thing you’d like to try this year?

I don’t know.

I can’t think of anything.

Nothing.

When can we go to Florida? That is the question I would like to answer. [I did not make any of that up.]

What would you like to be when you grow up?

Firefighter. [Same as last year.]

What’s that going to be like?

Fight fires in buildings. [Good call, buddy.]

sam 4

You’ll be great at it.

Last year’s answers can be found here.

And, just because it’s funny, here’s the next picture on the camera.

sibling love
Yup.

It started with a guest.

When your house is small, like ours, you learn to be flexible with your space. The playroom is an alcove in the living room. The laundry room is our linen closet. Our office is wherever we sit down with a laptop. Our guest room is…Sam’s room.  If you come to stay with us, we’ll put you up in a tiny room covered with dinosaurs and a twin bed.  Sam, meanwhile, goes to have a sleepover in Annabel’s floor on the old crib mattress.

So that’s what we did when my mother came to stay for a few days a bit before Christmas.  She stayed in Sam’s room and Sam and Annabel had a giggly sleepover. But after she left, he didn’t want to go back to his room. And Annabel didn’t care, so he stayed there, on her floor, for days.  Every night it was the same thing, “Annabel? Want to have a sleepover again?” “Yeah!”

Travel at Christmas broke up the routine and things went back to normal. Then, after a few nights: “Annabel, want to have a sleepover?” There we were again, two kids, one room, one in a bed, one on the floor. Again and again and again. After a few weeks of this, there was really only one solution.

Image

It’s cozy, sure, but at least we have a playroom now.

Image

Okay, that part’s still a slightly messy work-in-progress.  But that giant box of Legos is no longer in my living room alcove and we’ve now got a full-size futon for guests. So we’re going to call this a win.

Remember when I decided to interview my children on their birthdays?  It was a lot of fun and I planned to keep it up. I managed to get Sam’s in only five days after his birthday and here I am, back at Annabel again, only six days late! Not even a full week! This probably marks my best internet effort since I started this blog.

Anyway, when we last met Annabel, at age five, she was a girly girl with a compulsive lying problem. How has she changed? Is she still crazy over purple? Has she found truthiness over the last year? Let’s find out.  My comments in [brackets and italics].

What is your favorite color?

Blue [Less girly already. True.]

What is your favorite food?

Watermelon [Probably true. She does like it a lot.]

What’s your favorite thing about school?

Reading [Again, probably true, but really she could have said anything here. She really likes kindergarten a lot.]

What makes you happiest?

Happiest where? Anywhere? [She is a kid who likes precision and clarity.] When I go to Florida. [So true]

What makes you sad?

When I get hurt. [Same as last year. Still true.]

What is your favorite thing to do with Dad?

Wrestle [True.]

What is your favorite thing to do with Mom?

Make little dollies [What? We did that once. Yesterday. She probably means crafting or doing any kind of project with me so...true.]

What is one new thing you’d like to try this year?

Uh. I don’t know. What do you mean? I’m confused. Can we skip this one? I’ll think about it.

[Five minutes later] Go to Disney. [Probably true although this is the first I've heard about it. And not this year, kid.]

What would you like to be when you grow up?

A waiter [True. She is fascinated by waitstaff, especially when they carry the trays on one hand.]

What’s that going to be like?

I’ll get food. [Again: clarity and precision.]

I’m going to give her a 10/10 on telling the truth this year. Okay, that dolly thing was a little iffy, but I knew what she meant. 

I don’t know what I expect from these things. Moments of genius? Moments of insight? Moments of Annabelness? Well, it’s hard not to get that last one. She’s becoming more and more Annabel every day.

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I like this kid in all her precision and Annabelness. I like her a lot.

Oh, hi, internet. I’ve had a very busy summer. I have a lot to tell you. But not today. Today I had a request for my apple cake recipe and while I would like to tell you about hiking, gardening, housebuilding, and kindergarten, first I need to do this.

I discovered this recipe a few years ago and it exists on a very strange, very small website that I don’t even understand. I don’t know how I found it; I don’t know who these people are; I don’t know if this website has been updated since 1996. What I know is this is a great apple cake. Full credit, however, goes to them.

But, of course, I am incapable of making any recipe without changing it to within an inch of its life–usually by healthifying it. So first is the regular recipe. Then is the version I usually make and which I feel is healthy enough to give a kid for a snack.

Apple Cake (unhealthy version)

4 cups peeled and diced apples
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup salad oil
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
2 eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix apples and sugar thoroughly. Add oil, nuts, eggs and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together and add to apple mixture. Bake in a greased 13×9 inch pan for 45 minutes to 1 hour (check after 45).

Serve frosted or unfrosted. This cake is one of those that you can pretty much finish and serve however you like. If you want to frost it, a sour cream frosting is very nice. Whipping cream or ice cream go very well with it, too. My favorite way to eat it, though, is with no frosting at all.

Got that? That’s a lot of sugar, right? I don’t think I have ever made this recipe with TWO CUPS of sugar. I can’t even imagine it.  It is plenty sweet with half that. Wait, am I scooping myself? Whatever, here’s what I do:

Apple Cake (Cherie’s healthified version)

5 cups peeled and diced apples
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs, well beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Follow directions as above.  The whole wheat flour that I use is very dry, so I add a little water to the batter to offset it.  You may need to adjust accordingly. If you bake a lot, you will notice that this batter…looks weird. It’s very thick and full of apples and kind of hard to spread in the pan. Don’t worry. It will be okay.

My family is anti-nuts in baked goods, so we don’t do that. But that would make this an even healthier kid snack so if that’s your gig, try it.

And she’s totally right. You absolutely do not need to frost this thing. At all.

Annabel launched into a impromptu soliloquy about bees during the morning drive, so I made it into a poem for you.

I like bees.
I like the music they make when they hum.
I like that they land on flowers and make more flowers.
They don’t sting if you don’t bother them, Sam.
Yep.
I like bees.
But not wasps.

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