Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trail Discovery for Kids

August Highlighted Hike
Stone Bridge Loop Trail
Manassas Battlefield National Park
Manassas, VA

Hike Information
* 1.1 mile circuit hike on a wide trail with crushed gravel and raised wooden walkways.
* The hike has one moderate hill to ascend and descend, hiking clockwise or counter-clockwise. Each has steps that are widely spaced.
* After the Stone Bridge, turn right or left to start the circuit hike.
* An extra 1/4 of a mile may be added to the hike passed the Van Pelt Site along the field to Bull Run (hiking counter-clockwise).
* Hike both in the woods and open field.
* Trailhead and parking lot on Rt. 29 two miles east of Sudley Rd.
* Trail map.

Age Appropriate
This circuit hike is appropriate for all ages because it is short and jogging stroller passable for toddlers. However, it can be a section of a longer hike for children elementary age and older.

What is fun for kids?
* Easy access to Bull Run to play in the stream or throw rocks.
* Great Civil War interpretive signs of the First Battle of Manassas. Being able to use the natural environment to play act the battle.
* Activities in the Park: Stone House, Henry House, and the museum and movie about the Civil War at the Visitor's Center.

* No bathrooms at the trailhead/parking lot.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Camping in the Rain

   I love to camp but have to admit that camping in the rain sucks. Twice this summer, my kids and I have done it; once at Ohiopyle State Park and the second time in Acadia National Park. Gaining some experience, I have noticed how people protect themselves differently from the elements. The most important is to have a dry tent. The second is to have a dry area to congregate and eat.
   About ten years ago, I purchased our first family tent when my daughter was born, a four-person Eureka. I love this tent. It has held up in lots of rain. The rain fly is attached to the body allowing for rain to drain away well. We were expecting rain in Acadia; therefore, placement of the tent was really important particularly since the site was sloped (made it fun to sleep also!) I staked it on the up slope against a large log that cribbed the site. My daughter and I dug drainage ditches at the ends of the log out away from the sides of the tent. Lastly, I dug a small drainage ditch at the edge of the vestibule on the up slope side. When rain drained off the vestibule, it pooled at the corner.
   At any campground, it is hard not to notice the different styles and strategies people use for car camping, particularly when it rains. Tents are all different shapes, sizes, and colors: A-frames, domes, pyramids, rectangles, and many more that can't be summed up in one word. Each tent and owner protects their bags and pads differently from rain: a fly at the apex of the tent, full coverage staked away from the body, vestibule flies, and supported screened vestibules and flies. Knowing the rainy forecast, many people hung large tarps in addition to the flies above their tents for extra protection. Some choose to do the combo of tarping their picnic table and the entrance to their tent, creating a covered walkway. Those who didn't protect their tent sufficiently were forced to sleep in their cars (love being a fly on the bathroom wall after rain). Thankfully, our family was not one of them. We had a dry tent!
   Just like with tents, campers use varying strategies for protecting a congregating/eating area. Some use canopies, while others put up screen houses for both rain and bugs. I placed the picnic table under some trees. Thankfully someone had left a line across the site where I hung a trap from and tied off the corners. A slope in the tarp is important to wick away the rain. If not, then a big, sagging pool of rain collects and it becomes extremely difficult to drain. Looking around, I noticed some staked one or two sides to the ground or placed poles in the grommets and tied the other corners to a tree, others tied three ropes parallel and hung the tarp with flaps on each side to ward off diagonal rain, and yet another tied one corner to the hitch of their car. Hanging and tying a tarp involves problem solving to achieve the best set-up to ward against the elements. This summer I have gained more practice than I've liked in hanging a tarp.
   I have to admit, I considered a hotel room after 20 hours of constant, steady rain in Acadia because my kids and I were wet and cold. However, our tent stayed dry and we opted for a hot shower instead (coined operated outside the park). Clean, warm and in our jammies, we quickly negotiated the rain and climbed into our sleeping bags. The pitter patter of the rain on the tent peacefully and gently put us to sleep. Even though I don't like camping in the rain, I love listening to the rain on my tent!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Family Meals and Packing: Backpacking Style

   This past weekend, my family and I did a kid-friendly backpacking trip to Green Ridge State Forest with some friends. We hiked two miles to our wilderness campsite at a great swimming hole along Fifteen Mile Creek. To get there, we needed to bushwhack off the trail before it ascended a steep ridge. It was a beautiful spot where the kids had fun playing in the water and cooling off from the hot sun. Packing for a successful trip is time consuming, particularly when I do it occasionally and for the family.
   Our camping gear is in three bins in the basement. They are easy to pull out and separate backpacking supplies from car camping supplies. For me, meal planning is most time consuming, particularly creating the dinner menu. Time is spent: planning the menu, making the grocery list, going to the store, and then repackaging it to reduce the waste and weight.
    Our standard breakfast menu is instant oatmeal and bagels with cream cheese (bought in the plastic tub). I didn't take bagels this time to reduce space. To add protein to the oatmeal, I chopped almonds and put them in a zip bag with craisins. Coffee is a must to get my husband and I going in the morning. Starbucks Via packs are as good as coffee grounds without the clean-up.
    Lunch is easy and packed with protein - cheese (smoked Gouda works well and doesn't get greasy) and salami or pepperoni. We eat them with Naan bread and apples or baby carrots. Naan is a great alternative to pita and bagels. It stays moist long and doesn't crumble or take up lots of space. Something sweet is a must and a dark chocolate bar hits the spot.
    Burritos, tacos, or fajitas are a standard camping meal particularly when car camping because it is a very simple meal. However, making this meal while backpacking causes a lot of clean-up. This is my least favorite chore whether camping or at home. Therefore, I like to minimize the dish washing. I really like freezer bag cooking which allows you to make a one-pot meal in a freezer bag.
    I made two freezer bag meals: one recipe I got from, Italian mashers with chicken, and a second I created, tuna polenta casserole (see recipe below). I prepped both meals at home combining the dry ingredients in freezer bags and wet ingredients in another.  Instead of cooking the meal in the freezer bag, I cooked them in one large pot for a hungry family of four. Freezer bag cooking is great for one or two servings in a gallon size bag but cooking for four in one is difficult to stir and get all the ingredients combined. My family loved the tuna polenta casserole. Clean-up was easy with four bowls and sporks and one pot and spoon. Just the way mom likes it!

Tuna Polenta Casserole - 4 servings
I measured some ingredients and eyeballed others. Therefore, you will need to adjust based on your own taste buds.
1 1/4 cup polenta
5 cups of water
3 stalks of celery chopped
2 chicken bouillon cubes
Onion flakes
Black pepper (no salt, bouillons have lots)
2-5 oz. Packages of tuna
Cheddar cheese
   Combine the polenta, onion flakes and bouillon cubes in a freezer ziplock bag. Chop the celery and place in a small zip bag. At the campsite, combine water and celery in the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and slowly add the dry ingredients while stirring. Once polenta is mixed in, then add the cheese and tuna and stir. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir again before serving.

Just as good as mom's tuna noodle casserole!