Tag Archives: camping

How to Know a Camper


Showerhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Know what’s awesome? Camping. But if you take awesome and multiply it by spectacular, you get the feeling you have after you take a shower in your own bathroom at your own house after a weekend of camping.

Maybe it’s because I know my feet will still be clean in an hour. (Campers shower, throw flip-flops on and head back outside.). Maybe it’s that I can take my time and not worry about a gray water tank filling up or whether I brought enough quarters to the campground shower to get the conditioner out of my hair. I’m not sure exactly what makes such a mundane, daily task become so absolutely, beautifully blissful after a weekend camping. I am sure that the only comparable feeling is taking ski boots off after a long day of skiing.

Anyway, while in the shower on Monday after arriving home from a Labor Day weekend spent camping, I got to thinking about how some phenomena, like the blissful shower, are specific to camping.

It got me thinking about a few little quirky things about my family and me that are a result of camping. If I noticed these traits on another woman, I’d know she was a fellow camper.

Here are a few – what other ways can you tell someone is a camper even when they aren’t near their tent or camper?

1. Her infant or toddler’s stroller smells like beer. (Strollers have cup holders for a reason, but campground roads are often bumpy and some spillage can occur. Every weekend camping I spill a little adult beverage on the stroller and can never quite get it out and wonder if people in my neighborhood or other parents at the park secretly wonder what is in Buster’s sippy cup.)

2. After a long weekend, it looks like her face, shoulders and feet went on a posh tropical vacation but they left her back, legs, and stomach behind. The tan lines on the feet will likely look like flip-flops and may appear darker due to residual camping dirt. If her children are over 7, she may have a tanned area on each leg between her knees and shorts. This is because after your children are 7 can MAY be able to find time to sit down in daylight while camping. Her husband’s tan lines will be similar but if he has short hair, the term “red neck” can be quite literal and allegorical at the same time.

3. Her children look like they’ve contracted some horrible infectious skin disease, but it’s just mosquito bites and dirt stuck to the roasted marshmallow left on their faces.

4. At sporting events or the park or wherever, when bad weather strikes, she’s prepared for it with a rain poncho, umbrella or other gear she grabs from her car. When she takes out said gear, everyone starts sniffing and asking if something is on fire. Alas, it is just aforementioned gear’s residual campfire odor.

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Goodbye Mrs. Anderson

A Camping Queen Holds CourtI bet no one ever thought a jumbo box of sympathy cards, packaged up like Christmas cards, would be a very big seller. But boy, do I wish I could buy a box like that today. Because the world lost a special lady this morning and I know she is going to be missed by a lot of people, and especially by a lot of people I care a lot about.

Anyone who read my post “Reunion-bound” read that we were heading to meet up with a woman (known to most as Grammy), her ten children, most of the ten’s children, most of the ten’s children’s children, and even one of the ten’s children’s child’s brand new baby child, and of course all of the delightful, wonderful stragglers our group of campers picked up along the way.

It was a great trip and there was a lot of buzz about it being Grammy’s last reunion. Maybe I didn’t want to believe that. But it turned out to be true.

I normally only refer to myself, my husband and my pets by their actual names but that doesn’t feel right for this post because I grew up knowing “Grammy,” as Mrs. Anderson. Not sure why, probably just to avoid confusion with the other grandmothers in my life. It was a friendly, respectful title- not as formal as may sound.

As I sit here going through memories of Mrs. Anderson, I can’t come up any one specific moment. It’s a swirling tapestry of memories: of her in her blue choir robe at Dunbar United Church, her and my Grandpa talking and playing cards, talk of dandelion wine, “The Uncles,” a van and cots, the image of my husband carrying off a bottle of scotch at 4 pm for a “date” with her, fancy canes, fishing-type hats, many smiles, her distinctive voice, and many people.

Mostly I remember her kind of always being there while I was growing up except when disasters had struck and I’d overhear she’d travelled somewhere to volunteer with the Red Cross.

To say she lived an amazing, complete life and that she loved many much and was loved much by many is like saying the ocean is kind of big and has some water in it.

I know no one like her nor have I even heard of anyone like her.

I do know that without her not only would I not have all my “pseudo” -cousins and -aunts and -uncles but also a host of other amazing people. These folks, from every walk of life, never would have crossed my path if she wasn’t part of our lives. Many are who they are; some in small ways, some in very big ways, because of her.

Including the love of my life, my husband.

So, goodbye and thank you Mrs. Grammy Anderson, you are very much missed. So glad we just spent one last camping trip with you. I know what many of us will be thinking about today at 4 pm.

I am certain you are enjoying the reunion you’re attending now.

To all of her many family and friends, I’m thinking of you and you’re in my heart today and if there is a silver lining, it’s that I look forward to hearing all of your memories.

Update Thursday August 15: Here is a link to Mrs. Vera Anderson’s Obituary

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Tonight we headed off on another extended camping trip.  We’ll be spending the next four nights camped out.  This year, it’s a little different with the drunken-orangutan-like movements of Buster, our Princess, and our brand new puppy, Emma.  But still, I’m ready.  If you didn’t read my very first post- “Roughin’ It,” you should know that I’m pretty tough when it comes to camping.  I could survive for days and days with nothing but two fully stocked refrigerators, my crock pot, my cupcake maker, a smoker, air-conditioning, a flush-toilet of my own, several cases of beer, a handle of Woodford Reserve, 100+ of my closest friends and family, and of course, my mommy and daddy camped right next door.  Because it’s only the basics like that that matter.

Really, I have all that stuff.  If you don’t know how I camp, I went into great detail about how I don’t camp in this post:  How I Don’t Camp.

This camping trip is particularly special, though, as it is a family reunion.  Grammy, a very special 95-year-old lady, will get to see all ten of her children.  They’re traveling in from California, Kentucky, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, and probably more states I’m forgetting, to Connecticut to get together as they do every 5 years or so.

The usual crew we camp with will be there, too.  Most of them are the local part of this giant family.  I’m not actually related to most of them.  My mother’s sister married one of the ten siblings.  Out of kindness, or maybe because there were so many of them already that they didn’t notice, they’ve always treated me like family.  Which is really nice and made for some difficult explanations when putting together already-complicated family-tree projects my cousins had to do.  In fact, some didn’t realize I’m not actually related for a while.  One cousin’s husband was more than a little disappointed to find out he’d been putting up with my crap since I was 15 and there was no real blood to back it up.

But I’m not the only non-blood-related member of this giant family.  It seems they’ve picked up many stragglers along the way who are now considered family.  They’re all wonderful people.  In fact, my husband is one of those stragglers.  I actually met him on my first “family” camping trip after I returned home from Oklahoma.  You don’t get to become family if you’re not tough enough to take some ribbing but kind enough to contribute something- whether it’s fruit pizza, a bottle of some liquor, or just good conversation.  Really the best thing you can contribute is a willingness to be the butt of our jokes for a while, I think.

I think the group needs to be studied.  You know it if you’re a part of it, but there’s no membership cards.  This reunion was well-organized by a few members of the group because it is larger and it has a few scheduled activities, but most camping trips come together with just a liaison to a campground.  The rest just happens without any official leaders.  I think everyone sees Grammy as the matriarch, but like Queen Elizabeth, at this point she’s not real interested in being in charge of everything.  She does enough of that at her nursing home (that’s another story.)  We all show up at a campground and there may be some scuffling about who camps where and how certain people behave, but we always seem to work it out.  We take care of our children and each others’.  We share food sometimes.  Sometimes we don’t.  It would be impressive if I were talking about 20 or so people.  But it’s usually over 100 and includes something like 20 dogs.

Finding campgrounds has become tough, too- we’ve been thrown out of a few.  Weird how they don’t like noise all night long, giant campfires.   One campground seemed particularly sensitive about stuffing some clothing including a shirt that matched the campgrounds “STAFF” shirts and then burning it in effigy after they’d told us to go to bed too many times.  But we’re a big group, and we like to have fun.  We’re always up front before we visit a place.  If we’re on a trip and things are getting less than fun, Grammy will even mention “We’ve been thrown out of nicer places than this one.”

As rowdy as we are during the camping, we always clean up our campfire and all other messes we create.  When a campground we frequent was hit hard by a tornado a couple of years ago, a big group of us (not me, I had two small children, so not looking for credit) went up to the campground to help clean up.  Treat us right, let us do our thing, and we’ll not only pay you thousands in camping fees, we’ll help you when you need it.

The members of the group include several races and religions.  Members of the group have a wide span as far as employment- everything from retired and current business owners, nurses, engineers, firefighters (so the large campfires are usually somewhat contained, or at least someone understands the risks being taken), military, school-bus drivers, teachers, DCF workers, realtor/railroad workers, several IT folks, craftsmen, etc.  And we all get along as neighbors for a few days.  Even more of us do when we have a reunion.  It’s an awesome temporary community and it will be even larger this weekend.  I’m so glad that my kids get to be a part of it.

Anyway, this reunion is going to be fun.  There will be even more kids for our children to play with this trip.  And we’ve managed to book an entire campground.  So I’m looking forward to catching up and telling some old stories and making some new ones.  But I better get to packing.  I’ll leave you with a nursery rhyme I wrote a couple of years ago (I didn’t use the proper name):

Lovely Mrs. Grammy never lived in a shoe,

But she has a large family and

Camping is what they do.

No broth in sight so they drink beer instead,

They burn things all night

And then go to bed.

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Camping’s Learning Curve Is Backwards

[en] camping, tent

[en] camping, tent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our camping season sadly ended with September and as it did, so began some folks’ in our group’s mumblings about what they’d be camping/towing with next year.  There’s always a surprise at the start of the season and no one ever gets something smaller.

That’s the strange thing about “roughin’ it” the way we do.  It’s not like other sports and hobbies- puzzles, you start with one that has 24 pieces and work your way up to a 1000 piece puzzle; skiing you get easy-to-turn boots and skis until you’re ready for the longer skis and tighter, harder to flex boots; bicycling you start on a tricycle and then have a two-wheeler with training wheels and only take the training wheels off when you’re ready.  Once upon a time, the group was all tents. Next, folks moved to pop-ups or small travel trailers and many have now moved up to elaborate 5th wheel toy haulers with outdoor kitchens and lots of extras.

Our story is no different from this trend.  My husband and I started camping while sharing a site with another couple in 2005 BK (BK=Before Kids.)   This couple and we would carefully arrange two vehicles to hold coolers of food, mass quantities of beer, clothing, tents, eating utensils, grills, stove, griddles, canopies, air beds, sleeping bags, tarps, chairs, towels, toiletries, kites, hammocks, toys, stereo, flashlights, lanterns, and more; hopefully leaving enough room for the humans.

Upon arriving at the site, we’d have to start using our noggins to set up the site considering factors like razor-shaped rocks underneath the tent, hills that would cause the blood to rush to your head while sleeping, flow of water from the spigot we’d be using for washing dishes, etc.

At the end of the weekend, we’d pack up everything now having to factor in a lot less beer but a tent that was at the very least damp from morning dew.  All from under the fog of a weekend spent in over-consumption of not so digestive-friendly food and obscene amounts of alcohol. It was no easy feat, and certainly not for the weak of heart or mind.

Within our group, we were fortunate to have expert, long-time, frequent campers who could lend us a hand or advise us as long as they weren’t too busy pressing the button for their pneumatic camper-levellers or microwaving popcorn.

“We’re always gonna be tough and always stay tenters,” I told my husband.

By the end of the 2005 BK season, we had become experts at tenting.  Our packing was optimized for the BK camping lifestyle, which involved mostly lying around all day waiting for night to fall when the campfire, cards, dice, and mixed drinks would come out.  Our camping equipment came to include a portable refrigerator, blender, tiki torches, and a small flock of flamingoes (including the now infamous Kiki and Ethel.)  BK camping nights were long but mornings came early when the sun, immediately upon its rising, would turn a comfy, airy tent into an oven holding the breath of hell’s inferno.  Naps were imperative, but could only be accomplished on cloudy days or in a lawn chair outside the tent.  In a word, it was a blast.

The next season brought change.  It would be the last BK season for our site-mates.  I guess BK camping had already ended for the wife.  Now experts at tenting, the couple purchased their first camper.  Of course, all they wanted was “to be off the ground and have a potty,” and thus purchased a modest travel-trailer.  No more tetris-like car packing or post-ground-slope-analyis tent-pitching.  Of course it was quickly time to move up to the next camper to make sure they used even less of that skill-set.  No longer satisfied off-ground and with potty, they now camp in a model with a huge slide-out and a separate wing for their children’s bedrooms.

Sure, early in the morning, as the heat drove my husband and I from our tent while they snoozed comfortably; and sometimes in the middle of an exhausting afternoon where they were so refreshed they didn’t need their camper’s air conditioning to take a nap; we did feel a little jealous.  But we were still new and not ready to stop using all we’d learned.

For my husband and I, the last BK season was 2009.  In 2010, a tough work schedule and a 6-month old limited our camping to a couple of tent trips and a few weekends sharing my parents’ camper.  Then, the perfect motorhome showed up on Craigslist just before Memorial Day 2011.  Sure, it’s old enough to drink but it didn’t require a tow vehicle and the mauve/smokey blue interior grows on you.  It was everything we needed- we’d be off the ground and we’d have a potty.  More importantly, I could reserve my tenting expertise for other beginners that join us.  We bought it.

Two seasons in, it’s working out okay.  Of course, we’re starting to see where  a slide would be convenient.  And we would like to think less about pulling that awning out, and a backup camera would let us stop using what we learned about backing into a site…

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