After a busy summer, we took a few days off this week to go camping at Canoe Creek State Park.
A canoe strapped on top, two kayaks on the ceiling of the trailer, bikes below, plus food and luggage in every spare corner - we were loaded down with all the necessities for four days of fun.
We rented a cabin, much to the relief of this mom who didn't think she could handle another rainy tenting experience right now. But even though we had access to a kitchen, when we go camping, Ed wants to cook all our food on the campfire.
(Only exception: his morning coffee. It was just too tempting to make coffee in the kitchen each morning before going out to start the campfire.)
I have trouble thinking of ideas for camping food so I'm sharing what we ate in hopes that it will give future camp chefs some ideas.
After we unpacked, we roasted hotdogs, warmed up a can of baked beans, and made bread-on-a-stick.
For bread-on-a-stick, at home I had mixed up some Miracle Bread dough and froze it. While we settled into our cabin, I allowed the dough to thaw. To bake the bread, Ed pulled off a piece of dough and rolled it into a long"snake." Then he wrapped it around the stick. We tried using metal hotdog sticks and also sticks picked up from the nearby woods that the boys scraped the bark off of. The wooden sticks worked much better then the metal since the dough stayed on better.
The bread was not baked perfectly. the outside well-toasted and the inside raw; but it was fun to make and was all consumed. It tasted a little like soft pretzels.
In the morning, Ed fried sausage and scrambled eggs on the griddle and cooked grits in the dutch oven.
Feeding his family enough calories to fill a day full of activity!
We spent the morning exploring some of the hiking trails in the park. For a while I had company that kept my pace before she decided that dad's backpack was a better option. I was the plodder on all our adventures this week, usually behind the others, whether on foot or bike.
But I usually had time to catch up and get my breath when there was fascinating sites to explore, like the remains of an old lime kiln.
We found a limestone quarry to climb, strange tree formations, some great overlooks, several geo-caches, a bat cave, and even a large black snake.
By the time we got back to the cabin, we had good appetites for lunch. I had planned lunches that we could take on our excursions, not knowing what we would do each day. But this day we ate chicken salad wraps, chips, and sliced apples at the cabin.
In the afternoon we headed down to the lake at the park. Our little girlie was excited about her first ride in the canoe. Until she got in. Then she screamed her displeasure. Ed dropped the two of us onto the nearest bank.
I put her in the stoller and within minutes, she was sleeping. The poor thing was just too tired for fun on the lake.
But the other children (and dad) made up for her lack of enthusiasm.
Even I had a chance to paddle the kayak. It had been a while since I dipped a paddle in the water. Brilliant blue water and warm sunshine - a perfect September day.
For supper we made baked potatoes in the coals and chili in the dutch oven. Ed fried out the ground beef, added beans, water, and my homemade seasoning mix which included homemade tomato powder.
We went back to the lake to try our hand at fishing. We had few nibbles, but mostly just enjoyed the perfect evening.
I think this was the only moment that I caught Ed standing still and enjoying the view. Mostly he was kept busy baiting hooks and untangling lines.
Back at our campsite, we toasted marshmallows and popped corn over the campfire. Perfect ending to the day.
We began Tuesday with a pancake breakfast.
A few miles from the park is the Lower (rhymes with Flower) Rail Trail. We decided to try a few miles. It was prettier than we expected, following the river, and almost completely level. Round trip, we biked nine mile.
At our turn-around point, we stopped in the little town of Williamsburg where we found a nice park along the trail to eat our ham sandwiches. Some cold drinks from the store next door were appreciated too.
In the afternoon, the children and Ed went down to the lake for more water sports. I'm not sure how much time was spent in kayaks and how much in the water, but they came back soaked.
I attempted to nap with the 20-month old but apparently she had slept enough in the bike trailer to make that impossible. You moms may have experienced the scenario. Lay down for 30 seconds, sit up, adjust your blanket, lay down, sit up, find your dolly, lay down, suck on your fingers, sit up, ask mom to cover your feet with your blanket, lay down...and so on. After an hour of that, I chose to appreciate the few minutes of semi-quiet that I had enjoyed and go join the rest of the family.
For supper, Ed sauteed carrots, onions, and peppers in the dutch oven. Then he added water, rice, seasonings, and boneless chicken thighs. I thought we had prepared a large pan-full but the fresh air must be prompting good appetites as there wasn't many leftovers.
While supper cooked, we played some loud games of Pit.
In the evening we went back to the lake for more fishless fishing. None of the other fishermen seemed to be having success so we didn't feel too badly.
Back at the campsite Ed made chocolate brownies for a bedtime snack. It was too dark for pictures, and there were no leftovers to photograph in the morning.
For breakfast Ed made a wonderful whole wheat coffee cake in the dutch oven. I had prepared dry mixes for most of the food we made such as pancakes, coffee cake, and brownies. I placed all the dry ingredients in a ziplock bag and added a note with what ingredients were needed such as milk, water, eggs, or oil. This made super easy cooking while camping.
Some of you have discovered the secret: camping with children is not a vacation for mom. We take our work with us. But I do think that I'm learning a few things to make camping less stressful. Easy food prep is obvious.
And it is worth camping to see the children's enjoyment. Maybe the best part for me is that Ed gives his undivided attention to the children. Most days, I'm the sole parent. I have no idea how single parents do it because I'm always ready to turn the responsibility over to Ed when he gets home from work each evening. But to have his 24-hour parenting is a break for mom even if camping itself isn't.
And Ed says that all this exercise is keeping us young.
But back to breakfast. We added bacon, leftover baked potatoes fried with some onion and peppers and scrambled eggs to our coffee cake. We feasted well this morning.
The morning was still cool and foggy, but just like the other days, it warmed up to perfect 70 degree weather once the sun came up.
We had enjoyed the Lower Trail so much that we went back to bike another section, this time starting six miles below Williamsburg. A kind-hearted biker offered to take our family picture.
Again the trail ran along the water with many benches to enjoy a break and the view.
We stopped at the same park at Williamsburg to enjoy what our children call a "snackie" lunch - balona, cheese, crackers, and apples. We have loved these Contigo Trekker water bottles. They do not leak and go with us on every trip and bike ride.
In the afternoon, back at the park, we tried our hand at disc golf.
We didn't do so well, but it was our first attempt and something we will probably try again.
Ed toasted quesadillas for supper.
I like to end a vacation with a meal that can use up leftovers. Quesadillas were perfect. I layered tortillas with chopped chicken, sausage, rice, chili, and beans. Add a sprinkle of mozarella cheese to hold it all together. Toast each side. Serve with salsa. Yum!
We went back to the lake for the evening. This time, Ed tried taking our littlest girl in the kayak. Whether she felt more secure on dad's lap than mom's or just wanted to have fun like the big children, she loved it. She spent the whole evening in the kayak. But I had not brought the camera to capture her grin.
We paddled until nearly dark and reluctantly pulled into shore. The two kayaks and canoe, plus all the life jackets and paddles had added to our load but but also our enjoyment.
We enjoyed more toasted marshmallows and popcorn before scrubbing off the dirt layers and heading for bed.
Our last morning, Ed made yummy cinnamon french toast which we slathered with peanut butter and syrup. Then we got to work packing, loading up, and cleaning the cabin.
By ten o'clock we were back on the Lower Trail. We had decided to finish the last five miles, making a ten mile round trip. This part of the trail was even more rural and for most of the trail we could hear nothing but the gurgle of the stream.
We stopped for another snackie lunch at one of the benches along the trail - digging through the leftovers to find more balona, cheese, crackers, cookies, apples, and other random items.
Then we loaded up our bikes for one last time. We spent the afternoon at the Allegheny Portage Railroad Historical site near Altoona. I enjoyed it more than I expected.
Having a ten-year-old got our family into the site without charge. If you are visiting a National Park in the next year, bring along a forth-grader for free passes thanks to the "Every Kid in a Park" program.
After a short but steep hike at the Portage Railroad, there was no complaints about an air-conditioned ride home.
Today, all we have left are memories, photos, and a huge stack of laundry.