Becoming a camping family

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If you’d asked me a number of years ago if I considered myself to be “outdoorsy” I probably would have said no. For years I told people that I didn’t especially like BBQs or picnics because eating outside with insects on a table that was very likely stained with bird poop held very little appeal. Somehow though, over the past few years I’ve developed a mild obsession with homestead-y outdoorsy things, following strangers on Instagram who share perfect images of spotless yet wild looking children in modern-hippie-prarie garb (I think that’s a thing), in breathtaking homeschool landscapes in the mountains of Montana, reading amidst goats and chickens or tending to succulents in a stunning backyard greenhouse.

I wanted in. Kind of. I have a tiny vegetable garden, we started composting, and now I wanted to become a camping family.

Did you know that Kristin and I fell in love while camping? True story. It was a required part of a class and to be honest we both kind of hated that trip at the time, but that’s beside the point. It feels full-circle somehow.

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I very much want to raise children who love the natural world, who see it as a source of endless adventure, who would choose playing in the woods and climbing trees over screen time if given the choice. I know that it’s a tall order, but never say never (as Vivi has taken to repeating lately). Of course we can’t just encourage it or talk about it, we have to model it, so I decided that I wanted us to start camping. We’ve been glamping in a cabin near Mackinac for the past two summers and the kids love it. Jude talks about it all year long, and that’s just s’mores and a cabin and take-out pizza on a picnic table (it literally never occurred to us that we could potentially prepare meals at camp).

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One of the beautiful things about moving to Michigan is that nearly everyone we know seems to camp. Through conversation and research I began to figure out what could take this desire to the next level. My parents bought us a family tent for Christmas, I bought some dishes, a pan from Goodwill, a few dollar store items, a plastic tub that would store all of our accumulated camping paraphernalia, and borrowed a few things from my parents who have amassed quite a collection since buying Big Orange, a 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia camper.

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I crowdsourced some campground ideas and picked one somewhat at random because they had availability on fairly short notice. It was only an hour away which was perfect for a quick weekend trip. The pros: gorgeous mature tree canopy, proximity to Lake Michigan (a two minute walk), bathrooms, a playground, kayak and paddleboard rentals.

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The cons: absolutely no privacy or solitude whatsoever; it felt like we were camping in a lovely tree-filled parking lot. It may only be one con, but it was a big one. We came to the conclusion that we may need to take this whole rustic naturalist thing to the next level and get comfortable with the idea of more remote camping, because I just don’t love strangers enough to want to be able to chat with them from my tent without raising my voice.

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The kids actually loved having a million other kids to play with on the playground; they didn’t seem to mind the crowds at all, but it didn’t make me want to hang out on our rectangle of dust sandwiched between other families for two straight days, so we spent a little bit of time at the beach, but also decided to get out of town and wander around in Saugatuck. I’ll be curious to see whether remote camping makes me happier to stay at the site continuously, or if the border collie in me will need to find things to DO.

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I think that my proudest achievement, if I’m parsing things, is cooking breakfast both mornings. We borrowed a camp stove from my parents because we knew this fire pit didn’t include a cooking grate (and we have more research to do in that department). I made oatmeal and eggs the first morning and cinnamon sugar donuts the next. Yes, donuts! For someone who picks up pizza while cabin camping, this felt huge.

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I think Jonah ate six or seven of them.

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And I don’t know what it is, but there’s something delicious and wonderful about drinking coffee (even instant) out of a camp mug in the morning. I even have to admit that hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of other families making their camp breakfasts was kind of lovely.

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The kids did the dishes both days. They were so into it.

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They really loved everything about it. When we asked them what their favorite parts of camping had been, Jonah replied, “everything!” It somehow magically made a weekend feel like a full-length vacation. And despite my desire for solitude, the presence of the playground and dozens of other kids allowed K and I to sneak in some reading without interruption which was delightful.

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By the time we left we were already talking about planning our next trip. While this was my dream, I’m thrilled that everyone else seems equally eager to make camping a thing that we do, a thing that we are. A camping family. With or without the modern-hippie-prarie garb. Maybe that’ll be next on my sewing project list.

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