Our First Long Camping Vacation

About a year after we bought our popup, we went on our first trip that was longer than a weekend.  We (my husband & I, his parents, and our three kids – 7 people in a pop up!) went to Niagara Falls, Thousand Islands & Boldt Castle, Ausable Chasm, and then ended up at a state park near my in-laws.  We did all this in 10 days/9 nights!  While we were planning it, it didn’t seem so bad.  All we’d ever done were weekend trips, so we thought this would be like several weekend trips put together.  Not really.  First up was Niagara Falls.  We planned to stay there for 3 nights.  We ran into construction on the way there so a four and a half hour trip took closer to six…this on  Friday night after John got home from work.  Not a good way to start vacation!  So, anyway, we could’ve spent the whole week at Niagara Falls!  There is so much to see and do there!

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls from Maid of the Mist

Then we went to Clayton, NY.  On the way, we stopped over in Lockport to see a lock and see how they used to use water to generate power for several plants.  It was very interesting, but probably took too long.

Tour boat going through the lock.

Tour boat going through the lock.

We didn’t get to our campground (Merry Knoll) until 8pm – much later than we had intended.

The view from Merry Knoll Campground

The view from Merry Knoll Campground

The main attraction near Clayton is Boldt Castle and the Thousand Islands.  We took a tour boat around the St. Lawrence River and then to Boldt Castle.  I’ve been there three times now and the amount of work they’ve done to restore the castle is amazing!

Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle

We were there for two nights and then off to Ausable Chasm.  This time we were a little smarter and didn’t plan any stops other than lunch and a grocery store.  Nothing ever goes as planned though.  Our 5 year old son threw up halfway there!  We had donuts for breakfast and he overindulged!  (He later asked me why I allowed him to have more than two??)  Fortunately, one of the next signs we saw was for Jacques Cartier State Park.  We figured they would at least have basic bathroom facilities and we could clean him up some and get the car cleaned up too.  We were so surprised when we discovered a very nice shower in the bathroom!  I was able to wash him off, rinse his clothes, and dry them somewhat with the hand dryer.  He thought it was great fun to dry off under the dryer!  My mother-in-law cleaned up the car for me and we were on our way again.  A quick stop for groceries and lunch were the only other stops we made.  We set up camp (again!).  At this point we were really thinking that we had crammed too much into a week!  The kids weren’t happy that we hadn’t been able to swim and use the playgrounds more.  The adults were getting tired of setting up and tearing down camp plus spending several hours on the road every other day.  Of course, since we arrived at the campground at a decent time, we thought we could swim or maybe use the playground.  No, it was too cool and it started to rain.  So, we all went to bed early.  We did enjoy Ausable Chasm and since it was right next to the campground, it didn’t take long to get there and back.  The kids were able to enjoy the playground some although it was still too cold to swim.

Ausable Chasm Campground

Ausable Chasm Campground

The next morning we packed up and headed for our final destination – Lackawanna State Park.  It was about 283 miles and took us over 6 hours to get there!  Our two year old had so many accidents that we had to stop so I could buy him dry undies & shorts (there’s just no easy way to get to your luggage when it’s in the pop up!).  I did have some dry clothes in the truck with me, but he went through them!  When we got to our campsite, we had to back in – YIKES!  We’ve done that exactly twice – once with way too much help and once again with way too much help.  I think it took us a good half hour to get in the site the way we wanted to be and get level (I’ve never seen such an unlevel paved site!).  It didn’t help that a big ol’ fifth wheel came along and whipped into the site across from us – he just backed right in like a pro.  So glad he didn’t see us trying to back in!!  Then we discovered that our site didn’t have water.  How we missed that I’ll never know.  We were right next to the bathrooms so it worked out, but it was a shock at first.  By Sunday, when we packed up for the last time, we were ready to be home.  We were tired of traveling, tired of setting up & tearing down, just plain tired.  Next time we’re planning to stay at one, maybe two campgrounds over the course of a week.  I think everyone will be happier!


Sugar Cookie Dough Pops

My kids have been watching old episodes of The Next Great Baker and my middle child has been trying to come up with a recipe for us to try.  He decided we should make cake pops with cookie dough.  He even made a list of what we would need.

IMG_2986We didn’t have any cake pop sticks so we made do with toothpicks, but they would be fine with nothing either – they really aren’t that messy.

He originally wanted to ice them, but after mixing the icing in the cookie dough, we didn’t have any icing left (oops).  However, the sprinkles stuck just fine.

IMG_2984After my next great baker tried one and pronounced them delish, the rest of us tried them and then had another.  Mmmm!!


Sugar Cookie Dough Pops

Cookie Dough

1/4 C Butter, melted

1/4 C Oil

2 C Flour

3/4 C White Sugar

2 T Milk

1 t Vanilla

Dash of salt


2 C 10x Sugar

1/2 t Vanilla

2 T Milk plus more

Food coloring

Mix cookie dough ingredients together.  It should be crumbly and not like dough at all.  Mix the icing ingredients adjusting the amount of milk needed to give it a good thick consistency.  You should be able to stir it with a wooden spoon, but you don’t want it to be runny.  Mix the icing into the cookie dough.  Now it should resemble cookie dough.  If it’s too thick, add some more milk.  If it’s too runny, add a little more flour.  Roll the dough into balls and roll in sprinkles.  Put on a cookie tray.  Eat right away or chill loosely covered.  Enjoy!

Welcome Home Wednesdays

Extending Clothing Life – Making a Dress Shirt Short Sleeved

IMG_2966In our new, warmer climate, hubby doesn’t need to wear long sleeve dress shirts for work.  It seemed like a shame to just get rid of (donate) all of his dress shirts though.  Most of them were in really good condition.  So I tried making one into a short sleeve shirt.  It wasn’t that hard!  It may seem intimidating, but it is really very simple.  It took me about 15 minutes to do this.  I use a short sleeve dress shirt as a pattern so I know where to cut the sleeve.  Line up the shoulder seams.

IMG_2967It needs to be cut about an inch longer so you have room to hem it.  I think cutting the first sleeve off is the hardest part.  After that, there’s no going back.

IMG_2968Using the sleeve you just cut off as a guide, cut the other sleeve off.

IMG_2969I remove the buttons before tossing the cut off sleeves.  You never know when you might need to replace a button.

IMG_2970Fold the cut edge under once and then again and pin it.  Do this all the way around both sleeves.


Line up the shoulder seams and make sure the sleeves are the same length.


Sew each sleeve hem.  I line up the fold of the hem with the edge of my presser foot.  That way the seam is the same distance from the fold all the way around.

IMG_2975A quick press to smooth out the new hem and you have a “new” short sleeve dress shirt.


Shakedown Cruise, Part 3

Make sure you read part 1 and part 2.

Fortunately, no one complained about our tempo-tank, but I would never do that again.  Seriously, you should see the sloshing the bucket does when full. Regardless, it worked for the weekend, but you can bet that the gray water tank was number one on my list of things to add to our camper collection.

The full set up and unpacking went extremely well and rather quickly despite some of the quirks I noted above.  We were relaxing and ready to enjoy the campground on day 1.  We made campfire, had our dinner, and the kids were back at the playground.  Day 1 came to an end with snores all around.

On day 2, I decided that it would be nice to have hot water.  So, I read through the manual, made sure the gas was on, and opened up the outside access to light the hot water heater.  I was immediately puzzled as our manual did not seem to match what I was seeing.  We soon discovered that the manual did not match the model number.  I was not happy, but a friendly camper-neighbor was willing to help me get the hot water heater going.  Let me make a statement at this point…

Most fellow campers are helpful and friendly.  I know.  I know.  The people that know me are asking themselves if I have lost that wonderful cynicism about humanity for which I am well known.  However, it is well in place.  Yet, despite my cynicism, I must admit the helpfulness and general good nature of people we have met camping.  You still have idiots, but they are apparently more tolerable with wood smoke. Anyway…

The camper-neighbor and I figured out how to light the burner, and I let it run as he suggested.  An hour later, we still had no hot water.  Two hours later, no hot water.  I was not happy.  Then, something hit me.  When we were looking at the camper to purchase it, I remembered that the hot water tank had been bypassed.  Sure enough, I opened the cabinet, and it was still bypassed.  This brings us to…

New Camper
Lesson #3 – Even if the Dealer Says It’s Ready…Check!

Our dealer was excellent and friendly, and literally did a lot for us during the purchase.  We trusted them when they said the camper was ready, but they missed the bypass.  Luckily it did not damage the tank when we heated it.  However, I did contact the dealer and asked why it was not set up.  The dealer immediately asked us to drop the camper off on Monday.  They set the tank up, and added an awning to the camper without charge.  Great Deal!  However, check everything and, then, check it again!

End of Lesson

So, we spent the weekend without hot water which was survivable as we could heat it up on the stove or campfire.  It was, however, a bit embarrassing and frustrating.  Yet, it did not ruin a great campground and a good time with the kids.  At least, the weekend was going great until we received a phone call on Saturday.

I was sitting in the sun, feeling the relaxation taking affect, when my cell phone rang.  It was our Pastor. He asked if I was willing to help in the Service the next day.  I said I would, and then he explained, with relief in his voice, that he had had A HEART ATTACK and was calling me from the hospital. I spent the rest of the day buried in my Bible and praying for inspiration for the sermon I would now be delivering.  So, the final lesson from the shakedown cruise…



Shakedown Cruise, Part 2

Camping Trip 1

Cold Water, Open Flames, and Blocked Arteries

See part 1 before continuing with my husband’s version of our first camping trip.

*This post contains affiliate links.

OK… so, despite the fact that camper was not properly supported (though I did not know it at the time), we were able to get it completely set up and ready for use.  My wife began her list of things we completely forgot and things we wanted for our next trip, and I began my mental list of things I did not like about the camper.  Yep, we had a brand new camper, and I was already complaining.  However, it was not about the camper per se, but the camper filled with 5 people.

I am not a small person, and I am not a thin person.  So, I like a lot of room.  Thus, as my wife unpacked, I began to find myself crowded by everything.  I think it was extremely psychological, but it was there nonetheless.  As things kept appearing, the first thought in my head was that I needed to design and build some form of shelving that would be reasonably priced and easy to put up and put down.  As the unpacking continued, the second thought was to run home, stretch out in the luxurious space of my workshop, and build shelves.  I eventually pushed the desire to scream and run home down and
ran outside to hook up water and sewage.

Reveling in the open space of the campsite, I had the electricity and water hooked up very quickly.  Some advice I can offer is that you should buy a new hose for use with your camper.  It allows you to have new washers in the hose and to be sure that the water coming in is not tainted by water from your home lawn and garden taps.  Also, it just looks spiffy!

Side note from Mona – you also need a pressure regulator although we didn’t know that yet.

Anyway,I digress.  So, I hooked up the water and electricity, and I hooked up our temporary gray water tank… ahem… which was, believe it or not, a giant kitty litter bucket… which brings us to

New Camper Lesson #2 – C’mon Scrooge Buy the Freaking Tank!

OK… so we did indeed use a kitty litter bucket for a gray water tank on that first trip, and let me just put a plug in for the kitty litter bucket.  Those little gems can hold everything from tools, to water, to ash from a fire place.  I really like them for carrying things in box-like containers with handles.  However, there are many reasons that you should simply spring for a good quality gray water tank.  Gaining that tank made a lot of things easier, and I will talk about it in future posts.  However, from the get go, do yourself a favor and buy a sizable, portable, and tow-able tank!

End of Lesson

This post contains affiliate links.  See my disclosure policy.

Shakedown Cruise, Part 1

Camping Trip 1

Cold Water, Open Flames, and Blocked Arteries

I love the way my husband writes and so I’ve asked him to share some of our camping adventures.  This is from my old camping bog.

The concept of blogging (is that a word?) sets me on edge as I feel it will eventually be the downfall of printed books in general.  I have a Ph.D. in English, and I have old fashioned ideas about the fact that I think the written word should be just that or, at least, printed.  Regardless, my wife asked me to work cooperatively with her on this electronic brainchild, and I plan to jump in with both feet, or a mouse and keyboard as the case may be.

So, on with motley…

As our blog indicates, we decided to play it safe by taking our new pop-up camper for a shakedown cruise to a local campground with which we were very familiar and which was within an easy driving range of our home.  Our goal was to gain the experience of a weekend of camping with the safety net of familiar surroundings. I am extremely glad we made that choice.

At the outset, everything was going according to plan.  The hook up of the camper to the truck went well, although it was touch and go for our marriage for a while as we tried to decide who would do the “backing up” and who would do the “directing.”  Eventually, our love for each other won out, and I let her drive as I am horrible at taking directions.  We hooked up, after a surprisingly small amount of trial and error, and drove to the campground with our excitement riding high.

The campground was no disappointment either.  We were assigned a great spot by the showers and playground, and the kids could play while we set up. Then, as we pulled into the spot, and the truck listed to one side, the first complication hit.  The ground was not level.

Now, you might think that such a thing would be obvious, and I had prepared for some unevenness, but this was truly mountainous in proportion to the very level yard we had at home.  Also, I sort of misunderstood the concept of the stabilizer feet on the camper, and we ended up using them as the means by which to level and support the camper… which brought us to

LESSON #1 – Bring Leveling Boards!

Yep… I did not bring a single leveling board.  Despite the fact that I watched my father-in-law unload his leveling boards on repeated occasions, it never occurred to me to pack my own.  I literally thought that the stabilizing feet were for leveling the camper and supporting its weight.  Thank God that no permanent damage to the camper was done and that it supported itself throughout the weekend.  Now, we take a number of boards with us, and I constructed wooden shoes for the stabilizing feet.  They no longer take the weight of the camper as supports but function correctly as stabilizers.

End of Lesson

John blogs sporadically at The Crabby Wizard

Extending Clothing Life – Making Pants & Sleeves Longer

I talked about how to make jammie pants into shorts and how to make long sleeve T’s into short sleeves.  However, sometimes clothing is too short and needs to have something added to it.

My daughter (like most girls I’m sure) has certain items of clothing that she loves to wear.  When they get too small, she hates to see them go and on occasion will try to convince me that they really aren’t too small.  Sometimes, I can fix them.  One of my favorite fixes is sewing ruffles on shorts, skirts, or pants that have gotten too short.

These shorts were just too short.  So, I found some material that coordinated and sewed a band on each leg.  Presto, decent length shorts again.IMG_1496[1]IMG_2714[1]Another favorite outfit is her fleece set made with kitty material.  I think I made it in 2010 so it’s getting short again!

ClothingOutfitIt was a little long when I made it, but after a couple years, they were getting short.  So I had some of the material leftover, but anything that coordinates would work.  Cut pieces long enough to make the sleeves or legs the right length and then add an inch and a half to allow for seams and hems.

Clothing Shirt SleeveBecause fleece doesn’t unravel and fray, I just zig zagged the edges rather than doing an actual hem.  If you wanted to do a hem, you can just turn the edges under and sew it with a straight stitch.

Clothing Pants

When Life Throws You a Curve

I sat down to do some sewing this afternoon. I was moving right along when suddenly there was a funny clunk and my machine made a strange whirring sound.  Not a big problem, I always have spare needles.  A quick change and I’m on my way again.
LifeBentNeedleExcept that my machine still doesn’t sound quite right and then the thread breaks.  *sigh*  When I take my material out to see what’s going on, this is what I see – a mess of thread.

LifeTangledSeam*sigh*  Long ago, I made a rule that I would not put my sewing down when I had to rip something out to go on.  I would just dread going back to work on it and end up putting it off.  So, I dig out my trusty seam ripper and rip out the seam.  While I’m rethreading my machine, I notice that it’s pretty fuzzy inside from sewing a lot of fleece so I clean it out.  Finally, I finish sewing the seam and quit.  I can come back to it later and it’s ready to go on to the next step.

Life can be like that.  You think you have something planned out – you know how you’re going to handle a challenge that you know is coming and then WHAM life throws you a curve.  Something you didn’t see coming, something you don’t know how to handle and your plan seems so small now.  But, you can’t quit.  Life goes on and you need a new plan.  Maybe you can revise your original plan and maybe you need a whole new plan.  Regardless, you need to check in with the ultimate planner first!  Sometimes we make plans and never pray about them first.  We just figure out the best way to do something and go with it.  What if God has a much better way?  After all his ways are not our ways and experience says that God’s way is always better!

Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Fostering Kittens

For two weeks in December, we fostered five kittens from our local humane society.  They were six weeks old and basically just needed some socialization (kind of like homeschoolers?) and some medicine (easy, right?).

kittens basket

Could they be any cuter?

Let’s back up a little.  We have four cats (only one of them was really planned) and are definitely not interested in adding to our collection.  Our kids, however, would love a kitten!  If I’m honest with myself, I would too, but I know that it’s not feasible at this point.  One day I saw an ad in the paper that our local humane society was looking for foster families.  I called and asked about it.  There wasn’t much to it – fill out an application and then the coordinator would visit our home to make sure we had a safe place for small animals.  That was in August.  I made the mistake of telling the kids (honestly the way the ad made it sound I thought we’d be getting kittens very soon).  Every other day they asked if I had heard anything.  Finally they seemed to forget (or maybe give up!).  Then, one day I got an e-mail saying they had five kittens.  I e-mailed them back and said we were definitely interested, but I didn’t say a word to the kids.  A couple hours later I got a phone call saying I could pick them up.

I decided to keep it a secret (I did tell hubby) and have a little fun with it.  I told my daughter I had to run an errand and I wanted her to come with me.  Hubby took our boys geocaching.  My daughter was totally clueless.  Even when we pulled into the humane society she wasn’t quite sure why we were there.  I loved watching her expression when she realized why we were there!

Kittens carrierWe had agreed that her room would be the safe room for foster animals.  She was so excited to get the kittens home and into her room for the next two weeks!  They were a little scared at first, but very quickly warmed up to us.  Even the boys who are not nearly as quiet didn’t scare them after the first day.

Kittens tree

They loved knocking this poor tree over and then curling up on it.

Those little kittens wiggled and squirmed their way into our hearts!  There’s nothing more adorable than a little ball of fuzz that purrs.
IMG_1992There were a couple sad days when we had to take someone back because they weren’t eating despite being given their daily antibiotic.

IMG_1961But there were mostly happy days where my kids and I loved playing with the little fur balls (hubby isn’t a cat person, but he totally humors me and agreed to this fostering thing).  I had forgotten how much fun kittens are!  They want to play ’til they drop!

IMG_1957At the end of two weeks, it was time to take the remaining three kittens back.  I watched the kittens go from scattering to the far corners of the room when someone opened the door and then cautiously peeking out to charging at the person coming in ready to play and be loved.  They were ready to go to their new forever homes.  As hard as it was for us to let them go, it was time.  The night before there were plenty of tears and why can’t we keep one questions.  Our kids knew from the start exactly when they would be going back, but it was still hard (excuse me, I have something in my eye).  On Saturday morning, hubby took the kids on a geocaching adventure and I returned the kittens.
IMG_1980After a couple sad days, the kids recovered and resumed their asking when we would be getting kittens again.  So, the next time I get an e-mail asking for a kitten foster, we’ll do it again.  It’s a great learning experience and it’s just plain fun!