I absolutely love being outside. As a child, I always was the little girl that loved to play outside, rain or shine, collecting bugs, trying to keep pet spiders (especially after reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White as a child), riding my bike, and fishing for crawdads down the street in the pond. Even now, although I have a healthy respect for spiders, I don’t get grossed out by them unless they are crawling on me. However I do get completely freaked out by cave crickets and water bugs (I try not to do my “eek dance” when I see them, but no promises!). I’m still fascinated by nature and love to learn as I encounter new things outdoors. My love for the outdoors led me to love going to church camp as a kid, where we would stay in simple cabins and had to walk a short distance to use the restroom and shower house. With the exception of eating and some of the classes, we would spend most of our waking hours outside doing various activities. Fast forward to present day.
My experiences as a child and as a teenager at church camp contributed to my love for camping. Our family camping trips started when we were newlyweds with a tiny pup tent and a little bit of cash. For our first anniversary, we celebrated by taking our pup tent to The Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois and staying the night at the campground for a whopping $5.00, and hiked there the next day (It is an absolutely amazing place to hike, FYI.). We went camping several more times before we had children. After we had children, it became a fun way to enjoy the outdoors and a cheaper way to vacation.
Camping has been one of our favorite activities to do as a family. Perhaps when you hear the reasons why, you will want to go too!
In order to camp successfully, you have to work together. Camping requires a variety of gear that is used for shelter, sleeping, sitting, cooking, and eating. Our family uses one large tent (approximately 20 feet by 10 feet) and a smaller tent (approximately 8 feet by 8 feet). Inside those tents we use air mattresses, sleeping bags, fans/ heater (depending on the season), and lanterns. Our first goal is to set up the tent, preferably before dark when possible. Every person in the family helps. We work together to straighten the tent poles, unfold and place the tents in the best location, thread the poles through the loops to erect the tent, push the tent up to place the tent poles, and stake the tent securely to the ground. Everyone helps to inflate air mattresses, unroll sleeping bags, and place pillows on the beds. Additionally, we work together to put meals together. Someone starts the fire, someone else peels potatoes, carrots, prepares meat, gathers spices, pans, spatulas and foil, and we get to work on cooking breakfast or dinner. We have really grown to appreciate this aspect of camping. Although it is hard work, it requires communication, patience, and giving of self. Working together creates opportunities to talk with your kids and to share an experience.
One thing that we struggle with, as I’m sure you do as well, is technology use time. It’s so easy to pick up a smart phone to check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, and it is so difficult to manage the time we spend because we end up getting lost in our own little worlds. Don’t get me wrong. I love posting on Facebook and Instagram too. I would not be speaking honestly if I told you that I was really great at managing time with technology. We are learning to be more intentional and purposeful with our time. As we say to our kids and to each other, it is about balance. Camping doesn’t completely remove technology, but we are so busy working together to set up, prepare meals, and do fun activities, that it does minimize technology use.
We enjoy exploring the area where we camp and usually stay at places that have interesting areas to explore. Just a few days ago, we camped at Chippokes Plantation State Park in Surry, Virginia. While there, we were able to visit the beach on the James River and explore the coastline, where you can see beautiful driftwood, fossilized shells (you will easily see “Chesapecten jeffersonius”), and cypress knees formed in the water and protruding approximately 2 to 3 feet above water beneath the cypress trees. It is truly a beautiful place! We love discovering new things that are not a part of our daily or weekly routines. They also have an historic area where you can tour the Jones-Stewart Mansion and learn about the old plantation and the Farm and Forestry Museum which is a 5 building museum that houses more than 600 pieces of farm equipment which helped us to picture what it might have been like to work and survive during that time period.
Other locations in Virginia that we want to visit:
First Landing State Park
Belle Isle State Park
False Cape State Park
Pocahontas State Park