10 Apr

Celebrating a Birthday at the Campground With Friends…and Bad Weather?

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We used to scoff at camping close to home and would never have celebrated a birthday or holiday at the campground.  But things have changed.  Last year we realized that we could camp close to home and still get the kids to their baseball games (read about it here).  This year we realized that we could camp close to home and have a slam dunk birthday party with family and friends. When the campground calls us, we must go! Even when other responsibilities are calling our names.

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13 May

Camping Close to Home at Turkey Swamp Park (Ode to an Adventurous Mom)

A few weeks back Stephanie wrote a post titled Five Reasons to Camp Close to Home.  It was a good one for a variety of reasons–five of them to be exact.  I really liked reason #4, “don’t miss out on important weekend commitments.” Max and Theo are currently obsessed with t-ball–which means they really don’t want to miss their Saturday morning games.  I admire their dedication and am pretty pumped about this new development in their lives.  You see, I love baseball too.

But I also love taking the RV out after a long week at work.  You see the conflict, right?  This past weekend we camped at Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold, NJ--about 20 minutes from home.  We played catch until dark on Friday night, and made the t-ball game Saturday morning.  We were back at the campground for lunch. Conflict resolved.  Camping weekend saved.  Harmony restored to the universe.
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After five seasons of RVing it’s hard to believe that we never camped at Turkey Swamp before.  We absolutely loved it.  Our site was huge, and it overlooked the playground.  We didn’t ask to be next to the playground like we normally do. A thoughtful Park Ranger picked the spot for us after I told him that we had three kids. The boys played on the playground for hours and hours. At the end of the day they were tired, sweaty, dirty, exhausted, and most importantly–ready for bed!

All of the spots at Turkey Swamp are large pull throughs that cut off the road and then back onto it.  They don’t cut across from one row to the next like most pull throughs do.  This made all of the sites large and private.  Good luck finding sites this size at a private campground. Not gonna happen. All of the sites had water and electric–but bring a hose extension if you come.  Water hook ups are far apart from electric hook ups.DSC_0012

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Our close to home camping weekend turned out to be a special one for three reasons. Firstly, Stephanie and I were able to take turns kayaking without the kids on Saturday, and on Sunday we rented a canoe and the whole family went for a relaxing paddle. We saw finches and blue jays and water snakes.  At the end of our family canoe ride, as we approached the shore,  Stephanie thought that one of the boys was about to jump out.  So she pounced on him. Unfortunately, mom’s heroism sent dad flying over the side of the canoe. Stephanie found this to be very funny. So did several families who were fishing on a nearby dock!

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The second reason why our weekend trip rocked?  The Sisters on the Fly were also camping at Turkey Swamp.  Who are the Sisters? They are a group of daring ladies who travel in lovingly restored vintage RV’s and handmade teardrops and the like. The Sisters bring all kinds of sass and style to every campground that they visit. Taking pictures of their vintage RV’s was more exciting for me than a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot–and Stephanie didn’t mind me taking pictures of these bathing beauties!

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Our friend and fellow blogger, Janine Pettit, even gave us a tour of her rig! It was comfy and cozy and stepping into it felt like stepping into a time machine.  After our tour Janine offered the boys fruit snacks.  They accepted. Janine=Fairy God Mother.

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But the most important reason why our weekend was so sweet and magical? …MOM.  For the fourth or fifth year in a row we took her camping on Mother’s Day. She wouldn’t have it any other way.  Stephanie loves RVing, she loves campground culture, and she loves experiencing nature with her children.  The boys wanted to go fishing on Mother’s day–and she was more than game.

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Stephanie is an adventurous mom, and she is raising adventurous boys.  They are not afraid to try new things and they greet each day with hyperkinetic energy and determination.  They get those things from her.

I am so thankful that we went camping close to home this weekend–and I’m so thankful that I married a camping mom.

Onward.

 

03 Apr

RVFTA #29: 5 Reasons to Camp Close to Home

Camp Close to Home at Timberland Lake Campground

On Episode #29 of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are discussing 5 reasons you really should camp close to home. This is something we tried out for the first time this year, and boy are we happy that we did.

How did this finally happen after five years of RVing? Well, we saw a fun Facebook post about the soup and chili cookoffs happening at a local campgrounds just 30 minutes away. We ended up spending two great weekends at Timberland Lake Campground in Jackson, NJ only 30 minutes away and realized there are a lot of perks to camping near home base.

During the featured segment, we talk about our day trip into downtown Princeton, New Jersey. If you are in the area, you will definitely want to check out Rojo’s Roastery, Mamoun’s Falafel, Labyrinth Books, and the Cotsen Children’s Library on the campus of Princeton University. All told, we couldn’t have imagined a better day in a downtown…both the adults and children were equally pleased.

We will also share some of our listeners’ thoughts about the RV Staycation. It turns out plenty of our readers are very attached to their local camping getaway spot.

To read the original blog post about camping close to home, click here. And to read more about our two weekends at Timberland Lake campground, check out our post on the Good Sam Blog.

What else will you hear on this week’s episode? Well, we have been doing plenty of book reviews for adults, but this week we will shift gears and recommend a great book to read to the kids around the campfire. A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, by Chris Van Dusen, is a charming bedtime story with all the elements of a perfect RV tale: a cute vintage trailer, plenty of marshmallows, and a curious and hungry bear.

We have always read to our boys before bed whether at home or at the campground. Over the last year, story time has moved fireside. This is now one of our favorite parts of everyday—sitting around the campfire in the evening, reading stories to our children. If this isn’t part of your routine, give it a try. You might wind up loving it just as much as the kids do.

Thank to all of our readers and listeners for sending us such great emails and comments. We love to hear your take on all these topics, and we know everyone else does, too. Remember you can post your camping pics on our Facebook Page and you can hashtag #RVFTA on Instagram so we can regram those awesome campground shots from all around the country.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out some of the bloggers that listen to this show and are always providing fun and interesting content. Mandy over at Campfire Travelers heard my resolution about personalized checklists and decided to go ahead and create some. Erin and Dan came up with their own list of camping fails and posted on their InnTown Campground Blog.

Why do you love to camp close to home?

Let us know after listening to Episode #29 of RV Family Travel Atlas: 5 Reasons to Camp Close to Home!

Play
08 Jun

Be a Tourist in Your Hometown (Every Once in Awhile)

Here is what I am going to tell you about my town: no one who lives here goes to the town beach on the weekend. Ever.

You see, our waterfront has boardwalk attractions, so the locals go a little bit north or a little bit south and find a nice quiet bit of sand for a couple of hours of relaxation.

But when dear friends come into town for a very short visit, you simply must do what you have never done…spend an entire Saturday on the Point Pleasant Beach and Boardwalk.

Parking is a nightmare, of course, and the beach is crowded.

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The truth, though? It is downright fun.

We go from the beach to the rides and back to the beach again.

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Then it is off to Stewart’s for root beer and cheeseburgers eaten outside at picnic tables.

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A quick walk to Strollo’s Lighthouse, where I have been ordering orange italian ice with vanilla ice cream since I was about five years old.

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My boys have their own combinations and I wonder when they will settle into a favorite.

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On the short drive home, all three of the boys fall asleep. I feel sandy and salty, and I realize that it is easy to miss those dawn to dusk beach days when the ocean is in your own backyard.

Visiting friends helped us enjoy our home in a brand new way. We had such a wonderful day with our boys, and it was a day that we never would have planned as ‘locals’.

So y’all come back now, ya’ hear?

 

02 Jun

Our First Taste of Summer in the Skylands: Camp Taylor, Northwest NJ

When the Lively Little Campers Go RVing in our home state of New Jersey we either go South to Cape May for the beach and boardwalk or North to the Skylands Region for mountains and deep woods.  We closed out last season at  Seashore Campsites in our beloved Cape May so we decided to head back to Camp Taylor in the Skylands Region for our most recent family adventure.  Camp Taylor promises the “genuine outdoor experience” and it delivers on that promise in a major way.  The campground consists of 400 acres of lush and lovely woods that are adjacent to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Appalachian Trail.  If you live in New Jersey and want to escape the insanity of the everyday, I can think of no better place.

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Our water/electric site (#70) was large and private and a quiet stream wound its way through the campground just behind our White Hawk.  The water was clear and cold and the boys spent time playing in it every morning before we headed out for each day’s activities.  It also made for a great spot to drink your morning coffee and try to remember your favorite quotes from Emerson and Thoreau.  On Saturday morning a large deer darted past our campsite and across the stream before disappearing into the thick, green woods.

Our sites were also located near a pretty pond complete with a small beach and swimming area.  Unfortunately, there was no fishing allowed.  It would have been a perfect spot to relax and cast a line.

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Thankfully, our camping buddies brought us to a secret spot nearby that was stocked with sunfish and bass.  All of the kids caught something there and they had a blast.  Sorry.  I can’t tell you where this spot is.  It’s on private property and we were blindfolded on the way in and made to learn a secret handshake and swear a secret oath.

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The only other minor disappointment at Camp Taylor was the almost complete lack of a playground.  We totally loved the “genuine outdoor experience” and will return again at some point soon–but our little campers could have used some swings and slides for mornings and evenings at the campground.

But who really needs a playground or a fishing pond when you can dance with the wolves?  Camp Taylor is also the home of the Lakota Wolf Preserve–which you can hike up to for an educational tour right from your campsite.  You can also hear the wolves howling at night as you sit around your campfire.

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The area around Camp Taylor is filled with great options for outdoors adventure. We hiked and fished and swam.  It was a long and lovely weekend, and it gave us that first taste of summer that always leaves you wanting more.

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Onward.

28 May

Animal Frolics Exist (Who Knew?): Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm

We definitely do our fair share of research and planning before we take a trip. Over the years, however, we have learned the value of being flexible. All the scheduling in the world cannot compete with a campground owner’s recommendation for BBQ or a spontaneous visit to a church pancake breakfast. So many of our wonderful experiences on the road have been the result of conversations with locals or fellow travelers. If I can offer you one piece of advice for finding special places away from home, it would be this: slow down and talk to folks. They have great things to say.

This past weekend I slowed down long enough to read the chalkboard outside the store at Camp Taylor. It mentioned the Farm Animal Frolic that was taking place that day at Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm.

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Well, I had no idea what that was, but I figured we had best find out. When I looked up the farm website, it mentioned baby animals. Sold. Plans were already made for the day, but plans were easily changed.

We arrived at 10 am sharp, just the time the frolic was supposed to start. Except that nobody was there. I had read the information wrong on my phone…it was Sunday, and the farm did not open until 12 pm. After talking to some of the farm workers, we changed plans again. We spent the next two hours hitting baseballs and splashing in a creek at a nearby park. Yup, flexibility and a little bit of chatting goes a long way on the road.

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At noon we returned and spent the afternoon at what was easily the most beautiful farm I have ever visited.

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We ate baked beans, watermelon, and three-bean salad.

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We petted rabbits, baby ducks, lambs, and calves.

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We played some old fashioned farm games and sat through a spelling lesson in the old schoolhouse.

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We jumped from a barn platform into big mounds of hay.

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Days later, when I asked Theo what his favorite part of the weekend trip was, he answered simply: The farm.

I pressed for specifics. Was it the hay jumping, the baby goats, the baked treats?

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He started to list some things…I loved petting the ducks and the rabbits, and fishing with the magnets, and… He paused and sighed. I just loved the whole thing, he decided.

I completely agree.

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01 Apr

Hate Creepy Crawlers? Get Some Bug Therapy at Insectropolis

A couple of months ago, a reader sent us a link to an article about the increasing presence of nature phobias in our culture. It seems that the more people live and work in urban areas, the less comfortable they are with the great outdoors. Makes sense, right?

About a week later, I was on a class trip to Insectropolis, a bug museum (yes, you read that correctly) in Lakewood, New Jersey. I have been there at least eight times before, but this time our tour guide said something that struck me. She told the kids that when she started working there, even she was afraid to touch the scorpions. I realized that it doesn’t really matter how interested you are in something. If it is unfamiliar, it is probably going to be uncomfortable.

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With how much time our children spend in school and playing sports and hanging out in rather sanitized parks, it turns out we probably need to make a focused and concerted effort if we want them to be comfortable exploring nature. A place like Insectropolis is a cheery and fun place to do that sort of very important work.

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Whoever designed the museum has a wonderful sense of humor. Each room has a theme (metamorphosis, body parts, methods of communication, camouflage techniques) that is explained through tongue in cheek designs:

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I particularly like the room that has all of the ‘villain’ bugs, like mosquitos and flies, in jail. I thought Theo might be put in the jail for some completely inappropriate climbing, but we managed to flee the crime scene.

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Of course there is the termite tunnel. If you ever have a bit of money to burn, just install a long tube in your house and cover it in carpet. Who needs toys? Every child who enters Insectropolis spends a ridiculous amount of time climbing through this thing. Just give up and go with it.

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The touch demonstration is great. Every employee I have ever met at Insectropolis has been marvelous at communicating and interacting with children. They teach the kids about hissing cockroaches, scorpions, millipedes, and tarantulas and then bring the critters around for everyone to touch. You can see the wheels spinning–should I touch it? Maybe? Yes? A little…nevermind!

Not all of the kids touched the tarantula. Theo did, but Max shot to the opposite end of the bench. It doesn’t matter, though. It’s the opportunity and exposure that counts. I really do hate spiders. My whole body seizes up when I spot one in my house.  I’m pretty sure that I did not touch Rosie the Tarantula on my first visit to Insectropolis, or probably even my second or third. But now I’ll give her a little pet without even blinking. I’ve been desensitized.

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Now it’s time to work on the boys. Jeremy included.

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27 Mar

Planning that Vacation? Let a State Park Surprise Your Family…

National Parks get a whole lot of attention and rightfully so. They are (across the board) breathtaking and phenomenal experiences, and one of the highlights of our national heritage.

State Parks don’t get as much exposure, but over the last four years they have become a foundational part of our family travel. In general, state parks can be more accessible and affordable, offering wonderful hiking, fishing, canoeing, and swimming without the crowds that many of the national parks attract.

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

High Point State Park, New Jersey

High Point State Park, New Jersey

Two summers ago we set off for a 16 day jaunt through New York State. I didn’t realize at the time that I was pregnant, but that fact might explain why I had done little to no preparation for our trip. I was definitely in the tired and cranky for no apparent reason stage.

We spent one of our first days in the Finger Lakes Region at Keuka Lake State Park and had an amazing time swimming and kayaking. We ended up leaving the park that day with an Empire State Pass and a plan for the rest of our trip. We would hopscotch from state park to state park until we landed at Niagara Falls.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park

North / South Lake State Park

North / South Lake State Park

This was definitely an ‘aha’ moment for us as a traveling family. Most state parks charge a day-use fee, so a season pass can be a budget friendly way to plan out a vacation if you are going to be exploring a few of them in one trip. State parks also have great educational programs, so you can pair a hike with an activity and everyone is happy.

The prices vary dramatically from state to state, so you definitely have to crunch the numbers and see if they work in your favor. South Carolina has a 7-day pass option, so I am looking into that for our trip to Myrtle Beach next month. However, New Hampshire’s pass for out-of-state residents is pretty steep, so we probably won’t purchase one for our trip this summer.

We bought our New Jersey State Park Pass a few weeks ago on a sunny day in February when we were feeling hopeful about spring being right around the corner. For $50 we gained unlimited access to 50 state parks for the next year. Feels like a bargain to us.

A funny thing happens when you buy a pass to anything. You try to use it as much as possible, right? I think about a pass as a form of encouragement. Once you have it, you look for opportunities to use it. If that pushes you to explore a new park, take a guided wildflower walk, or get that kayak down to the boat launch, it is worth every penny.

We would love to hear about your favorite state park. Near or far, we will put it on our list. After all, we plan on getting there one of these days.

Think Spring.

24 Mar

A Pearl at the Jersey Shore: Crab Shack, Mantoloking Road

About 10 years ago, when my husband and I moved back to New Jersey from Philadelphia, we spent some time living in Mantoloking. This is one of those tiny Jersey Shore towns that is full of visiting families in the summer and completely empty in the winter. You can stand on the beach in the middle of January and truly feel you are the only person for miles.

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Except you aren’t. Even though almost every business shuts down somewhere around mid October, the Crab Shack keeps selling what I consider to be the best local, fresh seafood available in the area. It is truly a shack, just a fish market with some picnic tables outside. But the same guy who went out and caught the fish that morning is selling it to you in the afternoon.  I used to grab a bag of clams on my way home from work, throw them on the grill, and voila, dinner.

These days the Crab Shack is out of my way and I get my fish elsewhere most of the time. On a sunny fall or spring Saturday, though, it is still our favorite place to get a great flounder or tuna burger sandwich. This is no frills, styrofoam container stuff, but if you want the real Jersey Shore experience, this is where you can get it.

After Superstorm Sandy decimated the area, the county built an amazing playground right next store at the base of the Mantoloking Bridge. This means we now have the perfect spot for a play and picnicking sort of Saturday morning.

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And I don’t have to pack the picnic. Win/win.

13 Mar

Wrapping up the Winter: What Did (and didn’t) Get Done…

Even though they say we might be getting more snow, I’m closing the door on this winter. Tonight Max argued with me vigorously about when the first day of spring is. He insisted it is tomorrow. For a moment I actually thought about giving in and letting him win. Yes Max, if you say so, tomorrow will be spring.

I have been thinking about this past winter and all of things I wanted to do, all of the things we did do, and all of the things we didn’t get around to.

Let’s get the bad part out of the way first. I really wanted to get the boys skiing this year. I love skiing but haven’t been in years. I thought that 4 would be the perfect age to introduce a new and exciting winter activity.

Blame it on the baby, I guess. We just could not work out the logistics of handling two 4 year olds on the slopes while one adult hung out with Wesley.  It’s supposed to be fun right? No imagined scenario ended with us (the adults) having a good time. So we passed.

For some reason I have been fixating on how we didn’t get to do some of the traditional winter activities. But when I think about it, we didn’t do too bad. In spite of the brutal weather, we managed to get out and have a lot of fun with our boys.

Here are some of my highlights…

1. We learned to enjoy the beach even in the snow. After all, it was pretty much covered all winter.

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2. We learned to enjoy every single moment of nice weather. We tracked those forecasts and ran outside when temps rose just a little.

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3. We learned we could have a lot of fun in our own backyard. Jeremy and I tend to grab the boys and go places, but this winter the boys really had a blast playing at home.

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4. We found our new favorite place, The Grounds for Sculpture.

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5. We found something new at an old favorite place, Island Beach State Park.

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6. We went down really, really big water slides with Max and Theo. This was just a peak at what is to come. I’m so excited for all of the new things we will be able to experience with them as they get older.

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I really do want to start skiing and tubing with the boys. I also can’t wait to start winter camping. It is easy to slip into the future tense when you have young ones, to imagine all the possibilities when they get just a bit older.

It was a long winter, way tougher than we are used to here at the Jersey Shore. Even though it took a bit more effort, we managed to get out and discover new things…about our world, our children, and ourselves.

Now Spring.

10 Mar

White House Sub Shop Makes Roadfood’s Top 100 in USA!

To celebrate Roadfood’s recent selection of White House Subs to their top 100 “must-visit stops” the campers decided to go directly to the source for a classic Jersey Shore munchdown.  Last fall we headed to their Taj Mahal location to get our primordial eat on–but this time it was back to the less glittery but more glorious Arctic Avenue original.

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The pictures on the walls tell a thousand stories and are dripping with Atlantic City history.  Take a close look at the top of the last picture.  Yes, that is a framed towel that was used by Frank Sinatra for his last A.C. concert.  I know, I know–not very appetizing, but incredibly cool.

When the campers arrived we were lucky to get a table and get our submarines quickly, because we were all ravenous.

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Stephanie attacked her turkey with zest and uninhibited joy:

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Theo tackled his tuna without fear, while Max marveled at the size and heft of his hoagie.

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 Meanwhile, Wes and I crunched and cuddled. Don’t look too closely. I think there’s food in my beard.

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During our meal we chatted with a nice lady behind the counter, who may have been the owner.  When I went up to the register to pay her at the end of our epic feast she asked, “what can I get your boys to take home? They have such beautiful faces!”

And the boys scored some free Tastykakes…

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 which pretty much made it a perfect day for them.  Stephanie and I held the Tastykakes hostage and demanded “best behavior” for the rest of the day.  And it worked.  So it was a perfect day for us too.

Onward to Spring.

 

 

24 Feb

What I Learned From a Couple of Nice Weekends in February…

Years ago, long before the boys arrived on the scene, the temperatures hit the high sixties on a weekend in February. Jeremy and I had a different sort of life then, and the weather inspired us to hightail it to a bed and breakfast in Cape May where we spent the weekend walking and eating and laying around in the sand. It was one of those weekends that you hold on to forever, one of those memories that you can feel and smell.

This past weekend we weren’t able to run off to a romantic locale. No, that’s not right at all. We actually did. We ran off to our favorite local places, the reservoir and the beach. We splashed in puddles, played on a new pirate playground, and leapt off of sand mountains. It was the first time Wes sat in the sand, letting it run through his fingers. And he didn’t eat any of it.

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This was one of those weekends in February that I will remember. I will remember how the sun felt and how the melting snow and the sea smelled. On both days, the boys thanked us in that precious, innocent way that 4 year olds have. Thanks for taking us on a hike. Thanks for taking us to the beach.

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And I wanted to say back, Thanks for teaching me that joy is its own sort of romance. And we found some today.

21 Oct

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Pleasant Acres Farm Campground

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When Stephanie and I decided to buy our first pop-up camper we were hoping that we would travel a lot and travel cheap.  We have owned our Flagstaff 625d for about 18 months now and we have spent 48 nights camping
.  Not shabby, right?  We would never have been able to spend 48 nights in hotels.  Just too expensive.  Besides, as we mentioned in a previous post, when it comes to family vacation time–we pretty much hate hotels.  Camping really is so much cheaper.  Sometimes….
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Pleasant Acres Farm Campground lived up to its name and then some.  The place was pleasant, they owned some serious acres (300 of them!), there was a farm with plenty of animals, and a quiet, peaceful, and cozy campground.
This part of Sussex County can, at times, look like central Ireland.  On a cool fall day it’s almost hard to believe that you’re in New Jersey. Particularly if your driving around with Van Morrison playing on the radio.When you pull up to the camp-store at Pleasant Acres to register the first thing to strike you is the gorgeous view of theKittatinny Mountains.  Unfortunately, the second thing to strike you is the price of camping.
Pleasant Acres charges 52 bucks a night for a nice sized site with full-hookups.  However, they charge an extra six dollars per buckaroo, and we’ve got two of those. With tax that’s almost 70 dollars a night.  Luckily, we had a Go Rving coupon that gave us one free night.  Love that coupon book! It has saved us over 200 dollars.  You can get one too when you buy an RV from a participating dealer.  That coupon really took the sting out of the price.
While we were registering the staff member informed us that there would be an all you could eat french toast breakfast the following morning–and that pretty much made the sting go by-by.  Free french toast? For the whole family?  All you can eat?  I stopped  feeling bad about the price of camping and started feeling bad for the campground owners.  Our crew could easily eat about 20 dollars worth of french toast.  Why plan on eating lunch later?  This is why they invented brunch for God’s sake.  Game on!
Our camping buddies had selected our site this time and they did a great job.  They picked two sites together that were actually called a “buddy site” on the campground map.  If you head up to Pleasant Acres with friends I would recommend these two sites.  They were quiet, grassy, shaded, and close (but not too close) to the bathrooms.  The bathrooms and the showers were also exceptionally clean.
After we set up camp we sneaked in a campfire before the rain started to pour.  It rained throughout the night but the sun began to shine during the french toast buffet in the morning. After a hearty and heavy breakfast the boys discovered the superball machine in the arcade and it changed our weekend in a profound way.  I think one of those balls is still bouncing around the campground somewhere.  Chasing superballs all over North Jersey is a great way to burn off breakfast calories.
The boys really enjoyed scooting around Pleasant Acres and visiting the animals around the pond.  Stephanie and I enjoyed the peacefulness of the campground and its proximity to High Point State Park and other family friendly activities (see previous posts).  It was another great weekend for the Lively Little Campers even though our campfire was rained out Saturday night.  We spent a peaceful night reading in the pop-up while the boys snoozed away.  There was a country band playing at the campground’s pavillion, but the quiet pitter-patter of the raindrops on the canvas was good enough for me.

 

11 Oct

Walpack Inn: The Perfect Gimmick for a Dinner Out with the Boys

Unless you want to spend the first 8 years of your child’s life eating at Chuck E. Cheese, you had better learn the ropes for sizing up a real restaurant and determining whether it is a good fit for your particular brand of kid-crazy.

The question you want to ask your spouse is, “Can we eat here and not hate each other and our children by the end of the meal?” Also consider, “Will we even get to taste our food, or will we feel as if we might as well have used our dollar bills for kindling in tonight’s campfire?”

Of course the answers to these questions change as rapidly as the kids do. When the boys were around one year old and still enthralled with the basic concept of food, I remember sitting at a restaurant outside of Ocean City sipping on a pint of Bass while my boys happily tackled a crabcake and chewed on a straw. If they started to get antsy, we threw them a roll from the breadbasket and that bought us another 15 minutes or so.

Then we entered a restaurant black-out period wherein our boys’ ability to sit still for more than two minutes at any given moment was doubtful. This was when we came up with our picnic table rule. If a place had outside seating with room to roam and no sugar packets in sight, it was our favorite dining establishment regardless of the quality of food. That is also when we started to embrace the lunch-packing ritual on all of our trips.

We are in a shaky middle stage now: we never know what we are going to get, but we feel confident enough to try it out under certain circumstances. Last week the certain circumstances were that we were camping near a restaurant Jeremy and I had visited about 5 years ago. We had a great big steak dinner after a rigorous hike at Sunfish Pond in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

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We recreated the steak dinner last week at the Walpack Inn but this time had a much bigger table and created a much bigger mess. The boys behaved spectacularly and I was able to savor every bit of my prime rib.

The deer gimmick helped quite a bit. At the Walpack, they put corn out for the deer, who come right up to the restaurant windows to eat.

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The waitress needed a little prompting, and the price tag was certainly not cheap, but every once in a while you just need a civilized dinner out. The boys pitched in to make this a truly enjoyable experience with (as far as I can recall) not a single behavioral issue. How successful was this? Well, for all you parents out there, consider this: I had two glasses of wine (properly sipped) and the boys got refills on their milks with no spills in sight. I’ll take the deer over Chuck E. Cheese any day. I honestly think the boys might agree.

10 Oct

High Point in the Rain: As Peaceful as a Family Hike Can Get

I might have to change the name of our blog to “Exposing Your Children to the Elements: 101 Days of Camping in the Rain.”
We had a bad spell of weather in Cape May a few weeks ago, and then the storm clouds followed us up to Sussex County despite forecasts of beautiful, crisp fall days.
Nevertheless we hiked, biked, and puddle-jumped on.

I’m not encouraging anyone to take their kids to the pool during a thunderstorm, but seriously, I think we throw in the towel far to quickly when we wake up to a gray sky. First of all, the only thing worse than being stuck in the house all day with rambunctious toddlers is being stuck in a camper with those same-said bundles of energy. Second of all, my kids would find a way to get wet during a walkabout in the Australian Outback, so what is the difference if the water comes from above or below?

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Having embraced this mentality, I think that we have actually enjoyed some of our rainy-day excursions even more so than the ones that take place on those typically perfect days.
I have noticed that the crowds empty out and probably head for the nearest matinee, while we can let the boys wander freely and shout ‘echo’ at the top of their lungs without receiving those ‘keep your children in check’ looks.

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I have also noticed that the leaves look brighter, the woods feel more romantic, and the animals seem more social when the rain is falling at a conversational rate.

My boys aren’t hot. We don’t get so sweaty. We can point to the next puddle as a goal with its own intrinsic reward.

I want you to take your kids to the Cedar Swamp Trail in High Point State Park. It is the perfect family-friendly trail: light grading, under three miles, and naturally enticing. But here’s the catch: I want you to try to do it on a drizzly day. The water was perfectly clear with emerald algae that you never would have been able to see in the bright glare of the sunlight. The mist kept the noises of the woods close by for my boys to tune into to. And the weather kept all the other hikers at bay.

And why is that a bonus? Well, truth be told, it was really great that no one was around to see Max lose his marbles when we had to take away the walking stick with which he hit his brother. He earned it back rather quickly with sorries and promises and pleadings. And then we started hiking again. The woods didn’t seem phased by the presence of toddlers one bit.

04 Oct

Space Farms Zoo: Not Really Out of this World

There is a time in your life before you have children when you cannot possibly imagine the innocent euphoria that overtakes a two-year old while interacting with live animals. I am sure there is also a time post-grammar school when this reality fades into a distance memory along with what it was like to pull a pea out of your kid’s nose with a pair of tweezers and a flashlight.

In between is the zoo stage, and I am currently in the zoo stage. This means that my boys catching sight of a giraffe is the rough equivalent of an eight-year old girl catching sight of Justin Bieber trying on clothes at Abercrombie. Or a twenty to fifty-year old man catching sight of Kim Kardashian trying on clothes at Abercrombie.

This also means that whenever we take a trip I engage in due diligence and research any zoos within a reasonable or unreasonable driving distance. This led us to the Space Farms Zoo in Sussex just about 15 minutes away from where we camped last weekend at Pleasant Acres Farm.

If you want to see a whole lot of deer, than this is your place. The boys got to feed corn to the deer from one end of the zoo to the other.

Interspersed between the deer pens were huge tigers, panthers, and bears in what I considered somewhat sparse and depressing cages.

I love zoos, and as a mom I have seen the immense impact they have on my boys’ imagination and sense of wonder. But this zoo left me feeling a little sad. Not really the mood we were going for, right?  Maybe it didn’t help that my husband kept expressing his sense of wonder at the cost of a ticket: $15 with a union discount. Ouch.

It wasn’t all dreary though. The best part of the place is the ‘museum’ which is really like the highly organized attic of a family with generations full of illusions of grandeur.

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The piece de resistance was the stuffed figure of Goliath the Bear, a former resident of Space Farms, and title-holder of largest bear in the world according to the Guiness Book of World Records.

Goliath was also once featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not and I have to say that sort of summed up my experience at Space Farms. Anyone who has ever looked at that book understands how a sense of fascination can be coupled with a shot of creepiness for a kicker. I’m kinda glad we went, but I’m pretty sure we won’t be going back. This will be unwelcome news for the boys. They give the mud puddles two thumbs up, of course.

27 Sep

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Holly Shores Campground

Seashore Campsites in Cape May is one of our favorite places to camp in the world (see my previous review)–so why did we decide to spend last weekend camping atHolly Shores Campground right up the road instead?  Was it because they were having their annual “Firefighter and Nitro Wing Festival Weekend?”  Well, of course it was…  Camping and wings together?  Utter genius.

It just sounded too good to be true for the boys and for myself.  I imagined firetrucks parading around the campground while the boys looked on in wonder–while Steph and I sampled some tasty “Nitro wings.” But our weekend at Holly Shores did not work out exactly as planned.

We quickly found ourselves longing for Seashore up the road.  Holly Shores was clean, and pretty–but, compared to Seashore, their camping sites were small and they were filled with gravel.  Stephanie kept pointing out how noisy the gravel was and how she felt like she was camping in a driveway–and the gravel wasn’t the only thing making noise.

When I booked the site I explained that I wanted to be in the quietest part of the campground.  The friendly receptionist promised that she had just the spot all the way in the back of their property.  She said that a very quiet bathroom was right next door but was hidden by brush so it wouldn’t be an eyesore.

Ironically, our corner of this very large campground was the noisiest part of the park on Friday night.  The receptionist forgot to mention that the community fire pit was right on the other side of the bathhouse.  And don’t forget, it was “Firefighter and Nitro Wing Festival Weekend.”  Every firefighter loves a good community fire and it sounded like the entire firefighter’s convention was tipping back some coldies about 25 feet away from our site.  Luckily, the boys only woke up once.  I was more irritated by the slightly sauced woman who wondered over to our site at about 11:00 looking for a hose to extinguish their fire.  There actually was a hose running from our water hook up to the general direction of their fire.  After I heard this woman rustling around the side of our site for 2 or 3 minutes, she shouted, “I knew it was over here somewhere!”  The little bit of campfire mojo I had built up in the last hour or two quickly vanished into the night.  As the party ended next door, the bathroom (which was not covered by brush, and certainly was an eyesore) began to echo with noisy flushes.  Why they needed to borrow our hose to put out the fire was a bit of a mystery to me…

Thankfully the gods of recreation provided us with a truly lovely Saturday morning of bike riding with our boys (see the last post).  We ended up having a great day, but in town, not at the campground.

Saturday evening at Holly Shores was quieter and we spent some time in their lovely pool complex despite the drizzle and rain.  There was a nice sense of comfort and community at Holly Shores, and I am sure that it is a lovely place for seasonal campers.  However, if you head up the road to Seashore Campsites you can have a huge, wooded site, without noisy gravel.  Just be prepared to make your own Nitro Wings.

 

23 Sep

The Campers Ride On: Biking Cape May, New Jersey

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I think that as far as two-year old boys go, the campers have had a fair share of adventure. Every once in a while, though, I spot a glaring gap that I feel must be addressed immediately. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that my children had never once been on a bike (grown-up style) before last weekend. Ridiculous, huh? Even more ridiculous is the reason why: my husband and I were just plain scared to ride around with babies on board. There was something about it that always made us nervous enough to avoid the situation. Hike to the top of mountains? Sure! Swim under waterfalls? Of course! Boat rides? No Problem! Bikes? Thank you, but no.

Even more irrational was my sudden reversal on this topic. Who knows what happened? I probably just saw someone with a baby on their bike who looked really, really happy. My subconscious decided that I had to get me some of that and the rest of the family just came along for the ride.

Here is the second (and perhaps more honest) theory: my husband had decided that he wanted a kayaking weekend and that seemed like a bit of a hassle to me. I had to come up with an alternative activity. Searching, searching…bikes, anyone?

However it came about, we had a wonderful time seeing Cape May from bicycles for the first time in years.

The boys had a blast despite the unexpected rain and their parents’ appalling lack of preparedness. We had to high-tail it back to town when fat rain drops started falling on their sweet, exposed heads. But nary a complaint was heard from the rear. Instead of picnicking outside we cozied up at a new little Mediterranean place on the outskirts of town, and the boys ate falafel as if they were the ones who had pedaled out to the lighthouse and back.

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Of course, I have to bring up the money. We rented two bikes with baby seats for the whole day for 24 dollars total from Shield’s Bike Rentals. In my mind, it isn’t even worth it to drag your own bikes along on a trip when you can rent them for this cheap. They also threw in baskets and locks without piling on the extra charges–a big plus in my world. No paperwork, no IDs. They just handed over the bikes and off we went. Very little in my life is low-maintenance so I try to appreciate the moments that are.

Another low-maintenance tip? Skip campground breakfast and carb-up for the ride with bagels from Avalon Coffee right next door. Great variety of cream cheeses and very nice fruit-cups to go. Because, hey, even if you don’t remember rain jackets for your kids, at least there is fruit in the bike basket. I mean, fiber counts for something, right?

01 Jul

CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Seashore Campsites, Cape May NJ.

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My wife and I put a lot of advance planning into each of the camping trips that we take.  This research has paid off for us big-time because we have stayed at many great places since we bought the pop-up camper.

Last weekend we returned to Seashore Campsites in Cape May, New Jersey–and I think that it is officially my favorite campsite for the following ten reasons:

1.   They have the best hybrid kiddy pool/adult pool that we have seen at a campground.  One end is a two foot deep kiddy pool with fountains and the other end is a fairly spacious adult pool.  You can move from one end to another in a flash.  Our lively little campers decided that running and jumping into the pool would optimize the danger and therefore optimize their fun.  We gave each of the boys several timeouts before we coerced them into holding our hands while jumping.  Two older ladies nearby, after being told that the boys had just turned two, were horrified, and one of them suggested that they “might not make it to three.” For some reason this comment upset my wife.   She also asked if I was ” a Canadian.” This comment did not upset me but I explained that I was a “New Jerseyian” who was born and raised in Asbury Park.  She looked confused, mumbled something about me having a Canadian accent, mumbled something else about Bruce Springsteen and the 1970’s, and then returned to her cocktail.

2.  The man-made fresh water swimming lake is also awesome (see top right).  There is plenty of room to spread out and no concrete in site–just sand and water.  The boys also decided that running and face-planting into the lake was a good option.  There were outbursts of tears quickly followed by more face-plants.  The tears eventually subsided.  The face-plants did not.

3. The Cape May Point State Park, which is right on the beach, is about ten minutes away and it is free.  There was plenty of room to park our camper there–though one of the rangers asked us to move it into a special location once a large group of tour buses moved out.  I asked him if I could park it there now so that I would not have to come up from the beach later. He looked at me like I was stupid and asked me if I spoke Korean.  About an hour later he cruised down to the beach on his ATV to tell us that the “Korean buses” had not moved and I didn’t need to move the camper—yet! He told me to relax and we stared at the ocean together.  There were dolphins swimming by and the sun was twinkling across the water.  After a few seconds of quiet cross generation man-time he asked me if we were having a nice day and then introduced himself to our boys.

4.  The campground offers free tractor rides at 7 pm every night.  After our group of 25-30 parents and kids got rolling another group of about 10 kids on bikes and 10 adults on golf carts followed us around the campground caravan style. We honked and waved at all of the campers around us grilling up their dinners.  They honked and waved back. For many of them it was clearly Miller Time. We were also followed by an older security guard on a golf cart who pulled over at one point and gave an old-fashioned tongue lashing to a young boy for cursing at us as we drove by.  I felt like I was in a Frank Capra movie.  I love Frank Capra movies…

5.  A friendly campground worker helped me back my camper in on Friday and another friendly worker helped us get out on Sunday morning (I normally don’t need help getting in and out, this spot was tight!).  There is a large staff at Seashore Campsites and every single one of them was kind, courteous and welcoming during both of our stays.

6.  There is a Starbucks nearby for 6 AM Saturday morning coffee and hot tea runs with the boys.

7.  There is also a ridiculously nice snack bar by the pool that sold a value meal called the happy camper.  The meal comes in a bright plastic beach pale with shovel.  We did not order one but did not hesitate to eat some serious family style ice cream!

8. Close proximity to the previously blogged about Cape May Zoo.  Can you say lions?  Can you say giraffes?  Can you say FREE?

9.  Top notch playgrounds located in many locations around the campground–which is really more like a camping village.

10.  There is a Starbucks nearby for 6 am Sunday morning coffee and hot tea runs with the boys!

If your looking for a fun family weekend that will not break the bank Seashore Campsites is the place for your lively little campers.  The Cape May Point State Park is nearby and it is free.  The Cape May County Zoo is nearby and it is free.  And the campground is so darn cute and nice that once you get settled you might not want to leave. There is enough fun to be had right there on site! There were times throughout the weekend when I was so happy that I felt like singing “God Bless America,”  or “American Pie” or “Free Bird.”

Just make sure that you bring the bug spray and that you leave your potty-mouth at home.

28 Jun

Cape May Redux: Back to the Zoo, New Jersey

I know I have brought it up before, but it most definitely bears repeating: Cape May Zoo is quite simply one of the nicest places to spend a day in New Jersey. The zoo is actually a part of the Cape May County Park system and the whole place has the feel of a park more than a commercialized destination. There are family reunions taking place, picnic pavilions, multiple playgrounds, a small train, a carousel, and walking paths. If we lived nearby I don’t know that I would ever go anywhere else on a Saturday morning. Or a Tuesday morning. Or…you get my point.A large part of the zoo is set up around shady walkways that meander through the woods.

Then you will suddenly emerge in the ‘Savannah’ and find a couple of giraffes lazily chewing on leaves.

This set-up makes the whole experience feel more like a journey, instead of the Walmart feeling one can get at many zoos: Here is the aisle of large things that roar, and here is the aisle of things that swim in water, and last but not least we have the aisle of all the really expensive stuffed versions of the roaring, swimming animals you just saw.

At the Cape May Zoo, the large stuffed version of the animal you just saw is sitting there on display at the edge of the park, open for free photo-ops. We got a picture with the giant bear last year and I couldn’t resist making everyone line up for another one.

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Notice…The bear looks really different and that kind of confuses me. Do they have a rotating system? Does the bear get so abused that they have to replace it every year? I have a feeling my long-suffering boys will posing for this shot for many years to come.
The real question is, of course, when do I stop making my husband hold them?

The great part about this trip is that the fun doesn’t end with the animals. We had a picnic lunch listening to a live family jam band that I suppose was playing for a reunion.

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And then Max and Theo decided to join in on the musical festivities and form their own jam band of sorts.

As I have said before, one of the best parts about having kids is getting to do ridiculous things. The boys invited me into the drumming circle, and why would I turn down such an opportunity?

Entrance to the park and zoo is free. But if you go, try to throw a little something into the donations box. Let’s keep this crazy operation in business so I can track the mystery of the stuffed bear over the years to come. I’m sure my boys will thank you for it.