Monday, August 3, 2015

How We Simplify Camping with a Large Family

Camping can be a lot of work - there’s not really any way around that, especially with lots of little
kids. But there are ways to simplify and make it easier. We’ve been camping a number of times now with our kids, starting when we had a toddler and baby, and now with five kids (including a baby) - here are my tips for making it all work:

1. My biggest tip is to really limit the amount of stuff you bring. With several years of camping under our belt, we know what we use and what we don’t and we only bring the things that we have found to be really necessary.

- We bring a few books for the kids and let them each bring a friend to sleep with. That’s it for toys - with camping there is so much to do exploring and playing outside that they don’t need toys.

- We bring the bare minimum on clothes. I used to bring quite a bit, just in case. Everything gets dirty camping, but kids tend to rewear stuff anyway, so now we just don’t bring many clothes. We bring a warm outfit for evenings, warm jammies, socks and underwear, a bathing suit if necessary, and one other outfit. With what they’re already wearing, that is plenty, even for several days. This is the amount that we’ll be bringing for our week-long trip this fall, although we do plan to do laundry once in the middle of the trip.

2. I usually like to keep the majority of our food healthy and homemade, but quick and easy is the name of the game when we’re camping. Bacon and eggs smell awesome at the campground, but that is way too much work for me, and even if you have room for a cooler (we don’t, really), it can be a pain to make sure food stays cold.

- We eat instant oatmeal or cereal for breakfast (I bring shelf-stable milk), and canned or boxed food for lunch and dinner (mac & cheese, ramen, and the like). I do bring hot dogs for the first night.

- Lots of snacks are also a must to keep everyone happy!

- I bring some ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, like carrot sticks, snap peas, grapes, apples, etc.

- I don’t put a lot of thought into trying to find different foods to bring. I have found what works for us, and I pretty much bring the same foods every time we go.

- We bring the bare minimum for dishes, too. Disposable dishes are the easiest, but I don’t like to generate alot of waste, even when we’re camping, so I bring a bowl and small cup for everyone. Bowls are more versatile than plates, and I bring small mason jars (which is what we use at home) for cups so they can hold hot or cold drinks. I bring a fork and spoon for everyone, and a knife and a mixing spoon. I bring one pot for cooking food or heating water, and that’s usually it for dishes. I plan on improvising, and it all works out!

3. Pack your car so that the tent can come out first thing. I’ve always packed our tent on the bottom of the trunk - because it’s the biggest thing and then I could pack the smaller things around it and so I wouldn’t have it falling out of the trunk. But that’s always been a problem, because, really, it’s the first thing we need when setting up, and it’s the last thing to go away when tearing down. So we’ve always had to unload the car then pile our stuff somewhere while we wait for the tent to get set up, and then take everything out of the tent and pile it somewhere while we wait for it to get taken down and put in the car. Finally, this summer, I realized that I could put the tent on the floor of the van between seats. We can access it and get it set up and take everything straight from the car to the tent. This has made a big difference in how long it takes us to set up and take down camp! 

4. Have kids help as much as possible. I made a picture packing list, so the older kids all pack their own bags, then I double check them. They help unload the car, taking things into the tent, setting up chairs, etc. I bring a water jug that has a spigot on it, so they can get drinks themselves. 

5. Have reasonable expectations. Camping trips are fun, but with small kids, they’re not always relaxing. There is still all the basic stuff to do; changing diapers, making food, etc., and sometimes it can be even more difficult to keep an eye on kids, with new things to explore. It helps to have that expectation already there, so you’re not disappointed when it turns out different than you thought.

6. Try to keep some routines in place. I always bring the baby’s familiar bed, whether that is the moses basket or the pack’n’play, because that helps them sleep better, which makes for a better trip! And although we’re not strict about this on vacation, having our regular rest time can make for happier moods all around.

7. Use soft tote bags for clothes. To make it easy for the kids to pack and handle their own items, and to make it easier to find things, we have a separate bag for everyone. Structured bags take up precious cargo space, so I like to use squishy bags that can be stuffed into small spaces.

8. I don’t worry about separate dirty laundry bags. They just take up more space and take more mental energy trying to figure out what is dirty and what is clean. Pretty much everything gets dirty anyway, so I just wash everything when I get home.

9. Having a few camping “tools” can be helpful. We’re not really big fans when it comes to having special stuff that only gets used a few times a year, but we’ve made an exception for a few camping things. Most campgrounds have picnic tables, so we could forgo camping chairs, but we find them more comfortable and fun, so we have one for everyone. Smaller ones for the kids take up less space in storage and in the car. We also now have a sleeping bag for everyone. In the past we’ve made do with a few sleeping bags and lots of blankets, but it became too time consuming to have to fold and pack so many different pieces. Sleeping bags take up less space (again, we have smaller ones for the kids), and it is now much quicker to pack up.  Sleeping bags we keep in closets, but the rest of our camping gear goes in a cupboard in the garage.

10. Bring your own potty chair. If you’re even a little hesitant to let your kids use public restrooms, it helps so much to bring your own potty chair. We keep a kids potty in our car at all times, so we bring that along when camping. It keeps us from having to always take someone to the bathroom, which would get old quickly, even without our germaphobe tendencies! Then we use baby wipes to wash hands.

11. Make a master camping list to keep from year to year, adjusting as necessary. It’s too hard to remember what to bring each time you go camping. This keeps us from forgetting things, and saves a lot of mental energy trying to remember what to pack every time we go camping!

Whew...that was long, but these are the things that we do that make camping (even with lots of little kids!) relatively headache free for us.  See, we're all smiling!  =)

July Camping Trip

We went camping last week, our first-ever camping trip with just our family.  We played in the woods, got really dirty, missed having a campfire (there was a burn ban, so sad!), and had lots of fun!

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Bedroom Switch-a-Roo

Seth and I have the bigger bedroom in our house, so we had planned to switch bedrooms with the kids at some point this summer, since I had figured out that I could fit two bunk beds in there, but then it kind of happened at the last minute when the big kids ended up being gone for most of the week.  They went to VBS with Seth's mom, who picked them up and dropped them off most days, and kept them overnight a couple of times.  So I decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and do the switch.  First I painted our bedroom, one of the few rooms that hadn't been painted when we moved in.  After a lot of deliberation, I painted it all white; walls, trim, and ceiling.  The paneling was a bit of a pain to paint, but it turned out awesome!  It looked so fresh and clean, and kind of beach cabin-like.  I loved it so much I started having second thoughts about giving it to the kids!  =)  But I made the sacrifice, and on Seth's weekend we moved all the furniture around.  The house was a mess, and it took several days to get it all done.  It felt (and looked!) like moving, which it pretty much was, without the boxes.  We took a last-minute late evening trip to Ikea to get a new bunk bed after we realized we couldn't use the second set that we had (it had been water-damaged, which was a bummer, but I love the Ikea set!).  We tried several different arrangements before we found the one that we liked best, and we ended up moving some of the furniture around in the rest of the house, too.  I had planned to keep Simon in our room longer, but he needed to move into his bigger bed, which didn't end up fitting in our room, so he was moved to the kids' room.

We moved our toy bookshelf from the living room into the kids' new closet, to better organize their toy storage.  Now the only things that are out all the time for them are a few toys for Simon, books, and LEGOs.  That is really all they use on a daily basis, anyway, and other toys are brought out only if they are asked for.  This is huge for us in keeping the mess to a minimum!

I was pleasantly surprised with how everything fit in our new bedroom; I was a little worried that the bed would just barely fit, but there was more room than I had thought there would be.  Our room is now a bit of a "family closet", with everyone's clothes in there.  Seth and I have our clothes in the closet, and the kids have theirs in the dresser.  So far that's working really well for us.  Seth and I are really loving having all of our clothes in one spot rather than spread out between the closet and dresser!

I also painted our dresser/nightstand set.  They were a light green, which matched our room, but they were quite chipped, and I had originally planned for the dresser to be in the kids room, and it wouldn't have matched the colors in there.  I used leftover bathroom paint, so they are now light grey, and I couldn't be happier with how they turned out!  Even though the dresser ended up in our room anyway, it is fresh and looks really good in there, too!

We put our second dresser in the office, and it holds miscellaneous things, like games, gift wrapping supplies, and fabric.  The tall bookshelf that was in there was moved into our room to keep the office from being too full, and it's working perfectly for storage in our room!

Since we had to move so much stuff around, we did quite a bit of purging as well, and I'm really happy with the results.  The whole house feels cleaner and less cluttered, and the closets are much less crowded, which makes me happy!

This turned out to be a HUGE project, especially with all the painting, unexpected trip to Ikea and decluttering, but I am so happy with how everything turned out!  The whole house feels fresh and clean and new, and I think the new arrangements are going to work really well for us right now.  =)   

Monday, June 29, 2015

Simon at Four Months

Whirlwind Camping Trip

We recently went on our first camping trip of the summer - a super quick one-night trip with my sister and brother-in-law.  Even though it was short, we had lots of fun and we're looking forward to more camping fun in the next few months! 

Someone was a little tired of the car!

I kind of love these blurry early morning pictures!  =) 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The (Almost) Beginning of Summer

The past couple of months have been kind of crazy around here.  Nothing major, really, just lots of little extra things on top of all the normal busyness.   Things are settling down, now, though, and I'm taking a deep breath of relief!
Even though it's not quite summer yet, it feels like we're at least a month into it.  We continue to have the most gorgeous weather.  Every day is hot and sunny; the kids are out in their pool and sprinkler every day, and I'm trying my best to keep everything watered.  I'm headed out today to get a new sprinkler - one that can do my watering for me and hopefully cut my evening routine down to a more manageable level!

Saturday, June 13, 2015


I got this paper bead necklace for Christmas and I've worn it more days than not ever since.  I love it; it's simple but pretty and it goes with almost everything.

I loved it so much that I decided to try making one myself, and though it's not quite as perfect and delicate as the original, I'm happy with how it turned out!

I love the versatility of these necklaces - they can be worn several different ways, and now that I have more than one, I can even wear them together!

This was a fun project, though a bit time consuming.  =)