Wednesday, May 30, 2018

MN State Parks: Mystery Cave

When you have kids, camping can be a great way to explore nature.

Most people who aren't campers think a tent is too much work. I'm not going to lie, those first years we came home with lists of things we forgot, and over time have dialed in our camping routine. 

Located in Southern MN, near the bike trails of Lansboro, and in the heart of Amish county. Mystery Cave State Park offers visitors a picturesque retreat. Even though we were several hours from home, we still managed to run into people we knew from back home!

We've found that MN state park campgrounds are a great way to explore. Online booking makes it easy to choose a campsite that fits your needs. Most have nicely maintained bathrooms, the rest are slated for remodels in the near future. We saw staff cleaning the bathrooms daily, and the on site campground host was friendly.

This park has DNR staff and interns that conduct educational programs during the summer months. We spent an hour in the stream cooling off from the afternoon heat and identifying water bugs that indicated the health of the stream.

In addition to learning about waterbugs, we attended sunset seminars on lightening bugs (did you know they are actually beetles?) and frogs and toads. Later in the summer we were able to identify a banjo frog we encountered while kayaking. Make the most of your trip and visit over the 4th of July, when neighboring Forestville has special events.

Also be sure to tour the Mystery Cave that this park is named after.

Did I mention it was hot? The stream that flows through the park goes through these underground caves and maintains a cool temperature. It was nice to dip our toes during the heat of the afternoon. We also decided to sleep without the rain fly to improve airflow. In addition to airflow we also gained an impressive view of the night sky.

When booking campsites electric always goes the fastest, so if you can go off grid you'll have better luck finding a camp sight. The bathrooms have power for a quick charge or air mattress blow up.

Our kids don't spend enough time outside so it took awhile to get rid of the I'm bored while camping. Stick with it though. I now see my kids playing/exploring something that they learned from one of the many rangers we've encountered in the state parks. When was the last time you fell asleep looking at the stars?

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tent Camping the Easy Way

I did not grow up camping. I was raised thinking that anything you can do camping, you can do easier at home. That statement is true, but the view out my windows at home is nothing compared to the views from a campsite!

I married an avid camper. The first 12 years of marriage I was able to avoid camping. He would take off to the Boundary Waters (BWCA) with friends for a week of portaging and no other human contact. He'd come home refreshed and if you look through this blog, you will see many of the projects I completed while he was away. Then we had kids, and inexpensive vacations became a priority.

Several summers ago we were gifted some money to spend doing something fun with the girls. We invested in camping equipment. 

Hopefully, you can learn something from our mistakes. If you forget everything I say, please remember to plan ahead. You can find my packing list here. It is long, don't let that scare you though. You can get by with lots less, we are going to attempt to float down the river on our kayaks and camp, and we will only be able to carry a fraction of those items!
We use this larger trailer when we bring our kayaks. You can see our totes in use though.

On the list you'll notice that 1 have 3 large totes. We picked up 2 of these and 1 of these at Home Depot. We chose them because they fit really nicely on a cheap little trailer that we picked up for camping. They also have wheels making them easy to move into the house to reset for our next adventure. The best part though is that they have heavy duty clasps that can be locked. What kind of places do I camp that locking is needed? We like to hike, swim, bike etc leaving our campsite unattended for several hours, most thieves are just opportunistic. They also keep out wildlife. On one occasion I watched a raccoon unsuccessfully attempt to get in, he eventually gave up and got into the neighbors stuff instead.

The equipment tote is essentially my portable kitchen. I have dedicated camping utensils and equipment. This is the one item I would be lost with out. It reminds me of the chuck wagon in stories of the Old West. Those old timers understood that camping anywhere is significantly easier if all the kitchen stuff is together and easy to access.

I do a lot of meal prep at home before we go. Heat and serve items are always easier than anything that takes lots of dishes. Breakfast and dinner are eaten at a leisurely pace around the campfire. Lunch is usually on the run and just meat and cheese sandwiches from the cooler. I also pack plenty of snacks such as granola bars, veggies, and chips for when kids are hungry and the adults aren't.

Tent sizes can be confusing. The 4 of us and our dog started with a 6 man tent that we thought would be plenty big. As the girls grew we decided to upgrade to a 12 man. I know that sound excessive but we had reasons. The walls on the 6 man angled in sharply and air mattresses take up more space than just a person in a mummy bag. We've been caught in the rain and like to leave a wide margin around the edges so that we don't touch the sides allowing water to seep in. We have space for our 80 lb dog to have his own dog bed. We like to camp late into the fall when it's nice to have a space heater, and those require clearance. My husband and I are both 6'1" the straighter sides allow for more head room inside the tent. True, most of the time spent in the tent is sleeping, but being able to stand is still a luxury we prefer.

Some of the the entertainment we bring, cards, dice, camera with laminated scavenger hunt list. The scope is great for sighting animals, birds, and star gazing.

These tips make camping enjoyable for us. If you have any tips please share as our kids grow and change our camping list needs to change too.

**Did any of you notice the bug spray hiding out in every photo? My husband rarely gets bitten, I am a mosquito magnet.

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Make a Day of It!

Living near the Twin Cities metro area gives us loads of options for amazing parks. There are year round adventure opportunities hosted in many of the parks. In addition to great classes that you can take through out the year, you can also just meet up with some friends and enjoy a day outside.

Hyland Park is informally known as chutes and ladders. Start your day here, and then when it gets hot, pack up and head over to the public beach $5 a carload.

We like to get to the park early to mid morning so that there are still open picnic tables in the shade. I pack a picnic lunch for each kid, that has plenty so they have a snack in the car on the way home.

Often the good playgrounds are near beaches so be sure to pack suits, towels, and sunscreen even if you don't intend on swimming. The pond at Elm Creek is chlorinated and there are lifeguards on duty expect to pay about $10 a person. Season passes are available.

Big Lake Beach is right of Highway 10 and has a nearby playground as well as shaded picnic area and boat launch. Expect to pay $5 a carload $10 if you have a trailer.

Lake Orono in Elk River has a newly refurbished play area. There is a beach but the water quality isn't always great so we usually stop here when it's too cool to swim.

Central Park in Maple Grove is state of the art, but usually pretty busy. If it's hot, you'll be glad you have the kids swim gear so they can play on the splash pad.

The Big Woods in Lake Rebecca Park Reserve is pretty, but my kids didn't last long on the play equipment. Luckily we had swim gear. A quick walk down the path is a quiet beach with huge umbrellas to shade us from the afternoon sun.

Some of the other parks that we haven't visited yet that are on our playground/beach list for this summer are: Weaver Lake Beach and Park and French Regional Park that is undergoing extensive renovations and scheduled to re-open July 2018

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Local Park Bike Tour

The snow has finally melted, flowers are starting to grow, and school is almost out. What are you going to do with your kids

Living in MN it is important to get outside as much as possible when it's nice out. I'm also not a big fan of screens so getting away from home so they can't ask and I can't cave helps. I also like to pick a theme that helps me to stay focused. You can see from the images in this post that a few years ago our theme was Park Tour, we visited as many as possible.  

As an added benefit we biked to all the local ones. I live in a small town (pop.4500) yet we were still able to find several in town, including the playgrounds of local schools

Preparation is key. I outfitted our bikes with baskets, invested in water bottles, and carried a small first aid kit that included hand sanitizer and sunscreen. We often had extra kids with us which made it fun

It is a good opportunity to teach road safety too! I had every kid walk their bike across busy roads at a crosswalk, as well as use hand signals. 

There were added perks too. Because all the kids had their helmets on we got stopped by the Princeton Police and were given free DQ ice cream cone certificates. Being out and about so much also made us aware of the various customer appreciation and kid friendly activities that were happening all over town all summer long.

Our School District also offers free lunch during the summer for kids under 18, so we wouldn't even need to pack a picnic lunch

So grab your bike or at the very least phone a friend and head out to a park.

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Day Trip with a Library Friend

Every town I've ever lived in has had a library with a summer reading program. Your family should participate. If expanding your kids minds with fantastic classic literature isn't enough of a reason, keep reading.

For free at our library we have participated in events with puppeteers, zoo animals, movies, cake decorating, building fairy gardens, story time with the author, pizza parties, comedy duos, Voyageur era role players, and even a Grammy award winning musical act!

Oh, and did I mention a huge collection of books, magazines, newspapers, and movies? You can even download books directly to your kindle, nook, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other e-reader.

If you haven't stepped into a library since graduating. This is your summer.

One of my kids' favorite was checking out a small kit that included this stuffed animal, and a scrapbook for the reader to add to. My kids had a blast taking pictures of this little guy in Duluth and designing a scrapbook page.

 On another occasion we took him to the Lego store at the Mall of America and for dinner at Rainforest Cafe.

 Where are you going this weekend? Do your kids needs something to focus their attention on? Stop by the Library, look around and be sure to check the bulletin board in the lobby to see what else is happening around town.

** I may get paid for links that you click on this blog. Any posts that include free or discounted services or product in exchange for reviewing are plainly stated within the post.