Find a Great Campsite

Here are points I like to consider when heading out to camp. First of all, it helps to live close enough to decent campgrounds to visit regularly. Getting to know the drive and the area you’ll be camping in builds your confidence with each trip.

campsite-moon-lhickey

Art by Lisa D. Hickey

RESERVE or GO OUT EARLY

It is not worth anyone’s time to pack the cooler, tents and everything needed into the vehicle, then drive an hour or two or whatever it takes, only to arrive at a sold out campground. It’s worth reserving a spot ahead of time. Some campgrounds are only first come first served so I arrange time off for driving out mid-week. If I had to work, I’d drive out Wednesday evening, set up a tent on the campsite I wanted, and pay for the days until I can return. It has to be Wednesday. Thursday is pushing it. I’d never head out on a Friday. There’s enough campers around that for the past couple of years whenever and wherever I go camping, the place is sold out by Friday morning, if not Thursday.

SITE HAS PLENTY OF TREES

Trees are everything camping is about for me and I’m so lucky to live not far from heavily forested areas. I love the look of trees, the sound the wind makes in their branches, the shade they offer, the designs in their trunks. I especially enjoy how they help me create shelter with tarps. Camping is about creating shelter. That’s what we’re doing after all, right? We’re building a ‘home away from home’. And even though the metal fire ring and gravel area are ‘fixed’ there are often several tree trunks to select from for securing tarps for shelter and privacy.

camp-hammock

I love this old hammock!

HAS A GOOD PAIR OF TREES

My ideal campsite will have a well-placed pair of strong trees for my hammock. And by ‘well placed’ I mean, among other things, upwind of the fire. A hammock secured between two trees for a midday rest, reading, watching the sky, listening to birds, feeling the breeze, just dozing… it’s like heaven in a campground. The most refreshing short sleeps of my life have taken place in my camp hammock.

KNOW THE SIZE OF YOUR SET-UP

Campsites are all different shapes, sizes, and orientation to the wind and the sun. It really helps in choosing the best site to know sizes of everything that you’ll be adding. For me it’s a 17’ SUV, 8×8’ tent, 5×3’ privacy tent, 12×12’ shade shelter, various tarps, the chopping area, woodpile, a couple of folding chairs and the hammock. You can use a cheat sheet with measurements and a tape measure but soon you won’t need that. Every camper who sets up his or her own tents and tarps learns to assess a site. One has to be able to stand in an empty space and visualize the ‘set up’. If it doesn’t feel right, move on and keep looking. Being able to pick and choose from empty campsites until I find the right one is why I head out mid-week.

PLACEMENT OF THE ESSENTIALS

BEAR-BINS: How far away are the daily-use bear bins? After the last meal of the day, wrap everything up into a tight garbage bag and take it over. This is part of my daily bike rides, my evening campground trip over to the “bear-bins”, or bear-proof heavy duty metal garbage bins. When it’s getting dark it can feel a bit scary but I have bear spray in my holster, and I know how to use it! Also, I listen carefully and keep alert.

PLAYGROUND: People generally choose nearby if they have kids, or farther for more quiet. Obviously. However, even though my kids are grown and I prefer hearing birds and breezes over boisterous children, I’ll choose to camp near the playground over the bear bins, which are usually at the opposite end of the campground. Some of my camping trips located near playgrounds had hardly any noise, and I’ve been far from the playground and had an RV full of school aged kids park beside me. It’s all good.

A small Mule deer buck

A small Mule deer buck greets me just outside the bathroom.

BATHROOMS: The bathroom building (often without plumbing these well-built concrete structures have very strong hinged doors) is a tricky item to consider at your campground. You don’t want to be too far away, but at the same time the closer you are, the more annoying the sounds (I’ve never had an issue with odor). Sure there’s the increase in traffic, but worse is the slamming door. The heavy doors are spring-loaded and most people just dash out, letting them slam. I don’t like that sound myself when I’ve had to camp close to the bathroom building, so I’m one who catches the door as it closes. It only takes a second and I walk away from the building quietly, without the door slamming.

WATER: Again, weigh the pros and cons of having to travel farther but having less foot traffic, or the opposite. Water weighs so much that I try to incorporate my bike if possible, or will use my vehicle as a last resort, but mostly I bring enough water from home to last several days. Note, for extra precaution the pump water from campgrounds should be boiled before using.

PHONE: Yes, some of the campgrounds I enjoy are so deep into the mountains that there is no cell service. At these places I trek to the old-school payphone at least once a day to let someone know “Hi! All’s well.” Plus how much longer I’m staying. As a solo camper I prefer sites with service for the safety it helps provide. But at times, when my desire to go camping is stronger than the sites available, I’ll drive farther out and camp anyways. It requires more trust, and confidence. Yet it’s always good to know the site manager has a Satellite phone for emergencies.

campsite-manager

Learn where the manager’s site is.

MANAGER: Personally, I prefer to be close to the manager’s site. First of all firewood is (almost) always available for purchase from their site, in addition to the trucks that come around a couple of times a day. I’ve also found that off-leash dogs and late-night partying tends to not occur in campsites close to where they are. I prefer to be within emergency whistle or air horn hearing distance to them. Usually an older couple living in their gorgeous RV for the summer season, plus the day staff who drive the firewood trucks, are who manage campgrounds. I like to learn their names early in the season. These hard working folks deserve a greeting from appreciative campers like me.

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Every time I go camping it’s in the perfect site! But some locations have been better than others. These tips help me in my quest for the most comfy, cozy site. I hope they can help you too! Keep clean campsites, never feed the animals, and let’s all be safe. Enjoy!

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[Copyright © 2017 Gina~Inga, Front Yard to Backcountry]

Old Valentines Memories

heartfelt3-marion-rose

Art by Marion Rose

These vintage Valentines sure take me back. How I loved it when my mom came home from the store with that February purchase: a thin box filled with a vast variety of silly cards. Images of a billy goat, a choo-choo train, a steaming kettle… which one would I give to whom?

The first few favorites were easy to pull out and name for my closest classmates. Plus one for teacher. One for my mom and one for my dad. Then I’d resort to simply copying names from the class list to the remaining cards, occasionally worrying an odd kid I avoided might get the wrong idea when getting a card from me saying I’d ‘choo-choo-chose you’!

Ah, childhood. The things I worried about then. How I miss those simple things now. So here is today’s nostalgic trip down memory lane, brought to you by this snowy, housebound camper! Cheers

 

vintage-valentines

Feeding and Watering the Birds

Art by Dean Crouser

Art by Dean Crouser

Winter around my part of the prairies is bitterly cold. Lately the daily high has only reached around -25C/-13F.
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Therefore, to look out my frosty kitchen window and see birds busily grooming, drinking water from our de-iced bird bath, and pecking at seeds is quite astonishing. How they manage such cold is impressive. I feel like the least we can do is offer them some food and water!
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The old lilac outside my kitchen window shelters a handmade bird feeding house (made by my eldest son when he was 12, with his dad). Up in the branches hang an old seed ball (too messy…) and a suet feeder (love these!). The daily entertainment and satisfaction my family gets from viewing the variety of local birds that come to feed and drink here is worth every penny.


ground-flicker-and-jayOffering a few peanuts is all it takes to get Blue Jays and Northern Flickers to visit my yard. Buying nuts in bulk helps keep costs down. After we get the huge bags home, we cut them open and pour into airtight (and rodent-proof) plastic bins and store them in the garage. I transfer a manageable supply to a couple of ‘upcycled’ yogurt containers to keep outdoors near the feeder.
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water-de-icerThe de-icer was bought at a local wild bird store but I’ve seen them at Amazon and elsewhere. A Google search should bring up local sources for you. They range from $50-$100 but if you enjoy watching wildlife, it’s worth it. The water is more popular than the food! Finding an unfrozen source of drinking water is challenging for birds in this winter weather.

Vintage Tin for Survival

Fireside Point by Darrell Bush

Fireside Point by Darrell Bush

Thrift stores and old antique shops can hide great treasures if you look diligently enough. Especially tiny treasures. I’m always on the lookout for small tins and was delighted to find this old Regesan Catarrh Pastilles tin for $1! Thinner and slightly larger than most mint tins, this container is just long enough to hold my manual can opener. While not perfectly water-tight, this well made tin snaps tightly shut and is unlikely to open in your pack or pocket, and the shiny interior is useful as a mirrored surface to signal for help.

Items include:

  • Tin itself, useful as a reflective signaling device
  • 6′ (2m) paracord, can also be unwrapped into 7 strands
  • 2-square-feet of heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Manual can-opener with spoon
  • 200′ of heavy gauge fishing line
  • Earplug as storage/bobber for 2 fishing hooks
  • 2 bundles of 7 waterproof matches with striker paper
  • 2 foil-wrapped petroleum-jelly-dipped cotton balls
  • 3 large safety pins (can be bent into fish hooks)
  • Polysporin ointment in sealed tube
  • Bandages and package of gauze
  • Small amount of medication

Tiny enough to tuck into a shirt pocket, this compact tin helps one to be just a bit more prepared in case a hike in a new wilderness area takes a wrong turn and the unthinkable happens. Lost! Of course it’s no replacement for a proper backpack filled with crucial components to help you stay safe overnight (or longer) in the backcountry, but this little tin is small enough to be an EDC (everyday carry) and it’s a lot better than nothing. The matches alone can be life-saving.

Petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline) swabbed onto a cotton ball is an incredibly helpful fire-starter. You provide the flame and once it catches, it burns for several minutes. This is immensely helpful in windy conditions or when dealing with imperfect fire starting material. Rip a small hole in the foil, pull out a bit of the fluff and twist it like a wick. Light that thing and you’re good to go.

While my attempts at paracord braiding haven’t been successful yet, I am practicing. I want to make a pouch to slide the tin into, with a carrying loop. I look forward to continuing to improve my survival tin making skills, and will share my journey here. I’ll also be sharing about a couple of different folding saws I that I use, my favorite hatchet, plus other items I bring everywhere… just to be safe. 

My Best Bran Muffins

1blue_vase_bobbi_price

Art by Bobbi Price

Being a rather nostalgic person, I cherish kitchen items that were previously used by my mother and her mother. They may be stained, areas worn off, but these very flaws only endear them more deeply to my heart.

I feel connected to my ancestors this morning as I dig out the old muffin pans. Smiling, I imagine how many times my grandmother did the exact same thing, pulling out this pair of pans to bake up muffins for her loved ones.

Baking is a science and an art as we transform simple ingredients into something completely new. Something warm and wonderful and aromatic. As my actions fill the kitchen with the comforting smell of baking, I know I’m continuing the legacy of the bakers in my family who came before me. It’s a way of showing love, and I enjoy doing it.

Best Bran Muffins

  • Servings: 12 muffins
  • Time: 40mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Even after a hundred times, this recipe always works for me. I just love it when I find the right recipe, and my family loves it when I bake up a dozen of these beauties! It's a great use for my Grandma's vintage pans.

Credit: Food.com

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups flour, whole wheat or white
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups bran buds (such as Kellogg’s All Bran Buds)
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/4 cup chocolate chips, chopped nuts or sunflower seeds (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F and lightly spray muffin pans with cooking spray. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine cereal and boiling water; let stand 3 minutes or until water is absorbed. Stir sugar into softened cereal. In large measuring cup, add milk and oil. Break in egg and stir to combine; pour into cereal-sugar mixture and stir. Add raisins (and optional last ingredient except for chocolate, as it will melt in the wet mix. If using chocolate, stir in at the same time as the flour mixture.).

Make a well in the middle of the wet mixture and fold in the flour mixture, gently stirring just until combined. Working quickly, use a large serving spoon to portion batter evenly into muffin cups. Try to do it in one scoop, and this is where a big spoon helps. Bake 20 minutes or until muffins are golden and tops spring back when lightly touched.

Remove from oven and carefully go around the edge of each muffin with a table knife and tip the muffins, allowing to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to baking rack and allow to cool fully. Place into an airtight container, and keep at room temperature if they will be consumed within a day or so. They last a few days in the fridge, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 3 months. Great as is, they are really decadent with a pat of butter. Enjoy!

Staying Warm During A Winter Outage

Art by Vincent Alexander Booth

No Further by Vincent Alexander Booth

During winter, the thought of a power outage or the furnace breaking is enough to send a chill down my spine (pun intended)! The daughter of a friend had this happen recently. Their furnace quit on, as Murphy’s Law would have it, a very cold Sunday night. Eventually they got through to those who could help and it was all okay, but it got me thinking.

I’ve decided to post some ideas I’ve gathered about ways to stay warm for a day or so in your home when the temps are plunging and the furnace isn’t running.

Maintain The Furnace

Let’s begin with a very old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Get the furnace checked! My friend’s daughter had recently moved into a rental and hadn’t thought about the furnace, or asking the landlord when it had last been inspected. These things happen. But even as renters I suggest all of us to call the local gas company for a free inspection. In most cities the gas company offers an annual visit to make sure the furnace is running fine. If needed they’ll clean the area around the pilot light and adjust it if needed. Hopefully we’ll get the all clear… and most of the time we will. But if something is wrong let’s find out and get it fixed.

Warm Clothing

Your clothing IS your first shelter. Pile on the layers. Think like you’re going skating, skiing, or winter hiking. Avoiding cotton, start with light layers and add long underwear, thick pants, wool socks and heavy sweaters. Complete the winter ensemble as if you’re really outdoors! Hat, scarf, gloves and boots (which have been wiped clean on the bottom). It might go without saying this is only needed if it’s really cold out, but where I live it does get really cold so this is how I prepare.

Gas Appliances

Of course if you’re one of the lucky ones with a wood burning stove or fireplace and wood to burn you’re set. But as more homes are built without these gems, more of us are being left, literally, in the cold. Some of us have gas fireplaces and gas stoves however, and we can use these appliances without power. Crack open a window.

“If you have a gas fireplace or stove with a standing pilot, it will light during a power outage since it doesn’t require electricity to activate the pilot flame… Many models are outfitted with systems which have battery backup that can be used to light the pilot during a power outage… If you have a wireless remote control, or a wall switch with a display, find the control box in the lower controls of the fireplace or behind the stove. There will be a switch that slides between ‘ON’, ‘OFF’ and ‘REMOTE’ – slide this to ‘ON’ for the appliance to operate with the power off. If you have questions, consult your owner’s manual or local dealer.” [source]
“On most gas cooking stoves, the top burners can be lit with a match if the electric power fails and the electronic burner ignition goes out. To light a top burner with a match, hold a lighted match to the burner and turn the burner control knob to the low-flame position. Turn the burner full on once it ignites.” [source]

Gather in One Room

Regardless of having a fireplace or not, everyone in the household needs to gather together in a (preferably small) central room. Close off the outer rooms and keep those doors closed. A developed basement can work well for this, or of course wherever’s close to the fireplace if you have one! Focus whatever heat can be generated into as small a space as can be comfortable. This is where we bring all the bedding and blankets, and people and pets.

Set up a Tent

warm-tent-indoorsSet up a tent in this central area. Yes this is easy enough for us campers, but even for those of you who are not fans of tenting, I encourage everyone to buy one. They take up hardly any storage space and you can often get a decent tent during end-of-season sales. If you’re not a camper consider setting it up in the backyard or livingroom when you get it home so you’ll know how it goes together in an emergency. Keep it with extra blankets for emergencies, and set it all up in the central room. Pile in the blankets, pillows and go ahead and crawl inside. Tents are amazing at keeping heat in! Tarps can be used instead if you don’t have a tent. Call on your inner child and make the best blanket fort you can (well, tarp fort).

Be Careful with Candles

What’s my opinion on all the tealight-flowerpot heaters on YouTube? Rather skeptical actually but candles can be comforting. Use good quality beeswax or soy (no paraffin please!) and ensure you place them in a secure container for safety. I use a couple of mason jars with one tealight in each. A problem has surfaced from people putting many tealights clustered together, and then tucked under a clay pot or crockpot. The wax liquefies and the heat occasionally can break those tiny aluminum cups and now you’ve got hot flammable liquid seeping out. Do be careful. When we hear ‘never leave a candle unattended’ let’s pay attention to this advice. It’s often repeated because it is so important. Candles can tip or leak or be to close to anything flammable like wood, paper, curtains, or other fabric. Let’s not have a broken furnace situation escalate into something much worse like a burn, or a fire.

Stay Cozy

Ending on a cozy note, let’s wrap up in those blankets and cuddle in the tent or tarp-fort. A great time for games, reading, or just good old conversation. Some of my fondest memories when my kids were young are from power outages when we’d play silly board or drawing games. Even charades. Such laughter. Almost makes one want to go flick the breaker just to have some quality time with each other! But not if it’s a howling blizzard outside. We’ll wait for warmer weather to sneakily trip the switch to play board games by flashlight.

A Groundhog Day Appearance

Groundhog or Marmot

The groundhog belongs to the family of large ground squirrels known as marmots. From my Pinterest ROCKIES.

This is a good day to poke my head up above the surface and look around. My digs have been spruced up, cleaned out, and renamed. The winter air is crisp and cold but the sun is shining and I feel renewed. Here’s to fresh starts!

This little blog of mine has been around for a while. Five years now, but it has languished under my inattention. I tried to figure out whether to delete it, revamp it, or whatever, but the decisions proved too much and I kept ignoring it.

Now I’m back, bringing unexpected inspiration from my frequent spot in the world of social media: Pinterest. My own collection of over 30,000 images (or Pins) on over a hundred boards is where I enjoy collecting, thinking, and learning.

Les Stroud

Les Stroud, Survivorman

Of all those boards, a true fave of mine is called WILDERNESS SURVIVAL. Interestingly enough, this particular board with my hundreds of carefully selected pins, appears to be attractive to many others as well because it’s received the most visits and follows.

In trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with this, my WordPress site, I realized that I want to share what means so much to me: living safety in the far north, bordered by the majestic and unforgiving Rocky Mountains. Where I live temps plummet way below freezing, and stay that way for months at a time.

For twenty years I have been watching Les Stroud, a highly respected wilderness survivalist who has a TV show called Survivorman. Dropped in very remote places and left alone for a week with minimal items plus the 50 pounds of camera gear for filming himself enduring the experience while teaching viewers what and what not to do if found in something like his predicament.

His shows are honest, and real. He tells the truth about how hard some things really are. Years ago I bit my nails watching him spend hours, and go through all his bootlaces, trying to get a spark to ignite from a hand powered bow drill.

alone_logoI’m also an avid viewer of History’s ALONE. Years ago I saw the first ads: set on northern Vancouver Island, ten survivalists vying to be the last one for a huge prize? Sign me up! Well, for recording it anyways. Now in season three, it’s in Patagonia. Very different from Stroud’s show but I like it nonetheless, for the most part. Their editing bugs me sometimes but what can you do?

So there you go. As soon as I can get my new cell-camera to communicate with my desktop (platforms not compatible… unlike my old phone I’d just plug in and upload? I don’t know. Hubby is the tech guy. I’m the wild camping chick!) then I’ll be posting lots. Sharing my camping trips into the mountains, learning about fishing, how I pack my vehicle for safe journeys, along with my ongoing gardening adventures in this harsh landscape, making a cozy home, and cooking great meals for my big men (hubs and sons). More posts to come. I’m baaack. Happy Groundhog Day from this wee burrower, sticking her head above the surface at last. Cheers!

Barrier Planter Boxes

Art by Kiril Stanchev

Art by Kiril Stanchev

As soon as the weather warms, I find I spend more time outdoors than indoors. Whether I’m grilling my homegrown veggies on the BBQ or relaxing with an iced tea and listening to the birds, my backyard patio is a sanctuary to me.

One unfortunate fact is that I live on a corner, and a roadway passes my patio. Sure there’s a six-foot wooden fence, but other than visually there’s no real barrier. That is why this spring I am endeavoring to build a narrow raised garden bed in front of the fence that borders the road.

raised garden barrierPLAN FOR THE WORST – EXPECT THE BEST! Motivational speaker Denis Waitley gave us a gem with this catch-phrase, and it’s something worth remembering. While I’m an optimist, I do feel safer when I contemplate the worst-case scenario – and plan for it.

When we first moved into this home and I felt uncomfortable on the patio, I wondered why. Soon I understood. Every time a car turned the corner and sped down the road beside my fence, I held my breath. Apparently some of my neighbors are frequently in a hurry, and their roaring of engines and scattering of gravel was not conducive to my relaxation in this backyard space.

raised plant beds bench LG blurHowever, a solid barrier can make all the difference. Not able to invest in the cost of removing our six-foot wooden fence and replacing it with concrete or mason blocks, I have opted for another option. Raised garden beds!

I made them in the back corner for growing vegetables, so why not build them against the roadway fence as additional security? People spin out… roads get icy in winter… all kinds of things can cause drivers to lose control and drive through a fence. But a raised garden bed can certainly hamper a vehicle’s momentum. And THAT is a fact that helps me feel more relaxed when enjoying time with friends and family on our patio.

So if you have an alley or roadway that travels past your patio or deck, why not consider a narrow raised bed… maybe even with a built-in bench? We gain peace of mind when we refuse to worry of a wayward car coming through a flimsy fence. With a dirt-filled raised garden along the fence, we add beauty, security, and peace.

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Link for artwork in image. 2 pics from Pinterest.

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