RECIPE: That Stupid Foil-Packet Cooking Everyone Loves

Can you tell how I really feel about foil packet cooking? 🙂

Okay, let me take that back. Foil packet cooking is great. There, I said it. I mean, I admitted it. But here’s what I hate about foil packet cooking: it’s become the gold standard of camp cooking, as though you’re somehow a gourmet AND a Sherpa-level guide if you cook your food in the coals and then eat it right out of the foil.

For the rest of us, though, it’s a good way to eat raw potatoes while your kids gripe about why you can’t just go to the McDonald’s they saw when you turned off the highway.

Foil packet cooking involves prepping your meal at home and cooking the whole packet in the coals of a campfire, but is a flawed, hatefully system:

  • Problem number 1) You’re going to prep all these great packets and they’re going to leak all over your cooler.
  • Problem number 2) It takes quite a while for a campfire to reach the coal stage for you to cook these.
  • Problem number 3) It takes even longer for raw food to cook down in the coals. This is NOT like putting them in a skillet over the fire.
  • Problem number 4) Much of the food that cooks well in a foil packet isn’t something your kids are going to like anyway. They wanted a hot dog on a stick that they could have eaten two hours ago, but no, you made brisket with carrots, potatoes, and slices of corn on the cob by slow cooking it in the coals.
  • Problem number 5) By the time this stuff is actually ready to eat, you get to fish a molten-hot metal packet out of the coals without ripping the tin foil and dropping all the food on the ground, and you get to eat it while holding a black, soot-covered foil packet.

They make it look so great in the LL Bean catalog, but please remember that the image of the man in the flannel shirt eating his fresh-caught trout out of a foil packet (which inexplicably has lemon slices and rosemary sprigs… because he brought those with him in case he caught a trout) is actually a staged photo shoot with a crew of about fifty people making it happen. I could eat this way, too, if someone else did all the prep work and I just had to sit there and look outdoorsy.

But since we’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that it’s just not camp cooking without at least one foil packet meal, here are some tips and photos:


First, I never cook the meat in the packet with the veggies. I get the fire going, get the packets in the coals, and cook the meat over those coals with a grill grate above them. That way I don’t serve my kids raw meat with overcooked, dried out carrots. When you’re assembling your packets, it’s good to line a salad bowl with the foil since it keeps your ingredients from rolling all over the place.

Hint number two: you can prevent much of the burning and sticking of your food to the foil by lining it first with a little olive oil, and then with fresh herbs. The basil is going to be black and wilty, but the rosemary in the picture above has a woody stem and will help hold the veggies off the foil a little bit.

Hint number three: please, for the love of all things holy, precook them taters! You don’t have to cook them all the way, but please do yourself and everyone you care about a favor and zap them in the microwave for a few minutes. Then cut them up. The coals can take over where the microwave left off. I’d personally do the same thing to the carrots. For the purposes of this exact blog post I made up these packets and cooked them on our camping trip, and the potatoes were perfect. This time, it was the carrots that were disappointingly chewy!

And then you roll. Get the ends first and then make a center fold. This big center fold is how you’ll reach down into your cooking inferno and retrieve your food.

Finally, take all of your packets and put them in a giant container that you don’t care about. This will keep them from spilling in your cooler and will keep them handily organized in case you were crazy enough to try foil packets for multiple meals. Oh, and don’t forget the salt. If you pre-salt your food in the packets, it will be slimy and gross when it comes time to finally eat it. Salt it after you cook.

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Loving the Wildlife

This post will happen again many times over the course of this blog, mostly because these situations keep coming up. There are a lot of factors that make people afraid of outdoors adventures, but one of the several recurring factors is the local wildlife.

“Don’t go kayaking in that creek, I heard they spotted a gator two years ago.”

“You know the news said there’s a bear wandering near that mountain.”


This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

Those are just a few of the things people tell me whenever we talk about the outdoors. Yes, folks, there are animals out there. Some of them could even hurt you. Once in a blue moon, there’s an entirely unprovoked animal attack, literally where a human was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and out of nowhere a wild animal comes after him. Even in those “out of nowhere” cases, you have to understand there could have been extenuating circumstances that prompted the attack–even though they were absolutely NOT the human’s fault–like perhaps the bear had cubs nearby or the animal in question happens to be highly territorial. (Interesting trivia: did you know that more people are killed by hippos every year than any other animal? They’re uber-stingy with their territory.)

I’ve had some interesting encounters with wildlife, but when I say encounters, I only mean that I WAS THE ONE who’d encountered it. The animal could have cared less that I was standing there.

Exhibit A: I was in the woods one day and a mountain lion walked right in front of me. It looked at me, flared its nostrils, and walked away. It had smelled me and decided I was NOT useful. The fact that it took about ten minutes to finally vacate the area enough for me to get my back off that tree and race to the car was MY problem, not the mountain lion’s.


Exhibit B: I was hiking in the woods with my husband after a night of heavy, heavy rain. I love hiking after a big storm because the paths turn muddy from the rain but the heat of the next day dries the mud enough to walk on. That means you can walk around pretty easily and still see tons of fresh animal tracks. I pointed to one in particular and said, “Hey look! A mountain lion track!”

A short time later, I got to point and say, “Hey look! A bear track!” My husband laughed and said, “There aren’t any bears in this part of the state!”

I wear a women's size 11 hiking boot.

I wear a women’s size 11 hiking boot.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than his phone beeped. We had a friend who was going to join us that day but he had something come up that morning. He told us he’d be along later in the day and would try to catch up with us, but not to wait on him.

The phone had beeped with a text from that friend. It was a picture of the bear he’d just seen. (Man, do I love being right, and do I love to punish a non-outdoorsy husband when I am!)

Exhibit C: We just got back from a camping trip to go kayaking in the southern part of our state. Yes, folks, that’s the alligator that was floating in the middle of the lake, right in front of our kayak. As it turns out, just the week before, someone had caught the record-setting gator at 920 pounds. I wasn’t actually aware there ARE gators in that body of water… now we know.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Here’s something important to remember. For 99% of the animal-human wildlife encounters, they don’t want to hurt you. There’s a reason it makes the news when there’s an animal attack. Even the famously-feared shark attacks are rare enough that it warrants sending a reporter to the now-empty beach to stand there and tell us what happened.

As a general rule of thumb, if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone. Yes, there are animals out there. Guess what? They also walk through your yard at night! But with a little respect, some forward thinking, and a promise never to attempt to take a selfie with an armadillo, you’ll be fine.

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Anyone Can Do This!

We’ve been gone from the blog for a little while because we had some back-to-back traveling to do, most recently to a state park in the southern part of our state. The camping-kayaking trip served a specific personal purpose.

My mother was once wheelchair bound and eventually with enough physical therapy has gotten to the point that she can walk with a walker. She decided over the summer that she wanted to try kayaking, and even wanted to drive five hours to my house so I could take her on the local river run. With her bad hips, I worried that sitting in a kayak with her legs in front of her could eventually start to hurt; after all, when you put in at one location and then have to take out at a farther point along the river or creek, you can’t just stop and say, “I’m done. This hurts!” You HAVE to finish it.

I suggested we camp at very large lake in her part of the state, and then we could paddle as much or as little as she wanted to. I’d stay out there all day if she liked, but if her hips couldn’t take it, then she would know that a river trip wasn’t feasible.

It took some effort, but after only a few minutes (and several fishermen offering to help, for which I thanked them profusely and replied, “If she’s gonna do this, she has to learn how to get in and out of the kayak!”) we were paddling! We’d used the state park’s concrete boat ramp, and that worked for her really well. I got my two-man kayak situated in the water and then helped her walk down the ramp. Basically, she just had to sit down and then put her legs in. The real trick was finding a sitting position that accommodated her hips since they no longer bend at the waist at a typical angle. The adjustable back rest helped, and she felt great.

We paddled close to the boat ramp until she got the hang of her paddle. Just to make things even more interesting, she’s had shoulder replacement surgery in the past couple of years, so I wanted to make sure her shoulder didn’t hurt from the repetitive motion involved in paddling. When she felt confident that she could do it pain-free, we left the little slough near the boat ramp and ventured out further.

“What’s that up ahead?” she asked when we’d made it a good distance away. I squinted, and said I thought it was a stick. She said, “Oh, it looks like a bird!”

We went to check it out, just to get close enough for her to see the aquatic bird take flight when we came too close for comfort. Oddly, the bird in question didn’t seem to feel threatened by our presence.

That’s because it wasn’t a bird. It was a twelve-foot alligator. He was just lying in the middle of the lake, getting some sun. The stick/bird was actually his head, and when we got too close the rest of his body floated to the surface.


You know how in cartoons when someone’s trying to run away the little character’s legs will spin in a circle while he goes nowhere? That was our paddling effort for a couple of seconds. I quickly got us turned around but finally told my mom, “Let me handle this! You’re making us go backwards, TOWARDS the alligator! I’ll paddle, you watch the alligator and tell me if he comes towards us!”

And he never budged. Once we turned around and started paddling away we were no longer a threat, so he eventually lowered his body back into the water and left his head sticking up, just like before. Even if we’d been stupid enough to try to get closer to him instead of leaving slowly, he probably would have just swam away. He most likely lifted his body in order to make his getaway, NOT to come eat us. It was actually over an hour later that I walked back around and took this from the opposite bank with my zoom lens.


I’m glad to say that after our “brush with toothy death” my mom and I paddled for another forty minutes or so. We took some kayak selfies to show my dad and her friends from church, we talked about good places to paddle and proper technique, and she was able to get herself back out of the kayak with a little help. We talked about a contingency plan if she couldn’t get herself out of it, which would be to paddle a little way out from the ramp, fall overboard, and swim to the ramp where she could stand up (she didn’t love that thought…after all, there was a gator out there somewhere and lake water isn’t exactly see-through). The only reason we cut our kayak trip short was some thunder clouds rolled in and we didn’t want to be caught in the rain.


Basically, the purpose of this entire blog is to help people who otherwise don’t have any experience with the outdoors–and therefore don’t have confidence in what to do in an unexpected situation–realize that they can do it, they can be self-sufficient, and they can have fun. They can do it… you can do it. Your kids can do it. Just don’t pet the gators.

We did finally see a bird. (Where were you earlier, dummy?)

We did finally see a bird. (Where were you earlier, dummy?)

Suspiciously stick-like gator head.

Suspiciously stick-like gator head.

I get the concept of camouflage, but he shouldn't match the lake water this closely!

I get the concept of camouflage, but he shouldn’t match the lake water this closely!

See? He's under there somewhere!

See? He’s under there somewhere!

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GEAR REVIEW: OuterEQ Parachute Nylon Hammock

Before we can talk about this hammock, we have to back up and figure out why you’re considering buying a hammock in the first place. Oh, because you thought camping in a hammock would make you look cool? Owning a portable hammock is your way of showing the world you can live off the grid and go hike up Machu Picchu at a moment’s notice, sleeping in trees along the way?

Yeah, I didn’t think so! But isn’t it weird how a) hammock companies market that way, with glossy pictures of some guy drink a camp mug full of coffee in his hammock while staring out at Kilimanjaro, and b) how the price of some of these over-glorified tarps makes you think it should be part of an Everest expedition’s gear?

Let’s talk about a real reason to buy a hammock: because they’re freakin’ awesome! (Says the lady who has a hammock in her office…yes, hanging, in her office.)

Yup, in my office. You've arrived in the world of employment when you have a hammock behind your desk.

Yup, in my office. You’ve arrived in the world of employment when you have a hammock behind your desk.

Hammock camping really is a viable option, if you have a few considerations in place. It eliminates sleeping on the ground and gets rid of the need for lugging an airbed and a pump with you if you’re not a sleep on the ground kinda person. They’re actually really comfortable, if you do it right.

That’s a HUGE if, by the way.

Think about the last hammock you tried out. It was possibly made of woven rope and was stretched wide by a wooden bar across the top and the feet. You know, the kind of hammock that Goofy gets tangled up in and flips out of on TV. That’s not the right kind of hammock for camping, which is why the gear companies developed these “nest” style hammocks.

These hammocks, which are giant swaths of parachute nylon gathered at each end, are a lot more like a cocoon. In fact, the first time you get in one and you lose your peripheral vision because of all the extra fabric, it’s a little disorienting. But once you learn how to stretch out in your hammock, you’ll see why I’m in love with it.

For the purposes of this post, I learned it's impossible to set the timer on the camera and get in a hammock in under ten seconds.

For the purposes of this post, I learned it’s impossible to set the timer on the camera and get in a hammock in under ten seconds.

The design of the nest hammock means you can sleep in the traditional bent V shape with your head and your feet pointed up, OR you can lie on the diagonal using the extra fabric to support your head and your feet. You can lie on your side or even sleep on your stomach in this style of hammock.

Just be warned: the one in my office? We call it the coma hammock. People seriously get in it just to “try it out,” and end up passing out and waking up two hours later, very disoriented.

Instant coma. I swear.

Instant coma. I swear.

Now… once you have a hammock, how do you make sure you can take it camping and that you’ll find adequate tree coverage to hang it? You can’t. You can hope your campsite has enough trees spaced the adequate distance apart, OR you can purchase a portable hammock stand. Mine was about $50 on eBay and is literally five poles that snap together using a push-button mechanism (no tools). The poles fit in their own carry bag and end up being about the size of a portable camping chair from a discount store. It’s awesome… after all, it’s how I have a hammock hanging in my office! The poles are quite sturdy and two of the poles are the foot braces that keep you from flipping. (See the first photo to get a better idea of the hammock stand.) If you are using trees, make sure you have adequate straps to hang the hammock, and that you hang it high enough so that you don’t land on your butt when you get in it. The typical amount of give means that your hammock should be suspended at slightly higher than your waist height. Once you push on it and get in, it will drop dramatically.

While you’re hammock camping, you’ll also need a way to keep bugs off and stay dry. Mosquito netting is pretty common over hammocks, and a tarp or tent fly strung between your trees and anchored to the ground at the corners is the typical way to keep dry during the night. Be warned, if the weather is the least bit chilly, your butt and back will freeze during the night as air circulates beneath you, so you’ll need some kind of thick blanket to sleep on as well one to sleep under. The nest hammocks are actually designed to be used with your sleeping bag without fear of falling out.

So here’s the gear review part: I was disgusted by the $70 to $100 price tag of some brand-name nylon hammocks. Folks, I promise you’re just paying for the fancy label. Instead, I bought the OuterEQ Hammock on Amazon and could not be happier with it. Check it out, I promise you won’t be sorry. It comes in two sizes, so make sure you get the one you need. The smaller single is plenty big–even for my husband/guinea pig who tested it out for me–although they sell a “double nesting.” The double nesting is NOT intended for two people to sleep comfortably! Think of it more like having a couch in the woods with you, where two people could recline in it and drink coffee. They are not going to be comfortable sleeping together in it!

Guinea pig husband got in the hammock just to prove it would hold him.

Guinea pig husband got in the hammock just to prove it would hold him.

The OuterEQ comes in a ton of fun colors (so each kid can pick his own!) and folds right back up into its sewn on pouch. The pouch doubles as a place to store things while you sleep, like your car keys, glasses, or a flash light. At just under $20, it was the best one I’ve come across. I put them up inside a screen canopy at our campsite and we can all sleep comfortably.

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 4 (Man, This Just Keeps Going!)

I promise we’re finally done talking about toileting habits of human adventurers. Before we wrap it up, you’ve got to meet the POTTY PACK.

In the last post I promised to put up instructions on how to make an emergency bathroom solution, so I give you the Potty Pack. This so-easy-we-all-should-have-thought-of-it setup is a good idea to keep in the car anyway. Would you like to be stuck in construction traffic on an interstate with a child who suddenly gets diarrhea and you can’t get off the interstate? How about at a gas station that hasn’t been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration? The Potty Pack is a lifesaver, in more ways than one.

My dear friend lives in Alabama and is a sales rep for a national company, and as such, spends much of her day in the car. Alabama is a lot of fun, but thanks to global warming, the winters are starting to really suck, specifically in February. Go back through the news websites and see what’s happening to the weather in that part of the country each winter, and you’ll see what I mean.

A couple of years ago, she was one of the lucky thousands who were trapped in their cars on a snowy, icy interstate. By trapped, I mean some of them spent two to three days in their cars. We were all literally watching our friend update us via Facebook on her phone, and let me tell you, it was completely surreal to be chatting with her via social media while knowing that she was cold, hungry, and trapped. It was a lot like someone trapped in the wilderness, except this person was in full view of thousands of other people and still couldn’t be rescued.

One of the chief problems was she was dressed for work, meaning a nice professional outfit and pretty shoes. There were exits within reasonable walking distance, but not for someone without sturdy shoes and at that temperature in a blinding snowstorm. There was also no guarantee that the businesses on the exits would even be open, so she could have literally risked her life only to find out they were closed.

NOTE: in this type of situation–interstate or wilderness–ALWAYS stay put! Rescuers can find you if you hold still, but if you go walking, you’re putting yourself in danger of not being found. If you’re in sight of your car, don’t leave it because it’s a good shelter and a big enough object for air rescue to see.

Later, my dear friend admitted that she was having to pee in giant soda cups that she had in her car, then dump the cups out on the side of the road. The first time she had to do it, of course it was awkward. Other drivers could see her! By the fourth time, she was rolling the window down to dump it, not even trying to be discreet about it.

Basically, you never know what could happen. Keep a Potty Pack or two in a compartment in your car.

Potty Packs are really simple: one giant ziplock bag, at least two smaller ziplock baggies, a few paper towels, a massive separated sheet of toilet paper, a small bottle of hand gel. If you happen to have a friend who works in a doctor’s office and can get you one or two of those disposable paper gowns, those are awesome for tying around your kids for privacy in the woods if they need it or for spreading on your car seat before this whole thing goes down. It’s not a terrible idea to throw one or two feminine hygiene products in there… you’re carrying toilet paper around with you, so why not?

Let’s break it down:


The big ziplock bag holds everything (duh), but it’s also the actual emergency potty if the above car scenario is happening and you don’t have a giant cup. For that matter, even if you did have the giant soda cup, I would use the ziplock bag if I’m in my car and one of the kids has a poop emergency. Line the soda cup (or other container) with the giant ziplock bag, making sure you fold the opening over enough that it won’t become contaminated and can still be zipped shut. For hiking, though, DO NOT POTTY IN YOUR BIG ZIPLOCK BAG! You’re going to need it in a minute.

The smaller baggies serve two purposes: TP into the woods, TP out of the woods. You can either leave one baggie empty to put the used TP in and put the clean TP in the other one, OR you can make up individual single-use baggies so that the clean TP comes out of one bag and goes back into that bag. Whichever method you choose for your small baggies should be determined by what you’ll be doing and for how long. If this is a full-day, sunup to sundown hike with lots of people, you’re going to want the single use baggies so that you don’t have to keep opening the yucky used bag and putting more in. At some point, it’s going to get full!

When I said separate the clean TP, I don’t mean into squares. If you unwind a giant hallway-length of TP then roll it back up, you can place the roll in the small bag and tear it off while it’s sticking out of the bag. VERY handy if you’re trying to hold up one of your kids, keep his shoes out of the poop, and keep your balance at the same time! The paper towels are for getting stuff off of shoes… it’s going to happen to someone, you know it. The hand gel is obvious.

Basically, this is a method for not leaving contaminated litter behind in a potty emergency while also not smearing used TP all over your backpack or picnic bag. Yucky TP in the smaller baggie, which then goes in the bigger baggie. If you’re like me and carry enough hand gel to fight ebola, it’s a good idea to squeeze a little on top of the used TP once you have it down in the small baggie… it will help fight odors.

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 3

No, we’re not done yet. Boy, how many times have you heard THOSE words through a closed bathroom door after sending your little one in there? So here we go, POOPING IN THE WOODS.

Fortunately, pooping is pretty much the same for boys and for girls, with the only stereotypical differences being in their willingness to comply. When I worked for the military and got to see my first open-bay bathroom (a room in many male barracks that contains twenty or so toilets, with no stalls, no doors, not even a fluttering paper towel to separate you from the guy pooping next to you), I was ready to run screaming from the Army base, let alone the room. That’s a big no… I’m not sitting close enough to high-five another human being while having a bowel movement. I’d be in the best physical shape of my life since I’d be running to the nearest gas station bathroom every time I had to poop.

I guess when the drill sergeant orders the men to potty, they either learn to potty or learn to love push ups. Oddly enough, the female barracks didn’t have this monstrosity of an open bay. It’s just one of those quirky things that makes us all different, right?

But all stereotypes aside, kids of both genders may either have zero problem pottying outside, or may really balk at the thought. I have two girls, but I got one of each in terms of “meh, no big deal, where’s a tree?” and “oh my dear lord I’ll just hold it ’til we reach civilization.”

So… pooping. In the outdoors…

This one’s a little more sensitive than peeing because it involves both contaminated human waste AND removing your clothes. That’s a daunting thing, so much that society even has a term called “caught with your pants down.” No one likes the thought of someone coming up on them at this sensitive time, so make very sure you’re in an isolated spot. You can also carry a jacket, shirt, or other long piece of fabric to tie around your waist and offer a little more privacy. Just remember that if any hiker comes up on you during this process, there’s a 98% chance she’s been in exactly your same position, quite possibly that same day. It’s natural, all humans do it. You guys just happen to be doing it in nature.

After tying your shirt around your waist (or not) and finding your secluded spot, again work the downhill so that nothing slides or rolls back onto your shoes. If you’re able to find an indention in the ground, that’s considered very polite because you can cover it with some rocks and leaves when you’re through. Be sure you’re not pooping into a convenient hole in the ground, since it’s quite possible a snake or other animal won’t appreciate the sudden arrival of waste in his den. When you’ve found a spot, it’s pants down, squat with your feet wide apart, and go.

But now that the hard part is over, the real fun begins.

There are (believe it or not) many schools of thought on what you should next. Most of these opinions come from die-hard hikers and adventurers and therefore aren’t as applicable to a mom and her kids out for a two-hour hike. The more avid outdoorsy people will spend months at a time through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, which means covering the entire distance from Maine to Georgia. That means how they poop and leave behind the evidence is of greater environmental impact. I just read that in 1990, almost 300 people actually hiked the entire ATC… that’s a lot of human poop, especially when you think about how many thousands of other people were just hiking parts of it.

Some die-hards will tell you that toilet paper is a thing of the devil and that you should never bring it with you. After all, leaves, rocks, and pine cones will suffice just fine (I wish I was kidding). Other hikers will tell you there’s nothing wrong with TP so long as you bring it back out with you. Yes… used. Still others will say that burying your TP or burning it is good enough.

My opinion? Well, using TP is a given unless it was a surprise potty attack. I’m not yer girl when it comes to wiping with a pine cone unless I’m only out there pottying in the first place because my plane has crashed and TP is the least of my survival worries. So I believe that after using a perfectly nice piece of TP, you should pack it out. Here’s why: it’s the least labor intensive version of the process (I promise I’ll show you how in a second) and you don’t risk burning down your local national forest. You’re also not trying to watch your kids hit each other with rocks while you dig a hole with your hands to put this used TP in. I’ll show you the Potty Pack in the next post, and trust me, you do not want to head outdoors–or walk out your front door, EVER–without these.

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Pottying in the Woods: Part 2

This installment is a great way to get our feet wet with wilderness pottying. Wait. Strike that. We do NOT want our feet wet while PEEING IN THE WOODS:

Boys… well, it’s a little more obvious how to handle this. You’ll treat it pretty much the same way you’ve covered their potty needs since they first got the hang of it. HOWEVER, don’t overlook the fact that you can’t just point your boy to the nearest tree and tell him to go for it. He will need to walk a respectful distance off the trail so as not to see-or-be-seen, and that will involve hiking off the path, potentially through ticks, spiders, snakes, unsteady rocks that can turn an ankle, and more. Help your son choose a spot away from the trail, but then stay nearby (back turning may be involved depending on your son’s age). The reason for sticking close is in case of snake bite, it helps the hospital immensely if you can describe the snake. If you send your son off to potty and only go looking for him after he screams or doesn’t come back, you can’t tell them what it looked liked.

Girls, this one’s a little tougher. If it’s seasonably warm, you have the easiest job in the world, especially if you’re wearing shorts. You simply find that same more remote spot, squat down, and pull the crotch of your shorts and undies aside. Make sure to pull them far enough that you aren’t actually peeing on the leg hole, not just because it’s no fun but because the rest of your hike will involve urine-soaked fabric rubbing against the spot where your leg and privates join. You will have raging blisters and possibly open sores from that. It’s important for everyone but especially girls to get the hang of the downhill, meaning the spot you select and the direction you face needs to be with the downhill going away from you so that your own pee doesn’t flood your shoes.

This is a tough one for girls/women to grasp, but we don’t actually have to have toilet paper after peeing. A good tushie wiggle to get any drips will suffice if this potty trip was unexpected. Simply stand up and let your clothes fall back into place. If the thought of not using toilet paper after peeing horrifies you, never fear, the next post will contain the instructions for a potty packet. Don’t forget your hand gel!

There is a product you can invest in that lets women pee more discreetly, even while standing up. It’s got mixed reviews, as you can see from this blog post.

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I Was Gonna Have to Talk about It Some Time: Pottying in the Woods

Whenever I talk outdoors fun with people who are unfamiliar, the conversation inevitably takes a strange, personal, halfway inappropriate turn. You can kind of see the look on their faces that tells you they want to ask a burning question, but then they don’t. Finally, I have to say, “I know what you want to ask me, it’s okay. Go ahead.”

My hapless victim will usually start to laugh and look sheepish and then finally stammer, “But how do you go to the bathroom?!”

When nature calls, and not just the call of a beautiful fall day in the mountains but the actual call of having to suddenly find a bathroom, how you’re going to react depends on a lot of factors. One of the most important factors is: what are you doing?

If you’re camping, are you at a state park or a back country spot? Because at a state park you go to the nearest bathroom. In the back country (a primitive campsite…be aware of those words “primitive camping” if you’re booking a trip to an actual campground, since they mean no amenities whatsoever), there’s an excellent chance it’s going to involve a tree for privacy.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not ready to head off on an unsupported backpacking trip. Important note: if you’re heading off on an unsupported backpacking trip and are still having to Google “how to potty in the woods,” you’re also not ready for this trip yet. I’m already envisioning a cruel prank where a new boyfriend has duped you into primitive camping and you don’t know what to expect.

A more likely scenario is that you’ll be on a hiking day trip or kayaking on a creek with your kids and one/all of you will have to go. There are a few schools of thought on how to handle this type of crisis.

First, is it number one or number two? If it’s number one, you’re basically going to leave behind an almost-sterile liquid that will not cause any harm. If it’s number two, you’re going to leave behind a pile of human excrement for the next hiker to enjoy, along with some litter in the form of your toilet paper. More importantly, how you actually accomplish the pottying will differ based on whether it’s number one or number two.

In the follow-up posts, I’ll provide step-by-step, gruesomely detailed instructions on how to handle each of these, as well as how the steps are different for boys and girls. I’ll talk about handling squeamish kids who can’t do it in the woods, as well as give you instructions for making a potty packet. Enjoy!

Animals have zero qualms about pottying in the woods. This happens to be turkey poop.

Animals have zero qualms about pottying in the woods. This happens to be turkey poop.

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Travel Review: Myrtle Beach State Park

We were looking to squeeze in one last camping trip before school started, and of course, I’m completely addicted to the beach. We’d already been to our usual haunt earlier this summer, so I decided to branch out and go somewhere new, while still getting to camp.

I’d always heard people talk about Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so I looked into the State Park. It was completely reasonable, with the option to choose my own campsite during reservations (as opposed to places that just assign you a spot and tell you what number it is when you check in); the total including any taxes and fees for three nights came to just at $111.00 and some change.

In true State Park fashion, there are plenty of regulations to keep up with, and they’re serious about the warning to keep your trash secure to avoid run-ins with raccoons. The entire campground area–and the day use locations, for that matter–had tons of trees separating each campsite and surrounding less desirable areas like the garbage dumpsters. I distinctly remember seeing a stand up placard at the main gate one night during our trip that said the campground was full, but the trees between each campsite afforded it a lot of privacy.

Typical campsite at the State Park. Lots of trees, but be prepared for sand.

Typical campsite at the State Park. Lots of trees, but be prepared for sand.

There were plenty of bathhouses scattered around the property, and plenty of garbage sites for campers to deposit their trash. As a nice added touch, each of the dumpster sites had two recycling bins as well, something you don’t always see from a State Park but should. We saw signs to a playground but never used it; it must have been halfway decent though, judging by the numbers of kids and parents who were always coming or going down the path. There was also a good-sized, fully stocked camp store that carried souvenirs and a few basic campground essentials, enough to tide you over if you’d forgotten something, at least until you wanted to make a trip into town.

Here’s one of the nicest features: the State Park is on the ocean, so it has its own beach. We never once left the park for the purpose of going to the beach. It has a long wooden pier out over the water with fishing and marine life watching available. If you choose to go to the beach north of the pier, there’s a life guard on duty. The beaches south of the pier were less crowded, but were not guarded. Each beach access walkway has benches and showers for getting rid of the sand, and for walking to and from the parking area along a sturdy surface.

The State Park has its own beach, and we never needed to leave the park to go elsewhere for a swim.

The State Park has its own beach, and we never needed to leave the park to go elsewhere for a swim.

Be warned that this is the Atlantic. I’ll admit we’re used to the white sand and gentle waves of the Gulf, so it was a little bit of a surprise to walk across sand that’s comprised of broken shells (it was cool, but rough on the feet…little ones might want those water shoes) and waves that will throw you down. There was a red flag warning the entire time we were there, but the waves offered just enough time between them to stand up, wipe the water out of your eyes, and get ready to get hit again. Sitting in the water and relaxing wasn’t feasible, but body surfing was a BLAST!

The coolest part was the turtles. At check-in, a park ranger told us that there had been a sea turtle hatching and that there would be an egg inventory on Friday. We were given the time and location, and when we arrived at the designated spot, some hundred or so people were already waiting to hear a ranger’s presentation on the work the state conservationists were doing with sea turtle preservation. While she spoke, members of the volunteer Sea Turtle Patrol began to uncover a nest that had recently hatched in order to count how many eggs had hatched and how many had been “duds.” In all, there were 138 eggs in the nest, and more than eighty had hatched! We got to see and feel a preserved hatchling that hadn’t survived, feel a “dud” egg, feel the shell remains of one that had hatched, and learn a lot about the work of the Turtle Patrol and the conservation program. It was a really, really great presentation but even the park staff can’t know when it will happen since it occurs after their patrol team indicates a nest has opened. All you can do is plan your trip during the hatch season and hope it lines up. The ranger did say the put the information on Facebook, but again, they only have a couple of days’ notice themselves.




The only downside of the entire park is that it’s situated awfully close to an airport. From the beach, it was neat to watch very large commercial jets taking off overhead, as in, low enough that you could read the company logo on the plane and count the windows. It was less neat when a military jet was doing flyovers at the campground; they were low enough and loud enough that it would interrupt a cell phone conversation at my campsite, and I had to tell the person to simply hold on until the plane had passed. I don’t remember hearing any during the night, but I’m a heavy sleeper. Light sleepers will want some earplugs, a fan for background noise, or some other way of keeping the planes from waking you up.

As for the town of Myrtle Beach itself, there is a lot going on. There’s a great outlet mall (to appease our shopping teen), a ton of seafood buffet restaurants to choose from (to appease our crab leg fanatic other child), and an actual ocean-front boardwalk that was awesome for sightseeing, window shopping, people watching, and just enjoying the sunset. We’d never been to a beach town that had a real boardwalk, so this was a huge treat for the kids. Be sure to stop in at any of the major stores or visitors’ centers when you arrive and get the vacation guides/coupon books; the seafood restaurant where we ate the first night even asked us if we had a coupon, and when I showed her a book I’d picked up at a gas station she flipped right to the correct page and tore out a coupon worth five dollars off per person!

The boardwalk was actually really cool. We ate at a restaurant one night that sat right on the walkway, so we ate and talked while people watching and enjoying the waves.

The boardwalk was actually really cool. We ate at a restaurant one night that sat right on the walkway, so we ate and talked while people watching and enjoying the waves.

Overall, it was definitely worth the trip and a really great camping trip. Due to the distance it isn’t somewhere I’d just pop over for a couple of nights, but for somewhere as a total destination, it would be well worth a week-long trip.

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Zip Line Adventure!

One of the increasingly popular family activities is zip lining, or the practiced art of falling off a high place while wearing a harness. And while I can promise you that it is both really thrilling and very safe, it is one of those activities where you really must do your homework before you set out.

What kind of homework? READ THOSE REVIEWS!

There is an unfortunately huge discrepancy in what constitutes zip lining. You can pay $30 a person to stand in a long line at a beachfront adventure park and ride down one cable, or you can make a day of it and zip through acre after acre of gorgeous forest land. You can pay a little bit of money to have a surly teenager whose summer job involves reminding you to tuck your feet before he shoves you off that one cable, or you can pay more to have a guided tour with two professionals who take you through a two-hour zip adventure.

See the difference? Both of those things are zip lining, but they present very different experiences.

While I’m all about being budget conscious–after all, that’s why we got into camping in the first place–this is one of those rare times you’ll really want to splurge and pay a more top-dollar price. It’s also not something you should do at an amusement park, at least not if you want a real family adventure.

So what do you look for when you’re searching for nearby zip lining options?

1. Knowledgeable staff who are trained in rescue techniques.

2. A worthwhile trip, as in getting to experience this for more than just one shove from a platform to ground.

3. Scenic beauty, since the fun of this is in being outdoors.

4. A location that requires a brief training session before you’re allowed to begin.

Simply having a sign out front that says, “All riders must wear closed-toe shoes,” isn’t safety precautions. When my husband and I decided to give it a try, we were required to take a twenty-minute training class and demonstrate that we could hold the required positions, stop ourselves, and even hand-over-hand self-rescue in case we got stuck.

Now for a review of a specific company, North Georgia Canopy Tours. After a lot of internet searching, this is the company we went with. How specific were we? Let’s just say it was an all-day trip in honor of our anniversary. We drove three hours each way to use this exact company, largely for the criteria I listed above.

We were not disappointed. While our overall assessment was that the cost and the effort involved in getting there means this is a one-time thing (meaning we probably wouldn’t make the drive to do it again, at least not soon), we did come away feeling that the money and effort were certainly worth it in terms of the fun we had and the complete safety we felt the entire time.

We signed up for the Adventure Tour, which costs a pretty penny but gives you THREE HOURS of guided zip lining and a repel out of the final platform: “The Adventure Tour includes two sky bridges, three nature walks, the fastest zips on the course, zips over three ponds, two zips over the North Oconee River, and a rappel. Race a partner on the thrilling finale – a 695-foot dual zip over the Hilltop Pond in front of the Observation Deck.”

Again, NOT a quick shove from a metal platform at a beach attraction! This is definitely the kind of activity where you’ll want your camera, so make sure (especially if you’re taking videos with your smartphone) that you have a way to secure it while you move.

However you decide to give it a try, remember to check out all of the safety requirements and reviews online first. Be sure to bring the right clothes and shoes, and give the company a call first if there are any specific issues with anyone in your family. Then, be sure to have fun and thank them with a review!

Check out this video compilation I made during our trip!

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