You know, it occurred to me over the course of the last week, as Jen and I packed the car and left for a week of camping with two little kids, that it was a bit of a lunatic move. We were going pretty far North (Canada has lots of North to choose from, but we picked Lake Superior) and the kids are pretty little (four and almost nine), and the weather can be crazy, and we would be so far away for so long… there were a lot of ways that it could have gone wrong. Unbelievably, everything went right, or when it went wrong, Jen and I reached down into our parenting experience and figured it out.  Sure, a week long camping trip into the wilds with little kids is ambitious, but they’re Canadian kids, well acquainted with the woods and the wilds and the women going with them were (or at least we like to think of ourselves this way) strong campers, with great skills. (I mean that. You should see either one of us light a fire.) I can cook anywhere, neither one of us minds being dirty, we’ve got good gear… the wild cards were going to be the kids. Before we left, I imagined that sort of episode where someone’s socks fit funny and that ends in an episode of helpless sobbing, or the fruit gets cut wrong  – you know the one, that thing where a kid asks for sliced peaches, receives sliced peaches and then loses their mind because you should have understood that sliced is code for “don’t slice it” and there’s no going back.

Grownups can eat peaches both ways, but kids? I imagined fits in the car, breakdowns in the tent, dirt that couldn’t be managed, pillows that smelled funny and couldn’t be slept on… and Jen and I with only our camping gear to mitigate it all with. While a few of those things happened (I admit it, I am the MORON who cut a pancake into pieces that were way to small to be tolerated.) The week was perfect, and a big part of it was planning. There were activities for the kids every day, and I brought a sketchbook to be our journal, and every time things threatened to get wild, another magic thing surfaced out of Auntie Stephie’s Super Secret Fun Bag.  We had scavenger hunts, and drew pictures, and painted…

readingintthecar 2016-08-30 mejenbeach 2016-08-30 journal 2016-08-30 standbeach 2016-08-30

We collected rocks, and found the best ones on every beach. We looked for the best swimming spots (holy crap Lake Superior is cold) and made giant bubbles. We hiked, and tested the muddy places in the road to see if we could get through, and we made sunprints, and cooked things on sticks, and talked about the safest way to light a fire.


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We read stories (all of Little House in the Big Woods in a week) and put flowers and leaves in the journal to press, and the one day it rained like there was no tomorrow, Jen and I remembered that we had good sense, a car and credit cards, and got those kids to a hotel to dry off.

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We saw a beach that was all rocks, big as your head and shaped like dinosaur eggs (Montreal River) and another one where the rocks were round and amazing (Gargantua Bay.) We swam in Old Woman Bay, we walked the sand bridge to Bathtub Island.

bathtubisland 2016-08-30 sitrocks 2016-08-30   mrocks 2016-08-30

We talked about peeing outside (totally permissible, under specific circumstances) and ate raspberries off the bushes. We went to Flowerpot Island, and rode a fast boat, and Jen and I tried to stay up by the fire at night, but we were terrible at it.

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We made a whole week of magic for those kids, and they were awesome.

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The lunatic part turned out to be that Jen and I both brought our laptops so we could work remotely, and so much knitting that we could have set up a yarn shop in the woods. In the span of a week, I knit a single sock. That’s it. It turns out that the only thing I had time to make was a pretty great week for two little girls.

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In the end, that’s not so bad.





115 thoughts on “Lunatic

  1. As far as I’m concerned. camping is housekeeping under adverse conditions. So I am in awe of the great success you had!

  2. Completely freakin awesome. Can you adopt my kids? We are so lame, we abandoned a camping holiday because of the weather forecast and the prospect of midges (we were going to the scottish highlands).

  3. Your journal looks like a storybook, it’s lovely. I also am incapable of packing for a trip without too much yarn and work that won’t actually get some, but what if you had randomly got stranded for ages? Backup knitting and work is totally be reasonable.

  4. Amazing trip, lovely kids and great parents/parenting. I’m in awe of the journal. Such a kid-centric trip was unheard of when I was growing up and I’m a tiny smidge jealous. I am inspired to make those kind of memories with another generation.

  5. What wonderful memories for all of you! Thanks so much for sharing them and the great pictures. And … I would dearly love to know what-all was in Auntie Stephie’s Super Secret Fun Bag! I may be along for a trip with my son and d-i-l and granddaughter and I have a hunch such a bag of wonders would be verrrrry helpful.

    • One quickie thought from a Nonna who just got home from a week with 3 little boys: hold something back for the last morning, when the parents are busily packing and loading cars and cleaning up enough to assure that we’ll get the cleaning deposit back. For us it was Bubble Stuff out on the beach.

  6. What a wonderful week that looks to have been! Those childhood camping trips are some of my favorite memories from my own childhood, and I hope I was able to pass a bit of it on to my own kids. Little things can be so much fun when you’re camping and when you’re a kid!

  7. Such a happy post! And that second to last picture you captured? I have one like that of my younger daughter at age 4 and it’s one of my all-time favorites. She’s 30 now (turn, turn, turn…)

  8. What could be better than making a vacation great for those girls? However, I must question the beach with rocks “like dinosaur eggs.” Unless it wasn’t pictured, you have a funny idea about what dinosaur eggs looked like. You need to bring those girls to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana to see REAL dinosaur eggs. (Okay, there’s probably someplace in Canada you could take them, but if you brought them to Montana, I could help).

    Kudos on the reading! All kids need to be introduced to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still re-read the Little House books at least once a year. And there’s a book called “The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie” by Wendy McClure that is HILARIOUS. Almost as amusing as your books.

    • Oh yeah. A whole ‘nother trip! but now that the boys are older, all I have to do at the campsite is cook. They set up tents, build fires, gather wood, haul water, find the swimming holes…. Family camping trips get better and better!

  9. What a wonderful week! and a memory in mind and in print. Little House in the Big Woods was my first Wilder book, funnily given to my with my filled stocking by St. Nicholas. Still have it.

  10. Oh, Please tell me that you lay on your back at night. looked at the stars and the MIlkyway, watched for meteorites, and talked of Important Things! Boy, would I have liked to be there!

  11. Id like to be adopted please. Loved the journal. A bag of tricks is great. I used to do that with my nieces & daughter-mom & dad too. We pulled off a champagne & cake suprjse anniversary celebration for mom & dad once. Great memories. The bag of tricks should be for adults too.

  12. Well done, Steph, and Jen.
    Some of my favorite gifts have been experiences/adventures, and you all had a most fabulous time that will live inside those grrls, always. Way to model awesome women-ness!
    And the journal!!
    It is stunning, and like our most precious items, it bears the marks of people who are really present – paying attention – and loving the world we live in.
    You have made me immensely happy – and hopeful – that the grrls experiences will help them in all that lies before them.

  13. my goodness, what a magical week.

    I know the Pacific Ocean best and this water is quite pushy replete with undertows, all year around. I loved the pictures of the children walking on the rocks and in the water. The journal seems a great basis for a parent’s book ‘what to do at the beach’. You two are tops!

  14. Wow, I am in awe. It sounds like you really worked magic!
    I admit it: Canadian though I am, I wouldn’t be able to camp in the wilds like that. Especially with two little kids! You did a great job, and I hope you’re both proud and happy.

  15. HEE! Sounds like a lovely trip. As soon as I saw the illustration on the book, I knew exactly which book you’d read with them! (It might be an old favorite of mine!) If you get a chance, check out Pioneer Girl, which is her annotated autobiography.

  16. Ahhh! You’ve touched this Duluthian’s heart… My lake, up there where it’s wild(er). Must plan another circle tour soon…….

  17. Giggling about the peeing in the woods comment…this week,we had some wee friends over to swim (we have a pool) and the discussion came up about where to pee. The pool was out (thank God) so the discussion between two of them was in the house, because the “dog might get too interested in where little kids pee outside.” Their words, not mine! Out of the mouths of 7 year old babes…….
    Thank you for being so Canadian. It’s a good thing.

  18. Tobermory and the flower pots ! Lake Superior is really cold! I’ve learned not to bring any knitting at all. Vacations go by too fast. I was down to bringing one small project and now realize I don’t even have time for that. Life goes by too fast…

  19. Looks nice, but not for me. My idea of camping is a large motor home with all the modern conveniences — yes, even Internet. Besides, you can’t cook a frozen pizza on a campfire….!

  20. We explore Northern Ontario every summer. It’s a very magical place, you’ve given Jen’s girls a wonderful gift. My camp motto: “If you’re lucky enough to be up-north, you’re lucky enough”.

  21. Can I come camping with you?? My parents hate camping so I never learned- you and Jen are two seriously amazing women and I would love to learn from you! I agree with the above, everyone should have an Aunt Steph.

    (Fittingly, I had to touch the tree. How does the prove-you’re-him an function always know?)

  22. Sounds like you all had a fabulous week. Great idea with the sketchbook it also serves as a souvenir of your adventure. Someone is a pretty good artist as well looking at those drawings. How sensible to dry off at a hotel. Every body then feels comfortable and warm and ready to go again. Thanks for sharing your adventure it reminds me a little of my neice and great nieces as that the sort of thing they do.

  23. That is just a whole week of awesomeness! The pictures are lovely and your journal is georgeous. Work and knitting had to wait for the very best reason.

  24. I admit, I’m jealous. We camped up by Lake Superior too this summer, and it was awesome in some respects, but no one planned out activities. Mothering fail on my part; you couldn’t share a list and supplies, could you? I’d love to see more pictures of your journal, too; mine never look that cool. Just…lots of words.

  25. Having camped for years early in my marriage, and considered it the “worse” in the “for better or worse” in our marriage vows, I have to say camping with you sounds like a blast. I love your journal and have been wanting to start something like that for myself. Sounds like a lovely, wonderful trip that you, Jen and those girls will always remember.

  26. Decades ago, my sister and I (young mothers at the time) took our numerous kids camping together for a week just off Georgian Bay. I still have such fond memories of that (especially the time a chipmunk jumped on her while she was reading–talk about startling her!). I hope our kids remember that, even in the depths of their memories for the ones who were preschoolers then (which was most of them!).

  27. Wow, what an amazing time you all had. You have both given them amazing memories that they will hold dear once they are old enough to appreciate it completely. I totally LOL about the peaches and the pancakes. That’s a very fragile line in getting things “right” in their mind. Because moms should be telapathic and then there wouldn’t be said meltdowns.

    Welcome home! I’m sure your bed felt amazing!


  28. What a magical trip! Those girls will remember this week for the rest of their lives. They will tell their grandchildren about it.

  29. My husband and I were out in the rain that day for seven hours. Never been so wet nor had so much fun. Took hours to dry out and warm up…clothes took two days to dry…but so worth ìt.

  30. I know damned well you were an art major, but it catches me looking every time. And while I think I could reconstruct Auntie Steph’s Bag o’Fun from the evidence, a complete list, with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one saying what each one was wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

  31. We camped all the time with my 3 boys and loved it. Found things to do even on the rainy days, (even if it was the laundromat and ice cream.) But I never did journals, what a fantastic idea. Will remember that one, unfortunately I do not have your artistic talents.

  32. That was spectacular!!!! I dunno ‘who’ made the Journal but SHE should be illustrating childrens’ books…..just sayin’….it was wonder-full!!!! (:

  33. What a lovely trip! I used to take my children camping all the time. As a single mother with not a lot of money, other vacations just weren’t possible. However, I believe it made for better vacations anyway. The rain storms, etc., just made for great opportunities to think of unique things to do. The memories we have are incredible. Now that my daughter is a mother, she and her husband take their children camping frequently. Bugs and rain aside, camping is a great way to make memories.

  34. That journal. The hours that went into creating it… You two women are amazing, and that is a dream trip for everyone involved. Well worth a sacrifice of knitting time.

  35. Other than taking the laptops, what a magical trip of memories.

    Thanks for the encouragement on journaling. I am taking a couple of trips (one late this year and one next spring), and I intend to create journals for both.

  36. I lived in Thunder Bay for four years, but it was decades ago and I’d forgotten what a powerful and mysterious thing Lake Superior is. I kneel down in awe at the week you and Jen made for those kids, lucky, lucky things. My main thought, though, is “Wait, she journals too? In fact, she art journals?” More please, of your drawings and paintings, if you can fit in showing us your journal stuff amongst your other amazingnesses: fantastic writer, prolific and expert knitter, much-in-demand teacher, raiser of funds and encourager of others, and person guaranteed to make me laugh (and often cry). Thanks. You brightened a tough day. Again.

  37. When I was around 5 yrs old, my mother and her best friend decided that it was best to take the kids to the woods for the summer. They each had three kids all the same ages-8, 5, 18mos. Three sets of twins, essentially. The dads drove us there, dug a latrine pit, set up a pup tent, nail keg over the hole, and set a toilet seat on the nail keg, and the moms set up the living campsite. Then the dads left us. We had to wash in the river, hike to get water, and entertain ourselves daily. I think it is utter madness now, but it was magical at the time. I think the two little girls will remember the magic of the week you spent, not the madness that the adults would do such a thing.

  38. As the product of dozens of family camping trips with far more rain and all the Little House books, I can say with much authority that you did good, Aunt Steph.

  39. Lucky girls and lucky moms! What a great trip. I recognized which book you were reading as soon as I saw the photo, perfect reading for that trip. Oh, and is that your handwriting? If I wrote in that journal, future generations would be kept busy puzzling out what happened that week because of my illegible scrawl. You, on the other hand, have created a real keepsake there.

  40. The perfect week – albeit minimal knitting. Even with that, the journal, picking out rocks, fun all around. But sans the time to pull out the laptop, awesome.
    Next time though, one should remember how to cut up the pancakes. 🙂

  41. You say the kids were awesome (and they clearly were) but it sounds to me like you and Jen were incredibly awesome, too.
    I hate camping (give me that Inn at Port Ludlow-type place any day) but you make it look FUN.
    Good job Stephanie and Jen!

  42. I showed my 10 year old twin girls the pictures of your trip on Instagram, and they were in absolute awe of the scavenger hunts in the sketchbook. “She is SUCH a great artist!” “Look at the drawings!” “I wish we could do this!” I think, if at 11 they are as excited about these things as they are at 10, I shall endeavour to do this next year. Without the beautiful art, because I am no artist. But I could decorate the pages with stamps and ink. It was simply wonderful to enjoy that trip along with you!

    • How about getting your daughters to write and draw in the journal also? This has worked well in our family, and the perspectives of our sons are so interesting, and sometimes quite hilarious. Precious memories for the future, and giving your children experience with journal writing. Journals don’t have to be works of art to be special and wonderful!

      • I agree – the stuff the kids drew and wrote in it were fantastic. If the kids are little, they can draw or paint, and dictate to a grown up.

  43. Every child should be fortunate enough to have an Auntie Stephie in their lives and every women should have a friend like you.

  44. You were visiting my very favourite camping area! I just love that stretch of Lake Superior shoreline. Looks like an awesome trip, even with the rain 🙂

  45. Thank you for sharing your vacation! You really brought a smile to my face remembering family camping trips on the great lakes!

  46. What a fantastic week. I am glad you all enjoyed the trip and the journal sketchbook is awesome. I followed along on Instagram and an Ontario road map. You covered a lot of ground. We used to go to Georgian Bay every summer and then visit briefly with relatives in Toronto. Two weeks went too fast in the spartan cottages with ice boxes and a block of ice LOL. I think Lake Huron was warmer than Superior. Glad you had a safe and fun trip.

  47. What a great trip! I’ve done a lot of camping, and seen a lot of Canada, and that is a beautiful trip, maybe one of the best.
    I grew up in Northern Ontario, and spent lots of time in Wawa, and on the stretch between Wawa and the Sault. So natural, beautiful, and rugged. We spent many years smelt fishing at Old Woman Bay. I have so many fond memories of the camaraderie brought on by fishing, bonfires, and frying up smelts by moonlight. As a little kid, I thought grown ups were so much fun on those special nights. Now I know about beer! When my Dad was dying, his last request of us was to get him up to Old Woman Bay, where we ate smoked whitefish together on the beach. Agawa Bay too was on the list. My dad’s people were First Nations people who fished those shores.
    Thank you for he memories, Stephanie.

  48. My husband and I just decided we needed to make our once-a-decade Lake Superior Circle Tour next year… with our grandgirls, who will be 8 and 6. We did it as a wedding trip (which can’t really be called a honeymoon with 2 little girls and a driver with morning sickness), we did it again when the boys were small and took our goddaughters and now we’re going to do it with the grandgirls.

    Seeing Lake Superior from the other side is interesting (as we live on the south shore). And tent camping with two little girls will be fun. Or crazy. Maybe both.

  49. Thank you for writing about how much fun you all had at my favorite place in the whole world. I didn’t get to go this year and miss it desperately.

  50. absolutely loved following your travels on instagram! We’ve recently moved to MN and my 8yo daughter & I went camping on Lake Superior this summer and it was AWE inspiring. Your trip looked heavenly! I wish I had a local comrade that liked to take off for a week of camping with the kids!

  51. I just got back from 5 wonderful days in Algonquin park with a girl friend. We are in our 50s now but reminisced about our first camping trip. I had a 13 month old and an almost 4 year old and she had a 2 and 4 year old! What were we thinking! But we had lots of fun and it was the start of many more trips where we left the husbands in the city to work, while we enjoyed the summer with the kids. I suspect the husbands enjoyed the empty houses too. Lake Superior looks gorgeous.

  52. Loved your post! Your trip looked amazing! I am going to take a page from your book and take my 5 year old nephew camping in November – I think he will love it!

  53. Maybe it’s ’cause the daughter just turned 22 and I’m in shock, but reading your post makes me want to adopt a few little ones and take them camping and do crafts and read and hike the woods and read more and swim and then nap. :)))

  54. You just broke my geography a bit. I had no idea that I am actually north of you at least a little, living in St. Paul, MN.

    Lake Superior is well named. It’s definitely the most superior lake. I’m glad you guys enjoyed it, it’s probably one of my most favorite places ever, even though I mostly keep to the US-side.

  55. I love all the places you mentioned, and can only dream about camping near enough to visit them all in a week. When I’m on the north shore of Lake Superior, I’m a driving fiend headed for my family in the Kawarthas and have little time to stop and/or appreciate, though I do have a plethora of pics snapped through a windshield or van’s side-window by willing passengers. This is the time of year I love that area the best, from now until mid-October. In fall, Manitoba turns golden; but Ontario hangs out scarlet banners.

  56. Sounds like a fun trip. I agree that on the night it rained, the hotel was a great option. Was someone reading Little House in the Big Woods in the car? I had to look up the chapter with the bears. I read those books as a young girl and then I got my daughters a boxed set. They both read the books, too. The paperbacks are a little bedraggled now and well-loved.

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