Sunday, July 5, 2009

Camping Tips (#6): Creative Camping

+ The Spice Box – This was one of my favorite camping ‘inventions’. It began with a piece of luggage known as the ‘Make-up Case’ purchased at a yard sale for $1. The hard case with the handle on top was the perfect size for containing my mini-kitchen conveniences. For 13 years, it occupied a corner of the old card table which faithfully stood in close proximity to whatever our source of cooking in wilderness Alaska. When we moved to Florida, I passed the case and all its contents to a fellow camper.

My Spice Box contained all the small necessities and conveniences we depend on at home. It’s hard to believe so much can fit into so small a space but keeping an eye out for bottles and jars and plastic containers will allow the contents to fit together like a Chinese puzzle. When time permits, I will make a diligent search for some old photograph to illustrate the magic of the Spice Box.

Mine contained: Forks, spoons and a potato peeler and can opener standing in a jar, knives and my tongs lying in the back pocket, sharp knives, the spatula and large spoons were tucked under elastic straps fitted to the inside of the lid. Spice jars of salt, pepper, garlic powder and steak seasoning. A plastic jar, with sections and a lid that ‘dialed’ to provide an opening over individual sections, contained strike-anywhere matches, toothpicks, the little tooth-flossing picks, safety pins, multi-vitamins and aspirin. A small plastic box contained a bar of soap and a bottle with a flip-top squirt lid held dish soap. A scrubbing pad lived in a zip-top bag as did a couple of dish cloths. My ‘silly’ jar contained mascara, lip gloss, hair clips & scrunchies, nail clippers, a file, toothpaste and toothbrushes with the handles cut short enough to fit. There was a container for baking powder and one for baking soda and a bottle of ‘insect-bite-relief’ mixture and a bottle of peroxide for everything from cuts & scrapes to sanitizing toothbrushes. I had a folding hair brush that stood in one corner. There was also a box of Dominos, a couple decks of cards, a jar-candle for romance and my own personal bottle of bubble soap. Dish towels and 2 hot pan holders were folded on top of everything else or double-folded to fit into awkward gaps.

My spice box was truly my home away from home and its first opening on any camping trip always felt a little like Christmas.

+ The Camp Box – Just like the spice Box, we always had a ‘camp box’ ready and waiting to be loaded for spontaneous outing. My husband built mine out of 5/8” plywood making the box itself heavy. Today, there are any number of plastic bins with handles on each end that would work just as well. Mine was about 30” long, 16” wide and 18” deep. To keep me from having to bend so low to the ground to access contents, we usually sat it on a couple of logs or big rocks.

Like the Spice Box, the contents of the Camp Box were chosen, winnowed and replaced to achieve close to a perfect fit. Some of the items contained were, by their very nature, dirty (like the fire grate) and were dealt with accordingly. I made a bag for the fire grate and the bellows out of an old plastic tablecloth. Pots and pans with soot laden bottoms had paper plates placed between them as they were stacked and the large (bottom) pot, containing the others, was slipped into a plastic bag before being returned to its position inside the plastic dishpan. My large skillet also lived in a plastic bag.

My Camp Box contained the following items: fire grate, bellows, fire tongs, 1 large and 1 medium sized skillets (with a collapsing handle), large enamel (canning) pot with lid, smaller enamel pot with bail handle and lid, a large enamel coffee pot, steamer basket, 2 cutting boards, a large bottle of cooling oil, 6 Melamine plates, bowls & mugs, 1 large and 1 medium plastic mixing bowls, 2 plastic table cloths, a plastic rectangular dishpan, a folding wire dish rack, a plastic dish drain board, a bag of ropes of different lengths & diameters, a bag of bungees, 2 Frisbees, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, misc. sized zip-top bags, a roll of paper towel, rolls of toilet tissue (flattened & fitted into zip-top bags), misc. plastic bags to contain and carry away our trash, a Coleman lantern, a tiny Coleman single burner stove (for quick morning coffee), a larger 2-burner Coleman stove, a collapsing camp oven (for baking bread), a 3-foot length of heavy plastic carpet protecting runner (used as a clean surface for feet when bathing in the wilderness) a light-weight door mat (for the tent entrance), our camp sheets, towels and washcloths, books identifying wild flowers and mushrooms, mosquito nets and head nets, rain gear, my favorite camp hat, a ‘made for camping’ hammock and a collapsing toilet seat.

Keep in mind that we were wilderness campers in Alaska, miles off-road and even more miles from basic services. People camping in National or State Parks or campgrounds surely do not need as much equipment as we did. But, between our Spice Box and Camp Box being kept at the ready, we were able to load up and take off with very little advance notice or preparation.

+ Phone book. Take along a phone book so that you and the children can collect and press wild flowers. Some of the tiniest blooms have incredible detail. Later, the pressed flowers can be sandwiched between 2 small pieces of glass and sealed with black electrical tape around the edges. The little framed flowers can be placed on a stand, in a frame, or hung in a window. They can be beautiful reminders of a wonderful time.

+ Kids Light up the night. Remember to take glow sticks and dollar-store flashlights for the children. They will tuck-in earlier (leaving some ‘adult’ time) if they have something to occupy them in the tent. Reading under the covers and telling stories with a flashlight under your chin are usually good enough aides for triggering children’s own imaginations.

+ Catching Bugs. A canning jar with a 2-part lid is perfect for containing insects long enough to examine them. Either punch many holes in the flat lid or, better yet, replace the flat lid with a circle of window screen wire held in place with the screw-on ring. Take along an insect identification book and a magnifying glass. Insist that the captured insects be released once they are identified and the information is shared.

+ Paper Plate Art. A box of crayons and a stack of the least expensive paper plates can keep children busy at the table while meals are being prepared. They can color the back sides and still be able to put food on the plate. The plates can also be decorated and used as Frisbees or can be made into masks for dancing around the evening fire. Add a bottle of white glue and the children can decorate the plates with leaves, tiny pine cones and bits of moss to make their own ‘naturescapes’.

+ Creating Safe Water Play. Any body of water of water is enticing for children. Young ones don’t understand the issues of safety; they only know that the water is there and they want to get to it. We once solved the problem of a little one feeling left out with a tarp, some driftwood and a LOT of hauling pots of water. Remember that imagination is a great thing to take on a camping trip.

+ Imagination & Adventure. Children love to explore and create ‘grand adventures’. Camping is a great time to introduce then to Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Tom Sawyer, etc. Consider combining daytime adventures with evening reading.

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