From the Blog

Boys’ First Birthday: Camping In A Tent. Also, Cake Explosions

At the beginning of the year, just as we were able to make campground reservations for the summer, I booked our favorite site at Camp Creek for the boys’ first birthday. We did not want to have a typical first birthday party for the boys, with a load of people, a ton of gifts and a messy cake. There’s no better way to avoid first birthday conventions than sneaking off to the woods. So that’s what we did.

We’ve taken the boys on trips a number of times now. They’ve already “camped” in a cabin and in a yome. I love seeing how excited they get when we bring them to a new place. They were stunned for a few minutes as we arrived. There’s so much to look at. They can’t move their eyes fast enough to take it all in. We let them sit in their go-pod chairs and absorb everything. They bounced and grinned.

I was wondering if my memory had blown Camp Creek out of proportion, if it really is as pretty and green and wonderful as I remember it to be.

It is. Camp Creek is amazing. On this gorgeous July weekend, it was fully occupied and felt a little suburban. But the sites are so spacious and private that it doesn’t matter how many other people may be around. And the babbling of the river drowns out any other noises.

camppods

It was a little chilly, so we put them in jackets and put up their hoods. Just like hats, they also dislike hoods. But the cool thing is that it’s harder for them to pull hoods off.

littlegoofs

Not that it keeps them from trying.

It’s a shame the guys don’t like hats, because they are so completely adorable.

nohair

I have no hair. 

hair

Wait, yes I do. 

containment

This is the first time the guys have camped in a tent. It turns out, the tent was a great containment strategy as we unpacked and got dinner ready.

We did some pre-trip food prep and the dutch oven got a workout. Our first meal was stuffed onions. I cut onions in half and cored out all but the two outside layers. I stuffed it with turkey sausage that Dave had made. I made it more meatbally by adding some soft breadcubes, eggs, ketchup, worcestershire, and spices. I mounded the meat into the onions and topped with panko breadcrumbs. We put them in the dutch oven with some cubed potatoes lining the bottom. I added some beef broth, but I shouldn’t have bothered. There was plenty of moisture.

Dave got the oven to 350 degrees (seven coals on the bottom, 14 coals on the top) and they baked for an hour.

dutchoven stuffedonions

They turned out remarkably well. The turkey sausage was moist on the inside and crispy on top. Meatballs and meatloaf are always a challenge for me, so I was really happy with how these came out. The potatoes were perhaps a bit overdone, and as I said, no broth was needed.

Now. Have I mentioned this was the boys first time in a tent? Oh! Did I mention it was forecast to be 41 degrees at night? Forty one degrees. FORTY ONE DEGREES. Camp Creek is already a few degrees cooler during the day because, you know, all the trees and nature and stuff, and we expected it was going to be cold at night. But when I made the reservation at the beginning of the year, I figured it would be warmer in July than it is in January. FORTY ONE DEGREES.

We have learned from trial and error, that the guys need their own separate sleeping areas. Loyal is a great sleeper, and you could almost hang that kid on a peg and he’d happily zonk out. Cask is more sensitive and has a harder time away from home. He seems to fall asleep okay, but if he stirs at all through the night, he wakes up and works himself into a frenzy. I figured he wants more space to roll around. And even though we got the biggest portable playpen I could find (almost 9 square feet), Cask always seemed to get crabby waking up next to his brother. And once Cask is up, he does not go back to sleep by himself.

So we got a couple of PeaPods, and so far, they seem to be working out well. They are like little personal size tents for each baby. We put them inside our big tent, next to our air mattress. As it was getting dark and cooling off, we put the guys in their little tents and after some fussing, then some babbling, they fell asleep. Whew. So far, so good.

Dave and I cleaned up the dinner dishes and then sat and poked the fire, which is one of our favorite camping pastimes. We drank wine and chatted. It got darker. And colder.

After an hour or so, Cask let out a howl. We sighed, knowing how hard it is for him to get comfortable away from home. And we knew how cold it was going to get. Dave and I got ready for bed, figuring that Cask would need to sleep with us.

As we entered the tent and tried to soothe Cask and quietly situate ourselves, Loyal woke up and starting yelling too. Two cold screaming babies. Camping is such a great idea!

We brought a couple of heavy fleece “bunny suits” that are really too small for them at this point. But it was going to be forty one degrees. We bundled them both up, including the hoods, which made both of them yell harder. We hoped that the river was loud enough that our neighboring campers didn’t hear our screaming babies.

Our air mattress is a full size, which is mostly comfortable for me and Dave. We learned that night, it’s not so comfortable for a family of four. We pulled the boys into our double sleeping bag and had them lay down between us. They kicked and cried and whined. Dave had Cask on his side, and I had Loyal on my side. We curled up around the boys and shushed quietly in their ears. They calmed down from screaming to whining, then moaning, then eventually, sleep. Wonderful.

But then I realized, I had about 10 inches of space on my side of the mattress. I hate air mattresses, but I hate having only 10 inches of air mattress even worse. I tried to gently shift positions, but of course, that made the whole bed bounce. And both boys started yelling again. This routine repeated itself about three dozen times through the course of the night.

Did I mention it was cold? I was hoping maybe the forty one degree forecast was an error somehow. Maybe it would be in the high forties, instead of the low forties. Wouldn’t that be a treat! But no. It was fucking cold. Holy fucking shit, it was cold.

During one of the breaks from our restful slumber, as the boys were screaming, I asked Dave if he had any room on his side, because I was literally using an elbow to keep myself propped up on the bed. He scooted over a few inches. And oh, sweet bliss, it was wonderful. I wrapped up on the same left shoulder I had been sleeping on all night and tried to soothe Loyal back to sleep.

I know I did drift off a few times, because I had shallow dreams about my nose turning to ice and the boys hitting me in the face until it shattered.

At one point, in the quiet, Dave asked me what time it was. I almost didn’t hear him. He said he just wasn’t sleeping at all. He had no room on the mattress, and he was basically just waiting for it to get light out. It was 4:13 am.

Dave got up. I stayed in bed and tried to shush both boys back to sleep. It would have been lovely if it had worked. We never actually get to cuddle with the boys anymore. The only time they sit still is when we feed them. I like to run my fingers over their little baby hands and smell their hair. I draped my arm over both babies and sweet talked to them in the sleeping bag. Isn’t it so cozy and warm in here? Wouldn’t it be so nice to go to sleep? Isn’t camping fun?

Cask just crabbed miserably until Dave popped into the tent, scooped him up and brought him outside. I cuddled with Loyal a bit longer, and we did actually snooze a little. Thank you, little boy.

It was a hellish night. There’s nothing like a night of misery to remind you how well you’ve usually got it. Before getting out of bed, I was strategizing how to catch a nap or two during the day.

I hadn’t changed out of the clothes I wore the day before because it was too damn cold to put on PJs. I got out of bed and joined Dave and Cask in front of the fire. We fed the boys and fixed our own breakfast. I cut up a left over stuffed onion and put it in the dutch oven. Then we poured scrambled egg over it and baked it. Easy. Good.

It warmed up as soon as the sun started peaking through the trees. The boys, not surprisingly, tired very quickly, so we put them down for a nap. They zonked out almost instantly, with sweet little angelic faces, and slept for a couple of hours.

When everyone was awake, we hopped in the car and drove down the road a ways to Wildwood Recreation Area. We had heard you could camp there, but it’s day use only. Nevertheless, we had been told there was a stream with an underwater viewing window where you could watch fish pass by. We put one boy in a baby backpack, and the other in a single stroller and went for a walk in the woods.

It was nice to be out in the dappled sun, since it takes me about half a day to thaw out if I get cold. Wildwood had lovely paved trails, all completely ADA compliant. They even had flush toilets with running water and soap and I used the hell out of them. The boys seemed to enjoy themselves, or at least they were mostly quiet and squinty. Sometimes they made happy baby noises, which is music to our ears.

We found the under water viewing area along the Cascade Streamwatch trail.

underwater

Neat. We pointed out the the fishes to the boys, and they were somewhat unimpressed. I figure everything they look at is potentially fascinating. And when there is so much to see, they eventually stop being interested, just from sensory overload.

babysalmon

These are baby salmon. They were cute.

The sun was strong at this point, and I was able to shed the heavy sweatshirts I had been wearing. We headed back to the campsite for a snack and a nap. All the men folk snoozed in the tent together. I read a little in a camp chair, overlooking the creek. I could not help but doze off myself, in the warm breeze, hearing the babbling river, watching the sharp little beams of sun through the canopy of fir needles.

I snoozed until my mouth popped open, which wakes me up every time. Even in the woods, I wake up as soon as my mouth pops open. Because I don’t want to look like a mouth breather.

My parents joined us for a campfire dinner. I was explaining to Dave that the first time we ever camped at Camp Creek, I hoped my parents would be able to see it one day. I felt this way about a lot of places, as we’ve explored Oregon. Every time we experienced some beautiful place, I wished for my family to see it too. Dave pointed out that that was the reason I started blogging, was to share my experiences as I was off on my adventures. It was a nice reminder, that I had grander aspirations than to just hear myself talk on the internet.

I’ve mentioned it was the boys’ birthday. And though we were out in the woods, escaping the usual first birthday conventions, I had no intention to deny them their first birthday cake. I knew I was going to make them something, but I just didn’t want to involve frosting. Frosting and babies terrify me. Especially because we were out in the woods with no way to bathe the babies after a sugary frosting massacre.

But I certainly made them cake. I hollowed out some oranges. I mixed up some store-bought yellow cake mix. I added some black berries to make it “healthier,” somehow. I don’t know. I felt better about berries for one year olds, than, say, gobs of chocolate.

orangecake

I poured the cake batter into the hollowed out oranges. I remembered not to over fill them as I have in the past. Into the dutch oven. We had a perfect flat stone as a surface for the coals.

Baking in the dutch oven is somewhat imprecise. We can use a certain amount of coals on the top and bottom to reach desired temperatures. But it’s really a bit of a crapshoot. The great thing though, is that when you are camping, almost all food tastes good.

We let these bake for the time specified on the box. And look at that…they came out mighty nice looking.

orangecake2

My parents help wrangle babies as we cooked dinner. I don’t know if the boys understood what it meant, that it was their birthday. But I like to think they were excited.

caskbday

It’s my fucking birthday, motherfuckers!*

Dinner. I had been soaking a couple cedar planks for some campfire salmon. I read somewhere to brine the salmon first to keep it from weeping that white stuff as it cooked. I don’t know if it worked. I rubbed the fish with minced garlic and then sprinkled on some brown sugar. We wrapped up potatoes, onions and butter into a foil duck.

salmonplank

So this was all a great idea. But I think the plank works best over regulated heat, as opposed to a glowing hot campfire. I spread out the coals, but you really don’t have all that much control over the heat. Even though the cedar plank soaked for over 24 hours, it caught fire almost immediately. I spritzed it with water from a baby bottle. This was a hot, hot fire.

salmonplank2

Nevertheless, the salmon was pretty good. It peeled right off the charred wood. It was still moist and flavorful. I’ll certainly try doing this again, but maybe on a grill next time. Our potatoes and onions, as well as the tomatoes and zucchini we cooked in foil, were all charred but somewhat edible. It was a hot fire. Forgive me that I didn’t take photos. Because our charred camp food is just the kind of thing I need showing up on Pinterest.

Next: Birthday cake.

loyalorange

caskorange

It all started out innocently enough. I cut the orange just enough to get the boys started.

loyalorange2

And already, their personalities were shining through. Dave tried to help Loyal by opening up the orange more. But Loyal wanted to do it his way. He gnawed on the orange peel instead of the cake.

caskorange2

But it didn’t take long for them to get the idea.

loyalorange3

Very quickly, our dining table descended into complete cake debauchery. They both thought it was a good idea to just lap up cake directly from the table.

caskorange3

Why did I think berries were a good idea?

Do you know what happens when you smoosh cake and add a little baby drool? It becomes cake batter again. Sticky, gluey paste. They were covered with it.

loyalpapacake

So I dare say these boys are skilled cake destroyers. I’m glad Papa and Grandpa were the ones to hold them.

caskgrampacake

Happy birthday, boys. I think you had fun on your first camping trip.

*(Please don’t call the cops on me because I put swear words in my baby’s mouth. Thanks.)

Comments

  1. The first two pictures just sell the entire story. The wide-then-medium shot nature of the pair is just great.

    Glad they got camping in early! A little chill never hurt anyone, just gets them hardened up!

  2. Meredith says:

    I hate that feeling, waiting for it to get light out. Great pictures! Especially the one of Cask excited it’s his birthday.

  3. Aunty Laurie says:

    Looks like a Great time was had by ALL!!! And you are introducing them to a Great Bonding Agent!!! We have always loved camping, But when the number of babies got to 4, we threw in the towel, and just waited for their teenage years! Much easier to go camping when they don’t want to spend time with you!!! hahaha But now as adults all 4 of them, and their families go camping together!!! AHH I LOVE FAMILY!!!!

  4. HAHAHA! oh, went camping with Hazel and Alex still in diapers! you’re so brave! I love the cake explosions from the orange bombs. that’s awesome.

    Wildwood Rec is one of my most favorite day trips. The other half of the park over the wood bridge is NW wetlands….I’ve seen newts, pileated woodpeckers…all kinds of great stuff.

    Great post motherfuckers!

  5. all the photos are wonderful, as usual, but that last one, with face o’ cake… priceless.

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