Teaching Kids to Enjoy Tomatoes and the Outdoors

camping with dad

Growing up we always had a small garden in the backyard, and it was always dominated by tomatoes, or dermaids, as we called them. My dad would eat a dermaid straight off the vine, with a little salt and pep (we abbreviated a lot – pep for pepper, sammi for sandwich, dermaid for tomato, etc.).

Once he offered me a quarter to eat a single slice. Eww… slimy and mushy, with weird seeds coming out of the middle? Plus, my dad liked them? But I had done worse for a quarter before. I plugged my nose and gagged it down whole. I’m sure I bought some candy with the quarter.

I think I was 19, living in Sicily, the next time I ate a fresh tomato. So delish! I can eat them like apples, until my mouth is full of sores. The old man was right, as usual. And now I’m the old man, trying to teach my kids to enjoy tomatoes, and camping.

There are some things, like vegetables and classical music, that people won’t appreciate until adulthood, if at all. So, I don’t punish my kids for picking out the onions or the tomatoes. They just need time. However, with other things, like camping and sports, I’m resolute. No mercy, no excuses.

My goal isn’t to get them out, it’s to teach them to enjoy it, at least before they’re teenagers. Having grown up camping, and having spent some difficult nights out with the boy scouts and with my own kids, I’ve settled on two principles of outdoor enjoyment:

  1. Be Prepared – The famous Boy Scout motto is critical to happy camping. Too simple or too hasty can translate into unprepared, which may lead to starvation, frostbite, or worst of all, boredom. Thus, know what your getting into and what you’ll need to conquer it and enjoy it. For some people, including kids and spouses, camping may not be inherently awesome. You have to teach them to appreciate it, and sometimes ease them in by bringing a little comfort into the wild. Thus, know your audience, step into their boots and be prepared to help them have fun.
  2. Be Responsible – Another key feature of successful outings is responsibility – outdoors we are completely in charge of our livelihood and survival. The deeper we go the more self-sufficient we have to be. Camping can be empowering and gratifying as we overcome challenges, some of them personal weaknesses, and as we commune with nature, whatever that means. Our less outdoorsy family members or friends need to take on as much responsibility as possible, so that the experience is a personal success. Have them join in the preparations, setting up camp, cooking, and such. They may cramp your style or ruin everything, but kids, in particular, will benefit from having some ownership in every outing.

The photo: Dillon’s Beach, CA, circa 1991 – me, my sis, and my pops.

Backyard Campout in the Snowcave

sledding on the snowcave

After three more hours of carving we deemed our latest snowcave to be habitable. The inside dimensions were about seven by ten, and my son could stand in it. The temperatures started in the teens and dropped to about eight, at the lowest.

One of the major challenges of camping with kids is sleeping. Many of us make the classic novice mistake of enforcing regular indoor bedtimes. At home it’s a simple process – tuck them in, close the door, then go downstairs, put on a movie and bust out the ice cream. I think I was twelve when I realized that 1) my parents didn’t have a bedtime, and 2) a person could have ice cream more than once a week, even every day.

sleeping in the snowcave

Outdoors, without an actual bed or bedroom, the kids aren’t fooled. After stuffing our faces with candy, s’mores, and cocoa, we usually compromise on bedtime – a couple hours later for them, and a couple earlier for mom and dad.

Unfortunately, in this case with all the sleeping-pad sledding, my daughter was exhausted by about 7:00 PM, so she didn’t get to join us. Major bummer, because she had actually expressed some interest – impressive, for a three year old. So, we had a nice campfire with our neighbors and then packed out the sleeping gear and hit the hay, aka snow, around 9:30 PM.

Another Snowcave

Huge snow bankIf our first quinzee were an RV it would be a popup tent trailer – functional, but cramped and drafty. Today we upgraded to a class A motorhome with popouts. To build a class A quinzee you need a massive pile of snow, and to add the popouts, i.e., additional bedrooms and den, you need multiple connected piles. I think the snow cleanup crew had just such a cave suite in mind when they plowed our complex this week.

Super quinzeeThe photo doesn’t quite do it justice. I’d say it’s ten feet tall, twenty wide, and maybe thirty front to back – the grand teton of snow banks. The problem with quinzee construction in a week-old snow mound is the ice. After two hours of hacking and carving I was spent, so my son took over for about two minutes, but we ran out of light. The campout will have to be for another night, to his dismay, and mine.

For some reason my daughter, who’s three, isn’t so jazzed about sleeping with a few hundred pounds of snow looming over her. In response to an invite my wife said, thanks for the invite. Sleeping on the snow, in a cave, in the cold, a hundred yards from our apartment… seems silly. But it’s not. It’s awesome.

Really Cold at Sand Dunes

campfire at sand dunesThis weekend I set a personal record for winter camping: a high of 0 and low of -26 degrees (confirmed with the UMN climatology database, coordinates 45.29970, 93.58346). Pretty ridiculous, but only slightly dangerous – we were armed with many trees worth of firewood and many layers worth of clothing.

I still haven’t decided on a minimum temperature for the kids, but negative degrees Fahrenheit seemed like the no-kids-allowed zone. My son cried when I declared it to be too cold for him to join us. I didn’t want to suggest he wasn’t tough enough, so I tried the distraction-with-new-information strategy, explaining the phenomenon of frostbite. But the threat of losing body parts didn’t phase him. That made me proud. He is a tough kid. I bet he would have had a great time.

oak at sand dunesThere were only a few moments of pain, mostly in my toes as I was stupid enough to wear hiking boots. Otherwise, the campfire was always blazing and if you situated yourself nearly in the flames it was quite comfortable.

Here are a few more pics: Sand Dunes – January 21.

And here’s my pertinent gear: insulated jacket, heavy fleece, thermal t-shirt x 2, long johns, wool socks x 2, snowboarding pants, hiking boots (bad idea), ski mask, beanie, sleeping bag x 2 (zero and twenty degree), closed-cell foam pad (the blue one).

Snowshoeing at Afton

dogs on the campfireI can still smell the campfire smoke and stinky socks from our first overnighter of 2011, a quick trip to Afton State Park, on the St. Croix River, about 30 miles from the Twin Cities. Though not as campy or gritty as our last campout, the state parks have a couple of attractions to offer in the winter: heated cabins and snowshoe rentals.

Compared to a tent in the bushes the cabin was luxurious, with heat, electricity, a porch, fire pit, and picnic table. Not to mention a garbage can and coat rack! They’re a bit pricey at $58.50, probably because of the coat rack, but going with friends and splitting the bill made it manageable. For a bundle of firewood, snowshoe rentals, and three meals for 5 people the total came to about $110, and we ate like camping kings (hot dogs, dutch oven cinnamon rolls, cakes with bacon).

hot dog lineup   afton cabin   afton cabin living room   afton cabin bunks

Please excuse the blurry, i.e., artsy, photos, taken with my cell phone. I forgot my camera, along with the ketchup, hence the fast-food condiments seen in the hot dog lineup picture. Even with Heinz the trip couldn’t have been better, unless the kids had gone to bed before 11:15 and/or woken up after 5:15. Despite having burnt the candle, severely, at both ends they tromped through the snow with us for a few hours.

happy snowshoer         happy snowshoers

A successful first attempt at snowshoeing! I’ve posted a few more cell-phone quality pics here: Campouts – 2011