Canoe Camping on the St Croix

Sunrise on the St Croix

We’ve had three successful canoe trips with the kids this summer – two with very reasonable crying/whining to fun ratios (Minneapolis chain, Phelan chain), and one with nearly as much crying and frustration as fun (we capsized – more to come in a later post). On average, I think we were all ready for our first overnight river voyage.

There are plenty of rivers to choose from in the land of lakes, but not many that met our requirements of being kid-friendly and close to the cities, with free camping. We charted a course on the St Croix, which creates most of the border between MN and the land of cheese heads to our east. The St Croix is contained within a national scenic river-way, so the campsites are easy to find and well maintained, unlike those on the Minnesota river (see here).

We convinced a friend to come with his son, which put the crew at two dads manning the oars, and three kids crammed in the middle of the boat with all the gear. Starting at Interstate State Park, near Taylors Falls, MN, we made it to the Eagles Nest group camp (pics below) just before dusk. The site was excellent, and we would have enjoyed an evening by the campfire, but no piece of foliage was dry enough to burn, not even the dead leaves and pine needles (not the first time it has happened – see here).

Add the lack of campfire to a thick fog of mosquitoes and we had a campsite that was really only worth sleeping in. But, the rest of the trip went well, with much more fun than crying. The kids enjoyed it, and that’s pretty much all that matters, right?

I’d do it again just to see the sunrise over the river – it gave me goosebumps, at least, I thought it did. They turned out to be mosquito bites.

Canoeing the St Croix

Eagles nest campground on the St Croix

Eagles nest campground on the St Croix


Vedauwoo, pronounced vee’-da-voo, according to a forest ranger who seemed pretty smart, has nothing to do with gris-gris (voodoo) or South Korean auto manufacturers (Daewoo). It has everything to do with beautiful campgrounds surrounded by strange rock formations.

On the first leg of our journey this summer from MN to CA, we covered Iowa and Nebraska – not the most exciting states of the union, at least from our perspective on the infamous highway 80. We pulled into the Vedauwoo campground at 7 PM, after 14 hours in the van. The kids legs started spinning, like wind-up cars, and we set them loose on the first trail we could find.

That night we hiked until sunset and then had a bonfire with the leftovers from the rocky mountain bark beetle infestation. The next morning we hiked until sunrise before hitting the pavement.

Vedauwoo sunset

Vedauwoo campground

Vedauwoo rocks

Vedauwoo hiking

Vedauwoo sunrise

I highly recommend it, especially to weary road trippers who want to save on lodging. The sites are clean and spacious (28 tent sites, potable water, vaulted toilets), the rate is low ($10), and the location super convenient (only a few miles from the freeway: Google map).

See the USDA website for more info.

Taking a Psychology Lesson From Our Kids

Care bear costumeOur kids are novice humans. We’ve been around the block like 30 times, and the only block they know is for building towers. Yet somehow they’re experts at manipulating us to get what they want. The worst part is, we encourage it, without knowing it.

Consider this common scenario involving a dad and his 3-year-old at the playground:

Kid, in his most dramatic whiny voice: Dad, can I go to Aladdin’s house for lunch? Please, please?!

Dad: Hmm… probably not today, since lunch was 6 hours ago and we’ve already had dinner.

[Kid produces an amazing fit of screaming and thrashing]

Dad: Buddy, I know you’re sad, but it’s not OK to act like that.

[Kid goes full bore into hypertantrum mode, which resembles a cross between the Tasmanian devil and Jack-Jack from the Incredibles]

Dad, embarrassed and worried his kid is going to pop a blood vessel and permanently damage vocal chords: Hey, if you calm down, maybe Aladdin can come hiking with us tomorrow. Otherwise, we’re going home right now.

Phew – disaster averted. Nice job dad!

What have we done?

Little kids are still learning to manage their emotions, so we should reward them when they’re able to calm themselves, right?

The problem is, in these situations we aren’t teaching our kids to manage their emotions. Instead, we’re teaching them to utilize their emotions to get what they want. Our kids have trained us to give them something, to reward them, in exchange for immediate cessation of all sobbing, whining, tantrums, and general misbehaving.

It seems like the hiking trip is a reward for potentially good behavior – that would be positive reinforcement of something we want our kid to do, manage their emotions.

But in this case the kid is in charge – they started the exchange by punishing us, with something that can induce a headache and cause grouchy-dad syndrome, while implicitly offering to stop under certain conditions. That’s negative reinforcement – taking away something bad so as to reward and encourage someone’s behavior.

What should we do?

In my opinion, the tantrum itself needs to have consequences, not the ending of the tantrum. If they freak out while doing something fun, all the fun should end. Ideally, we’ll have told them ahead of time what the conditions are for being at the playground or on the campout.

Sometimes they forget, and maybe we give them a second chance. Not a big deal. But we shouldn’t offer special rewards to get them to stop doing something wrong.

Scoring Gear and Other Deals on Craigslist

craigslist rss smallWhether you need the services of a Jedi master or you’re looking to rent igloo space, be the first to know when the posting hits Craig’s list with an RSS feed. RSS makes it easier to skip past the wire transfer scammers, people selling things like gently used cloth diapers, or people whose stuff is “reel cheep,” and get to the quality bargains.

Once you’re happy with your search terms, e.g., “Kelty kid carrier,” zoom down to the lower right corner of the page to get the feed link. To subscribe manually, copy the link and take it to your RSS reading software, e.g., Thunderbird or Google Reader. Or click it, for instructions on subscribing from your browser.

You’re reader will grab any posting that matches your search terms as soon as it’s created.

craigslist rss

More info on RSS from craigslist, and Wikipedia.

Ragu and Ragogu

Ragu to goHaving spent a couple years in southern Italy, and having a great-great-great-grandpa Antonio who immigrated here from Palermo in the late 1800s, I’m pretty much cosa nostra, and jarred sauce is an abomination in my sight. Only homemade, capice? My fave is the ragu, which works especially well as a camping or backpacking dinner over precooked ziti or rice.

A ragu is a meat and tomato based sauce, and the ingredients, including the type of meat, vary widely. I’ve had ragu alla Barese, made with horse, and Bolognese, with beef, chicken, and pork. If papa Corleone were to join us for dinner I’d prepare it as follows.


  • Some olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 lb beef, ground or in small cubes
  • 1 large onion, some shade of white or yellow
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 bell pepper, any color
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 large chicken breast, whole
  • Some basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pep


The amounts above are only estimates of what you should probably bring home from the store. Here are the sauce ratios by which I cook:

  1. Excluding tomato, 1 part meat to 1 part vegetable
  2. For the veggis, excluding tomato, 1 part each (err toward less onion)
  3. Overall, 1 part meat, 1 part veg, 1 part tomato (err toward more tomato)

Drop things into the pan, on medium heat, as you cut them. Once the beef is brown and the veg aren’t crunchy, add the tomatoes, chicken, and spices, and simma down. Simmer time depends on how much the tomatoes have already been processed, or precooked.

The tomato processing spectrum starts at the vine and ends in tomato paste. The more cook time you have, the lower on the spectrum you can go, and the better the sauce. Simmering all day, use fresh tomatoes when available, otherwise, canned whole or diced. For a last minute ragu, you might go with crushed or sauced. In the end, use paste and water to get the right consistency.

On the Go – Ragogu

Freeze it in baggies and they’ll thaw by the time you set up camp and heat the noodles. In an ice chest they’ll last another day. To reduce the carry weight and pack size, cook everything fully, excluding the chicken and tomato, then stir in a can of tomato paste. Reconstitute with water when you’re ready to eat. Bam!

Let me know what you think.