The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

That Time We Went Camping

It’s not that I hate nature. I feel like nature actually has a lot of really great things to offer. It’s just that all of those beautiful and wondrous things are covered in dirt and bugs. Also I super love my bed. And showering. If sleeping in my own bed and taking extended scalding showers was an Olympic sport, I would win so hard they’d give me the bronze, silver, and gold. I would be the Michael Phelps of domestic comfort (but with fewer bongs and pictures of my junk).

Other things I care deeply about that tend not to exist in nature:

  • Wine glasses
  • Couches
  • TVs with DVRs full of a healthy mix of MTV reality and scripted shows*
  • Wifi
  • Outlets
  • Instagram

Plus, the last time I went camping I was 21 years old, 7 months pregnant, and still still in deep denial being knocked up was really going to have much of an effect on my life. Squatting in the woods with a giant belly to pee 47 times in 24 hours was what really started to hammer home that I was no longer the normal co-ed. I still sometimes have nightmares of that camping trip.

That said, we all have our burdens in this life, and one of mine is that Jonas was born a year and one week after the tragic and untimely death of Steve Irwin, and I feel confident his spirit was reincarnated into my kid’s skinny, asthmatic body. It’s not easy being the mother of a crocodile hunter.

So far, we’ve gotten away with letting Jonas roam the desert just outside our property line and regularly sleep in the backyard. Now that he’s eight and a half it seems almost inhumane to keep him constantly caged inside of the walls of civilization when really all he wants to do in life is raise birds so he can watch them construct a nest, use dirt for clothing, and learn to communicate with insects so he can persuade them to be his army and he their overlord.

Additionally, my brother-in-law, John, has been trying to convince us that no really, we’d totally like camping because it’s really fun and not at all terrible for pretty much the entirety of his marriage to my sister. A couple of weeks ago he gave me this spiel again when I was two and a half mimosas in to a beautiful Saturday and would have probably said, That sounds like a great idea! if he’d proposed hitchhiking to Cleveland to see a Metallica cover band. Day-drinking causes me to be very agreeable.

This is how, last Thursday, I ended up driving the Subaru up the side of a mountain on a single lane dirt road, half blind with dust and the sun, toward two nights of the first camping I’d done in 16 years.

I don’t want to paint this experience as a totally negative one. I know John really wanted it to be the trip that caused the epiphany The Newlins are camping folk, and it wasn’t entirely regrettable and unpleasant. So, I’m just gonna identify the parts of the camping trip as:

  • Stuff that didn’t suck
  • Camping lessons learned

Stuff That Didn’t Suck:

1. Even though the drive up was possibly more terrifying than one of those panic dreams where you are falling off  the cliff and never land, but you know you’re going to land and it’s going to be terrible, so you just continue in a state of unending horror for all eternity (or until you wake up, soaked in sweat), the actual campsite was lovely. We had views of Lake Roosevelt on one side, and some pretty down below place on the other. There were no other campers we saw during the 40 or so hours we were up there.

camping 2

camping 1

2. Camping food is delicious, especially if it’s a little burnt. I made breakfast burritos the night before we left and wrapped them in tinfoil. Even though the outer layer was almost charcoal when they came off the fire, they were possibly my favorite thing I’ve ever eaten. Also, the brats I preboiled and we roasted on skewers were amazing. The bacon John set on fire and almost burned down the forest with, was equally delicious.

camping 3


3. I really love dead trees, and there were several nearby that had been struck by lightning and were gorgeous.


4. Day-drinking is encouraged at camping. So are afternoon naps.

5. There weren’t any horrible flying bugs like mosquitos or gnats or anything.

Camping Lessons Learned:

1. Two non-superhuman adults is not sufficient for both setting up camp and properly supervising a 3 year old, a 5 year old, an 11 year old, and an 8 year old body that houses the spirit of Steve Irwin. While John and I were setting up the million tents required to house all of us, the boys discovered a nearby, recently used, campsite. In under 10 minutes they had collected enough small flammable material to stoke the improperly extinguished embers at the neighboring fire ring and built a full fire, which Gray used a shovel to scoop up and run over to our fire ring while the littler boys ran behind him and yelled, Look!! We built a fire!! 

Just to reinforce what occurred: As John and I looked up from the tent poles we were frustratedly trying to shove through fabric, my eleven year old son came running, full-bore, through the trees, carrying a shovel full of flames, with his long, golden hair trailing behind him, and his brother and cousins following with utter glee. It… was not a safe situation.

2. When left alone to “explore”, even in the middle of the wilderness with no sign of civilization, Jonas will somehow manage to discover and retrieve:

  • A shotgun shell
  • An intact bullet
  • Five metal canisters for a BB gun
  • A throwing knife stuck in a tree
  • An enormous bowie knife

camping 4 camping 5


So when the zombie apocalypse happens, make sure to align yourself with Jonas.

3. Peeing in the woods is legitimately terrible. Peeing in the woods in the middle of the night when it’s 35 degrees out and you’ve forgotten your glasses, and are too afraid to go out in the dark alone and blind, so you put your almost frozen contacts against your eyeballs before trudging out in the cold, to squat in the woods while trying simultaneously not to pee on your own feet and not to sit in a pile of ants is torture it should be illegal to subject prisoners of war to. Like I almost decided I should drink less wine the next night so I didn’t have to pee in the middle of the night; it was that bad.

4. When I was a teenager I read a book about a guy stuck in an avalanche. I think it was called Avalanche!, but I’m too lazy to try and find it. It was about how this guy was skiing and an avalanche buried him below like 5 feet of snow, but there was a hole at the top of where he got buried, so he didn’t die and he spent literal days trapped there under the snow like peeing on himself for warmth and eating the snow around him, etc. I don’t remember how he got out, but the point is, the dude had an insane will to live. He was like James Franco’s character in the movie where he cuts his own arm off (that was a real guy, right? Gross.)

At camping, I learned I do not have quite that voracious of a will to live in the face of cold. If my options are: A) Be super cold and miserable for days with little to no hope in sight, eating snow and telling myself to stay strong because there’s a chance someone will find me, and eventually getting rescued OR B) Chewing a hole in my own wrist to bleed out after 37 minutes of being kind of chilly just to end the misery, I gotta tell you, I’m probably going with B.

The first night at camping I spent the entire night (when I wasn’t stumbling around in the dark trying not to pee on myself) shivering in my stupid 35 degree rated sleeping bag. The next night, the wind picked up even harder than the night before, and I have to admit, knowing that eventually getting into my tent was not going to be warmer than sitting by the fire, where I was already a popsicle, may have worn down my will to live a little bit. It’s possible I threw a small tantrum, marched into my tent at 7:15PM with all of the extra blankets I could find, layered all of the jackets and socks I brought on my body and refused to come out until morning. It wasn’t my proudest moment. I really hate being cold.

Overall, the kids loved every minute. I loved some of the minutes. But more, I loved the minutes in the hot shower when I got home. I might go again, if it’s not so cold. Although, if it’s less cold, there will probably be bugs. So maybe I’ll let Jason take the boys and I’ll stay home with my couch and wine glasses, and MTV shows.


*Did anyone see the latest episode of Faking It? “I’m Switzerland. Cool, neutral, very expensive.” #Shaneismyfavoriteever #apropsofnothing

59 Responses to That Time We Went Camping

  1. A tent heater can make a world of difference.

  2. Mini, I love your dissertation on camping. I totally agree with all of it. My idea for camping is, hiking during the day or fishing or whatever and retiring to the nice motel for a hot shower and delicious , not made by me, dinner with wine, and after dinner watching something on TV and to bed in the lovely bed at the motel to arise in the morning to a good breakfast at the motel. from Grandma Jean.

  3. Mini, that was a hilarious summation of your camping trip. Jonas is definitely a handful, and I think I’ve tried to kill him on a couple occasions, but the kid would be a perfect Marine. They love kids who go into the woods and come back with multiple knives & a shovel full of fire. Of course, he’d also do well in San Quentin, so that’s an option too.

  4. Liz, if you ever go again, I suggest these tips:

    1. drink more, not less – keeps you too dumb to notice you’re cold
    2. when peeing, find two rocks that are spaced far enough apart so you have a “toilet sized hole” between them. make sure it is 6″ or so down between the rocks to the ground at a minimum. Use these rocks to stand on and then squat to pee between them. Then you’re peeing into a hole and you have no chance of pee running onto your feet.
    3. blankets both under and over your sleeping bag. If you just put them over, the cold seeps up from below. I put down two super thick blankets, then the sleeping bag, then two more blankets over.
    4. Andrea once slept in oven mitts while camping with us. So that’s the tip she would give.

    or, you know, just stay home. also an option. But camp food is the best food ever. so it calls to me from the forest. Plus dirty filthy kids always seem to be the happiest kids.

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  5. Gnats. Remember the gnats on the Green River? And how you ate your last dinner on the river zipped up in your tent by yourself? Remember the ceremony where we got inducted into the Green River Navy under the stars? You *are* camping people, just uncomfortable camping people.

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