"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

240-plus days, and still no snow in Rochester

gloomy fall foliage at widewaters of Erie Canal near Newark, NY
Where's our snow, anyway?

Summer's long since over, and winter is nearly here, yet we still have no snow in Western New York. In fact, we've had no measurable accumulation since last April, over 240 days ago. That has to be some kind of record for this area.

It's been an exceptional year for camping, with nearly EIGHTY Perfect Camping Nights recorded from April to September. September was spectacular, if a bit chilly at times, with very little rain. All the area campgrounds shut down in mid-October, as the nights stayed cool and the leaves finally fell. With a bit of cold-weather gear and judicious use of our Coleman furnace, we could have done weekend overnights right up through this weekend. The sun's shining today, with temp's in the low 40's.

Our typical upstate NY November brings freezing rain, biting breezes, bitter late night temperatures, and snow before Thanksgiving. Not this year. Maybe it's Global Warming. Or maybe winter is lurking nearby, rubbing it's frosted hands together in malicious glee and planning a devastating surprise attack. The local ski areas aren't pleased with the current climate, I'm sure. White Christmas? Hope so.

At any rate, for we Northerners the regular camping season is done. Did you properly winterize your camper? Or did you make sure your tent is nice and dry, and stored in a protected spot? I have a couple of good articles saved around here somewhere, from the RV.net Blog. One has tips for winterizing and the other offers some advice for maintaining your camper's awning(s). I'll see if I can't dig those up and get them posted for you. That site is an amazing resource for RV-ers, especially.

Had a thought about winterizing for you, too. Do you cover your camper for the winter? Store it somewhere else for the season? Garage it? Mine sits stoic in the side yard, with the windows cranked tight, tires on planks, battery stowed indoors and the water system completely drained. Seems to weather the worst of winter fairly well. Just wondering what other campers do in preparation for the long winter's night. I'll see if I can find those other articles.

Photo: Erie Canal widewaters area near Newark, NY, earlier this fall (JCB)


How do you winterize? Leave your comments here.

It's a bird, it's a plane -- it's the Microsoft Sky!

This is an un-retouched photograph of the sky over Fairport, NY on a spectacular fall day.

One of my guilty pleasures while camping is sky-watching. This surreal skyscape turned up far too late in the fall for camping, though the weather was unexpectedly mild that day. I had to look twice -- it looked exactly as if one of those speed-painters had dabbed in the clouds in a frantic burst of brushwork.

Seems like Microsoft has moved away from using that trademark sky as their symbol lately, but this one certainly would do the trick. A week or so ago I published an article on Helium about curing writers block, and one of the tips I mentioned was to do some sky-gazing. It worked for me: I wrote this post!

If you have an unusual skyscape you'd like to share here, please contact me or leave a comment.

Read 6 tips to cure writer's block from Jim, on Helium.com

Product reviews: Grill Charms™, as seen on Shark Tank earlier this evening

Hot off the campfire

by Sarah Pendleton guest writer

[Editor's note - Sarah is a full-time freelance editor and writer]

Grill Charms™ on grilled chicken We are a family of meat lovers. The grill gets fired up every weekend, rain or shine. It can be a hundred and ten or twenty below - we have to get our fix! Steak, chicken, pork chops; every Saturday is a carnivore's dream. After ten years of marriage, I'm still getting used to it.

I grew up as the eldest of nine, and we were dirt poor. I could make a pound of hamburger serve the whole family for four meals straight, with creative use of spaghetti sauce, potatoes, rice and beans. I had never had a honest to God, home-grilled steak before I got married on my twenty fourth birthday to a real man: a hunting, fishing, red necked card-carrying member of the National Grill Masters Association. Let me tell you - it only took one juicy Porterhouse to have me firmly addicted.

Now, ten years and three kids later, we are firmly committed to keeping the cattle industry alive and well. Even our eighteen-month-old loves nothing more than sinking the twelve teeth he does have into a tiny portion of succulent rib-eye.

There's just one little problem.

I like garlic, and just a touch of pink in the middle. Hubby likes lemon pepper - and lots of it; and he doesn't freak about a little reddish juice on the plate. We both love Lee and Perrins. The kids don't share our passion for spice - yet - and theirs better be well done! When you have five steaks on the grill, it's kind of hard to keep track. You have to keep cutting them open, and trying to figure out which one is seasoned and which one isn't.

That's why I couldn't believe it when a friend turned me on to Grill Charms™ . These little suckers are perfect for helping hubby keep track of which steak belongs to who, and the kids love the concept of being able to personalize their own cut of meat. Grill Charms™ are made of stainless steel, look like dime-sized thumbtacks, and have serrated edges so they stay in the meat during grilling.

Grill Charms™ Charmed Life collection The designs on top of each one let you differentiate the meat. I have already picked out the Charmed Life collection, which features a sailboat, a dollar sign and a crown among other designs. I am aiming for the Spicy Collection next, so I can tell the kids' mild chicken piece or pork chop from my own tangy rub!

I'm going to have to get the Steak Collection for those times we have friends over that want to specify bloody or burnt, and I'm definitely picking up the Pink Collection for my aunt for Christmas. She's a breast cancer survivor, and her hubby also is a member of the Grill Masters Club. At under $20 per six-piece Grill Charms collection, I might have to grab a few more sets for stocking stuffers - hubby and I have a lot of meat loving friends!

Check it out folks - this is the new 'hot item' for the grilling carnivores in your life; and if you're like me, you won't be able to stop with just one set!

reprinted with a breaking update, 2009
copyright 2008 - all rights reserved, Sarah Pendleton for Just Camping Out


From our interview with Leslie Haywood, founder and president, Charmed Life Products LLC and inventor of Grill Charms™ :

Grill Charms™ product packagingI'm a grilling gadget gal from Charleston SC and I have invented the perfect gadget for those scrumptious dinners cooked in great outdoors.
...Sometimes it can be tough for the master chef to keep track of who wants their steak rare, who wants spicy, who wants mild, who's allergic to garlic - all while drinking that frosty cold beer, gazing at the stars, chatting with your buddies about the fish that got away, and try to keep the dog out of the munchies. Grill Charms™ make it all possible. They are the must have campfire gadget while enjoying your time in the wilderness or at the KOA. [~Jim]

UPDATE: Leslie appeared on ABC TV's new and exciting show Shark Tank, seeking a relatively small investment in her vision. She completely charmed the male investors -- they went from Sharks to pussycats.

Leslie had THREE OFFERS on the table, and had to agonize over which one was right for her business. Let's just say she did NOT walk away disappointed, as so many other presenters have in the past.

This is a great product, a classy lady, and made for riveting television. Best wishes to Leslie as she moves forward with Grill Charms™. ~Jim

Climbin' for a Cause: Dr. Dara Grieger's Summitday for Kilimanjaro

Why climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? Dr. Dara L. Grieger MD, transplant survivor explains:

As I approach the 15th anniversary of my transplant, I’ve decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in Feb 2010 to raise money and awareness for organ donation. I started the organization called Summit Day to bring together a team to climb for transplant related causes.

Here's more from Dara's Summitday blog:

The Cause

What do surviving a major medical event (such as organ failure and transplant surgery) and climbing a mountain have in common?

Kili climb logo Summitday blog
Both require a powerful mental attitude! Survivors must look ahead and visualize themselves reaching the other side of the challenge. ... Hikers must possess a positive outlook to reach the summit of the mountain. Success begins with mental strength and endurance. Like undergoing a transplant, climbing also requires never giving up and never giving in, regardless of the odds.

I’ve partnered with LUX World Travel and Journeys of Inspiration to create a journey that will raise public awareness about the needs of people who are awaiting transplantation, and to encourage more people to become organ donors. I will also be helping transplant recipients locally in Rochester NY by raising funds for the B Thomas Golisano Hospitality House and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge. ...The purpose of Hospitality House/ Hope Lodge is to provide out of town organ transplant and cancer patients (and their caregivers) a place to stay while undergoing treatment in Rochester...

Journeys of Inspiration is a collaborative effort between Pak Paddle Ski and the American Cancer Society with a mission to create a community of people whose lives have been touched by cancer and love the outdoors...

If you think you are not in shape to climb Kilimanjaro, don’t let that hold you back. There is an abundance of training and support in the months leading to the climb. We depart February 13, 2010. If you can do a 10 mile hike, with moderate elevation change, you can definitely climb Kilimanjaro!

* * *
Want to help? Think you have what it takes to join Dara's daring adventure? Read more...


Now that's some serious camping out! What a great cause. And, really, if you aren't already an organ donor, what are you waiting for?

Our camping trip at the Dansville Balloon Fest - Up, Up, and Away they Go!

First one, then another, then three more and a dozen -- hot air balloons cleared the launch field and battled for suddenly-crowded air space at the Dansville Airport.

This montage of photographs details the lift-off of nearly 50 dazzling aircraft at Dansville's Festival of Balloons (NYSFB at Dansville). Final pictures, featuring the "special" entrants, will be published later this week.

burning some air to launch this balloonIt takes a big burn to get airborne. This balloonist blistered three large holes in his craft.

balloonists vie for airspaceThey bump, they push and shove. First one to get clear wins!

herringbone balloon, going upThis colorful herringbone-patterned balloon went straight up.

graph pattern and mixed colors hot air balloonLooks like some sort of financial chart. "Things are looking up!"

black diamonds and herringbone patterns on balloonsBlack diamonds are good, right? Background: herringbone gets some air.

beautiful mix of blue and white hot air balloonAn elegant balloon showing only blue and white finds the clouds, higher and higher.

two balloons nearly collide on lift-offThese two look like they're headed for a collision. It's just an illusion.

montage of three balloons heading skywardThree of the more exotic color patterns gain altitude and solitude.

great colors and one watchful eye for this balloon launchOne monstrous eye looks on as a crazy-quilt of colors soars overhead.

two pairs of balloonists over DansvilleTwo pairs of balloonists head heavenward. They soon joined the crowd, nearly out of sight.

hot air balloons fill the sky northwest of Dansville NYTop to bottom: more and more balloons sail to the northwest of Dansville, and toward the horizon.

In all, more than 40 hot air balloons filled the sky on a spectacular Sunday evening at Dansville. It was a beautiful Labor Day Weekend for ballooning. Final batch of exotic-design balloon pics soon.

All photos copyright 2009 - reprints available on request.

Upgraded NY State Parks Website - NY Outdoors Blog

camping in New York State
Posted: 26 Sep 2009 06:33 AM PDT

Check out the upgraded state parks website, with lots of new content about what visitors can expect to find at parks and historic sites, plus a great new trails section.

(from the Parks & Trails NY newsletter)

Shared via AddThis

Reprinted from New York Outdoors Blog.

Thanks to NY Outdoors for getting the word out.

Which do you prefer for camping trips -- state parks or private campground resorts? Which offers the better value?

Our camping trip at the Dansville Balloon Fest - Preparing to launch!

The wind died down about 6 pm Sunday evening, and the balloonists raced to get their hot air rigs airborne.

Here's a sampling of the hectic prep-work at Dansville's Festival of Balloons (NYSFB at Dansville). More pics to come, later in the week.

hot air balloons warm up at Dansville Balloon Fest Sept 09Team USA takes the foreground. At least eight others warm up for launch.

multi-colored hot air balloons warm up at Dansville Balloon Fest Sept 09Primary colors crowd out the tulip balloon. The rest struggle to catch up.

fire it up - hot air balloons warm up at Dansville Balloon Fest Sept 09"Fire in the hole!" It takes a big burn and lots of helping hands to get these monsters aloft.

No less than 40 hot air balloons launched on a spectacular Sunday evening at Dansville. For once, the weather cooperated for the entire Labor Day Weekend. More pics soon.

All photos copyright 2009 - reprints available on request.

Our camping trip at the Dansville Balloon Fest - Preview

Hot air balloon launch at Dansville Sunday afternoon 9-6-09
In all, nearly 50 hot air balloons launched on Sunday, September 6 for the traditional Labor Day New York Festival of Balloons at Dansville, NY.

We camped for the weekend at nearby Skybrook Campground, and saw an earlier launch pass overhead on Saturday evening. Sunday, we attended the festival and took nearly 100 pictures. I'll return to share more with you later this week.

all photos copyright 2009 - reprints available by permission

Stay tuned for pictures of The Purple People Eater, Turtle-Turtle, Big Red Barn and much more.
from New York Outdoors Blog:

Thousand Islands’ parks close early despite pleas

Posted: 10 Sep 2009 06:36 AM PDT

By LORI SHULL, Watertown Daily Times, link to original post

Jo-Ellen Bero, and 150 other people, would like a month of camping time restored to Coles Creek, but it’s just not going to happen.

Boldt Castle near Alex Bay, the Thousand Islands

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced this spring that the summer schedules of 15 parks in the Thousand Islands Region would be altered because of budget cuts in Albany. However, Ms. Bero and dozens of others decided to try to change the state’s mind about closing Coles Creek State Park a month early.

“I guess Gov. Paterson strikes again,” Ms. Bero said in an e-mail. “With the economy the way it is today and the price of gas, hotel rates, admission to theme parks and the overall loss of jobs here in the north country, camping was something people could still afford to do with their families.”

Coles Creek will close Saturday, despite the petition and phone calls to the office of state Parks Commissioner Carol Ash and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, according to Mrs. Bero. Usually, it is open until Oct. 12. Jacques Cartier State Park, in Morristown, also is closing early, on Sept. 19.

Nine other parks around the region, which stretches from Lake Ontario north along the St. Lawrence River to Lake Champlain, closed Labor Day weekend. There are 30 parks in the region.

Despite the state’s decision to change the opening and closing times of many of its parks, some Coles Creek campers tried to get an exception for their habitual haunt.

“They’ve talked to everyone; I think they even got to the park commissioner,” said Loretta E. Castagnier, the bookkeeper at Coles Creek. “They’ve tried everything. Nothing seems to work. You can’t fight City Hall.”

Despite the efforts of north country residents and vacationers, the state did not make any modifications to the schedule.

“There have been expressions of disappointment,” said Eileen Larrabee, Albany spokeswoman for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. She said there were about a dozen phone calls about Coles Creek. “We tried to minimize the impact to users. We understand there are fiscal realities that we have to meet.”

In looking at the climate for next year’s budget, there is no assurance that the same cuts may not be made again, said Kevin A. Kieff, regional director for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“It’s not our hope that it would become permanent, but we have to be realistic,” he said.

Coles Creek has been unusually busy so far this month, Mrs. Castagnier said. During the first week of September last year, the park had 883 campers. This year, there were 2,707 during that same week, according to the park’s records. Some of that increase may be due to a late Labor Day.

There are 25 campgrounds in the Adirondacks and the Catskills that will remain open until Oct. 11.

Reprinted from the New York Outdoors Blog.

For residents of NY state and the surrounding areas, New York Outdoors Blog is THE source for information about camping, bicycling, hiking, kayaking and all things related to the great outdoors. Not a subscriber? Sign up for email updates of NY Outdoors.

Our one-month summer, nearly done now

We had 24 Perfect Camping Nights in August!
campsite #8 at Holiday Hill, Springwater
And now August makes way for September, cooler nights, and back to school. What a month it was, though! Of the 31 days, barely a week of them in total failed to qualify for camping perfection. We won't talk about July, which resembled late spring far more than mid-summer. We didn't get out as much as we wanted to in August, but did enjoy every gorgeous summer evening, camping or not.

We three boys managed to sneak our camper into a wooded site at Holiday Hill, near Springwater NY, on a very busy August weekend. All of our "usual" spots were taken, so we found a new -- and very nice -- place to camp. There were less than ten available sites when we arrived, and we liked this one the best.

We never got to Holiday Hill last year, when gasoline peaked at over $4 per gallon. Instead, we stayed much closer to home at the Canandaigua KOA. The Hill is one of our favorites, just because. Maybe it's the secluded but popular location; maybe it's the people (though HH has new owners this year); maybe it's the great swimming pool. Some places just 'feel right,' and this is one of them.

Our new site was in the brighter section of the woods, near the Froggy Pond, and still close to all the amenities. The boys spent some time in the game room, and later at the pavilion for a musical event. It was a bit cloudy and cool for swimming, so we didn't get wet. Plenty of other campers jumped in during the afternoon. We played mini-golf instead.
nightfall, roaring fire, August camping in Springwater
Night arrived suddenly, back there in the trees. We spent some time reading, until we couldn't see anymore, then just hanging out together by a roaring fire. We forgot to bring marshmallows. The mosquitoes left us alone, though; so that was a relief.

Of course that weekend trip was over too quickly, as any good camping outing always is. No sense complaining. We've had a decent summer of short camping vacations. Got lucky back in July with a rain-free weekend at the nearby KOA for our first trip. Our journey to Sackets Harbor was sopping wet, but the weather turned sunny on arrival. Late July found us in Mexico NY at the Jellystone campground with a whole batch of good friends -- another lucky, sunny weekend. The fireworks, for Oswego's Harbor Festival, were incredible as always.

We have one more trip in the books, for the Labor Day weekend. We've always loved the Dansville Balloon Festival, and camping is the way to spend some quality time there. The current forecast is excellent, although the nights are already seeing temp's dropping down below 50 degrees. Last year's festival was ruined by horrid weather; we didn't even make it a day-trip and most of the vendors gave up and went home. Fingers crossed for this year.

Soon enough, it'll be time to switch to day hikes and photo-tours of the fall foliage. Just don't rush me, okay?

How about you? Do you have a campground story you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Camping trips: How to avoid clashes with your spouse and children

by Raymond Alexander Kukkee guest author

[Editor's note - Raymond is a prolific writer and Helium site steward]

camping with family KOA o8

You can hardly wait. The children are excited . Your hard-working urban family is about to embark on an adventure of camping, the annual idyllic migration to freedom, nature and the magic of fresh air. You envision fun in the sun, relaxation, and the enjoyment of breath-taking scenery with beautiful sunsets and smooth sailing. You intend to enjoy fishing, swimming, boating, and best of all, peace and quiet.

On a camping trip, enjoyment and relaxation is the whole idea, but how do you keep it that way? How do you avoid clashes with your spouse and children while camping?


It may not be immediately evident that a primary cause of clashes during camping is failure to correlate and adjust expectations when planning a camping trip. A reasonable compromise on the type of camping trip you are taking, may be wisdom at it's finest.

Expectations of eight-year old twins with dreams of living in little tents and fishing all day may not be easily equated to the dream destiny of a sophisticated sixteen-year old teenaged girl or her mother. They may want to go camping, but only if they can be assured...

...read more about camping clashes

Reprinted by permission from Raymond Alexander Kukkee, all rights reserved 2009.
Read Raymond's Profile on Helium.com

See this story as it appears on Helium.com

How about you? Do you have a campground story you'd like to share? We always enjoy featuring guest authors. If you'd like to submit your article for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Please don't hate me, but I simply must share this camping tip with you

From the file marked "things that make you say hmmm..."

north shore KOA Canandaigua 2009Over the preceding months I've tried to offer you some helpful camping tips, along with other related articles, pictures and stories. In addition, down the page a ways in the sidebar, I've linked to a number of blogs of similar theme. I've found these blogs and lots of great article ideas by subscribing to a Google Alert for "camping tips."

Every day I get a nifty email from Google listing all sorts of interesting postings from around the world that are somehow related to camping tips. Sometimes the relation is tenuous at best, with the words "camping" and "tips" separated by other words that veer off into unrelated topics. These alerts are always informative and often entertaining.

Some days one or two of the offered snippets leaves me scratching my head. Today was one of those days. Rather than scratch my head some more and risk further hair loss, I've decided (just this one time) to share the puzzling text with you. Perhaps you, better than me, can fathom its meaning.

Here's the snippet included in today's camping tips alert (all links omitted):

Go camping predominantly. The pre-eminent mode to grasp the bodily is to spread out not numerous days camping together. And what can be more affectionate then sitting together approach tense close axe and watching the flames?

I sincerely detect a wonderful tip for romantic camping here. It's in there somewhere. Granted, it's only a snippet of the original posting, so other contextual clues might be missing. I do love grasping bodily and watching the flames. However, the whole "tense close axe" concept has me concerned.

Okay, maybe I'm being mean. I realize that the Internet is indeed a "world wide" web. For some, our befuddling language presents translation challenges. Still, this camping tip hints at well-intended and thoughtful insight. If I could understand the author's intent, I'd be happy to link to the original post.

Ideas, anyone?

Posted by Jim, who really isn't a mean person.

Can you help me translate the quoted camping tip? Your Comments always welcome.

Great camping games: Croquet

Croquet: Here's a game we all can play together!

six player croquet set courtesy of backyardgardener.comSome campers like to find remote mountain streams filled with trout. Since we have teenagers to entertain, we prefer busy camping resorts filled with people. We love to play games to pass the time and avoid the dreaded cries of "I'm bored." One of the best group games we always enjoy at the campground is croquet.

Most of us have played croquet at one time or another. Croquet is at least as old as the game of golf, and far less expensive to play [game sets retail from $30 to over $300]. As long as you can find a reasonably well-groomed grassy area, you can gather up a crew for a round of croquet.

You don't need lessons or a handicap to compete, and there are no greens fees. Up to six players can compete individually, or you can form up teams for larger groups. The object of the game is to navigate a course of small wire wickets by striking a wooden ball with a mallet. There are interesting rules variations for recreational play, as long as everyone agrees beforehand. Playing croquet is a fine game for getting a bit of exercise, sun, and socializing along the way.

What makes croquet such a good choice for camping?

1. Players of all ages can compete. Kids always enjoy hitting things with mallets. Grown-ups have plenty of time to chat it up between turns. Even someone confined to a wheelchair can join the fun.

2. A little rain or wind won't ruin the game. While the balls and mallets are wooden, they are quite durable. You can play through a cloudburst without worrying about damage.

3. Croquet is cheap and portable. You can find used games at garage sales and charity stores for less than $20. Some come in folding cases, while others take up a bit more space. A standard set will fit in the space of a suitcase.

3. No batteries or power cord needed. All the energy required to play is supplied by the contestants.

4. Games can be as long or short as desired. All you have to do is vary the size and/or complexity of the course layout. Purists will insist on the design set out in the official rule book; but lots of players enjoy plotting out more creative wicket locations.

5. There's room for at least six players. Your kids can invite their new campground friends. You can play as couples, making room for twelve. For even larger crowds, you can form teams and take turns with the mallets.

6. You can leave and come back. When the burgers and steaks are ready, everyone can break for dinner right in the middle of a game. Eat, drink, and then pick up right where you left off earlier.

7. Nobody has to keep score. Croquet is a game of geography: first to the end-stake wins. No points to count keeps things the stress and arguments to a minimum.

8. You can make up your own rules:

We like to leave all rule books at home when we go camping...

Read the rest of this game review as it appears on Helium.com

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved (reprint rights available)

-- croquet set image courtesy of BackyardGardener.com

How about you? Do you have a camping games review you'd like to share? We'll feature these during the season as available. If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

See this story as it appears on Helium.com

Read Jim's Profile on Helium.com

Camping with kids tips: Rent some kayaks

two boys in rented kayaks Erie Canal Fairport NY
Hey, let's go kayaking!

When you're camping with kids, you have to keep them entertained -- or else. This is especially true when camping out with teenage boys. They have unlimited energy and the attention span of a hummingbird. If you let two teenagers get bored, fighting ensues. It's a law of nature.

There was a time when bicycling and rollerblading around the camp loops took care of the energy and boredom issues. If the campground had a nice little store where we could buy some ice cream, that was good enough. Those days rest peacefully in our camping past.

These days, we seek out camping resorts with lots of available activities. Most offer swimming, miniature golf, and some sort of arcade. Several have fishing ponds or streams. We bring our croquet set so the whole family can compete in something at least mildly athletic. In case of rain, we always have games we can play under the awning.

With a bit of planning, you can find even more interesting things to do on your next camping trip. Campground websites usually offer "nearby attractions." We had hoped to go kayaking, one way or another, and finally took the plunge (literally!) this summer. If you find a vacation spot with a stream or canal nearby, chances are you can rent kayaks by the hour.

Turns out that we didn't have to look too far to find kayak rentals here. We didn't even have to book a campsite. Our kayak outing took place in downtown Fairport, right on the Erie Canal -- about four miles from our front door. For less than $50, we three boys rented kayaks, got a few quick pointers, and spent an afternoon wearing ourselves out.

Lesson One: Leave your valuables in the car!

kayak workout on the Erie Canal Fairport NY
If you've never piloted a kayak (we hadn't), consider the possibility that you might end up in the drink. After we spent a few minutes paddling around and getting used to the feel of these little watercraft, we decided to organize a game of Kayak Tag. We chose a wide spot on the canal, set end boundaries (dock to dock), and the chase was on.

After a few close calls and much laughing and taunting, we had our first victim. My youngest overturned his kayak and found himself treading water. His boat took on some water and ended up partially submerged.

Lesson Two: Kayaks do not "flip back up" by themselves!

We had basic open kayaks, not the kind you see in white water videos. These little boats are perfectly capable of sinking, if you aren't careful. Fortunately, we were only a few yards from one of the two docks. After some shouted instructions from our friendly boat rental guy (on the other shore), we were back on the water.

Less than twenty minutes later, the canal claimed its second victim -- my oldest son. Luckily, he'd left his cash and Blackberry in the truck. He also managed to right his kayak without too muich flooding. We learn from experience.

Two out of three was enough.

With two of us soaked to the skin, that left only me unscathed. I had money and my cell phone in my pockets, and I was getting worried. For one thing, I'm the least coordinated of the three of us. It occurred to me that both boys would have loved to see their dad in the water. I checked my watch (yes, I'm a glutton for potential disaster), and saw that our time was nearly up. We had already secured an extra half hour, after our first man overboard.

Not that my clothing wasn't soaked from splashing; but my valuables were intact. We had tempted the fates long enough. We were exhausted, too. Kayaking is hard work! We pointed our rented boats back to the launching dock, took time for a few pictures, and called it a day. I have to say, it was a very good day.

We had tried something new, spent an afternoon together, and burned off a few hundred calories in the process.

Mission accomplished.

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved

Just Camping Out was recently featured on the Zone, Helium.com Writers who also Blog.

I'm honored to be included there, and always happy to offer guest postings for my readers. Some of our most-read posts are from guest authors.

If you'd like to be considered for a feature here, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Camping out for the 1812 Shoot Out, Sackets Harbor

1812 Battlefield watch tower
Every summer Sackets Harbor hosts the 1812 Shoot Out Lacrosse Tournament at the Battlefield State Historic site on the shores of Lake Ontario. Teams from all over western New York compete for trophies in several age brackets. My youngest played four games this past Sunday for the Canandaigua Braves.

lacrosse field view at 1812 Shoot Out
It's a long drive for us, over 100 miles, so we like to arrive a day in advance and camp out at nearby Bedford Creek Campground. While the younger kids were meeting on the Battlefield on Saturday (and dodging thunderstorms), we were en route under threatening skies.

Halfway there we found ourselves on unfamiliar roads with lightning all around us and heavy rains slashing our truck and trailer. The shoulder was narrow and visibility was minimal, so we crept along until we reached a gas station on the main road near Oswego. We had visions of a washed out camping trip, but the sky eventually cleared.

Our campsite was swampy but acceptable, and we didn't get stuck as we maneuvered our camper trailer into a tight spot, perfectly level -- fortunately! Minutes later, our team's coaches arrived to claim the spot right next to us, a nice surprise. The thunder and lightning returned briefly as the sun set, but that was the last of the bad weather.

Bedford Creek is a pleasantly crowded, inexpensive private campground. Amenities include a nice little camp store, a small marina, a nearby pizza shop and golf course. Most of the sites are occupied all season, but there's plenty of room for lacrosse families. Sites are available for everything from Class A motorhomes to tents, and include water and electric.

Sunday dawned sunny and breezy. Perfect lacrosse weather. We buttoned down our camp and headed for the battlefield site. My son's team won half its games, placing fifth overall in his division. Before we left we bought commemorative tee-shirts and drove downtown to the waterfront for a tasty late lunch.

downtown view of Sackets Harbor jetty

With the campground just minutes from the tournament site, we enjoyed a relaxing weekend. Although it never got hot, my boys both decided to brave the frigid lake waters for a swim before we broke camp on Monday. They couldn't resist. The trip back was uneventful, and we happy to return relaxed and well-rested.

Camping out is a great way to attend away games!

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved

How about you? Do you have a camping outing you'd like to share? If you have a few pictures, that's even better. If you'd like to submit your outing for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Great camping games: Connect Four

Connect Four is fun for all campers, young and old.

connect four on amazonTaking the kids on a camping excursion means you have to keep them entertained, too. Over the years we've found a few games ideally suited to the rigors of the campground. One of our favorites is Connect Four, from Milton Bradley [retail price, $19.99].

Connect Four is billed as "the vertical four-in-a-row checkers game," and looks like an upright version of Tic-Tac-Toe. This game is neither checkers nor the classically unwinnable kid's pastime game. In fact, Amazon.com rates it four stars out of five, and we agree wholeheartedly. Players can indeed win this game; it provides a serious challenge to strategists who can see a few moves ahead.

The game "board" is an upright enclosure that accepts traditional checkers pieces in sequence. It's seven slots wide and six spaces tall. The object of the game, quite obviously, is to "connect four" of your red or black chips -- vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Since red and black alternate play, you have to plan ahead to set up unstoppable combinations while keeping a watchful eye on your opponent's moves. We've seen many games lost by a player who forgot to play defense as he plotted his offense.

What makes Connect Four such a good choice for camping?

1. It's waterproof. A sudden rainstorm won't hurt this game one bit. Believe me, this matters!

2. It's wind-proof, too. Trying to play card games or Monopoly at the campground can be frustrating if there's the slightest breeze. Even if a sudden gust topples the game board, you can stand it right back up and continue playing.

3. No batteries or power cord required. This should probably be listed as reason number one!

3. Campers of all ages and skill level can learn to play in just minutes. You won't need an instruction sheet. New friends from the campsite next to you can join right in without hours of initiation.

4. It's far more challenging than it first appears. How many times have you heard that timeless whine, "I'm bored"? That's why we play games while camping, in the first place. Finding an easy game that doesn't "get old" in minutes is a big win-win for kids and parents alike.

5. Individual matches are over quickly. Some games last less than a minute; others take as much as five, but rarely longer. Players can come and go, yelling "I play winner" as they switch between this game and other activities.

6. You can buy more than one game. At $20 or less, with used games easy to find at Goodwill and yard sales, you can have two or three available so more players can compete at the same time. This makes things more interesting, because:

We like to hold Connect Four tournaments.

Because the game plays so quickly it lends itself to tournament play, even when you have other things going on at the same time. By using simple "brackets" like you see every year for the NCAA's basketball March Madness, you can easily arrange competitive match-ups that eventually crown a Connect Four Champion...

Read the rest of this game review as it appears on Helium.com

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved (reprint rights available)

How about you? Do you have a camping games review you'd like to share? We'll feature these during the season as available. If you'd like to submit your review for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

See this camping games review as it appears on Helium.com

Read Jim's Profile on Helium.com

In the Zone: Jim Johnson's Hiking and Nature page

by James Johnson, guest author

[Editor's note - Jim is a prolific writer and site steward at Helium.com ]

ocean beach view from the mountainJim Johnson would like to invite everyone and any one to visit the Hiking and Nature Zone , hosted on Helium. It was designed for those that like the outdoors. It has flowers, birds, and scenic vistas as well as fun information and links to other hiking and nature articles. It is for those that like to explore the natural world!

Here's Jim's intro:
A hiking and nature zone is just what it says, about hiking and experiencing nature, having adventures. It is about walking places and discovering locales that are missed by many because they won't walk or take time to truly explore. I hope to populate it with birds, butterflies, bugs, flowers and strange plants as well as scenic vistas, that is provided I can find out how to download photos!

Read Jim's article, Surviving in the Wilderness, on Helium.

Posted by request from James Johnson. Read Jim's profile at Helium.com

Jim and his wife, Nikki set up Adventure Tours/Top to Bottom as a guiding agency in 1993 and were the first licensed hiking guides on Nevis. The police were worried and sent out observers hidden on the trails. The reports were that "they looked at birds, bugs, and plants, and told bad jokes". Most would agree with this.

See more articles from Jim on Helium.com

Do you have a related Zone or blogsite you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your web page for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page. ~Jim Bessey

Starlight, a campfire, and a good book: Heaven

Camping offers us the chance to get away from our regular routine -- the mailbox and bills, email, household chores, the telephone and television -- whatever we choose to leave behind. We spend time with family and friends just talking, playing games, fishing, playing volleyball, swimming, hiking, and grilling food outdoors.

By the end of a good day at the campground the kids are exhausted and the grown-ups can gather around a campfire under a starlit sky. Heaven. Daytime's little breezes and noises die down in the darkness, and the night-bug chorus harmonizes with the sputter and crackle of burning logs.

Eventually, usually before midnight, those gathered around the fire stretch and yawn dramatically. Cloth chairs get stowed; trash goes into the embers; the bottles and cans are tossed into the bin for recycling.

"Whew, I'm beat. See you in the morning," is the parting consensus.

If I'm not too awfully tired, this is the time when I reach for whatever novel I'm reading at the time. I've got a big iron shepherd's crook I can stick in the ground next to my favorite chair. It holds the gas Coleman lantern at just the right height above my right shoulder.

Then I find the page where I left off, settle into my comfy canvas chair, and spend a solitary half hour escaping even farther from daily life into someone else's world. Beside me the lantern hisses softly. By now the campfire is a pulsing blend of orange and gray, with only an occasional quiet crackle. Surrounding campsites are silent and mostly dark. Makes it very easy to disappear into a well-written story for a while.

For me, that's the perfect ending to a good day. I'd never head for the campground without a good book from one of my favorite authors. Here's a review of the novel I just finished reading yesterday.

Book reviews: The Hard Way, by Lee Child

Helium logo

There's a line in Lee Child's tenth Jack Reacher novel, "The Hard Way," that sums things up perfectly:

"Reacher, alone in the dark. Armed and dangerous. Invincible" [page 420]

Former US Army MP Major Jack Reacher has been wandering among us for eleven years now, since "The Killing Floor" from 1997. Lee Child's debut novel and first in this series, earned both the Anthony and Barry Awards for Best First Novel.

Reacher is a tough guy to know, much less to love. But he's the one person you'd want by your side in a showdown; that much is certain.

The man travels light:

"...Reacher had long ago quit carrying things he didn't need. There was nothing in his pockets except paper money and an expired passport and an ATM card and a clip-together toothbrush. There was nothing waiting for him anywhere else, either..."

Read more

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved

How about you? Do you have a favorite novel you'd like to share? What do you like to do at the end of a long day camping? Drop me a line via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

Finally: Our first Perfect Camping Night of 2009!

early evening at KOA campground by the pond Suddenly, with very little warning, the camping season has arrived in Upstate NY. Tonight marks our very first (only slightly late) Perfect Camping Night. It's dead-calm and 69 degrees outside, after a week that started with heavy rains and temp's in the thirties.

This morning it was barely 40 degrees. Then the sun came out and Summer displaced a dreary drizzly spring just like that. I'm ready to go hook up our camper in the dark and head for the nearest KOA right now.

Last year was stunning, and the season started even earlier with five 80-degree days beginning on the 18th of April. By the end of October we'd had more than eighty "PCN's." Ironically, very few of them occurred when we were actually camping. Yeah, go figure.

For those who don't mark and count every PCN as I do, here's a refresher. Perfect Camping Nights almost always follow on the heels of a (wait for it) Perfect Camping Day. Temperature matters: anything under 60 degrees overnight is a no-go. The night must be perfectly still, with nary a whisper of a breeze. Audio effects supplied by crickets, pond-dwellers and cicadas are required. Of course, no rain is allowed, despite the fact that rain and camping seem more closely entwined than peanut butter and jelly.

I suppose that sounds a little obvious, after all. But those nights, those perfect under-the-stars nights, are rare enough -- even when we can count 80 of them -- that each must be treasured. Our weather here is so desperately fickle, so fiendishly temperamental, that the magical "I hate to head for bed at all" nights have to be savored.

What do you need to properly honor a perfect camping night?

First, you need a reasonably quiet campsite, so you can hear the night sounds. A snug camper or tent, with little more than a night-light left on is a must. A couple of exhausted sleeping kids helps the ambiance. Your sweetheart should be there to share the evening with you; one or two good friends who can tell a decent joke helps, too.

What else? An orange-coals glowing fire, punctuated by the occasional snap and crackle of expiring logs, is critical. Depending on your taste, an icy-cold beer or a steaming mug of camp coffee should be at hand. You could have a little music, turned way down, just for background. Maybe a box of Nilla Vanilla wafers -- just my personal preference.

No clocks allowed, since the sun will be your only alarm clock for morning.

So tonight is our first candidate. I'm doing my best to savor the moment, though we haven't even registered the camper for this year yet. Yup, the first one caught me off-guard. That's okay, though. I figure there'll be more, right?

And with that, Just Camping Out is at last awakened from its winter doldrums. Please stay tuned for more substantive content. We'll have plenty of guest authors, product reviews, pictures, camping tips, and short stories during the coming months. We might even let Grace Alexander return with her I Hate Camping columns. I miss those!

For tonight, just a small celebration of a gorgeous evening. Tomorrow is soon enough to tackle the chores lined up to prepare our camper for the summer season. I can't wait to get started!

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved

How about you? What makes a perfect camping night for you? Do any from the past stand out in your memory? Share them here. It's good to be back!


Product reviews: Mabel's Labels "for the stuff kids lose"

Label your life and gear -- end the madness!

by Sarah Pendleton guest writer

[Editor's note - Sarah is a full-time freelance editor and writer]

Mabel's labels, ready for camping Kids lose stuff. A regrettable fact, but true. When you live in a small town and everyone shops at Wal-Mart, everyone owns the same stuff. This can make the lost and found pile at school difficult to traverse.

I used to rely on the tried and true permanent marker method. I scrawled my kids' names on everything I could… but somehow the the permanent in front of marker didn't always hold true. Besides, it looked tacky!
Sew-in labels take forever, and I'm the queen of procrastination. So when I found Mabel's Labels, it was like they were made just for me! As a matter of fact, they were - all of Mabel's Labels come with free personalization.

Mabel's Labels come in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles and materials so everything my kids own is clearly marked. The iron-on labels stay on, even after dozens of washings. The Tag-Mates are even better for a lazy mom like me - you just peel and stick it to the clothing tag. I didn't think these would stay on after a round in our crammed washing machine, but so far, so good!

There are labels for everything you might take anywhere - cups, cookware, beach towels and sleeping bags. Mabel's Labels even carries sturdy metal 'Bag-Tags' for sports equipment bags, luggage and overnight kits. Camp equipment can be tossed in with everyone else's and easily retrieved later.

The one tag that really got me was the Shoe Label. Remember, I said small town - I mean small. If I think every fifth kid has the same coat mine does, every other one has the same pair of sneakers. Permanent marker just isn't when matched up against the relentless friction of little feet.

The Shoe Label is a stick on tag that won't come off, wear off or even fade - it has a water resistant coating for sweaty days or rainy ones when they jump in puddles. Just slap one in the insole of each shoe, and nobody can miss it.

I could go on and on. There's labels for organizing your house, your garage and the rest of your life. They've even got tags to label your cords so you don't spend an hour unpacking your computer after a move, trying to figure out what went with the printer, the modem, the mp3 charger and the fax. (Can you tell I moved recently?)

I have to put in a word for the wristbands, too. I used to write my cell phone number on my kid's arm in indelible ink when I dropped them off for field trips, day camp or VBS. You think I'm kidding? I invented paranoia. Now my littlest can sport a tricked-out wristband with his name and my number on it, and I can be confident whoever's in charge knows how to reach me!

I actually plan to give a friend of mine some of the special 'Allergy Alert' labels and wristbands for Christmas - her little boy has severe allergies, including peanuts and bee stings, so she is constantly having to write and stick notes on everything. These labels will make her life 100% easier!

Mabel's Labels - for the stuff kids lose, and so much more.

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved, Sarah Pendleton for Just Camping Out

Mabel's Labels for camping Lizzie Sorensen, founder of 32FlavorsPR, representing Mabel's Labels, adds:

"One product that I think campers would like is the Skinny Mini labels. They are waterproof and would work very well to help campers identify which belongings are theirs. Skinny Mini labels can be personalized and there is even a pine tree (also a tent) icon! Picture this -- a skinny adhesive label [with your name] on your compass, your tent, your cooler, your thermos, headlamps, hiking boots, fishing poles -- you name it. Literally." [~Jim]

Why is winter so long?

...and summer so short?

our Shasta camper at KOA 2008
Our little camper -- a nearly 30-year-old, 19-foot restored Shasta -- sits in the yard beside our garage. She's sinking into the soggy sod right now, after spending the bitter months shrugging off the wind and snow, mostly unscathed. We've had a few days with temperatures in the low sixties recently; makes me glance longingly at our old trailer, hoping for warm nights and 9 pm sunsets soon.

I no longer love winter. It's too long. We're just far enough north here, near Lake Ontario, that the cold and gray months encroach on the end of fall and the first half of spring. We joke that spring is about two weeks long. Our "leaf season" is longer than that, but prone to early snowstorms. I used to love winter -- when I was young and single and could afford to go skiing.

Now I spend the weeks following Thanksgiving waiting for summer. It's a long wait, punctuated by the six weeks of Christmas and a couple of oddly-scheduled school vacations. Once Santa has finished flying there's that long no-real-holidays time. Who celebrates Groundhog Day? It often snows on our St. Patrick's Day parade.

I hate driving in the snow anymore. We used to brave blizzards to go skiing; now that I'm older I can't see through the flakes as well. I'm approaching a million lifetime miles of driving, with about a third of them in snowy conditions. I've paid my dues, haven't I? Someday I may actually have to consider "flying south." What a terrible thought.

The only consolation to New York's seemingly interminable winters is that they force you to appreciate summer. You hear that from people who simply refuse to move to warmer climates: "I'd miss the seasons, and get sick and tired of warm sun." While that's probably true, it's probably also a fairly lame rationalization. While I'm not sure I could stomach the air-conditioned lifestyle of Floridians, I'll bet I could make do in Honolulu.

My home, however, is here in upstate NY. Most of my friends and almost all of my family are all here. Moving is expensive, emotionally demanding, and ultimately life-altering. I'll stay here, as long as the bank doesn't reclaim our house. In that event, we'd have to live in our little camping trailer. That would probably take most of the fun out of camping.

The summers here are too short, though. That's just a fact. When you balance "perfect camping nights " against "gloomy winter days" the scale always hits the table hard on the "gloomy" side. It's not uncommon for us to suffer through a solid week of sunless days between October and April. I honestly believe that people have "solar batteries" that need to be recharged regularly. I do, anyway.

For me, the beginning of NASCAR racing season signals that summer is almost here, somewhere -- Daytona, at least. All the early races are in winter-warm states at first, so we see "summer" long before it arrives in NY. Then the Masters teases us with gorgeous verdant fairways and brilliant azalea blossoms. It's hard for me to watch, when we still have bare trees and brown lawns.

Then suddenly, after a couple of "fooled ya" days above seventy degrees, it's summer in New York. The willows burst into pale green abundance first, with the hardwoods last to follow. Before we know it, the days are fourteen hours of sunshine and we're complaining about the heat. We think about buying air conditioners, knowing we won't need them for long. Our lawns need mowing twice a week.

We launch some fireworks, grill some hot dogs, take impulsive trips to nearby campgrounds , leave the TV off, and stay up 'til midnight because it's too nice out to go to sleep. We spend two weeks watering our browning lawns, worrying needlessly. And then, quietly and with little warning, our local NFL franchise team arrives for training camp at St. John Fisher College.

You know what NFL means, don't you? -- "Fall." Just like that, our summer is nearly done. We savor the final few days in the eighties, or maybe even above ninety degrees, while the merchants scream "back to school!" My wife and I frantically try to decide how we'll spend the Labor Day weekend -- camper or no camper ? Home or away?

Then the school buses return for their endless trips up and down our hill (the high school is just down the road), and we know it's over. Another summer is gone, the fleeting weekends already fading memories. We begin to watch TV shows again in the evening. We check our tires to make sure we have good "snow tread" left, and gas up the snow-blower. We park the camper in the side yard, and drain off the water lines. I think about writing an article for Helium titled, "Tips for storing your RV camper for the winter." There's that word again: winter. Where did the summer go?

copyright 2009 - all rights reserved

How about you? Do you have an opinion about camping and weather you'd like to share? If you'd like to submit your thoughts for posting, you can reach me via Comments or by using the link at the top of this page.

See my article about RV camping on Helium.com

New York Outdoors: Campground closing alert

Here's an important campgrounds closing notice posted recently in Rich and Sue Freeman's New York Outdoors Blog - one of the very best Internet resources for all things outdoors in New York State.

DEC to Leave 6 Campgrounds Closed in 2009

Posted: 24 Feb 2009 08:32 AM CST

The state Department of Environmental Conservation says six campgrounds in the Adirondacks and Catskills won’t open in 2009 due to the state’s continuing financial crisis.

In the Adirondacks they are Poke-O-Moonshine in Keeseville, Sharp Bridge in North Hudson, Point Comfort in Piseco and Tioga Point in the town of Raquette Lake.

In the Catskills, the campgrounds are Beaverkill in Roscoe and Bear Spring Mountain in Walton.

The agency says the six often have occupancy rates of 20 percent or less and other DEC campgrounds are nearby. It manages 52 campgrounds and seven day-use areas in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.

Click here for more info on the Adirondack closings.

Reprinted from New York Outdoors Blog

I subscribe to New York Outdoors to find out all about interesting hikes, camping ideas, outdoor excursions, nature events and outings of all sorts. If you live anywhere in New York State and love the outdoors, do sign up! ~Jim