Spring Kite Farm: A bean-stomping, hard-working, manatee-baseball-playing great trip!

Last month, I volunteered to chaperone Hadley’s three-day class camping trip to Spring Kite Farm in Fort Collins, Colo. The conditions were idyllic, juxtaposed against their visit to the farm last spring where a torrential downpour was unleashed on them.

I wasn’t too sad about missing out on that one.

Both sets of my grandparents were farmers and weekends and summers were spent on my Grandpa Wilde’s farm. I was a city girl who had little/no interest in farming. Even today, though I love beautiful, lush gardens, my thumb is more black than green. I’ve left the gardening to Jamie and the kids.

But staying on Spring Kite Farms ignited something within me that maybe, just maybe, I could get into this. The couple who lease the land–Meagan and Michael–aren’t what you’d envision as farmers. Hip, young and good-looking, they are passionate about their biodynamic and organic styleompanion planting techniques. Spring Kite is a CSA (Community Supporting Agriculture) where members buy a share before the start of the growing season. Mike and Meagan also sell to area farmer’s markets. We found the whole thing fascinating.

I really love Waldorf schools’ experiential model of teaching so this wasn’t a leisurely field trip. For three days, they worked hard picking potatoes, tomatoes, beets, watermelon, squash and doing farm chores like feeding the pigs, turkeys and alpacas. Every kid should work on a farm for a few days to learn what real work looks like and the amount of sacrifice it takes to provide sustenance to survive.We ate like royalty every day. I should know.  I was one of two parents who cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner for all 30 of us. It was exhausting but so delicious as we were able to pop over to the gardens when we needed another ingredient. One night, I grilled potatoes with leeks, onions and olive oil and fresh herbs. Another night, we made fresh vegetable chili. And we setup chopping stations for the kids to make their own salsa.

Fortunately, we didn’t have any trips to the hospital so I’ll count that one as a win.

We learned about sustainability and the fertility cycles in the most surreal of settings.

And there was still plenty of time to combine work and play. This bean stomp turned into one big party.

What do you do when you don’t have any sporting equipment? You take Ryan’s stuffed manatee Herbert and invent Manatee Baseball!

Note: Hadley’s seal Zoe was used as the ball. No stuffed marine animals were injured in the process.

Hadley’s favorite part was playing with Tomato, the farm’s dog.

I enjoyed the fireside chats, readings, s’mores and banjo jams.
Most of the kids were really great. Best of all was Hadley and I really bonded and her friends fell in love with me calling me “mom.”When I stopped for Slurpees on the drive home, I got several adoption requests.

It doesn’t take much with these girls.

As for the boys, they were a hoot. Things you never thought you’d say to 10-yr-old boys: “Hey dudes, let’s not body slam the porta-potty when your buddy is in it, OK?”

At one point, Dell (one of my fellow chaperones) left to get some medicine. I was hanging out in our cooking area with one of the boys, J.D., when he smelled something burning and added, “it smells like my grandparent’s house.” I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear that.

We discovered that Dell had left a dutch oven of blueberry muffin mix cooking on the camp stove. I immediately removed it and was able to salvage it except for the very bottom, which was burned. When the kids came back for a mid-day snack, they were delighted to eat it but these boys took it one step further: they devoured the charred remains.

I think Wyatt’s face says it all.

My fave moment was when Hadley was packing up and discovered her brother (who had used the sleeping bag a couple of months ago) had left his dirty underwear and PJs at the bottom.

Not surprisingly, it was her least favorite moment.

We were excited to return home and shower but I’m not sure our boys were very happy to see us as evidenced by the phone conversation I had with Jamie on day two.

Husband: Bode was early to school today.

Me: Why?

Him: We went and got doughnuts.

Me: Doughnuts today, Chuck E. Cheese last night. He’s not going to want me to come home.

Him: It has its advantages.

The Johnson Family’s Shortest (and worst) Camping Trip Ever

I have tried to instill a love of nature in my kids–just last week we went hiking four times, my daughter recently returned from YMCA of the Rockies’ traditional overnight Camp Chief Ouray and at the end of July they’re both enrolled in Avid4Adventure’s Survival Skills Camp. We are an outdoor-loving family!

But my favorite childhood memories are of camping and that is one area in which we’ve fallen short with my own family.  There is nothing like the sense of community at campgrounds, playing with new BFFs, eating tin foil dinners and s’mores, exploring and exploring some more, and telling stories around the campfire.

Here’s a recap of our camping trips since having kids.

Trip 1: Hadley had just turned 1 and was a horrible sleeper so she wailed all night long two nights in a row. Our campsite at Golden Gate Canyon State Park was on a slope. Hadley had just learned to walk so was falling over every few feet and when she wasn’t face-planting, she was trying to crawl into the fire pit. Our three-day weekend was cut a day short.

Trip 2: We took a few years off from camping to get pregnant and have our son Bode. When he was 2, we joined our good friends at Eleven Mile State Park. Never been? Keep it that way. I’d read about it in FamilyFun magazine and it was a huge, barren disappointment. In addition to camping, capsizing and crying, my baby had the most disgusting, explosive case of diarrhea and I spent hours at the camp laundromat cleaning out his car seat and clothes. (Ugly details here).

Trip 3: Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada. This is my favorite place on earth and I was ecstatic to introduce my kids to this wonderland that borders Glacier National Park. Sure there were minor hiccups (such as near-hurricane-strength winds) but it was our best camping trip to date.

Trip 4: Bear Lake State Park. Last year, Mile High Mamas partnered with Coleman for the Great American Campout. It had all the fixins for an amazing weekend with horseback riding, games, gourmet camp meals and kayaking. But do you remember that record-breaking 105-degree day last June? ‘Nuff said.

Trip 5: Camp Dick last weekend. This was going to be our year. The kids are 7 and 9 and the perfect ages for camping. Check-in wasn’t until 2 p.m. so we had a few hours to kill when we arrived at this campground set in a glacial valley just off the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.

The kids caught butterflies and threw rocks in the adjacent Middle Saint Vrain Creek and we hiked a portion of the Buchanan Pass Trail.

We have been united with our fellow Coloradoans in praying for rain to defray the horrible wildfires…we just didn’t want the drought to end right then. All was going shockingly well until we felt our first raindrop. We’d waded through near hurricanes and diarrhea; a bit of rain wasn’t going to deter us.

Then it started down-pouring so we raced back to the car and ate lunch. Earlier, we’d spotted the remains of the previous night’s hail storm but miracles–the weather broke a half-hour later and we still had plenty of time to explore before we could set-up our tent.

Adventurous Hadley (who no longer falls every few feet and cries all night), discovered a faint trail on the other side of the creek so we bush-whacked our way to my children’s version of wonderland: a massive boulder field. We spent the next hour free-climbing these rock monsters and Hadley and my husband braved a steep slope to a cossetted cave. I hung back with my more-cautious Bode who called out encouragements such as “you know you can crack your head open and slide all the way down.”

Kid needs a lesson or two on pep talks.

Then all hell (or rather, hail) broke loose and it could not have come at a worse time. We were forging back through the forest when Bode slipped and hurt himself. Not even 5 seconds later, hail started pounding us and blinded, we lost the trail that was already barely there, forcing us to wade over a swamp land and practically toss now-hysterical Bode across the creek.

When we arrived at the road, we still had over a mile to where we’d parked our car at the trailhead but our soon-to-be acquired campsite was right around the corner. “I’ll run and get the car and you go to camp,” I bravely volunteered. Come hail or high-water, I would lead my family to safety!

I raced through the campground, hail pelting and drenching every inch of my body. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the car but I raced back to our campsite and saw my poor little family hunkered down under a tree trying to shield themselves from the frozen sheets of ice.

“We’ve taken a vote,” my husband announced.
“What is it?” I already knew the answer.
“We’re ready to go home.”

I looked at our campsite, the mud puddles thick from the previous night’s storm were now filled with snow. We could have toughed it out if we were staying in a camper but there was nowhere to setup our tent.  And most importantly, the sky ‘s furry was just getting started.

We called it a day at 1:30 p.m., just 4.5 hours from the time we left our house.

Better luck next year.

Surviving (and thriving) a class camping trip to Mesa Verde National Park

The main reason we switched Hadley to her new Waldorf charter school was for their experiential, arts-based education. The week before school started, we received an email from her new teacher announcing the first class field trip in early-October would be a three-day camping trip to Mesa Verde National Park.

[Insert Haddie's squeal of delight here. OK, if we're really being honest I did it, too. Hence the reason I signed up to chaperone.]

Spruce Tree House

I had only been to Mesa Verde briefly many years ago when I was writing about the Four Corners region (see the article here). With some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in a world, the 81-square mile national park in southwestern Colorado features more than 4,000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

In third grade speak: “This is soooooo cool.”

It had the makings of a disaster: 23 kids, a 7.5-hour drive and many children were away from their parents for the first time or were camping newbies. But it was one of my most enjoyable camping trips ever. Not only were the kids angels but 12 incredibly capable parent chaperones took three days off work to accompany the class.

Getting There is Half the Fun

Remember the 7.5-hour drive? That’s not counting gas stops and a lunch break so we spent a good portion of our day in the car. Before you start feeling sorry for me, it was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done in Colorado and the fall colors were at their peak. In the wintertime, Wolf Creek Pass outside of Pagosa Springs is treacherous. In the fall? A different story.

Durango, Colo.

View from car window from Mesa Verde

But still, after a long drive like that you have to wonder is this going to be worth it? That, and more.


We stayed at Morefield Campground in Mesa Verde, which has single and group camping sites. The first item of business was helping the kids set up camp. Hadley was assigned to a tent with five other girls and my co-parent Christine and I helped them set-up, after which there was plenty of time to explore, eat, snuggle up for storytime and eat some more.

If there’s a tree, Haddie will climb it

The party grove. I was never invited. #shocker

Tent mates at breakfast


Bustling camp

I scored and set-up my tent in a cossetted site tucked away in the trees.

Christine made the mistake of pitching her tent mere feet away from the girls so guess who they went to all night long for their needs? “Don’t worry,” I assured her. “I’ll take care of them on our second night.”

They miraculously slept straight through. [Insert evil, relieved cackle here]

For once, luck was on my side.

Stay tuned tomorrow for our adventures in Mesa Verde National Park, including scaling a 30-foot ladder. Go here to read that post.

Camping Chaos: A Mommy Blogger’s Plea for Help!

I have finally done gone and did it.

Please excuse my lapse in grammar. I am evidently experiencing such deficiencies in most areas of my life, particularly in the “I Will NEVER do That Again with Young Children” camp.

Speaking of camp, that is precisely what I vowed I would never do again while my kids are toddlers. And yet in what can only be described as a fog, I recently found myself clicking the “reserve” button on our campground registration.

Now, let me explain. My husband and I are outdoor aficionados. Every year, we climb a 14er and go backpacking in Moab together. And every year, we leave the children at home with Grandma.

I have also been a member of a fantastic hiking group for moms – Colorado Mountain Mamas – since my firstborn was six weeks old so my kids know the outdoors.

Just not overnight.

There is a reason for this. When my daughter Hadley was 14 months old, Jamie and I thought it would be fun to take her camping. Fun in the I-want-to-put-a-bullet-through-my-head-by-the-end-of-the-trip kind of way.

Hadley has always been an adventurous kid and loves the outdoors. But there is a world of difference between day-tripping or spending the night in a nice cabin vs. roughing it.

First, there was the issue of a tent. We are accustomed to sleek back-country ones that take moments to assemble. But we somehow thought it was a good idea to buy a tent from Costco that is big enough to house a small army. Have you ever tried to assemble a miniature house while battling a screaming toddler? We learned very quickly that we will never be invited to assist in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

Second, there was the issue of stuff. Everywhere. In the trees, on the ground – it all ended up in Hadley’s mouth. Our campsite was on a slope so if she wasn’t tripping over every rock or stick, she was eating them or attempting to roll over in the fire pit.

Third, there was the issue of sleep. Or lack thereof. Even though it was July, the evenings were cold. That, coupled with uncomfortable sleeping quarters, led Hadley to wail all night long. Both nights. If our campground neighbors had a choice, I am sure they would have voted us off the island. Both nights.

But I am still disillusioned by the dream of happy campers snuggling by the fire cooking s’mores and hot dogs. Well, minus the fat-free hot dogs, which I made the mistake of buying last time around. Note to the wise: if your hot dog turns putrid grey when cooked and your kid has the reaction you see in the photo, something is very, very wrong.

It has been three years since that cursed trip. This time, I have taken a Strength in Numbers approach and invited my friend Tina, her husband Mark and two of Hadley’s bestestest friends Nolan and Rowan.

This is the same woman whose children have been known to throw massive tantrums about “hiking” a flat 1/4-mile loop.

Should be a banner weekend. :-)