Thursday, August 30, 2012

Large Family Camping (2012) - It's Very Do-Able!

For the first time ever we went camping for 3 days with all 11 of us together this summer - nine children between the ages of 14 and 1 - and we had a great time.  *smile!*  We also had my parents and my 3 siblings and their families with us, making a group of 26 total (16 kids, and 10 adults).  Using three adjacent camp sites.  I didn't know how it would go for our littlest 4 Shupes (ages 3, 2, 1, 1), and was honestly prepared to retreat home (35 minute drive) with the 4 youngest kids if everything fell apart *chuckle*, but with on purpose planning and working together as a family they did great!  And we have so many wonderful memories to enjoy, to laugh about, to remember together...I wouldn't trade it for the world. *smile*

  • PHOTOS - Basic tent camping, but for a large group
  • HOW?! - Everyone works together 
  • Our packing list
  • Meal planning
  • Unpacking - nightmare, or not?
  • Tackling the laundry - on purpose!

We have been asked how in the world we pulled this off, and since so many people have seen our photos on Facebook (a great place to be all the more connected and updated with Large Families On Purpose! - come 'like' us!), we've had some great questions from those readers already which I'll answer.  Some of our Facebook readers have said that they're no longer afraid to go camping with their own 4 kids! *cheer!*  *smile*  So I thought I'd share with you how we do large family camping.


I grew up camping in the San Juan Islands on Puget Sound all my life, but since we've had newborn babies and a pregnant mama in our family for so many years, I had never camped in a tent at a camp site until this year!  And with so many people there was a lot for me to think about.  How to do food, what activities we would do during the day and how to prepare for those, how to keep track of little children safely for 3 days in such a public place, how we would sleep, etc.  At first I thought, "...Oh my gosh... we will have to bring so... much... stuff..."  *laugh*  But it wasn't actually bad at all for 11 people with some good strategies in place, and once that was done and we were there we had such a great time...

PHOTOS - Basic tent camping, but for a large group
We camped at Bowman Bay, Washington (near Deception Pass).  First I'll share our photos so you can see our experience with some commentary, and then I'll share more of the practical how-to's after that.  *smile*

Our 10-man tent, plus a 4-man tent for stuff, and an awning in case of rain.

The group settles in, unpacking and visiting.

Great games of badminton with adults and children playing together - love this!  (We bought a very inexpensive little net from Wal-Mart - but it worked just fine for us.)  We also brought croquette, frisbies, softballs and mits; as well as board games and card games in a backpack for in the cabana in case of rain (which we never needed).

The kids and cousins created adventure all around our camp site area.

Watching Grandpa split fire wood.

Watching Uncle Chris build the fire.

Grandpa brought a case of Costco water bottles and everyone wrote their names on the bottles to be refilled and reused through out the 3 days; we had a medium-sized, clear craft tub sitting out to hold all 26 water bottles in when they were not in use.

Karen makes peanut butter and honey bagel sandwiches for the Shupes one day (all 5 families planned their food separately, except for 2 all-group dinners together).

But we ate every meal together.  *smile*

Our family works as a team; sharing in all of the work and the play times together.  Here Melanie feeds the twins their lunch.

Smores (toasted marshmallow on graham cracker cookies with Hershey's chocolate melted inside) were eaten after both lunch and dinner - for two days.  *laugh*  The best.

The view from "our" beach, just up from where we camped (the boat is not ours).

Auntie Eileen read a story to some of the kids one night before kids headed to bed.

We did let the kids stay up 30-60 minutes later than their usual bed time, and the adults enjoyed nice conversation for a couple hours after that. 

The first night, puzzled in to our big tent!  (This is one half of the tent; the next photo is the other half).  Took me about an hour and a half to find everyone's sleeping bags, blankets, pj's, pillows and "teddy bears".  Bob inflated our double mattress for he and I, and some pool "mattresses" for older girls to sleep on.   Then to puzzles out a plan for how to fit us all in best.  *laugh*  I would have started a lot earlier if I'd known how long that would take.  All the kids slept on extra blankets or sleeping bags opened up flat, to keep them more comfortable and warmer (even the twins had an opened-up, flannel sleeping bag to sleep on in their pack-n-play).  We put the 2 and 3-year-old boys at the very back, furthest away from the door (in the center, where I'm standing) and in the least likely place to be disturbed by walking feet at night.  The next night was much simpler to re-create.  My brother and sister also brought white noise machines to help their children nap and sleep at night, and a 30-foot extension cord to plug in to the cabana near our tents!  *laugh*  It worked great for them; I made a note for ourselves for next time.  My brother-in-law even found a white noise "app" on his iPhone, which he used the same way.  Worked great!

 The 4 navy blue duffel bags at one end held all of the clothes for all 11 of us.  Plus the beige bag on the far left held everyone's coats and sweatshirts (easy to find; none got lost).  Bob and I shared one bag, the 4 boys shared one, the 3 older girls shared one, and the baby twins shared one.  We packed two additional outfits per person, and re-wore denim skirts or jeans one time.  Packed a clean shirt for every day as those get the most dirty, and packed dark colors that don't show dirt readily.  Clean socks and underwear for every day, plus a few extras in case of getting wet with possible rain (it is the Northwest after all *wink*).  The clear tub on the far right held everyone's shoes by the door, and the blue duffel bag on top of it all held the flashlights, in case any were needed in the night.

Karen and Melanie enjoy some reading time in the morning before all the other kids are awake.

Good morning!  Everyone snuggle!  Some of my favorite memories and pictures!

Getting ready for the day.  I put the youngest 7 children's special "teddies" inside each each person's pillow case, put that inside their sleeping bag, and then rolled it up loosely.  I then made a pile of all those bags/blankets on top of our inflatable mattress, freeing up the floor for day time use.  Older kids dressed in the 4-man tent, then came back in.  Once all the kids were dressed and hair combed (I brought the squirt bottle and brush we use every day at home), then the oldest 2 girls brought the middle 3 kids to the bathroom to brush their teeth, and I brushed the teeth of the 3, 2, and 1-year-old twins (without toothpaste) in the tent.

The 4 youngest kids went strait to the strollers in the morning to await breakfast without having to be managed, and the oldest 2 girls, Bob, and myself could take turns going to the campsite bathroom to freshen up for the day ourselves

Bob wanted to make a great, hot breakfast for our immediate family on the first morning:   24 eggs, 1 package of hashbrowns, and 2 packages of bacon - yum.  *beam*  Love this man.

We brought paper plates and plastic silverware to use and then throw away; Bob washed the pans, spatulas and cooking/serving spoons.

We all went for a great family hike over to Rosario Beach, which turned out to be moderately steep and a bit rocky so the youngest ones were carried a fair amount - oof - but it worked out fine.

Grandpa helped the kids roll some logs down in to the water - so fun (and the logs will wash right back up on to the beach again).  *chuckle*

We didn't bring life jackets but used the harnesses to keep track of and protect babies.

Anna Marie's feather bouquet.  *smile*

Throwing rocks in to the water.  One of our readers asked about the girls little white tennis shoes staying clean.  *chuckle*  These were all I had for the twins, so we just kept those out of the water (they wear aquasocks at the sandy beach later, though) and washed the shoes a bit when we got home.  It was fine.

Twenty one-month-old Lilly slept in my arms a lot of the way hiking home - cozy sweetie pie - but oh my arm muscles burned by the time we got back to the camp site!  *laugh*

Playing at the sandy beach near our camp site the next day - we actually got some heat finally!  *cheer!*

All the youngest children wore life jackets the whole time we were by the water, as watching so many little ones safely can be difficult, and the consequence for not having watched well enough not one we are willing to risk.  This way we were all at peace and could relax.  *smile*

Grandpa is the primary boats man, so he packed and brought the kayaks, life jackets, wet suits (Puget Sound is cold), inflatables, butterfly nets for exploring the sea life, and snorkel gear (which we all use back home all summer as well).

Riley finds an interesting creature.

Karen and Auntie Eileen float and snorkel and explore the deeper waters.

Tyler (3) is not so pleased being on the toddler harness, which he deemed necessary from his refusing to stay in the immediate 3 camp sites to play.  He actually spent a fair amount of time on the harness with Bob or myself, or exploring and playing with a sibling, but he was kept safe this way.(He is very brave which is great but not in a public campground by the water)

My brother and his family enjoy some family time on the lawn by our site.  My dad also rented the cabana in the back ground for our 3 days of camping just in case it rained, so we would all have a place to be if it rained.  Brilliant idea, but thankfully we didn't need it this year.

Lilly carried Dandy Lion flowers around most of the time, clenched in her fist.  *chuckle*  Precious muffin.

Heading out for a walk to the dock in the far distant background, and to a playground near there.

On the park play structure - all the Shupe kids.

Relaxing with the whole family at the end of the day.

I did pack some pack-n-play toys for Lacey & Lilly, which I was glad of.  We only used them once for a little while, but if it had rained I would have used the toys a lot more.

10 of the oldest kids and cousins helped pick up every tiny piece of trash they could find on all 3 adjacent camp sites before we left.

Grandpa orchestrated it, and he paid each child a dollar *chuckle* which helped them do extra great work.  The sites looked like we had vacuumed when we were done!  *laugh*  His motto when I was growing up was to always leave any places we left better than the way it was when we originally found it, and he still teaches that to the grand kids today.

HOW?! - Everyone works together 
When we are home as a family we all work together, and rest together, as a team.  *smile*  It's enjoyable, it's Biblical as far as teaching our children to be participating in the family work to be done and learning to be diligent workers and sacrificial servers, and then the children also have more of mom and dad because we're not always busy trying to keep up with things by ourselves.  So in going camping together the kids work with us to pack themselves and siblings, load and unload vehicles, prepare and serve food, clean up after meals and before bed time, help younger children play together with the older kids, etc.  And you can see by the pictures, we still have plenty of time to play together as well. 

One of the keys we have found to transporting a group and all the gear needed to support an outing like this is to use a trailer or second vehicle as a "mule". Bob drives a company vehicle for work but we have an older Ford Explorer that we keep as a back-up vehicle for snow, for family adventures to the woods and for the unusual times when our family needs to be in two places at the same time. The Explorer has the rare third row back seat which gives it seating for seven which is a real benefit to us even though we couldnt take the whole family in it we can take a large portion which comes in handy. (If you are ever considering an Explorer or similar SUV we highly recommend searching for one with this option.)

The Explorer carried basically every bit of our gear plus Bob and our van carried the rest of the family and our two double strollers. This makes the drive time very comfortable for everyone and really helps with loading/unloading organization and timing. We use plastic tubs with lids for all the small items like cookware, tools, supplies, food etc. etc. and all sleeping bags are in "stuff-sacks" or their own wrapper to keep them clean. We really like the stuff-sacks because they take the big fluffy sleeping bag and compress it to about 50% of the original size without damaging them. This saves a ton of space and makes them very easy to handle because the sack has a..... you guessed it, a handle. They're very inexpensive too!

We also put all pillows and blankets etc. into kitchen size trash bags with the pull-string tops to keep them together and clean. For the littles who like to have a stuffed animal it goes in the bag with their pillow. When we get everything into the tent and are unpacking/setting up bedding we choose one bag and put all the others into it and then move the bag of bags to the smaller tent until its time to pack up. This saves a ton of time not having to search for all those bags which may not even exist anymore as trash bags are a very useful item around a campsite any may get commandeered for some other task never to return.

Our packing list
When I make up a packing list of this magnitude, I do so in groups, because that is how I can think it through the most effectively and avoid forgetting some items.  So I list the meal time items together, the clothing items, the activity items, Bob's items that he'll pack (and which I do not need to worry about), etc.  I begin making up my list a few days or even a week in advance, giving myself plenty of time to remember things to add as we go through out our regular days using those things at home, and having time to make trips to the store for items if necessary.  I wouldn't be nearly as successful in packing and preparing for trips if I tried to think of everything while actually packing the bags.  If I do it in advance then I can be thorough and complete, and then actually putting things in to bags is pretty quick.  I began thinking for this camping trip days in advance, but didn't begin the gathering of items and packing until the afternoon of the day before we left.  (click to enlarge)

Meal planning
I am a very visual person and so I need to "see" our meal plan for the days we will be gone.  I make a chart (Ta-da! Surprise-surprise!  *laugh*) and mapped out our plan.  Here's what my plan looked like (click to enlarge):

When I think through our meals I first consider what would be really healthy but easy, not require cooking or refrigeration, and would be yummy.  *smile*  I see no reason to complicate meals while we're on vacation in the woods (unless one really loves to cook recipes while camping, and some do - more power to them!).  Bob and I like to make packing easy, for our family to eat simply and quickly, to enjoy the meal, to enjoy some treats we usually don't buy, to clean up easily, and to move on!  *laugh*  If it's to be a vacation to me, then this is what it looks like.  I spend a lot of time preparing fresh, whole foods meals as a life style - but this is vacation and we'd like to do things differently.  Now if we were to eat total junk food then none of us would feel our best at all, we would not be energetic, would likely not sleep well, and our digestion probably would not feel very good.  So I'm not advocating completely abandoning healthy foods, but I'm not not to worry about it too much either. 

Here was our menu.  And we drank water the entire weekend.  I figured we were having enough sugar already and didn't need more in our beverages, but rather water to counter act the sugar.

BREAKFASTS - The first breakfast we had Bob really wanted to cook hot food, which was totally his "baby" and he loved it; we all enjoyed it, but I did not cook it (I would have for sure if he had asked me to, as I love to bless him above all else, but he likes to cook and wanted to do this).  He cooked on the camp stove eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon.  The second morning we had Zone protein bars (full of actual protein, not "protein bars" which are actually just candy bars with very little protein and tons of sugar) from Costco, and apples (a fruit that does not squash easily while traveling).

LUNCHES - All 3 days we had peanut butter and honey (which can be drizzled, and not even require a knife to spread it) sandwiches on bagels or English muffins (because they don't squish as easily as bread does when being packed in to coolers), chips, animal cookies (Costco) or Fruit Chews.  

SNACKS - We chose between string cheese, Wheat Thins crackers, and trail mix.

DINNERS - The first night my parents provided hotdogs, grilled onions and condiments, and birthday cake for the August birthday people in the extended family (we have one family birthday party every month of the year between all 26 of us *smile!*).  The second night my parents picked up pizzas from town (*chuckle* - not exactly back-woods camping this time) and I brought cut up veggies and Ranch dressing for dip for our immediate family.  And we had smores in the evenings over the fire for dessert.

So the only things that needed refrigeration were the string cheese, hashbrowns, bacon, cut veggies, and Ranch dressing/dip, requiring only one medium-sized cooler with ice; the rest of the food all went in to a non-refrigerated cooler.  About as simple as I could make it.

Unpacking - nightmare, or not?
Just before we got home from our trip I informed the kids that we would have about a 2 day unpacking project ahead of us and that they should prepare to be working with a great attitude, and to be patient...Okay, I was talking mostly to myself...*chuckle*...but the family jumped in together and we knocked it all out - in ONE HOUR.  I was stunned!  *grin!*  Here was the plan of attack.

My wonderful husband unloaded the 2 vehicles in to the garage, and on to the drive way for things he needed to put away himself in to the shed.  While Bob then worked puzzling all the gear in to the shed, I worked with the kids in the garage.  We didn't even go in to the house first, but stayed focused on unpacking.  

We made huge piles of sleeping bags that needed to be washed (from pull-ups that leaked at night), wet beach towels, and dirty picnic blankets.  Coats and sweatshirts made another pile, all needing to be washed of the great, smoky campfire smell.  *smile*  Then our oldest daughter and I unpacked all of the duffel bags, tossing clothing in to one giant pile, and items to be returned to their "homes" around the house into another pile (i.e. books, alarm clock, phone charger, overnight bags, binoculars, cameras, lawn games, toddler toys, etc.)  We stripped all 9 pillows of their cases to be washed, made a pile of those pillow cases and then stacked the naked pillows then in the hallway outside the kids' bedrooms.

I assigned two children to be runners, returning all of the non-clothing items to their places and rooms around the house.  I assigned an older and a "middle" child to wiping down both of the dusty/dirty double strollers with damp cleaning cloths.  I assigned another child to wiping down the two booster seats also with a damp cleaning cloth.  Then we stacked the duffel bags into a pile to be put away in the garage.  And that was it for unpacking!  All that was left then was bathing everyone, and starting the next big project - the laundry.

Tackling the laundry - on purpose!
This was actually not difficult with a good plan in place for where to begin, hot to get clothes treated before being washed, and prioritizing what to wash first.  *smile*  It took time - two days - but it was just a matter of rotating loads through the washer and dryer, and then the oldest girls folding with me as we went and putting things away.  Here was the order of washing, determined by which items were needed the soonest, about 12 loads total (this photo shows only a few of the piles):

1. Bob's 2 work parkas and fleece vest, which he needed the next day.
2. All the pillow cases, because they were needed immediately (we don't keep tons of extras at home as we never wash all 9 simultaneously outside of this time).  And, everyone has their own beautiful, flannel pattern made by Grandma, which they desired to sleep with that night.
3. Sweat shirts (likely needed the next day), underwear, jeans, and skirts (none of us own lots of extra pairs of any of these things because we usually do laundry every other day).
4. Socks, dress pants (for underneath dresses so girls can play modestly and freely), and the rest of the "whites" laundry.
5. All the rest of the clothing, plus bathing suits.
6. Warm coats
7. Beach towels
8. Sleeping bags

Each time I put a load in to wash, I got the next load separated out and treated any food, dirt, or grass stains.  Then those treated items had an hour to sit with the chemical treatment before they went in to the wash.  I was amazed at how well this worked to get all the stains out of the clothes:  chocolate, ketchup, grass, dirt, peanut butter, etc.  And we put away all of the washed items as they came out of the dryer and were put in to baskets, or coats hung back up on hangers, or pillow cases put back on to pillows.  So nothing stacked up once it was clean.

 So!  *smile*  Did we survive?!  Most beautifully!  Could anyone pull off large family camping?  Absolutely.  Have a plan; implement the plan.  Large family camping - ON PURPOSE.  

And I would really love to hear about your own large family camping ideas, plans, and strategies!  Please do share so that we an all benefit from one another's successes!


 Blessings on your family's adventures,

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