Author Archives: hlapinski

Our First KOA Experience

When it comes to camping, we are usually state park fans. Most Pennsylvania state parks come with playgrounds, small camp shops, good hiking and fishing, and somewhere to swim – either a man-made beach or pool. Also, you can stay at a state park for less than $30 a night. The downsides are that there are rarely full hook-ups (or even water) and that liquor is prohibited (although if you don’t get rowdy and use unmarked cups you’re usually fine). Also, the bathrooms tend to be dirty because they only get cleaned once each day.

In the past, we’ve stayed at a few private campgrounds, but we’ve never tried a KOA (Kampgrounds of America). We have friends who are kind of new to camping, so we wanted to give them the full hook-up experience. Upon recommendation for some regulars, we booked two sites at Nittany Mountain KOA in New Columbia, PA over Labor Day weekend.

Even though the weather was quite rainy, the kids had an absolute blast all weekend. The grown-ups were relieved there was so much for the kids to do. The highlights for us were all the activities: petting zoo, dance party, bounce pad, mini golf, etc. The kids’ favorite part was the free zip-line. I was most impressed with how quiet it was.

The only drawbacks were the price and the lack of security. We paid $200 for three nights. That is pretty standard for KOAs and it is how they can provide all those amenities and services, so I understand the cost. What I don’t understand is why that cost doesn’t include decent security. At both the private and public campgrounds we’ve visited, there is almost always visible security patrolling the campground. Not once did I see anyone driving around to make sure all was well.  As a result, we encountered large cliques of teenagers, most of whom were from seasonal sites. Some of the cliques were fine, but there was a lot of foul language around little ones and some bullying going on around the playground. At one point, the adults in our party had to stand in the playground like we were on playground duty until they stopped blocking the younger ones from using the playground equipment. Once, a group of teenage boys dismantled some of the toddler equipment and our girls had to report it to management. A more-present security staff would go a long way toward discouraging this kind of behavior.

Overall, we had a very nice weekend, but I don’t see us becoming KOA regulars. Particularly if we are camping at a distant location where sight-seeing is our main goal, I can’t see paying that amount when we wouldn’t be around to use all the amenities. That being said, I can definitely see us staying at another KOA in the future.

 

 

Amazing Waterfalls at Watkins Glen

Last weekend, we camped at Watkins Glen state park. We’re not racing fans, so we’ve never been in the area before. What a mistake! The best part was hiking the Gorge Trail next to the campground. Because of heavy rains the proceeding weeks, the falls were really powerful.

The trail wasn’t crowded when we started at 9:30am, but by the time we were finishing up, it was getting harder to get past people on the trail. I would recommend getting there early if you want to avoid the crowd. Also, wear waterproof shoes because the rocky path can get really wet.

We will definitely be back to hike more of the park and also check out the lake. Maybe we’ll make it an adults-only trip and hit some wineries too!

Check out a video of our hike on the Gorge Trail:

 

Curing My Beach Envy

I see you.

I see you posting photos of your manicured toenails in the sand with the surf in the background, your sleeping toddler curled up on her towel, your family wearing matching shirts while sitting on an abandoned lifeguard chair. I look at your pictures and I can smell the sea air and taste the crab cakes. Envy wells up inside me as I imagine planting my lounge chair at the shoreline and letting the water wash over my un-manicured toes. I lament that we have neither the time nor the extra money this summer for a beach vacation.

Then, one of my children tattles on another while running down the hall and I remember: I am no longer a beach person.

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I’ve been on quite a few beach vacations, and I love the idea of going to the beach, but since becoming a mom I find a day at the beach to be exhausting. Maybe the rest of you have mastered the art of family beaching, but as a mother with small children I do very little actual relaxing on the beach because I’m too busy keeping our offspring from washing away with the tide. If they’re not in the water, they’re covered from head to toe like a donut that has been glazed with sunscreen and sweat then rolled in sand sprinkles. Heaven forbid they rub their eyes. Also, reapplying sunscreen over sand without causing brush burns is about is difficult as it sounds.

When I finally get back to my hotel or rental house, much of the beach has come back with me in my car. Before I can bathe the kids, I have to find a discrete spot where I can strip them down and cover them in powder to get the sand off their bodies before I stick them in the shower. Then, I have to vacuum up the sand AND the powder. Inevitably, there is still sand remaining on their bodies and only half of it rinses down the shower drain. They all go to bed with sand still stuck to their scalps, but we’ve paid so much money to be here we do it all again the next day.

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Yeah, I know. Memories are being made, my kids will appreciate the trip when they’re older, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying I’d turn down a free trip to the beach or that we’ll never go again. But, as I’m pining over beach pictures on my Facebook and Instagram feeds, it helps to remember that the cute baby in the photo probably has heat rash and sand stuck is his fat rolls. The smiling toddler is probably crying now because her Dollar-Store sand toys washed away in the surf, and neither of their parents can drink away the whining with a cool beer because they have to keep their little ones from wandering down the beach and going home with another family.

Who knows, maybe we’ll go to the beach next year. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my glass of wine on my porch while my kids don’t drown in our grass.

Lake Glory Campground

Camping season is on!

Back in April, we did a trial run with our new camper, a Coleman Light 2855BH, but this Memorial Day weekend was our first official trip of the season. We camp annually at Lake Glory campground, which is part of Knoebels Amusement Resort.

Check out our weekend in the video below!

 

Our New Puppy: Because, why not?

We live a full life: three kids, three jobs, and a dog. Many nights we collapse into bed and (what seems like seconds later) it’s morning. Even with the help of our parents, it’s crazy. I’ve often wished I had a way to stop time so I could get more accomplished in a day. It makes absolutely no sense for us to add to the chaos and responsibility in our lives. So, what did we do last weekend? We brought home a puppy.

We already have a 12-year-old Shetland sheepdog named Sophie. She’s the best dog we could ask for, and yet there have been times over the years (particularly when caring for newborns) that I could barely handle caring for her. For a few weeks after our third child was born, Sophie went to live with my in-laws because I just couldn’t manage it all. Now that the kids are older, I find myself spending more time playing with Sophie and I’ve begun to realize how much I’ll miss her when she’s gone. After all, she was our first “baby.”

Jim’s always wanted another dog and I’ve always been the one holding out. Much like baby fever, the desire for a dog came out of nowhere. I found myself scanning Facebook pages of local animal rescue organizations and checking the newspaper for litters.  I looked at so many dogs, but none of them were right for our family. I wanted a member of the sheepdog family, but something bigger than a Sheltie. I had hoped to find one to rescue but I couldn’t find any sheepdogs in my searching. We don’t have the yard for a border collie and I don’t have the patience for the hair of a full-sized collie. When a friend of mine showed me some pictures of Australian shepherd pups available near her house, I know I had found our breed.

Deciding whether or not to add a dog to our already chaotic lives was a daunting task. There were two pups left in the litter, so Jim and I decided to mull it over for a week. If there was still a pup left by the following weekend, we’d go meet her. If they sold during the week, we would consider it a sign and wait for the next litter. By Friday afternoon, there was still one pup left. On Saturday morning, our practical sides did their best to keep us from adding to the chaos, but in our hearts we already knew we were going to bring home a puppy. After a very long discussion, we called the breeder and packed the kids into the car.

As soon as the pup ran out of the barn to meet us, she began circling the kids and chasing 5yo. They fell to the ground and playfully wrestled and I could see on Jim’s face that this dog was coming home with us. We paid for her and got in the car to take her home. As we drove away, we began mulling over names. The kids threw out some names that were quickly crossed off the list. I began reading suggestions from the internet on my phone. Halfway home, Jim pulled the car into a Unimart parking lot and jumped out of the car to head inside. A few minutes later, he came out and jumped in the car yelling, “Shandy!” Of course, being an avid beer brewer and drinker, he had gone inside to find beer names. It was perfect.17038742_1542062032478201_8951221052950027568_o (1)

Shandy has been with us for a week now and it’s been an adjustment. Because she’s so young, she requires constant supervision. Sophie is slowly adjusting to not being the only dog. The kids are getting pretty good at cleaning up the messes as we try to house-train her. Despite all the work she requires, I don’t think any of us has regretted adding Shandy to our family. It’s almost like she was the last of the litter because she was waiting for us to make up our minds.

Here’s to puppies and families and adding a little more craziness to our lives!

Dear High School Football Fans,

Dear High School Football Fans,

High school football season is now upon us.  Two-a-day practices are over and school has begun.  Every Friday, communities will gather in their respective stadiums to cheer on their local boy heroes.  Cheerleaders will jump and yell, parents will sell hot dogs and Fun Dip, and middle schoolers will walk in circles trying to look older than they are.

And, of course, the marching band will be there.

For most people, football games are the only times they ever get a glimpse of the kids that belong to high school band.  If this is your only exposure to marching band, you may think the band’s main function is to support the local football team and pump up the crowd during halftime.  You would be wrong and I’ll let you in on a little secret:

High school football fans, they’re not doing it for you.

That show that you’re tired of watching by the fourth week of the season….they’re not doing it for you.

The two weeks they sweat through band camp, carrying tubas and getting sunburned, to learn the show you’re not watching because you have to pee….they’re not doing it for you.

The taunts of “band fag!” they endure in the hallways of the school where they should feel safe and secure…they don’t endure them for you.

The mornings they show up at school 30 minutes early to march in the fog and dewy grass, as the weather gets steadily colder….they don’t do it for you.

The years of learning to play an instrument that some 12-year-old on the sidelines will try to launch a French fry into….they don’t do it for you.

Marching on while knowing that the general public completely misunderstands how and why they do what they do, as well as how hard it is to actually do….they’re not doing it for you.

I’m not saying the band kids don’t enjoy football games or don’t want to support their classmates with up-tempo versions of “Hang On Sloopy” and “Land of a Thousand Dances.”  I grew up in a football-crazy town and loved watching and supporting my team from the band section.  But I didn’t join band because of football games and I’m not in the minority.

Kids join marching band for many reasons: because they love music, because their friends are in it, because you have to be in marching band to participate in concert band (yes, there’s still band after football season is over) the list goes on. They stay in band because of the camaraderie that is unique to the experience or because the intrinsic reward of scoring over a 90 at a marching band competition is worth the months of practice. They stay in band because they love the feeling of having worked hard together to accomplish something that no one could’ve accomplished on their own.

Certainly, the band plays an important role at football games. They are a vital part of the school spirit that pulses through each small town on chilly October evenings. Yes, the football team is worth being supported and a long-standing part of that tradition is to have the band there to play the national anthem, the school fight song, and any other music that helps bring the town together. But band students don’t owe you a halftime show. They aren’t rejects who can’t play sports, desperate to be part of the high school football experience. They’re not “nerds” relegated to an activity long-thought to be the final home of social rejects. They’re talented students who have discovered a craft they love and an activity they enjoy. Part of being involved in that activity means putting on a uniform and playing at half-time and that’s a great thing. But don’t think for a second that the long hours of practice and sweat are inspired by what Johnny Quarterback’s Grandma is going to think about their performance while she sits in the stands.

Band kids deserve your support because what they do is as worthwhile as any other activity….

but they don’t do it for you.

 

 

 

Why I Write Online Reviews (and Why You Should, Too!)

I’ve written them all: campground reviews, product reviews, restaurant reviews, book reviews, and amusement park reviews. Some have been paragraphs long with accompanying pictures. Some have been only a sentence.

Years ago, when I was attending a book club meeting, one of the members commented, “Oh, I never read the online reviews on books. I can just imagine what kind of person actually writes them. I mean, have you ever written one? No, because you’re normal.” At the time, I simply smiled and nodded, not having actually written any reviews. If I heard that comment today, my reaction would be much different.

Now, whether I’m shopping for a new bra or looking for a nearby restaurant, I rarely make a decision that will cost me money without first checking online reviews. Yelp, Trip Advisor, and the comments sections of my favorite online stores play a huge part in whether or not I purchase an item or make a reservation. Often, if no reviews are available, I won’t consider purchasing a product at all. I so heavily rely on the recommendations of others, that it feels only right to return the favor by describing my own experiences.

On one of our camping journeys, we travelled to Little Pine State Park near Waterville, PA. It was a beautiful, clean, quiet park and we loved camping there. We had gone on the recommendation of a friend, but I had been unable to find any online reviews. Because I loved the park so much, I made a point to take lots of pictures of the facilities and surroundings. I believed this little park deserved a voice online apart from the cursory information available on the State Parks website. Others should know that this is a wonderful place to visit. As soon as I got home, I wrote the first Trip Advisor review for Little Pine.  It even took them a few days to post my review because they first had to determine it was indeed a real place. Since then, several others have added their comments. Together, reviewers have been able to share a small gem of PA with others who may not have even known it existed.

Certainly some reviewers can’t be taken seriously and one must be discriminating when reading comments, but if there are enough reviews for a product or business the true value will be clear. I write reviews because I want to help good businesses find patrons and protect patrons from bad businesses. I want to help people know what they’re getting for their money because that is what other reviewers have done for me.

Reviews don’t have to be long essays. The next time you get an email that asks you to write a review of a recent purchase, please consider typing at least few helpful sentences. We’ll all be better off in the long run.

Camping: Packing all that Stuff!

Time to pack!

It won’t be long before we’ll be heading out for another camping trip, this time to Gettysburg, PA to tour the battlefields and museums. That means it’s almost time to pack.

Packing is one of my least favorite parts of traveling, so I wanted to streamline the process. We’ve managed to eliminate a lot of the stress that usually accompanies packing for a camping trip.  Here’s how:

Clothing: When we first started camping, we packed our clothing in duffel bags. By the second day of camping, everything I had carefully sorted and folded was a mess from little hands rummaging through the bags. I knew there had to be a better way.  I got the idea of using plastic drawers from the Pop-up Princess Blog (an invaluable resource to pop-up campers) and they’ve made packing and storing clothing so much easier. Each child has a chest of drawers for their clothing, diapers, and other small belongings. Jim and I share a set of drawers. When they’re not in use, they fit nicely in our bedroom closets. Now, everything stays organized and easy to find. Because we tend to pack the same things in the same drawers every time, we’re less likely to forget things. Once everyone is packed, the drawers fit nicely in the folded camper.

It looks like a lot, but it really only took me 30 minutes to pack all those drawers!

It looks like a lot, but it really only took me 30 minutes to pack all those drawers!

Toiletries are also packed in a smaller set of drawers. I pack them at the beginning of the camping season and leave everything in there so I don’t have to go around collecting everyone’s toothbrushes and shampoos each time. This container travels in the cab of the truck with us because too many items are sensitive to temperatures. It gets stored in the bathroom cabinet when not in use.

Linens are washed immediately following the previous camping trip and stored in re-purposed comforter bags that we keep in our linen closet. When it’s time to pack, all I have to do is grab the bags.

Shoes are packed separately a plastic bin. This is usually the last thing that gets packed because we’re using our shoes right up until we leave. The only shoes that stay packed permanently are our shower shoes.  Using a bin with a lid enables us to keep our shoes outside the camper without them getting damp in the morning dew. Keeping shoes in the camper is a no-no since it can make the small interior smell like feet.

Camping gear stays in the camper all the time. When we’re packing up at the end of a trip, we carefully clean and place things in the camper storage so we can easily access them when we get to our next camping destination. Being able to keep our gear in the camper has greatly diminished our packing time.

Swimming gear (towels, tubes, goggles, sunscreen) gets packed into the same bag I use for all our summer swimming trips. We throw it in the truck before we leave and it stays there until we’re ready to head to the pool. We just grab it and go!

Paper supplies are kept in a plastic bin that stays in the camper when not in use. Before each trip, I do a quick inventory and add any missing items to my grocery list.

Cooking Supplies are stored permanently in their own plastic chest of drawer that stays in the camper until we get to the campsite. That means we have to keep a separate set of everything (utensils, spices, etc.) for camping, but that’s not uncommon for people who camp a lot. We got most of our supplies from the dollar store. Larger items like pots and pans, as well as our coffee maker and toaster, are stored in the camper kitchenette.

Groceries, unfortunately, are the only items I haven’t managed to streamline when it comes to packing. Our system for food storage is still a work in progress.

We love camping, but we hate when it becomes a lot of work. By maintaining packing routines, I don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time we head of for a new adventure. It took us a while to get to this point, but now preparing for a trip is pretty easy.

Pictures from Gettysburg coming soon!

Life is So Unfair!!!

“I never get what I want!”

This is a sentence I hear on a daily basis from 4yo. I assume it’s a phase, but it’s one of the most annoying and anger-inducing I’ve encountered as a parent.

Not long ago, I took 4yo to our local amusement park by himself. It was a special day – a no-sisters day! He got to the pick the rides, the food, and the games. He even talked me into a $4 game of mini-golf. As he completed the 18th hole, he shouted, “I want to play again!”

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“We’re not playing again,” I told him, reaching for his golf club so we could return it.

“But, but, but……aw, I NEVER get what I want!” he declared with crossed arms.

In my mind, I bent his golf club over my knee and hurled it at the nearest pretzel stand.

“What do you MEAN you never get what you want! I’ve spent a small fortune today so you could come here by yourself and ride, eat, and play ANYTHING you want. You’ve done nothing but what YOU want today!”

We stood there for a second, me steaming and him pouting, while I thought about what I should say next. Then, as life would have it, I said exactly what my mother would have said.

“Well, if spending the day here isn’t what YOU want, I guess we should go home,” and I started walking away.

“No! Wait! I DO want to be here!”

Thirty seconds later we were in line for the log flume and I didn’t hear about the mini-golf for the rest of the night.

Unfortunately, as he has informed me several times since, he STILL never gets what he wants.

Life is so unfair.

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