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July 31, 2010

There's no multitasking while camping


Daily Star

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I am sitting in a log cabin in the woods, soaking up the peace and quiet. We've just finished a family game of ladderball, and my husband is taking a nap while the kids play a board game with my sister at the picnic table outside.

It is Day Four of the longest camping vacation I've ever taken. We camp every summer, but usually only for two or three nights. No matter how organized we are, going camping always seems to require a ridiculous amount of planning, packing, loading, unloading and setting up. Then, just when I'm starting to really relax, it's time to pack up and go home.

This time will be different: eight days with my family in a small, enclosed space, away from all the comforts and distractions of our regular lives.

For me, disconnecting from technology is part of the appeal of camping, yet I spent the first two days of the trip scouting out a wireless Internet connection to submit this column. I wrote it the old-fashioned way, with ballpoint pen and spiral notebook, then finished it on a laptop. To turn it in, we drove six miles to a bookstore that my husband had discovered on an expedition for affordable firewood.

I had planned to write the column a week early, so I wouldn't have to work on my vacation, but other deadlines and demands got in the way.

That's another thing I like about camping: There are no distractions from the task at hand, unless, of course it's a challenge that pops up and forces you to improvise, and that's part of the fun. Whether it's a sudden rain shower, a wrong turn in the woods, a forgotten pancake flipper or a middle-of-the night mosquito attack, every trip has its share of unexpected adventures.

Not that I go camping seeking drama or adversity. There's enough of that in regular life.

I go for the simplicity.

There is no multitasking on a camping trip. There's nowhere to be and nothing that has to get done, beyond the day's dishes. There are no lists or schedules or calendars. Kids get to be the way kids should: outdoors and active, swimming and hiking, chopping vegetables for foil dinners, collecting tinder and searching for marshmallow sticks, playing Tic Tac Toe or Hangman or reading a book on the porch.

I get to slow down and be in the moment _ no plans, no regrets.

In between camping trips, I forget how much I like to be outdoors. There is something so peaceful about being surrounded by tall trees; listening to the birds or the crickets or the rustling of the wind in the leaves; watching the glow of the embers in the campfire and seeing the stars appear, one by one, as day turns to night.

We have never been the kind of campers who carry everything on their backs and set up camp in the middle of nowhere. In younger years, we prided ourselves on our ability to put up tents in the rain, sleep on lumpy ground and cook everything on the fire or camp stove. We used to scoff at the cabin campers, with their coffee makers and cushy beds.

Now, we are those campers, spending a week in relative luxury, in a bright and airy cabin with two bedrooms and a spacious kitchen-dining room complete with a full-sized stove and refrigerator.

Yet, even cabin camping makes me appreciate the conveniences I take for granted every day: a roof when it's raining, hot water, electricity!

It is also makes me appreciate my family. There's a special kind of bonding that comes with being outside of your comfort zone and working together to solve problems or get things done. There's also the bonding that comes with slowing down and paying more attention to one another. Halfway through the trip, I've already learned new things about my kids (Abby can do chin-ups; Allie likes slicing mushrooms).

It is good to reaffirm that, outside of the stresses and demands of daily life, my family can work well as a team and have fun together.

Of course, it's only Day Four. By the end of the week, we may be on each others' last nerves.

And that's all the more reason to savor the moment. Quiet time is over. Ladderball, anyone?

Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at lisamiller44@

hotmail.com.