Ahhh, summer break. That magical time of year that children cannot wait for. Parents, though they put on a brave face, know that what starts out as unicorns, rainbows, cupcakes and kittens can quickly dissolve in to something that looks a lot like a chapter out of Lord of the Flies, especially if you have a group of kids that spend a lot of time together.

With summer break comes family vacation. Since our band of misfits already spends a lot of time together, we decided there was no better to way to help everyone relax and decompress than by throwing them in a tent together. Lol. Four kids, two adults, one tent and a working cattle ranch in the heart of Appalachian Ohio.

Sounds relaxing, right?

After informing the kids this would be an electronics-free vacation, and after having them react as though we had ripped their still-beating hearts from their little chests, horrified shrieks of “what!!!!! No WI-FI???!!!” still echoing in my ears, we loaded up the troops to embark upon our journey.

To preserve our sanity and ease them in to their time without technology, we decided that they could use their tablets, phones, etc. on the drive down. Before we had even put the car in to drive, an argument of epic proportions over a lack of headphones began. Back in to the house to look for headphones I went, feeling as though I was on a scavenger hunt in a Dr. Seuss book…..”they’re either here….or they’re there….why they could be just about anywhere.” I found one pair. Still a pair short.

Out of the driveway we pulled and five minutes later we found ourselves outside of a Dollar Store, purchasing a multi pack of headphones. Ok NOW we were on our way.

Aside from getting a little off course and a few “are we there yet’s?” it was a very pleasant drive indeed.

We pull in to the Smoke Rise Ranch and navigate our way to the main office in order to procure a campsite for ourselves. We are given a hand-drawn map of the property (which boasts an impressive 1,000 acres) and were basically told to go find ourselves a spot.

After determining that a spot within a reasonable walking distance to the pool, showers and indoor potties might not be a bad idea, we park the vehicle and scout out the area a bit.

It is stunning. The area is wooded, but with plenty of cleared spots for camping. I need trees. Not just because they are beautiful, but because I’m basically an albino. Sadly, the sun and I are not the best of chums.

We choose a primitive site, which for the uninitiated means no water or electric hook ups. I’d like to tell you that it’s because we are experienced campers and don’t need all that fancy-schmancy stuff, which is true, but mostly it’s because we are monsters who enjoy torturing our children by making them live without electricity for a few days. Besides, the last thing I wanted was to be woken by noises outside the tent in the middle of the night, only to discover the kids huddled around a shared electricity source, getting their fix like junkies. Not a pretty sight.

We start to set up camp and notice that there are no grates over the fire rings. This poses a problem as we planned to do all of our cooking over the fire but we didn’t bring a grate with us. I’m beginning to get a little concerned, as I am envisioning myself holding heavy, scorching hot cast iron pans over an open fire, 3rd degree burns forming on my arms as I prepare a delicious meal for my family.

And then something magical happens.

Kevin Bacon had already started a fire in the ring, and while all I could do was unpack coolers and think about my impending visit to the emergency room, he is building……. a stove.

As I stand there and watch him, all I can think is how bloody freaking brilliant he is….creative, ingenious and resourceful. My man built me a stove from a hollowed out tree stump and some bricks. Bear Grylls can suck it.

Tree Stump Stove!

Tree Stump Stove!

Life is very often routine. We get up, go to work, take care of kids, cook dinner, etc., etc., and so on. How delightful it is to step outside of our everyday life and learn something new from the person we spend every day with. The person we fall asleep with each night and wake up to each morning. Stepping outside of the everyday norm can help you discover things about them that you didn’t know, or help remind you of those things. It’s not as if I didn’t know he was brilliant, creative, ingenious and resourceful, but to see it all in action all at once was pretty remarkable.

Back to the kids. As the electronics had been confiscated upon arrival, the kids had a chance to well, just be kids.

They swam, practiced casting their fishing lines, picked up and threw a bunch of rocks, found sticks to beat against things, belly laughed, caught fireflies…..and got along.

Forcing them to disconnect from technology forced them to connect with one another and their environment.

Friend, if you have never been mesmerized by the sight of children laughing in the twilight while catching lightning bugs, naming them and then setting them free, then I highly recommend it. It is positively enchanting. Enough to bring this sappy Appalachian to tears.

That first night I cooked supper on our tree stump stove and we settled in for a night of sub-par sleep. That feet-in-the-face, elbow-to-the-ribcage kind of sleep that every parent knows all too well.

We were woken in the morning by the sound of birds. You know how Cinderella is woken up in the morning by birds and all those other critters? They all have big smiles on their faces and somehow the birds have learned to tie her hair up in a bow and everyone is happy and singing. Yeah, these weren’t those birds. They were not, indeed, the beautiful chirping and singing birds you hear on those soundscaped CD’s that are supposed to help you feel like you’re in nature, oh no. We woke to the sounds of the most obnoxiously loud crows you have ever heard in your life. And they had stolen our bait. Scavenging bastards. Come to mention it, the marshmallows were missing as well. Oh well, time for coffee.

But then another magical thing happened…..horses. Lots of and lots of horses, roaming and running free and coming down in to our campsite. The kids had the chance to walk right up to them and pet them, and to see them connect in this way was amazing. They knew we would be going horseback riding during our stay, so they started picking out their favorite horses, even giving them names and comparing them to our pets back home.


Smoke Rise Ranch, Glouster, Ohio



Smoke Rise Ranch, Glouster, Ohio

We did have an incident where a horse tried to steal a bag of charcoal and another one did his business right on our site, but we were in their space, not the other way around. We were just visiting.

It was a trip of extremes. We hiked ancient caves and were overwhelmed by their magnitude and beauty. We had to sleep in the van one night due to torrential rainstorms. We went horseback riding and one of the kids got rolled on to by his horse. Good show, by the way. You got yourself up, dusted yourself off and got right back in the saddle, literally. You rock, kid.

Camp all packed up and our time having reached its end, it was time to head home.

The kids got their electronics back for the ride back, which gave me time to reflect upon the trip.

We had gotten lost but had found our way. No grates on the fire rings but due to Kevin Bacon’s brilliance and Appalachian ingenuity, I got to cook on a stump stove. Critters stole bread, marshmallows and bait, but our bellies still got full. I’d been chased by a wildly territorial billy goat while trying to take another one’s picture, but everyone got a good laugh out of it. We skipped stones, hiked ancient caves, named horses and fireflies and went swimming. We were rudely woken up by obnoxious birds every morning, but we had woken together. It had rained and we had to sleep in the van, but we were all safe.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills, Ohio

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills, Ohio

I had wished the weather had held out for us, after all, who doesn’t love a bright, sunshiny day?

Hocking Hills, Ohio

Hocking Hills, Ohio

It then occurred to me that anyone can be happy when the sun is shining, but it’s how you handle the storm that really matters.

That, and having a man who can make you a stove out of a tree stump.

Suck it, Bear Grylls. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m on Kevin Bacon’s team.

Peace, Love & Blessings to All…..


PS. No disrespect whatsoever intended to Mr. Grylls, and for those of you who scoff at my suggestion that he “suck it” because he is a survivalist and we just went camping? I dare him to take 4 kids in to the woods without wi-fi. THAT is a survival situation 😉