Taking young kids on a BWCA canoe trip

Previous post: Planning and prepping for taking young kids on a BWCA canoe trip

On the days leading up to our BWCA trip with the girls, it seemed like an awful lot of work. Our trip was going to be two days (one night), which is the most gear and effort for the least amount of days.  And sometime between our last time Boundary Waters trip and now, we ‘d gotten old and upgraded to giant-size Thermarests that we couldn’t live without. The thought of getting everything in to our usual two packs (one big, one little) was ridiculous, so I added another big pack to our ever-growing shopping list.

And then there was the weather. My favorite weather app predicted strong thunderstorms, with waves of regular thunderstorms rolling through overnight. So we talked to our trusted BWCA permit guys and they shrugged their shoulders, and said that it’d be hot — good swimming weather. We also checked in with the Ely cabin neighbors, seasoned canoe trippers, and they didn’t seem worried, and offered the good general advice to make camp early and if there was lightning, keep the kids on our sleeping mats. (I knew there was a reason we updated to the giant size!)

taking young kids on a BWCA canoe trip

So we drove an hour from our cabin on the Eagles Nest Chain of Lakes to the Slim Lake Entry Point. Although it seemed like we had a ton of gear, we surprised ourselves by being able to carry it all on the portage on one trip. (The portage was pretty short and flat — maybe 90 rods?)  Mostly because Adam is a beast: he strapped the paddles and life vests into the canoe, hoisted on one of the packs, and swung the canoe up on his shoulders. I buckled Blythe into the Beco on my front and then donned the other big pack on my back. We didn’t plan on Beatrice carrying anything, so she just held my hand.

Slim Lake landing

I didn’t realize how crazy loose this pack was on my back — a good synch on the straps would have settled it more snug on my back.

We chose Slim Lake for a couple reasons. It’s not a popular lake since you can’t go in more than four lakes before facing a 600+ rod portage. It’s a long, narrow lake, so it wasn’t likely to be too windy (a lot of the Ely-area entry points are on big, windy lakes). And it had always intrigued me on the map. Our plan was to check out the three campsites on Slim and if we saw one we liked that wasn’t occupied, camp there. If not, we’d portage into Rice Lake (a shallow lake with one campsite), and if not there, portage on to Hook.

We paddled to the south campsite first, and when we saw it was a nice site (and had a good layout if things got stormy), we took it. We spent the day setting up camp, having lunch, swimming, paddling to check out the lake and give Blythe a nap, swimming some more, and having dinner.

Slim Lake campsite

Blythe at campsite

And remembering how beautiful the BWCA is.

The girls are at such a glorious, enthusiastic, curious age. Beatrice, learned about kindling, and birch bark, and moss, and says that her favorite part of the trip was the smelly potty in the woods that had no doors. Blythe added loon, paddle, fire, and life jacket to her vocabulary, sat and snoozed oh so sweetly in the canoe leaning up against my leg, and learned to identify the loon’s call.

Blythe at campfire
Me and Bee

But there are also the non-glorious parts of being 18 months and 3. Blythe’s thing recently is to say “No no no no” to everything we say to her. When Beatrice isn’t asking “Why?” in response to everything we’ve asked her to do, she’s ignoring our requests. I don’t even want to think about how many times I told her not to drag her hand in the water as we paddled.

And then, there was the sleeping.

When the girls started getting sleep-clumsy and shriek-y, we called bedtime, partially because we were both tired ourselves (and Adam especially so, since he was pretending he didn’t have the flu). So we all entered the (hot, sweaty) tent, and attempted to get the girls to sleep. Adam passed out off and on, Beatrice, who hadn’t napped, slept, but Blythe was unstoppable. Finally Blythe woke Beatrice up and we were all up again, awake, and it wasn’t even dark yet. We must have went into the tent crazily early. I thought we were all done for, but finally it started getting dark, and finally, finally, Blythe feel asleep, and we all followed. It was a restless night, though, since it’d been so hot Blythe fell asleep in just her diaper, and our efforts to keep her covered or wrestle PJs on her were unsuccessful.

But hurrah — it didn’t storm, and we didn’t even get a drop of rain.

Adam in Slim Lake BWCA

Doesn’t it look like evening is potentially on its way in this photo? And this was at least an hour before we headed in.

Blythe asleep at Ely cabin

This is what bedtime is supposed to look like. 

The next day was more of the same — campfire and lazing over a hearty breakfast, swimming, exploring, paddling and checking out the rest of the lake, and finally, portaging out.

I don’t take the risks of the BWCA lightly, and am so grateful that we had a safe trip and good weather. (The trip left me resolving to take a first aid course — I think I’d feel more confident if I had more skills). But we are so, so glad we’ve started taking our family to the BWCA and going back ourselves. I couldn’t believe how much the girls enjoyed it, and how into everything they were.

And how magical the BWCA is… you just can’t replicate or underestimate being truly out in nature with no cell phones, immersed in pristine beauty and stillness. Even when I was lying in the tent, wishing desperately that Blythe would go to sleep, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful view and lapse into that clarity of thought and purpose that being in the woods inspires.

BWCA, we’ll be back.


Family at Slim Lake campsite

Notes to myself for next time:

  1. Always pack rain gear, even if the forecast from home looks cloudless. I had to pick up a clearance rain jacket for Beatrice from the Ely Shopko (which I thankfully was able to return after we didn’t end up using it.)
  2. Natural bug stuff does really work (at least on normal level mosquitos). Also, pro tip from the guys at Piragis: reapply it often.
  3. Kid (i.e. nut-free) trail mix seems like a yummy and adorable idea, but it’ll just mean you’ll be hunched over picking up Cheerios from your campsite the whole time. No.
  4. These sticker books are worth their weight in gold. Hours and hours and HOURS of fun for $2.45.
  5. Next time, when the sleep-clumsys set in: evening paddle.

How to sew burp cloths, baby quilts, bibs, toys, and more: 10 great baby sewing tutorials

Sewing for babies is just about the easiest and most satisfying sewing work you can do. The projects are small so they whip up fast, and with the long lead time (9 months!) you can mosey your way through them.

I did a LOT of sewing for Beatrice (not so much for Blythe, but she got the hand-me-downs). Here’s a run-down of some of the things I made and my favorite baby sewing tutorials.

Boppy cover

how to sew a boppy cover copy

This tutorial from Vanilla Joy is perfect and easy to follow. This is actually a quick and easy project, even with the zipper! If you haven’t sewn a zipper before don’t be scared off — this is a good novice zipper project. JoAnn Fabrics stocks a nice long white zipper called a “robe zipper” that works well for this project. I ended up making two covers for myself, an orange one and a second out of a waterproof home decor fabric (if you have a baby, you’ll understand why I wanted a waterproof fabric).

Giraffe rattle, tag blanket, and onesies

how to sew a giraffe tag blanket onesie

The giraffe is beginner-friendly project, also from Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing for Babies. The resulting soft rattle is a perfect new baby toy because it is safe for the youngest baby and easy for an infant to grasp. You can throw it in the wash to keep it clean, which is nice since babies usually teethe on it. I like to make these in batches of three or four because they are kind of poky for such a small project.

Jen made the onesie and taggie for me when Blythe was born. I asked her for the tutorial and she said she just made it up. Here’s what she said about them:

Taggies were new when my son was a baby — 13 years ago! — when everyone realized if you give a stuffed toy to a baby, they just play with the tag. They are super-fun baby gifts to make, because you can customize the fabrics to the mom’s style, they are small and thus don’t contribute to clutter in her house, and they come together quickly.

    1. Piece some scraps together until you get a squarish design you like, then cut a backing piece to size.
    2. Cut 3-inch pieces of ribbon, bias tape, or trim to make the loops/tags. (Try to mix up ribbon textures — satin, grosgrain, velvet — but make sure the ribbon is washable and chewable. No synthetic crafting ribbon.)
    3. Put the right sides of your pieced top and backing together, then tuck the loop end of ribbon inside and pin. The excess ribbon should be hanging outside. (I always seem to pin the ribbon to the wrong sides and end up with it on the top of my taggie or the raw ends hanging out and then I have to rip out my seams. Take a second to think it through so you don’t make my mistakes.)
    4. Sew all the way around, leaving an opening to turn the taggie. Trim excess ribbon ends to reduce bulk.
    5. Turn. Tuck in opening and pin. Top stitch all the way around to really secure ribbon tags and finish the piece. (I use zigzag to hide my imperfections.) This also closes the opening.

I love the idea of applique but I really don’t know what I’m doing. I was happy with the way the house turned out, but I really just got lucky. I cut the design, adhered it to the onesie with iron-on adhesive, then sewed around it with my machine, slowly, on zigzag (again, to mask imperfection). When the design got too tight for that (like around the flower) I sewed it by hand. I’m sure there are much better ways! (And Breanne will have to tell you if it held up in the wash!)

Nursing cover

This pattern makes a generous nursing cover and goes together pretty fast. You have to buy boning, which is available from Joann’s and the like on a big spool that they cut at the counter for you. I did a rookie mistake and made mine in bright orange, later realizing that nothing says “I’m nursing!” like a giant orange cover. I subsequently favored a hand-me-down one in black. And then ditched that altogether when I got really good at nursing discretely.

Snuggle sack or sleep sack

How to sew a snuggle sack copy

I used Lotta Jansdotter’s pattern for this from Simple Sewing for Babies. It’s a cuddle-fleece lined sack with velcro wraps that the baby can snuggle or sleep in. It’s pretty straight-forward if you go slowly. Here’s Blythe in hers, taken when she was two weeks old.

Bibs and burp cloths

how to sew bibs and burp cloths

I love sewing bibs. Everyone could always use a bib, and bibs made from regular sewing cottons wash up great and are the most stain resistant out of all of my bibs. The ones I made have proven to be our favorites! I started with the bib template from Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing for Babies for sizing, but since then I’ve just traced our favorite bibs and used that (adding 1/2 inch for seam allowance).

I cut out one bib from the template and then place it, right sides together, on a piece of coordinating fabric (the finished product will a reversible bib). Using the cut bib as a guide I sew allow around edges leaving a 1/4 inch seam allowance, and leaving a gap of a few inches at the end so I can turn it inside out when I’m done.

Then I cut out the bib and turn it inside out, pushing out the corners of the bib ties with a turning tool or leadless mechanical pencil. Then I finish it by sewing right along the seam around the entire bib, closing the gap I’d left carefully and sewing it shut.

I like the finished look of snaps (and the ease of washing velcro-less bibs) so I use a snap-setter and a pack of size 10 snaps. The snap-setter is a bit fussy (or maybe I’m just bad at it) but all my snaps have held great so I keep on. But velcro would work just as well.

My favorite burp cloths are a simple style that I just put together. On one side I use a cute fabric, on the other I use a Gerber cloth diaper (these are sold at Target  and are really thin white squares, nothing like a real cloth diaper), white terry cloth, or other cute white fabric.

I sew a square or rectangle of fabric (as small as 7 x 7, or as big as the size of a Gerber cloth diaper) right sides together with the diaper, with the usual 1/4 inch seam allowance and gap for turning inside out. When I’ve sewed around the edges I turn it inside out and finish by sewing right along the edges, closing the gap I’d left. If the resulting cloth is bigger than the palm of my hand (and it usually is), I sew a line or three down the center of the cloth to anchor the fabric to the burp cloth. I usually make these to match the bibs for a sweet little add-on to my regular (store-bought) present.

Bouncy seat cover

nursery 2

This one is a bit more advanced, but doable. I borrowed a dated bouncy seat from a friend and wanted a prettier cover. So I took it off and studied how it was put together, and used it as a template to create a new cover in fleece. I ended up having to sew the buckle part to the seat, but I figured I could snip it off when I was done or needed to wash it and sew it back on. The end result was so cozy and cute — I’m glad I took the time to do this! (It was a pretty quick project though — under an hour).

Baby quilts

I made two quilts from Amy Butler’s Little Stitches for Little Ones, one in pink and one in blue. Baby quilts go together so much faster than regular quilts and are small enough to machine quilt. With big squares this quilt pieces together pretty easily. I never needed the blue one for myself, but it made a handy gift when I had a nephew!

Soft blocks

Blocks are a great project for using up scraps. Again from Amy Butler’s Little Stitches for Little Ones, this pattern has you sew six small quilt blocks together to form a hollow cube. Using craft foam you can buy from Joann’s and cut to size with a bread knife, you insert a cube of foam into the fabric cube you’ve constructed (one corner is left open) and then sew it up. I also made the coordinating bag to go with it to keep the blocks tidy (although I skipped the monogram). My only disappointment with these blocks is that Bee has never been very interested in playing with them!

Happy sewing!

Type S for Struggler. Or, why Jen can’t have nice things.

soup square

If you are even a casual reader of this blog I’m sure you’ve pegged me as a Type-A personality, and it’s true, I love a good checklist, I stockpile necessities so there’s never a mad dash to the store, and I’m half done Christmas shopping now, in July. I seem to have it together. I’m […]

{Continue reading…}

BWCA ho! Prepping a toddler and preschooler for canoe camping


  Me and Adam in the BWCA, circa 2005. We’re so young! Before we had kids, Adam and I took a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) every year. The BWCA is an amazing place — 1,700 square miles of true wilderness, accessible only by canoe/kayak and your feet. The area is dotted […]

{Continue reading…}

Clothes you can feel good about, and in: Tumblewalla

Tumblewalla Flutter dress size 2

Baby clothes — and let’s face it, babies — totally intimidated me before I had one. I had no idea what I was doing, so I didn’t purchase any baby clothes before my first was born. (Except for a guilt-induced run to Pacifier two weeks before my due date to grab two Dwell Studio footed […]

{Continue reading…}

Women and the Confidence Gap

confidence gap

“Lean in” (usually appearing as #leanin, and only sometimes ironically) has become a kind of shorthand among my female friends, an expression of encouragement, pride, or solidarity that can range in meaning from a collective, been-there groan at some workplace unfairness or a you-got-this-you-go-girl rallying cry. It started a little over a year ago, when I […]

{Continue reading…}

Mama’s big adventure (Guest post)

Heidi featured image

My friend Heidi is mama to a toddler and travels the world doing original research for her doctoral thesis in anthropology, while teaching and presenting around this country too. To say she’s leaning in is an understatement. I’m so proud of her and in awe of her courage — one trip involved several days’ travel on […]

{Continue reading…}

Summer vacation: a break from being a two parent working family


It just one week, it will officially be SUMMER. Adam and the girls will be home all day, every day — no work, no school, no daycare. I will still work of course but a heady vacation joy de vivre will rule our daily life. The fridge will also automatically refill itself. And a host […]

{Continue reading…}