365Outside

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Happy Birthday, 365Outside.org!

September 2015

September 2015

Although the original 365Outside Challenge started for our family nearly two years ago, this week marks a year since I started the 365Outside blog. It also marks my seventh wedding anniversary with The Captain, the beginning of our first extended sailing trip with the kids (heading out for 10 days on Friday, more on that coming soon), the first time I’ve ventured camping with the boys on my own, and the last week before the boys head back to school. It’s a week of many milestones and as such, I’ve been reflecting on the past year quite a bit.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston

October 2015

October 2015

We know all the cliches about how fast kids grow up. Looking back at some of our first posts on the blog, I can hardly believe that less than 365 short days have passed since my boys were that little. They are growing stronger, smarter and feistier by the minute.

And as our kids grow, so do we. 

A lot has changed for me this year. Our first year of the 365Outside Challenge cleansed my mental health. This second time, I’ve recommitted to a healthier physical lifestyle – eating more nutritiously, drinking less alcohol and exercising more regularly. In doing so, I’m regaining some of the energy and strength I lost after having 2 kids in a year and a half. I can do pull ups again and my endurance is finally back. There are little shadows of abs and biceps that were hidden for years. My body will never be the same as it was before babies, but I’m proud of it and confident in its abilities. The softness in my belly was my babies’ first home. These saggy boobs provided their first meals. The streaks of white rubbery stretch marks outline sacrifices to create new life.

November 2015

November 2015

I’ve recommitted to my writing career this year as well and achieved my goal of getting published offsite at least once a month. Since the launch of my writing website I’m finding work as a content writer too, producing pieces I’m proud of for companies I believe in and getting paid along the way.

I’m proud of my kids all the time. But it feels good to be proud of me for once, too. 

December 2015

December 2015

And of course, with all our growth and change comes more independence all around. The boys play for extended periods in the yard on their own. They climb trees. They build ramps and jumps for their bikes. They know how to dig clams and paddle a surfboard. This summer I’ve started taking them out on the boat by myself. Knowing I can trust them on the boat has allowed us to explore the river on quiet days when The Captain is working. And now we are camping without the Captain for the first time. We are with good friends, so there is plenty of support. But the packing and parenting are all on me.

January 2016

January 2016

The first time we were preparing to go for a boat ride without The Captain, Junior asked sweetly, “But who will drive the boat?” I froze. I thought I was raising feminists and here was my four-year-old thinking that I can’t even drive a boat on my own. After an uneventful trip to the beach and back he turned to me and said, “Good job, Mama. Good job driving that boat.” I smirked back, kind of grateful and kind of indignant, and told him “Good job to you too, honey. Good job riding in that boat.”

February 2016

February 2016

It was kind of sarcastic but kind of true. If it weren’t for each other and the ways we’ve grown this year, we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own. But here we are, just one short year later, and somehow one long year stronger, one year smarter, one year feistier.

Happy anniversary to us. 

There’s another big year ahead. Look out, world.         

March 2016

March 2016

April 2016

April 2016

May 2016

May 2016

June 2016

June 2016

July 2016

July 2016

August 2016

August 2016

The 365Outside Guide to The Perseid Meteor Shower

I watched my first meteor shower in college. We loaded into a friend’s car, stocked up on snacks and drinks that we weren’t old enough to enjoy, and drove up a mountain to camp out and watch the shooting stars. It was cold and we didn’t see much, but I was hooked on the experience.

Since then, I’ve learned that shooting stars are anything but their namesake. Meteor showers actually occur when the Earth, in its orbit around the sun, passes through trails of debris left behind by comets. When this debris enters Earth’s atmosphere it burns up and leaves behind the streaks of light that many refer to as “shooting stars.”

A meteor streaks across the sky.

A meteor streaks across the sky.

The Perseid meteor shower – owing its name to the constellation Perseus from which it appears to fly out of – occurs annually each August and is an ongoing event. The Earth has actually been passing through it since July 17 and it will continue until August 24. The Perseid meteor shower is made up of tiny pieces that have broken off from the Swift-Tuttle comet which orbits the sun once every 133 years and is the largest object known to regularly pass by Earth.This month’s meteor shower will be one of the biggest of the year and it is forecast to be the most impressive Perseid meteor shower in 20 years when it peaks around August 12.

Camping beneath a meteor shower outburst - could it get any dreamier?

Camping beneath a meteor shower outburst – could it get any dreamier?

In a recent news release, NASA’s meteor expert Bill Cooke predicted that this year’s Perseid meteor shower will feature an “outburst” in which the meteors will appear at double the usual rates. This unusual outburst is thanks to the gravitational pull of Jupiter which has pulled some extra debris into the path of the Earth this year.

For your best chance at viewing this awesome celestial event, here are some top tips:

  1. Avoid as much light pollution as possible. Find a dark place, away from artificial lights for your best shot at maximizing your view. To really absorb the experience, try to get outside at least 20 minutes before the peak so that your eyes have time to adjust to the low light and are more able to pick out the meteors above.
  2. Image courtesy of http://www.astronomytrek.com/interesting-facts-about-the-constellation-perseus/

    Image courtesy of http://www.astronomytrek.com/interesting-facts-about-the-constellation-perseus/

    Look for the Perseus constellation. This constellation rises at roughly 10pm local time. In the northern hemisphere, it rises in the northeast sky during August and descends into the northwest, following the constellation Cassiopeia. The Perseid shower can also be viewed from the southern hemisphere though it will not be as visible. You do not need to find the constellation to catch the show since the meteors will streak across the sky in every direction, but they will all originate from a point near Perseus.

  3. Go out sometime after midnight and watch for at least an hour. The moon will be setting by midnight, meaning meteors will be more visible. This, combined with the pattern that the Perseid shower typically peaks between midnight and dawn, will mean that your best chance for an impressive show will be sometime between midnight and 4AM. Be patient and stick it out to increase your odds even further.
  4. Look for the most impressive show between August 11-13. Most predictions agree that the absolute peak with up to 200 meteors per hour should occur in the early morning hours of August 12. But the show should be good anywhere in this window, whether you catch the “outburst” or not.
  5. If all else fails or the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can count on NASA. Tune in to the NASA Perseid meteor shower feed beginning Thursday at 10PM ET and continuing through the early hours of Friday morning. Check out the briefing from NASA above for more information.

I plan to get up and watch at some point Saturday night, when we’re out on the boat. It may not be the peak, but I think we’ll avoid most of the light pollution that way. If it’s a good show I’ll wake the boys and share the experience with them. Fingers crossed!

How Do You Find Awe?

A moment of awe onboard Little Wing

A moment of awe onboard Little Wing

I read an article recently about the importance of awe in our lives. The term “awesome” has taken on a totally new meaning over just a few generations but when you whittle it back to its original essence, it’s a pretty important experience. Essential, even. And what I found most interesting about this article was the working definition of awe. Who thinks to define such a deep concept and how could they possibly capture its essence?

Turns out that awe is, simply put, equal parts vastness and new understanding. Pretty simple, but pretty dead accurate if you ask me.

I had never thought of it that way. In fact, despite experiencing awe on what I would describe as an above average frequency, I had never once stopped to consider why these experiences created such an overwhelming feeling of reverence in me. This weekend was the first time that I experienced true awe since reading the article, and it opened in me a new understanding of why we react the way we do to the beauty around us.

Perfect way to spend a heatwave.

Perfect way to spend a heatwave.

Since we bought Little Wing, we have been very lucky to experience a series of amazing weekends. We have slept on the boat every Saturday night for two months, (except for the weekend we went camping) leaving us all day Saturday and Sunday to be surrounded by nature and soaking up sunshine.

This weekend was no different. We took the powerboat to the beach on Saturday and spent the afternoon with good friends, swimming with the kids, digging in the sand and paddling boogie boards around. When the day began to slow down and people began to trickle home, we headed for the sailboat instead. There were storms forecast and the clouds were turning dark. We didn’t want to sail anywhere due to the forecast. But just to be there out in the middle of it, even if on our mooring, was plenty good enough for us.

Last romp on the tidal flats before the storm rolled in.

Last romp on the tidal flats before the storm.

As the sun sank lower and the clouds grew darker, we ate some dinner and brought the boys and their energetic pooch for one last romp on the sandbar. These fringe times, early morning and late evening, are my favorites at the beach. It is quiet and peaceful and we have the place to ourselves.

Back on the boat, I rinsed the kids off and got them cozy in their pajamas. The temperature was dropping steadily and the cloud cover was building. Down below on the boat, the boys played and read books until the thunder started. We closed the hatches tightly and cuddled the boys beneath a blanket. They were a little scared.

The storm brews on the horizon.

The storm brews on the horizon.

On deck, The Captain and I were keeping an eye on the mooring line and the other boats swinging around us when I spotted a dinghy across the channel. Someone in a small inflatable dinghy, with outboard tilted up, was trying to row against the ferocious winds but instead was being beaten back, making negative progress and blowing quickly towards the dry banks of the exposed marsh. The Captain jumped into the skiff and sped over to assist him as the wind whipped ferociously and the violent rain began to pelt down. Alone on the boat with the kids, I went into risk management mode and mentally ran through what-if scenarios and my response plans. Then I put the kids in their lifejackets, just in case. Even though they were safe down below and our boat was safe on the mooring and the storm was more than likely just a passing one, the last thing I wanted was to have to choose in the middle of an emergency between operating the boat and getting my kids in their lifejackets.

Our reward for waiting out the storm.

Our reward for waiting out the storm.

The storm was over even more quickly than it came upon us. By the time The Captain got back to the boat, the rain had stopped and the boys were peaking their heads out from the hatch, asking if it was over yet.

The boys watch the lightning on the opposite horizon.

The boys watch the lightning on the opposite horizon.

The clouds were parting and a spectacular sunset was our reward after the chaos. On one horizon, the sun lit up the sky, radiating streams of fiery orange and red. On the opposite horizon, lightning glimmered and a rainbow struggled out. The boys were amazed. They exclaimed gleefully each time they saw the lightning. It was the first time they’d been able to watch lightning outside from afar.

The sunset proved more and more spectacular as it progressed and the boys did not get bored of the amazement around us. We were all well and truly in awe.

The last drops of a delicious sunset.

The last drops of a delicious sunset.

It was a simple moment. It was just a half an hour of watching the sunset after a vicious summer thunderstorm. But we were together and we were grateful and we were amazed at the stark contrasts that nature can provide in just an hour.

It’s moments like those that affirm for me why we have made the plans that we’ve made. Moments like those will be our rewards for the hard work that we’ll put in to making our dreams reality. Moments like those are why we do it.

It is a beautiful thing to feel little in the face of nature.

Little Bear makes his way across the tidal flats and back to the boat before the storm.

Little Bear makes his way across the tidal flats and back to the boat before the storm.

Our Favorite Easy, Versatile and 100% Local Recipe (Or How Embracing the Summer Means Eating Locally)

Junior chows down on a local popsicle and local cucumber, both at once.

Junior chows down on a local popsicle and local cucumber, both at once.

Yesterday as I drove home, I caught a glimpse of Junior in the backseat. In one hand was a popsicle he’d gotten as a treat from a local farm after we’d gone berry picking. It was frozen local cider and raspberries and it was dripping, sticky and bright, down his arm. In his other hand was a half-eaten whole cucumber he’d pulled out of the bag we’d received this week from our farm share. He was alternating between the two. A few licks from his popsicle, a huge juicy bite of cucumber, and repeat.

To me, this snapshot in time perfectly summarizes two things that I love so much:

  1. Summer
  2. Where we live

(And of course, 3. Junior. But you already knew that.)

Summer is the season of freshness. Everything is ripe and juicy. The boys are most often shirtless with the season dripping from their chins as they lap it up. Summer is indulgence and simplicity at the same time. Summer is rich and ready, sizzling and sweet. Summer is here, and it’s ripe for the picking.

Digging for clams with the Captain

Digging for clams with the Captain

And what better place to enjoy summer than where we live. I grew up on Cape Cod, and though its natural beauty is something to behold, it didn’t have the depth of agriculture that we have here, north of Boston. Here, we have hayfields that run for miles lining roads. We have farm upon farm upon farm. Dairy farms, vegetable farms, fruit, meat, you name it. And on the other side, just across the bridge, is America’s oldest fishing port, the docks bustling with lobsters and cod, haddock and scallops. Out our own front door are the clam flats. The beaches stretch for miles, and then miles more at low tide. The water and sand become our playground.

Farm visits aren't just for summer

Farm visits aren’t just for summer

A few years ago, when Junior was ten months old and Little Bear was something between a possibility and a cluster of cells, I wrote a weeklong blog chronicling a different kind of family challenge. We had committed to eating only local foods for a week, even down to the seasoning and cooking oils. Of course we chose coffee as our cheat, but aside from that we challenged ourselves to eat only food produced entirely within 100 miles of our home for seven straight days. We took it to the extreme, drying our own herbs and making our own cheeses and yogurt. I even “made” my own sea salt by harvesting five gallon buckets of ocean water which I boiled down above high heat over the course of 12 hours, scraping the leftover salt crystals into tiny mason jars. Yeah, I was nuts.

Berries from our local farm, Russell Orchards.

Berries from our local farm, Russell Orchards.

But this week, as I gathered our weekly groceries around town, I appreciated how much of that original challenge has stuck with us. We went to one farm to pick berries and bring home a loaf of fresh bread. Then we stopped at another farm for our weekly bag of vegetables and herbs. I stopped at a roadside cooler for farm fresh eggs, and then made one final stop for local bacon, chicken, milk and cheese. It beats the supermarket any day, and I feel good knowing where my food comes from.

Part of the reason why we started the 365Outside Challenge was to reconnect with the world outside our own front door. I wanted my boys to grow up with a deeper understanding of our natural environment and an innate sense of seasonality and natural process. Eating locally is another way to connect and another way to grasp how the world works.

Strawberry picking at Connors Farm

Strawberry picking at Connors Farm

When we went to pick berries on Monday morning, Little Bear wanted strawberries, mostly because he remembered that the last time we’d gone berry picking, we’d gotten strawberries. But this time, we explained, the strawberries were gone. This time raspberries were in season and next will be blueberries. Similarly, the boys love peaches and always ask me to buy some when we’re at the grocery store. But, I explain to them, the peaches we see in the grocery store during the winter aren’t the same as the peaches we get from our local farm stand during the summer. We talk about how far the peaches have to travel during the winter to get to us, and I remind the boys that if we wait until summer, the peaches will taste so much fresher and juicier. (And then, like this year, there is a late season frost to wipe out the local peach crop, which is another discussion altogether.)

Local steamers dunked in butter just may be Little Bear's favorite food, though he still needs a little help getting them to his mouth!

Local steamers dunked in butter just may be Little Bear’s favorite food, though he still needs a little help getting them to his mouth!

Our weeklong local eating challenge was a way to explore just how simply we could live and a way to reflect on our impact on our local environment and economy. It was also the week we found out that I was pregnant with Little Bear, so I suppose you could call it life-changing for sure. At the end of it I wrote a slightly sappy reflection which I blame on pregnancy hormones, but I think it still rings true:

There are a lot of fad diets out there these days.  We hear all about “natural cleanses” and eating “caveman style.”  Everyone wants their body to be a temple, right?  And, to continue the analogy, I guess that there are all different styles of worship.  Some religions require a sort of cleansing of the soul, others value sacrifice, and most honor tradition.  I guess I worship through simplicity and by doing so, incorporate all three aspects to some extent.  We didn’t do this challenge to cleanse our bodies, or to feel as those we have sacrificed convenience and flavor for a greater cause.  We didn’t do this challenge to honor the traditions of settlers who came long before us.  In the end, we did do all of those things, but none of them were the point.  The point was to see how simply we could live and by doing so, maybe affect some longterm changes in our family values and eating habits.  I think the way your family eats says a lot about you.  Now that I’m raising a child, it’s even more important that I think critically about the values we are living on a daily basis.

Have you ever tried to eat local?

Here is a simple recipe that we’ve adapted many times, in many ways, to eat local on a relatively tight budget with simple ingredients:

Local Vegetable Frittata 

  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 bunch swiss chard, with leaves and stems separated.
  • 1 cup feta, or other local cheese as available, grated or crumbled
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Any local herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, etc. to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large tomato, sliced

Preheat oven to 350. Sauté finely diced onion and bell pepper in 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add chopped swiss chard stems and cook until onions are translucent. Add coarsely chopped swiss chard leaves and turn off heat, stirring until the leaves are wilted. Remove from pan and place on paper towel to drain any excess liquid. Whisk eggs, milk, salt and herbs together. 

Use remaining butter to grease a 10” cast iron pan. Spread vegetable mixture across the bottom. Distribute cheese evenly. Pour egg mixture gently over. Place tomato slices on top and add additional cheese on top if desired.

Cook in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, checking frequently. Remove as soon as the center is set.

Serve with side salad or steamed vegetables.

This meal is a staple of our summer diet for a few reasons. First, we can make it from 100% local ingredients that are readily available. Next, it is protein-rich but vegetarian. We aren’t vegetarians, but we try to eat meat-free several times a week as it’s cheaper and more friendly for our environment. Finally, it is delicious, the kids like it, and the leftovers are just as good for breakfast as they are for dinner.

This recipe is also super easy to tweak as needed, or desired. We’ve added bacon, ham, and sausage to this. We’ve added summer squash and zucchini. And, my personal favorite, we’ve added grated potatoes which make this hearty enough to serve as a camping breakfast (which we did!) It’s super versatile, budget-friendly, delicious and local.

We hope you enjoy!  

Helping to grow his own veggies makes him even more excited to eat them!

Helping to grow his own veggies makes him even more excited to eat them!

How To Wander the Woods With Very Young Children

Junior wanders the woods with a set of walking sticks.

Junior wanders the woods with a set of walking sticks.

When I first sat down to write about hiking with the kids, I drew an absolute blank. I felt totally unqualified and unprepared to dole out any advice about the topic and, dare I say, I actually felt completely uninspired by it. I know, I know – I felt uninspired by the idea of hiking outside with my kids??! Who am I and why so glum, chum?

But then I flipped my thinking. I realized that whenever I ask my kids if they want to go for a hike (or inform them that in fact we WILL be going for a hike, whether they like it or not), there is immediate pushback. They never want to go. In their minds, hiking is an arduous task. It’s work to get from one place to another. It is strenuous activity for relatively little in return. Yet when I ask them if they’d like to go for a walk (or inform them that in fact we WILL be going for a walk, whether they like it or not), they are always game. They help me choose where we’re going. They want to pack snacks and water bottles. They want to know if the dog can come, or if we can bring friends. They are excited. They are clamoring at the door while I finish getting our things together. And that’s exactly the flip my thinking needed.

Hiking, with my very young children, is in fact not pleasurable. If we leave the house with the sole objective to start on foot in one place and end on foot in another place, I am most definitely starting off on the WRONG foot. I am setting myself up for failure.

Junior was so proud of himself when he reached this little summit on our hike in Baja.

Junior was so proud of himself when he reached this little summit on our hike in Baja.

But when we go for a walk, or even better yet, a wander in the woods, we are infinitely more happy. When the kids set the pace and the agenda, we all have more fun. That’s not to say we never make it anywhere. It’s just to say I can’t ever count on us making it somewhere specific and if we do, it’s never within a predetermined timeframe.

Later this year, the Captain is hoping to take Junior on a backpacking trip. Just to remind you, Junior is still four years old. And though he isn’t a super-enthusiastic hiker (YET), we think he will actually love being out there, making his own progress and carrying his own gear, if we frame the experience correctly. First, we are going to try to coordinate with some friends so that he has some positive peer pressure to help him along. Next, we are framing it as a privilege. Backpacking is something that can only be done when you prove you’re ready for it. You have to be able to walk a couple miles with a pack on your back. You have to put in some work to reap your rewards. You have to be physically and emotionally strong enough to keep up. In short, you have to be a big kid.

Obviously, having just turned three, Little Bear isn’t there yet. He’s still at the meandering-through-the-woods phase. Which is just fine. Sometimes we have to meet our kids right where they are. And so, for Little Bear and little people like him, here are my top 3 tips for hiking wandering the woods with very young children.

  1. Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

    Enjoying a wet snack in the soggy woods.

    Bring plentiful snacks. This is pretty much my top tip for anything with kids. Skiing? Bring snacks. Sailing? Bring snacks. Hitting the beach? Taking a road trip? Sticking your head out the window to check if it’s raining? Always bring snacks. There will come a time when you will be running out the door for a very quick errand or simple stroll to get the mail and you will fool yourself into thinking it’s okay to not bring snacks, but you will be wrong. Very, very wrong.

  2. You may set a target destination or a target timeframe, but never set both. If you’re trying to get somewhere specific, allow all the time your kids want to take. And believe me, that will be ages. Epochs even. Or, if you know you don’t have several days to wander the woods, set a timeframe and confine your explorations to areas that are easily accessible. That is to say, don’t wander off deeply into the woods only to find your time expired and your car two miles away. Murphy’s Law says that this will happen every time, and that your child will then either take four times as long to return to the car, or will need to poop immediately.

    When they want to stop, discover and observe, go ahead and stop, discover and observe right alongside them!

    When they want to stop, discover and observe, let them!

  3. Don’t push it. Go in with low expectations, and let your kids set the pace. Instead of walking ahead of them, follow along behind. When they stop to look at something, stop to look at it with them. If they are tired or uncomfortable or hungry, listen. If they are fussy, ask yourself if they could be tired or uncomfortable or hungry. It is usually one of the three, and all can be fixed. Stay one step ahead of them in preparations, but one step behind in pace. Your patience will be rewarded.

Have you wandered the woods with the very young people in your life lately?

Wandering the woods with friends on an incredible fall day.

Wandering the woods with friends on an incredible fall day.

 

How to Camp With Kids: 5 Secrets to a Successful Adventure

Camping in Tasmania, the night after we got engaged.

Camping in Tasmania, the night after we got engaged.

When the Captain and I got engaged, we were camping in Tasmania. We had flown there without a shred of camping equipment, stayed in a hotel for New Year’s Eve, and then hit an outdoors store on New Years Day, both feeling a bit hazy and under the weather from the festivities the night before. Though we were completely unprepared in terms of gear (or reservations) we didn’t have a worry in the world because camping was no big deal to us. The idea of hitting a down-under version of Dick’s Sporting Goods and then heading into the wilderness for a week didn’t phase either of us in the least. And when it hailed all night our first night out there, we obviously decided that this boded well for our future and promised to spend our the rest of lives together. We were at camping level: expert.

Wild and free kids in their natural habitat.

Wild and free kids in their natural habitat.

But camping with kids is a different story. I’m all for letting my children embrace their inner jungle creature during normal waking hours, but in the round-the-clock eternal lavender glow of the summer solstice wherein free range kids are up until midnight and wake with first light at 4AM? No thanks. We are still admitted novices at family camping. We have only brought the kids a few times. And each time, it takes days of planning, packing, and forethought before I can comfortably wrap my head around our plans. But we’re getting better at it and each time is a little easier than the last. In fact, I’m developing a system to simplify the process. Someday, we are going to be able to decide that it’s a great weekend for camping on Friday afternoon, chuck our camping bins in the car, and hit the road. Here are my top tips for family camping so far.

The dish team puts the buckets and bins system to double-use.

The dish team puts the buckets and bins system to double-use.

  1. Pack in bins. Duffel bags are for air travel and sporting events. Backpacks are for backpacking. Plastic lawn bins and beverage tubs? Totally for car and boat camping. They are sturdy enough to get knocked around, they hold tons of gear and they can double as wind, water and animal-resistant storage at the campsite. Think about it: bags would need to be packed into the tent each night to keep them dry and safe. Bins and buckets can stay outside. They also stack easily and can double as kitchen area worktops when they have lids on. Large beverage buckets are similarly great for hauling things like sleeping bags, pads, tents, etc and then can double as dish buckets at the campsite.

    Boat packed with bins and buckets for camping.

    Dedicated camping gear means grabbing an already-packed bin from the basement and putting it straight in the boat.

  2. Have dedicated camping gear. Though it originally seemed silly to me that we would have one set of cooking ware and cutlery at home, one set on our boat and yet another set packed away and only used for camping, it really does make it so much easier. When you have a dedicated set of plates, bowls, cutlery, cookware and serving utensils, you can keep your camping kitchen bin packed and ready to go. Include your camp stove, a dish towel, sponge and dish soap. By keeping as much of your gear as possible packed and ready, your pre-camping prep gets trimmed significantly.
  3. Make a packing checklist and SAVE IT. Type your list up and each time you go camping, edit it down to delete things you didn’t need and add things you wish you’d brought. I know it seems anal and borderline obsessive, but a list takes so much of the stress and forethought out of the equation. Need a cheat sheet to get started? Check out my packing list here: 365Outside Camping List: A Work in Progress

    Just a glimpse of some of our gear - there is a lot to remember!

    Just a glimpse of some of our gear – there is a lot to remember!

  4. Prep food ahead of time. There is something about camping that makes a hot meal seem beyond luxurious. But prepping it, cooking it and cleaning it up outside makes the whole thing ten times more complicated than at home. I simplify the process by doing as much prep ahead of time as possible. I pre-cook as much as I can and freeze it before it goes in the cooler. I try to make things that can be reheated over the campfire to conserve space on the stove. Bonus points if it can be cooked in foil for no-clean-up. On our latest trip I cooked chili, breakfast casseroles and quinoa salad ahead of time. Friends brought meatloaf-stuffed peppers and onions along with foil-wrapped sweet potatoes and a ready-to-eat chicken salad. Coordinate with camping buddies and host a potluck. And include a few super easy meals like hotdogs or precooked sausages and some instant oatmeal so that you have some simple options to fall back on in a crunch.

    Little Bear, dirty-faced and enjoying a s'mores

    Little Bear, dirty-faced and enjoying a s’mores

  5. Indulge the little ones. We run a pretty tight ship around here, but camping is another story. Kids are happiest when they feel like they are experiencing something special and being given extra freedoms. When we camp, they stay up late, they run wild, they get dirt and food caked into their sunscreen and bug spray plastered cheeks. And we don’t care. They snack all day long. They stuff their cheeks with s’mores and they enjoy steady peace offerings of glow sticks and bubbles. Some may say we spoil them, which may certainly be the case, but vacation is a chance for everyone to indulge and any adult who doesn’t eat, drink and indulge more often on vacation clearly isn’t doing it right. Why not give kids the same experience we create for ourselves?
Our tent and hammock set up overlooking the beach.

Our tent and hammock set up overlooking the beach.

Our camping trip last weekend was the stuff of summer dreams. We were surrounded by good friends in a full-on multi-family camping slumber party. There was plenty of good food, indulgent drinks and relaxation. But at the same time, we were surrounded by natural beauty and removed from the chaos of daily life. The kids romped across the tidal flats, catching crabs and snails. We watched the sun set slowly and the nearly full moon rise. We sat around the camp fire late into the night with sleepy kids who eventually, thankfully, asked to go to sleep. We woke early and sipped our steaming coffee while watching the gentle water lap along the shore. We spent long hours exploring the sound in our boat. And when the last day arrived, we packed up slowly, regrettably, glancing back over our shoulders as we left the island behind until next time. It’s still a bit of a ordeal to create these moments, but it’s getting easier and it’s always worth the hassle.

The Captain wades out for a calm morning swim while the boys play onshore.

The Captain wades out for a calm morning swim while the boys play onshore.

 

Little Bear

Little Bear

 

A friend's son ponders his dad's strategic lounging.

A friend’s son ponders his dad’s strategic lounging.

 

Father's Day gifts: Woohoos. They're as fun as they look!

Father’s Day gifts: Woohoos. They’re as fun as they look!

 

Junior shows off a crab he's caught

Junior shows off a crab he’s caught

The moon rises over the bay.

The moon rises over the bay.

Junior snuggles into the hammock at sunset on our first night.

Junior snuggles into the hammock at sunset on our first night.

Getting Our Sea Legs

Saying goodbye to Little Wing until next weekend

Saying goodbye to Little Wing until next weekend

Last weekend I found myself standing balanced on the bow of our inflatable dinghy, rain clouds building overhead and two little boys perched on a wooden bench below me, shivering against the cool morning breeze.

“Let’s GO, mama,” Junior urged, impatiently sloshing his feet in the bilge. Little Bear tottered unsteadily, dipping his fingers into the harbor and rolling his head back. We had woken early and happily had breakfast on the boat in the comfort of our cozy cabin, but now we were anxious to beat the weather and get going. The temperature had plunged and storm clouds were rolling in quickly.

Little Bear goes to work on the dinghy line.

Little Bear goes to work on the dinghy line.

Unfortunately, I had to deal with another mess courtesy of the boys before we could leave.

The dinghy line was wrapped in a huge knot around our deck cleat. It was tucked and looped and over-under-ed in such an elaborate tangle that I had no choice but to start at the end and undo each and every turn that little hands had worked so hard to secure. This was just another reminder of what we’ll do differently next time.

In a previous life, The Captain and I ran youth sailing programs. I taught sailing in Australia, the US and the British Virgin Islands. I ran programs for sailing students ranging in age from 8 to adult. I spent a season captaining boats for a popular Caribbean charter fleet, living aboard with families for a week at a time as I sailed them from one destination to the next. I was frequently assigned to families with young kids because I was the best at kid-on-boat control. I was sold as a novelty – a young, female captain who also wrangles children! Not to brag, but this is kind of my specialty.

The kiddos swab the deck - at least we got that part right!

The kiddos swab the deck – at least we got that part right!

So it will come as a surprise to learn that when it was time to bring our own children for their first sail and overnight on our boat, we were totally unprepared. I mean, the VERY first thing you learn when you’re getting ready to bring people out on a boat is that you always start with a safety briefing. Introduce potential risks, teach people how to move safely, show them how to react to emergencies – that sort of thing. We put our kids on the boat without so much as a word. Our kids love boats. They spend a lot of time on our skiff and have been on big sailing boats before. We took it for granted that they are generally pretty boat savvy when we should have treated them like any other sailing student.

Junior gets a lesson in helmsmanship from the Captain.

Junior gets a lesson in helmsmanship from the Captain.

Because we started so unprepared, we spent the weekend chasing the boys around barking orders that they couldn’t understand. SIT IN THE COCKPIT! DO NOT TOUCH THE WINDLASS! STOP PLAYING WITH THAT WINCH! Everyone who knows kids knows that it’s easiest to start with strict rules and then slowly relax them. Instead, we’re now in the uncomfortable position of backpedaling to enforce more restrictive rules. It won’t be easy but it has to be done since we are planning to spend most weekends on the boat for the rest of the summer, along with a longer cruise in August.

We are looking forward to trying again and getting better and better at having them aboard with every trip. In the meantime, here are some pictures from our adventures thus far.

Our first sunset onboard

Our first sunset onboard

Little Bear and Junior wait for a ride ashore to get ice cream.

Little Bear and Junior wait for a ride ashore to get ice cream.

S/V Little Wing

S/V Little Wing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In The Moment, He Could Have Drowned

Suddenly I looked down and Little Bear was underneath me, swirling in the murky depth of the hot tub. His eyes were open and wild. Panicked. I reached down with one arm and fished him out. He came up feisty and screaming. He was scared and latched on to my neck, clinging with bony arms around me as he wailed.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

Both boys play at the beach in their Coast Guard approved Puddle Jumper lifejackets.

I often reflect here about the importance of letting my kids experience failure (sometimes even when it hurts) and about my general let-them-run-wild approach to parenting. But I actually do consider myself a very SAFE parent. I like to think that through my experiences in education and particularly as an experiential educator, I have above average awareness of our environment and its potential risks. We let our kids take all sorts of chances, but we do so knowingly and we take precautions to minimize risks. We also teach our kids about the risks around them. I recently read an interview with National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Tommy Caldwell in which he says about raising his son, “prepare him for the path; not prepare the path for him.” And that rings true for me. We create an environment in which our kids can fail without dire consequences, and then we let them learn from it so that they can move forward more confidently and more safely in the future. We’ve got this.

But while we were on vacation, Little Bear could have drowned. I won’t say he almost did because he wasn’t even coughing afterwards, but there was a moment where I saw so clearly how it could happen. It was so quick and it was so quiet. At the time I brushed it off as no big deal, just another childhood rite of passage. We laughed about it later that day, this crazy fearless little kid, always such a handful, giving us a run for our money. It was the kind of thing that happens all the time. But I am still thinking about it almost two months later so here I am, putting it in writing where I purge the toxins that my mind can’t process.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Little Bear in the hotel pool, wearing his Puddle Jumper.

Our hotel had a small pool and a hot tub. Every afternoon after the boys woke from naps, we’d head for the water. The pool was on the colder side and both boys were their usual cautious selves at first when it came to getting in. They’d splash around the edge for a while, dipping toes in and giggling at the chill. Junior can swim on his own now, so he would eventually swim from one side to another and Little Bear would follow suit with his Puddle Jumper on. The hot tub, though, was a new commodity. Neither boy had ever been in one. And since it was really only lukewarm, it was easy to get right in.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

Both boys standing on the seat of the hot tub earlier on our trip.

One afternoon towards the end of our stay, when I thought we’d all figured out the whole water safety thing, I got into the hot tub and Little Bear hopped in right beside me, which was unusual since he is almost always very cautious around the water. I guess he had grown more confident during our stay. He was standing on the seat and I told him, “Remember, you don’t have your floatie on. You can stand here, but you can’t go in the middle. You will sink.” When I said it, I thought that maybe he actually would slip off the seat, and being that I was sitting right next to him I’d grab him just as his head went under. And there we’d both be, lesson learned. But instead of squirming around in his typical fashion and slipping off the seat, he just stood on the seat for a long time, elbows propped on the tiles around the edge of the tub. He was deep in thought or he was tired or he was just having a moment. He stood there so still for so long that I became too comfortable with him being there, without a floatie on. I had a false sense of security. I almost forgot he was there.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

Little Bear splashes at the beach in his lifejacket last summer.

I reached for my camera. The bag was beside the hot tub so I didn’t even need to get out of the water. He was beside me, within arms reach. He could have put a hand out and grabbed me. I only needed to shift my body and turn my shoulders slightly to reach my camera. I pulled it out of the case. I took the lens cap off and looked through the viewfinder to check the autofocus which had been acting up. I took a picture of the view.

And when I turned back, he was gone. He was underwater, swirling around and around, his panicked, pleading eyes staring up at me. I fished him out. It could not have been more than a few seconds. I held him while he cried and I felt my chest collapse with the knowledge that it could happen just like that. Beside me. Silently. What if I had decided to change the lenses? What if Junior had yelled, “Look at me, Mama!” What if. What if.

I write this now because we learn from our own stories and from the stories of our friends. If we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, our own growth only comes from our own mistakes. Don’t let that happen. Let my mistake be the catalyst for your change.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Junior wading in a tidepool, wearing his lifejacket last summer.

Put your child’s life jacket on EVERY SINGLE TIME they are near the water. I thought I could trust Little Bear but I should have never put that kind of trust in a two-year-old. The only way to keep your child safe around the water is to fit him or her with an appropriate life preserver and use it every time. Little Bear was fine. He didn’t swallow any water and he was back to swimming in just a minute. But I’d be selling us short if I let that be the end of it.

Drowning is silent and quick and it can happen right beside you when you turn away for just a moment. There wasn’t even a splash.

I thought it couldn’t happen to us, but I don’t think that anymore.

 

For more about water safety, click here.

To learn more about what drowning really looks like (and it doesn’t look how it does on TV), read this.

Is Contentment the Enemy of Adventure?

If we’re going to talk about work-life balance, I have to start out with the honest truth. I do not work outside the home. To some, that probably removes me from the conversation immediately. I am a stay-at-home mom who tries to do some writing on the side and holds down the fort here full time. That said I have two rambunctious little boys, aged 3 and 4, and my husband is a full-time tugboat captain which means he is often at sea. His current schedule has him gone Monday-Friday and we are grateful to spend the weekends together, but he leaves the house at 4:30AM on Mondays and doesn’t get home again until 7:00PM on Fridays. During the week it is just me and the kids, day in and day out. His previous schedule had him at sea roughly half the year; his current one is more variable. In any case, like all stay-at-home moms I am busy. I am not doing morning yoga and drinking smoothies on the couch. But, I also thought I was doing plenty for myself.

Some days after the kids are in bed, I will take a nice, long soak in a hot bath. Sometimes when they both nap in the afternoon, I will drink a cup of tea and watch a Gilmore Girls rerun. I’ve also helped myself by raising the boys to enjoy the same things that I do, so that we can all go on long walks through the woods or farm fields.

Sailing with Junior on the wooden boat that we owned before Little Bear was born.

Sailing with Junior on the wooden boat that we owned before Little Bear was born.

In my mind, these were the things keeping me sane. They brought a great deal of contentment to my everyday life. But, though they made me content, they didn’t bring me a ton of real joy. I had lost touch with the things that thrilled me, the things that made me throw my head back in hearty laughter, the experiences that left me so exhilarated that I could only grin and shake my head afterwards. There was no excitement.

We were content, but were we too content?

In many ways contentment is the enemy of adventure. It’s easy to find contentment in the everyday, mundane comforts of daily life. My morning coffee before the boys wake up, steaming hot and cloaked in the warmth of my boys quietly sleeping upstairs. Stealing an hour to exercise and shower, boys playing with their legos or watching an episode of Wild Kratts in the next room. Taking the dog for a long walk on a rainy day. Drinking tea while snow falls gently on our skylight. Spending a day at home without accomplishing much of anything. It’s so simple. It’s so easy. We are so content.

But with the purchase of our new boat, we’ve plunged headlong into a different kind of joy. It’s the sheerness of being on the edge of our dreams. It’s the excitement of working towards something, dreaming about it and taking the first big concrete step towards reality. It’s the fear of knowing you’re financially invested and that you’ll only get one shot. It’s the fear of unknown challenges ahead and the adrenaline rush of running towards them instead of away.

Our boat, formerly named Deja Vu, launches.

Our boat, formerly named Deja Vu, launches.

We launched the boat last week and took delivery of it this weekend. It was in many ways the opposite of how I’d imagined it. The weather was cold, damp and windy. We hadn’t bent the sails on yet, so we couldn’t sail but instead motored into a bumpy seaway, me on the helm and the Captain wrestling canvas into place up forward. We shivered in the cockpit as the wind nipped our ears. Though it had been almost 90 degrees the day before, I layered on three fleeces and a raincoat and the wind still got through. Down below, the boys were nestled into bunks, bundled in sleeping bags, napping to the rhythmic hum of our engine.

Little Bear asleep in his bunk.

Little Bear asleep in his bunk.

Junior asleep in his bunk.

Junior asleep in his bunk.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally underway on our new boat!

Finally underway on our new boat!

When we arrived at our mooring just a few hours later, it suddenly became just as I had imagined. The Captain got into the dinghy to attach the mooring pennants and I motored the boat around, standing by for him to wave me closer. For just a few minutes, it was just me at the helm and the boys down below sleeping. It brought me such joy to have that moment, where I was doing something that I used to do routinely that brings me such pure happiness, and I was doing it by myself with my children sleeping quietly in their bunks. A wave of relief washed over me. I’ve still got it, I was thinking as a grin plastered itself across my face and I pulled our boat up to the mooring. As I shut the engine off, the boys woke. Junior asked what was next and when we told him we’d go ashore, retrieve our cars and pick up dinner on the way home, he cried. “I want to stay here.” His eyes brimmed with tears. When we told him again that we needed to go get the cars, he pleaded, “Can we come back in the morning? Can we have breakfast here?”

You know it's sheer joy when I start snapping selfies.

You know it’s sheer joy when I start snapping selfies.

Sheer joy swelled in me. I was afraid the boys wouldn’t be able to nap onboard. When they did, i was afraid they’d wake seasick or grumpy or cold. I was afraid they would hate it. But they napped soundly and woke begging for more. They love the boat possibly as much as their parents do. They want more.

And that brings me sheer joy. We have the whole summer ahead of us. Adventures line the horizon. We haven’t fallen victim to the comfort of contentment. We are just getting started.

Outward bound on the S/V Little Wing.

Outward bound on the S/V Little Wing.

Simplicity: How To Return To The Roots of Summer

Mama Bear, soaking up the summer of ’87.

When I was little, I was lucky enough to live on a dead end street that backed up to the old town cemetery. Since this was our daily norm, it never seemed creepy to me and we used it as an extended yard perfect for hide and go seek, flashlight tag, cutting across to neighbor’s houses and climbing in trees. I’m sure there are some who might consider this disrespectful, but I tend to think that if we could all choose, we’d actually prefer our final resting places be full of joy and playfulness rather than solemnity and grief. Besides, the cemetery hadn’t been used in centuries so at least it was getting some visitors this way.

In any case, we would head out in the morning, sometimes with a backpack full of supplies and other times with only the clothes on our back, and we’d return when we got hungry. We had an imaginary treehouse in the cemetery where we lived in our own magical world. We’d pretend we were living in colonial times or that we were runaways living off the land. We blazed a trail beyond one end of the stonewall that came out at a pond where we hung a rope swing and spent hours throwing rocks into the water. We walked to the gas station to buy candy, sold lemonade along the bike path, and read books on a towel in the backyard. I don’t remember anything extravagant and I don’t remember tons of activities. Sure there were a few sessions of swim lessons and a week of soccer camp scattered here and there, but most of the summer was completely wide open.

The taste of summer!

The taste of summer!

My kids are still too young to spend hours free ranging through our neighborhood but someday they will be old enough and that’s exactly how I see them spending their summers. They will swim off the bridge at the town landing. They’ll go fishing in the river. There will be penny candy and bikes and skinned knees and an impatient wait in line at the hotdog stand. It’s a long way off still but that doesn’t mean that it’s not time to lay the groundwork.

There’s a lot of chatter lately about simplifying our lives, simplifying childhood, purging excess and returning to our roots. But how do we do it? How do we make it happen when everything else continues to move so quickly? By instilling the values of simplicity and patience now, I am hoping to raise boys who return to simplicity as they get older.

Here’s what I’m doing this summer to simplify our lives.

Much better than anything on TV

Much better than anything on TV

First, we’re limiting screen time. This isn’t really specific to summer but it is easier to do when the weather is kind and the sun is up late. We are not a screen-free home (but power to you if you are; I am in awe of you!) but I limit screen-time strategically. Our kids usually get to watch 20 minutes after dinner while I’m putting away laundry and cleaning up. (Just for context here, remember that The Captain is more often than not away on the tugboat so it is just me and the kiddlywinks). Sometimes Little Bear will get to watch 20 minutes in the morning while Junior is at school and I exercise, but honestly he doesn’t have much patience for it and I try to actively encourage his disinterest when he wanders in halfway through his show and announces he’s all done. I find most of my success in limiting screen-time comes from setting concrete limits in advance, explaining them to the kids so that they know what to expect and then sticking to the limits come hell or high water.

Go for it, buddy. Let me know what you find.

Go for it, buddy. Let me know what you find.

Another way I’m simplifying is by becoming a more distant observer. Like I said, my kids are too young to totally free range, but I’m preparing them for it by keeping my distance. I try to let them explore our neighborhood on their own. When they play in our backyard, I supervise from the kitchen and only step in if someone is crying or hurt. When they are exploring further afield, I hang back and let them lead the way. I keep an eye out for safety risks but mostly I let them do their thing without feeling like I’m breathing down their necks. It’s simpler for them and it’s easier for me. It takes a lot of work to be a helicopter mom! Some might call it the Lazy Mom approach to parenting but we didn’t come across it by way of sheer laziness. There’s some forethought involved, I promise.

We will plant ourselves on this beach and move when the sun begins to set.

We will plant ourselves on this beach and move when the sun begins to set.

Summer is also the time to go outside for extended periods, sometimes all day long. I plan to take advantage of the long days and warm weather while we’ve got them. Remember my tips for getting out the door for a beach day in 20 minutes or less? I go the same route with our daypack. I keep it stocked with a quick-drying change of clothes for each kid, a few ready-to-eat snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and a basic first aid kit. I also keep one of my larger sarongs in there to use as a picnic blanket or to string in trees for shade. We can be ready for a day out of the house as quickly as it takes me to fill our water bottles and throw some sandwiches together. It’s easy to become very rooted to the house and your neighborhood, but don’t be afraid to head out for the entire day. Go to the woods or the lake or the river or the beach. If your clan gets bored of one, head to another. Make it special with a stop at the ice cream store or the burger shack. Heck, my kids think it’s special just to run into a gas station to buy a ten-cent lollipop.

There will be ice cream and it will be messy!

There will be ice cream and it will be messy!

Which brings me to my next goal: simplify our eating. I am generally very engaged in healthy eating and I spend a lot of time in our kitchen cooking three meals a day. But come summer? I’m out. All it takes is some marinated chicken to have a quick, healthy dinner on the table in under half an hour. Grill it up, serve with some corn on the cob, add a salad and you’re done. My kids are usually great eaters, but they do love their carbs. The other night I was having an internal debate over what to serve alongside their chicken and corn. Noodles? Rice? Rice pilaf? Roasted potatoes? Ugh, all would require dishes and time and cooking. And then I had my epiphany moment, why all the stress about what carbs my kids are going to eat tonight? They love toast with butter, so why would I go through the motions of making a box of rice pilaf when that’s really not much different than toast with butter in the first place and there’s a loaf of bread sitting right there on the counter? Simple meals are the name of our game this summer. Yogurt and granola for breakfast? Check. Sandwiches or bagels with cream cheese on the go at lunchtime? Got it. Something quick on the grill with some fresh veggies alongside? All done. Less time cooking means more time for playing and getting outside.

A relaxed schedule means more memories like this one: last year's town bonfire after dark with friends.

A relaxed schedule means more memories like this one: last year’s town bonfire after dark with friends.

And finally, this summer we are reaching a milestone. I’m letting go of our schedule. Ok, not totally. Phew. But for the first time in four years, neither kid requires a nap. Sure, they may be more pleasant after a nice long rest, but this summer I’m relaxing our schedule and going with the flow more. We can skip naps. We can stay up late or go to bed early. We can make a schedule that works for us and when it stops working, we’ll make a new one. Last summer I clung to our schedule by necessity. Without afternoon naps, the boys would crumble. Up past his bedtime, Little Bear would dissolve into tears. But more recently, the boys have been more adaptable. We have more freedom and this summer, we’re going to take advantage of it.

Our stripped down summer.

Our stripped down summer.

By simplifying our summer, we strip it down to its roots. How do I want to remember our summer? How do I want the kids to remember it? To us, summer is about freedom, adventure and yes, the occasional indulgence. We’ll spend long days at the beach and on the boat. We’ll eat sweets and watch the stars come out. We’ll hunt lightning bugs. We’ll build an obstacle course in the backyard. We’ll let the saltwater dry in our hair.

How do you want to remember your summer?

 

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