Refresh Your Life

Category: Adventures (Page 1 of 4)

Quit While You’re Ahead On Outdoor Adventures, Or Risk Family Mutiny

Well, it happened. We went on an outdoor adventure and we called it quits, due to weather. Surprisingly, this has never actually happened to us before. Sure, there have been days where we cut a walk short or chose an alternate activity, but we’ve never committed to a big trip, undertaken it, and then bailed when the going got tough.

Of course, that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, though. In fact, I would say we left at the exact right time. You know what they say about quitting while you’re ahead. Well, we quit at the pinnacle and everyone left happy and excited to do it all again. That’s what matters most.

Let me back up.

Winter Cabin Camping

For the last two winters I have been mildly obsessed with winter cabin camping. I’m definitely not ready to commit to sleeping in a tent on the frozen snowpack quite yet, and honestly the idea of winter camping in a tent with children who still, despite every warning, KEEP THEIR SHOES ON WHEN THEY GO IN THE TENT, is distressing.

So when I first discovered winter cabin camping through an article in Outdoor Families Magazine, I was immediately hooked. And lo and behold, it took just a quick search on Reserve America to find winter cabin rentals within a few hours’ drive.

We booked our first trip for last January. It was a bitterly cold weekend, and the cabin was more a dirt-floored shack-closet to which the captain vowed he would never return. Yet still, the forever-memories won us over.

Just look at the kids exploring the magic of a frozen lake and then roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a fire while the sunsets across the ice. It was beautiful enough that we all wanted to give it another try.

A late afternoon ice hike with daddy.


Cooking hot dogs on the fire.


Late afternoon memories on the frozen pond.

This year, I booked us at some cabins just down the road from the closet we stayed in last year. From what little information I could find online, they looked significantly newer, cleaner, and more civilized. They even had electricity, which I argued actually made this less winter cabin “camping” and more winter cabin “retreating”. In any case . . .

Come November, I knew I wanted to escape and I chose inauguration weekend because I knew we’d all appreciate being unplugged then. We gathered some friends to book the cabin next door, dusted off our trusty camping packing list, prepped some meals, and then proceeded to shoehorn enough gear to reach the north pole for the weekend into every last crevice of the minivan. We were ready.

Mohawk Trail State Forest

Three hours and several potty stops later, we arrived at Mohawk Trail State Forest, picked up our key at the ranger station, and found our way to Cabin 7. We pushed the heavy door open and with the flick of a switch, we illuminated the entire spacious cabin, finished in fresh white pine, complete with built-in cabinets, granite countertops, and a 3/4 wall separating two spacious sleeping areas.

Sleeping area: Bunk bed and single twin separated from a double bed by 3/4 wall.


Kitchen area (no running water), kitchen table, and woodstove.

This was not winter cabin camping. This was . . . bordering on luxury. As we unpacked, the boys got to work with their trucks to build ski jumps, sledding hills, and parking garages in the snow piles by the front porch.

That night, we sat with friends, eating bowls of hearty chili and sipping on hot toddies around the outdoor fire while the kids stuffed themselves with s’mores. We fed the wood stove inside to keep things downright steamy, and everyone slipped into a long, comfortable sleep broken only by the occasional draft that reminded us to keep the fire going through the night.

Little Bear scouting for kindling.

In the morning, we cooked bacon and eggs on the wood stove and us adults fortified ourselves with dark coffee to make it through the day. We hiked to a small summit and followed deer and coyote tracks along the way. Then we descended to a shallow valley with a thawed river bubbling through it. The boys threw snowball after snowball into the current.

Family picture at the mini-summit.


Boys walking with daddy.


Little Bear surveys the river

After some quiet time in the afternoon, the boys were ready for some carefully plotted sledding through the trees behind our cabin, gathering firewood, and then foil packs of veggies and potatoes, and sausage cooked on the outdoor fire.

As the evening got quiet, we began to ponder the weather forecast. We had had no phone or internet since our arrival on Friday and when we left, there’d been rain forecast for both Saturday and Sunday. We had gotten lucky on Saturday with a mild, overcast day free from rain, but we weren’t sure about the outlook for Sunday. We had big plans so we crossed our fingers and headed to our bunks early enough to get a jumpstart on our Sunday morning.

Cooking sausages and foil packs of veggies and potatoes.

The boys roast marshmallows with help from the Captain.

Second night fire – you can see that the snow has melted quite a bit during the day.

Sunday dawned dreary and damp. The air felt cold and wet. We had a full day of skiing booked at the little, local mountain four miles down the road. The kids were taking all-day lessons and we were finally going to have a day to ski together as adults.

The rain started on the drive to the ski hill. It was pretty light at first but soon the drops were falling in giant dollops that landed with a smack on the windshield. We hurried into the ski school and got the run down of options and even a peak at the radar.

It might stop, it might not. The staff were very accommodating and offered refunds if we decided to skip the lessons. Instead, we opted to cut the full-day ski school down to just an hour in the morning, skip the adult skiing, and then call it by ear. Honestly, the ski day wasn’t going to be cheap and I wasn’t about to drop $400 on a day of family fun that simply wasn’t.

Checking out the rain before ski school.


Ready to conquer the rain for an hour!

It was the right choice. The kids skied an hour and were absolutely soaked. Afterwards, they trudged into the tavern looking (and acting) like freshly flea-dipped cats.

We stripped off soaking jackets, rung out mittens and neck warmers, and hung everything by the fireplace. Over a lunch of fried kids’ meals, we took the opportunity to go online and check the weather forecast. The afternoon called for more heavy and consistent rain that would turn to sleet and freezing rain overnight. The next day called for ice.

It didn’t take much conversation to decide that we should just call it quits. If there had been snow in the forecast, we’d have happily stayed to bunker down through the worst and wake to a white wonderland, ripe for exploring the next day.

But we couldn’t face an afternoon of being wet and cold, followed by the rigor of packing up in freezing rain and the stress of driving home through it the next day.

So we quit while we were ahead. The kids were sad to leave. We were sad to leave too. Even the ranger smiled in a sad way and remarked, “Going home early to beat the storm, huh? Sorry about that.”

We’ve found it’s always best to quit before it gets bad, but it’s often a fine line to walk, especially with kids. They can go from having the time of their lives to wailing like mateless coyotes in just a matter of seconds, so our goal is always to get out of there while they’re still having the time of their lives. This also makes it much easier to convince them to go back again another time.

This time, I think we nailed it. There’s no shame in heading home when all signs point to impending misery. The real shame is in sticking to a plan that’s only remaining strength is its title of The Plan.   

Guest Post: Reflections On Our First 365Outside

I’m always excited to hear about how embracing the 365Outside Challenge has helped other families and friends to get outside more on a daily basis. When Nina contacted me this week asking if I’d be interested in hearing her story, of course I said yes.

Nina has just completed her first year of the 365Outside Challenge, and is rolling straight into year two with another baby added to her pack. Read on to hear about how she managed to get outside over 300 days last year, with her toddler and a baby on board. Thanks for reaching out, Nina!

Reflections On Our First 365Outside

by Nina Rhoades

I first learned of 365Outside last December and decided immediately that we needed to do it. My husband and I love nature and time outside, and we consider it a cornerstone of our parenting goals that our kids play in the outdoors as often as possible. However, my son was 21 months old when we started on Jan 1, 2016, and I found out just days later that I was pregnant with our second, so getting outside every single day was definitely going to be a challenge, especially since we live in northern Utah — where the ground is snow-covered from mid-December to late March on average.  

All in all, I got outside on 312 days in 2016, and my son got out on 327 days. (We didn’t count days for my husband because his job requires him to travel regularly, but he also loves to be outside and took my son out to play whenever he was able). Most of the days lost were either during the winter, or in September when my daughter was born. It wasn’t 366/366 days, but I was happy with it — and we hope to improve upon it this year!


As we begin our second 365Outside, now with an almost-3-year-old and a baby, here’s what I learned over the last year:

  1. Gear does matter. No, I am not suggesting that small children need wardrobes from The North Face. But if you’re battling weather at all, you’ll want to identify the couple of items that will make you and your children most comfortable. For our snowy winters, Stonz Mittz for my son, along with some good boots (we chose Kamik) have made all of the difference in whether he wants to go out in the snow or not.
  2. A few solid outdoor toys are also REALLY helpful. Again, I’m not suggesting that spending a lot of money is necessary — I’m actually fairly minimalist when it comes to toys — but if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in your yard with a toddler, you will need something to do. For us, a sled and shovel for the snow, and a Strider bike, scooter, and water table in the summer, along with some sidewalk chalk, made a huge difference. While I wasn’t crazy about it, I also came to appreciate his “Lightning McQueen” motorized little car (approximately $60). It’s not the same as running around, but he loved that thing so dearly, and it got him outside many a day that he wasn’t otherwise interested — and you can try to change activities once you’re out there.  Idea: Ask family members and friends to gift outdoor gear or toys for birthdays/holidays.  

    Photo courtesy of Nina Rhoades

  3. That said, varying your activities is absolutely necessary. I love hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, etc., and am thankful we live close to mountains so we can do those things regularly without too much trouble. But in real life with a toddler, it’s just not practical to do that every day — just like it can be painful to draw on the sidewalk every day. I liked the book 15 Minutes Outside by Rebecca P. Cohen for additional ideas.  It’s nothing cosmic — roast marshmallows, build a birdhouse, and so on — but helped us to get out of our daily routine. Also, it doesn’t need to be fascinating.  One rainy summer day we listened to distant thunder from our porch and I taught my son the phrase, “Thunder means be careful; lightning means go inside.”  He repeated it for days.  Another night I had him help put up Christmas lights on the porch after the baby was in bed as a “special activity.”  It wasn’t exploring mountains but we got some fresh air.  
  4. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s about you — and sometimes it’s not. We have done hikes with our son (and even in the fall, our daughter) in a backpack or an Ergo, in the baby’s case, and they enjoyed it. But I’ve also driven an hour to a “perfect kid hike” and let my son determine the pace, where we stop, and how long we’re out. He loved it and spent over an hour throwing rocks into a tiny stream. They’re not going to love being outside if they’re only being dragged along.  
  5. On that note, sometimes you need to push. Sometimes you don’t. My son loves being outside (and I’m thankful to 365Outside that his love for the outdoors has increased significantly over the last year), but sometimes he’s happy doing whatever he’s doing inside, or gets distracted by a favorite train on the way out the door. Sometimes you need to shove him out the door (he rarely complained once out and often didn’t want to go back in,) and occasionally just accept that a book or other indoor activity IS the right choice that day.  
  6. Make it happen. Right now, with a 4-month-old baby, when my husband is at work, getting outside in the snow often means waiting until she takes a nap, hanging the monitor around my neck, taking my son out while staying within range of the monitor, and then going back in when she wakes up.  Sometimes I do take her out in the snow of course but it’s not realistic that she, a baby who can’t yet sit up on her own, is going to stay out for two hours like my son wants to.  I feel bad dragging him back in after 45 minutes, but 45 minutes is better than nothing.  
  7. Get out yourself.  You can see from the numbers that there were days when my son got outside and I didn’t, probably because he went outside with my husband or with the daycare that he attends two mornings a week. I like to go running and do other things that bring me outside without him, but on more than one occasion, I went out after he was in bed and went for a walk, or shoveled some snow instead of snow-blowing it, just to get some fresh air myself on a day when I otherwise wouldn’t have. I never regretted doing that. We all need fresh air.  

Photo courtesy of Nina Rhoades

Nina is a stay-at-home mom to two sweet and amazing children while also working very part-time for an online research company.  Before having kids, she worked as a foreign and defense policy analyst, and lived in the Middle East for two years.  She and her husband love to travel and explore, run and do Crossfit, and debate politics.  They live near Ogden, Utah.  

Enter to Win a Trip to Iceland From Outdoor Families Magazine

Remember last year when we thought we were being scammed into a timeshare or something when really the Captain had won us a no-strings-attached family adventure in Baja, Mexico? Being that we had never won anything, ever, we assumed we’d never be able to take advantage of such an amazing prize.

But lo and behold, two months later we were flying the kids to Mexico for a week of surfing, hiking, horseback riding, and swimming with sea lions. I am still in a little bit of disbelief that this actually happened. While the tan is long gone and the memories are starting to fade, at least we still have the pictures.






It was undoubtedly the most amazing family vacation we’ve ever been on with the kids. The Captain and I used to go on adventures abroad as a part of our work, but that phase in our lives ended when the littles came along. These days we mostly stick to off-grid camping or sailing vacations. But Baja reminded us how amazing it is to experience other cultures, with the added bonus of sharing them with our kids. Traveling as a family is an experience that I don’t think can be matched. And we certainly won’t be able to match the Baja experience anytime soon.

Feeling jealous yet? Don’t worry, now it’s your turn.

Enter to Win A Trip to Iceland

Outdoor Families Magazine, who ran the awesome contest that we won, is running another vacation giveaway right now, and it sounds beyond cool.

Between now and February 2, you can enter to win a three-night vacation for three in ICELAND. Sound awesome? It should!

Iceland has been on my bucket list for about five years. We have a handful of friends who have gone and report back that it’s every bit as magical as it’s cracked up to be.

Why travel to Iceland? Well, for starters I want to see the northern lights, do a glacier tour and, most definitely, bathe in a geothermal pool. I mean, seriously. Look at this thing:

The Captain also wants to go surfing there, but he already won a surf vacation once so I think his odds are pretty slim.

You can find all the details here. (Spoiler alert: 3-course dinner and a Puffin Watching Boat Tour.)

Read the rules and regulations here (to find out if the Captain is allowed to win twice in a row). Obviously you don’t have to buy anything, and if anyone can vouch that this is truly a no-strings-attached giveaway, it’s us.

May the odds be ever in your favor . . . and may you bring me back a keychain.

Stuck in a Rut, and the Importance of a Micro-Adventure

I’ve been stuck in a rut lately. Not so much a bad rut. More like a fairly comfortable one, but maybe perhaps too comfortable because then I’m less inclined to make my my way out. Maybe I don’t want to anyway, I don’t know.

It’s no secret that this is the time of year when this sort of thing happens. It’s cold out. Like – one morning it was 4F so of course our pipes froze in the barn and our old drafty house struggled to stay above 60. It’s that kind of cold. We have to pile on layers to get outside, and then Little Bear runs away squealing in glee because it’s just SUCH A FUN GAME to peel off the socks and the long johns as soon as Mama layers them on him.

It’s also almost the shortest day of the year. I am beyond lucky that both of my kids still nap every afternoon, but the double-edged sword means that often, by the time they are getting up and ready to roll again, it is getting dark out. I scurry around like a mad-woman barking, “Hurry up! If you don’t hurry up it will be dark!” when they casually wander downstairs and announce that they want to ride bikes. We have spent many a flashlight-lit afternoon pedaling back and forth on our dead end. Back and forth. Back and forth. 

So very proud of himself on the two-wheeler.

Back and forth, riding bikes. I think that’s also part of the rut. Little Bear finally learned to ride his two-wheeler, graduating from his balance bike to no training-wheels over the course of a week (YAY!). This was after months and months of us knowing he was ready but him pushing back in his Little Bear way, and insisting that he stick with the balance bike because, let’s be honest, he was very very good at it. So now, he can pedal and weave his way down the road even faster, and it’s all he ever wants to do. Junior is also content to ride his bike, all day every day. And while I love to watch them and I marvel at their physical agility, to be completely honest, it gets boring for me. I am sick of standing in the road while they ride bikes. Back and forth. There, I said it.

I feel a little bit like our tiny section of dead end road has become a part of our house, and that when we go out to play there, it’s no different than playing in the living room. Of course, there’s fresh air, which is great, and the boys get more exercise, which is also great. But we miss out on so many of the things that I find beneficial outdoors. There is very little creativity in their play when they are pushing dump trucks, riding pedal tractors, riding bikes. There is a monotony to it. I know that we are privileged to even experience a monotony to our outdoor play, but I am also missing the days of endless wanderings through the woods, the concentration of building imaginary worlds out of forest-found materials, the magic of discovering animal tracks or coyote scat. But right now the boys just want to ride their bikes, again and again. Back and forth.    

Junior shredding at the BMX park.

I do try to bring them to new places to ride their bikes, but the options aren’t that varied. We are at a strange place where I still need to be on foot to help Little Bear out, but they are both much faster than me once they get going. We did hit a local BMX track a few weeks ago, which was fun for all, but now with the ground frozen it’s no longer a great option. I like to bring them off-road to trails, but this isn’t much fun yet for Little Bear who struggles to get going in the grass. His balance bike was a different story, so he gets frustrated when he can’t pedal through a field. We’re getting there, but it will take some practice.

Another point that’s thrown off our daily outdoor routine has been my writing. My content writing has taken off and I published 30 articles last month. So yes, you could say I have been busy. It feels great to be paid for my writing, and great to do something that’s intellectually stimulating. I feel accomplished at the end of the day, but I also feel guilty because my time spent writing comes at a cost – the house is dirty, the boys were watching more TV, and this blog starts to collect cobwebs.

But this week, with the cold sweeping in and Christmas around the corner, and the boys clawing at one another at epically new rates, I made some changes to get us going again. To get us up and out of the rut, stretching our legs, refreshing our lives. We needed to hit the reset button in a big way.

First, I banned screen-time. We aren’t generally a huge TV family (as you probably could have guessed), but I was using it more and more to occupy the boys while I was trying to write, and, not surprisingly, they were falling into the habit of expecting it. I hated that. They would come downstairs first thing without so much as a “Good morning” and ask if they could watch a show. Then when it was over, they would fight. They were restless and agitated. The TV was just a bandaid when really what they needed a saline wash.

So we stopped watching TV. The first day they cried and pleaded and went through all five stages of grief. But since then, they haven’t even asked for it. It’s been nine days without TV, and they don’t even bring it up anymore. They are playing better together. They are playing better independently. And my guilty conscience feels better too.

Today we ventured out for a kid-paced walk at one of our favorite spots. It snowed yesterday and today was rainy with temperatures in the 50s, so the world is mud-wonderful and slippery soft. We do have some big adventures planned over the next few months (which helps because, it’s always fun to anticipate), but sometimes we forget that there are adventures to be had just down the street. Sometimes we forget that little moments, little things, can refresh us too. Here are some scenes from our micro-adventure.     

Will You Join the 2017 365Outside Challenge?

Registration for the 2017 365Outside Challenge will be open soon. Will you join us in committing to a happier, healthier 2017? Check back soon to sign up!


5 Simple Ways to Celebrate the Supermoon

A full moon walk last winter.

A full moon walk last winter.

If you follow us regularly, you know how we feel about full moons. Every month (errr . . . lunar cycle) the boys eagerly await the night of the full moon because with it comes our family’s tradition of a full moon walk before bed. Whether we can see the moon or not, out we go to celebrate it.

On November 13 and 14, we’ll be treated to a particularly rare and beautiful “supermoon”. Read on to learn about what causes a supermoon and how you can enjoy it together as a family.

What is a Moon Cycle?

Lunar Cycle Diagram

Lunar Cycle Diagram

You may already be familiar with the basics of the moon cycle, but just to review, the moon orbits the earth every 27.3 days. As the moon orbits the earth, one half of it is always illuminated by the sun, just as one half of the earth is always illuminated by the sun (the side of the earth experiencing daylight). Here on earth, we cannot always see the part of the moon that is illuminated and the part of the moon that we can see changes slightly each night according to its location relative to the sun. During most of its cycle we see just part of the moon’s illuminated side and part of the shadowed side. When we see a crescent moon, we are actually seeing just a small bit of the side that’s illuminated and the remainder of the shadowed side (which we can’t distinguish from darkness so far away). Check out the Lunar Cycle Diagram to get a better idea of how this works.

What is a Supermoon?


Moon’s Orbit Diagram

But wait, there’s more! The moon’s orbit isn’t exactly round. Although it is depicted as perfectly circular in most diagrams (including the one above), the moon’s orbit is actually almost elliptical – meaning it’s more of an oval shape. This is true of all orbits due to variations in gravitational pull, initial velocity of the orbiting bodies, and any other disturbances such as collisions. Because of this, the moon’s distance from earth varies between approximately 357,000 kilometers (222,000 mi) and 406,000 km (252,000 mi). The moon’s location closest to earth is called perigee while its location furthest from earth is called apogee. See the Moon’s Orbit Diagram for a visual.

When a full moon occurs at the perigee, it is often referred to as a Supermoon. These moons appear 13% larger and shine 30% brighter than a typical full moon. The Supermoon we will experience next week is the closest full moon we’ve experienced since 1948 and a full moon won’t be this close again until 2034. That means this is the closest full moon in a period of 86 years!

How Can We Celebrate?

The moon rises over the bay.

The moon rises over the bay.

Full Moon Walk

Our family celebrates the full moon by going for a walk before bedtime. We do this not just for Supermoons, but every full moon, regardless of the weather and visibility. Next week, rather than walking down our street, we will go someplace special to walk by moonlight.

Aside from the full moon walk, here are some other great ideas to mark this special lunar event:


Did you have a stressful month? We sure did. Between The Captain transitioning to a new rotation on his tugboat, the melancholy of days getting shorter, and the presidential election (I can’t even go there yet), this past month has seemed far from peaceful around here. Buddhists mark the full moon with a day of spiritual focus, meditating and keeping away from worldly distractions. Historically, ancient sages have advised the same thing – to take time on the full moon day to relax your mind and devote time to spiritual development.

If you’ve felt the emotional weight of the past month heavy on your shoulders, take some time under the full moon to be present in the moment. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and you don’t need to have any experience with meditation. Just go outside, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and focus on breathing and clearing your mind. Try taking a deep breath in through your nose, holding it for a moment, and exhaling through your mouth. Let your mind clear and allow yourself to be present in the moment. This can be hard for kids, but even young children can attempt it. Challenge a child to sit quietly and soak up the moon’s beauty for the same number of minutes as their age.


Full moons are, not surprisingly, a symbol of fullness. They mark the highest of high tides and many believe they spark the height of creativity and power. One of our favorite ways to release this fullness is through dance. When our house gets too crazy, too loud, and too full, we put on some music and we dance. It’s often a raucous party with the kids quite literally bouncing off the walls, but when it’s over they are tired and subdued, at least for a moment. Try having your own dance party outside under the moon. Choose whatever music feels right to you and dance with wild abandon.

Bring the light inside

Full moons bring light to an otherwise dark place. One of the reasons we love our full moon walks so much is that the night is normally a time of darkness when we can’t easily enjoy the same places that we do during the day. The full moon helps us to see that there’s nothing to be afraid of after the sun goes down. As a symbol of your appreciation, light a candle outside under the moon, then bring it inside with you. Try having bath time or stories by the light of your candle. There is something simple and peaceful about enjoying everyday activities by the light of a candle’s flickering glow.

Read a moon story

There are many beautiful books about the moon. Goodnight Moon is a staple of many bedtimes, but the list goes on from there. Here are some of our favorites:

Wings Across the Moon by Linda Hargrove

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson

Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop

If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

In our house, bedtime stories are a way of winding down and enjoying each other’s company before bed. We snuggle up in a cozy spot and read together before turning off the lights to continue with some songs. Moon stories are a great way to cap off the night of a full moon, and even better if you decide to enjoy them outside, under the moon.

This month’s full moon is definitely one for the ages. How will you mark the occasion with your family?

The boys watch the full moon across the water on Christmas 2015.

How to Build an Outdoor Play Tent

Our completed outdoor play tent, constructed by Mama and the boys in one morning!

Our completed outdoor play tent, constructed by Mama and the boys in one morning!

We are staring down the tunnel at winter. The days are getting darker, we set the clocks back tonight, and this morning the back deck was sprinkled with hail. We got off pretty easy as far as winter last year. There were a few snowstorms and we did get in some skiing and a winter cabin camping adventure, but it was still 70 degrees on Christmas Day and the snow never lasted between storms. This year, I am convinced we won’t get off so easy. We have already booked our winter cabin camping trip (hoping for more fluffy white stuff and less hard-packed trail ice this year). And I’m making a mental list of how to make our outdoor space more friendly through the winter.   

Little Bear peaks out from a lunch picnic in the old plastic playhouse.

Little Bear peaks out from a lunch picnic in the old plastic playhouse.

When we got rid of our plastic playground climbers and clubhouse last month and made way for a new natural playground, the one major piece missing from our work-in-progress was a sort of hideout for the boys. In fact, not long after the nature playscape was complete, they had relocated all of the free pieces to a shady little clearing under my lilacs, which they called their “campsite”. I had always intended to build some type of structure for the boys to play in. Originally, I wanted it to be something that they could build and take apart themselves, like a natural lean-to, but at ages 3.5 and newly 5, they don’t really have the strength or coordination to handle very long pieces of wood and I wanted the structure to be big enough and cozy enough to host our rainy (and soon snowy) day picnics. As much as I hated the plastic play structure, that clubhouse hosted many cozy inclement weather meals for me and the boys over the past few years. 

So this morning, with The Captain halfway through a two-week stint on his tugboat, I began my own hasty search for a suitable structure that would blend in with our natural space while offering shelter and coziness. To be honest, what I really wanted was a giant traditional teepee, complete with smoke flaps and a liner and room for a fire in the middle. But it didn’t take long for me to decide that that’s beyond my solo-build-in-a-morning skill set, not to mention that the footprint would be too big in our backyard. I looked at smaller, kid-sized teepees but didn’t think they’d allow enough room for me and the boys to crowd in through the winter.

Eventually I found some plans for play tents. These seemed both roomy enough to accommodate the family, but simple enough that I could build one on my own in one morning. We are lucky in that we have a stockpile of scrap wood, tools, and sail canvas at our disposal, all of which would be needed for this project. A simple play tent appealed to me for its simplicity and the fact that I already had most of the supplies on hand. One quick trip to the hardware store, $18.35 spent, and we were ready to go.

Interested in making your own? Check out my step-by-step directions below!

Materials, plus an old pallet that we grabbed to use as flooring.

Materials, plus an old pallet that we grabbed to use as flooring.


-4 2”x3”x6’ (I would have actually preferred 1”x2” or 1”x3” but they didn’t have them, so I went with what they had in stock – the lengths were 8’ but they cut them for me)

-2 bolts long enough to fit through two of the pieces used above, I used 6” carriage bolts

-2 nuts to fit the bolts above

-10 3” wood screws

-5 2”x3”x5’

-One piece of canvas, 60” x 140”


Little helpers are always eager to use power tools!

Little helpers are always eager to use power tools!

Pre-drill a hole on the centerline 10” from one end of the 6’ lengths of wood. Repeat on all four pieces. These will be your frames.

The primary frames, with predrilled holes bolted together.

The primary frames, with predrilled holes bolted together.

Use the bolts to connect two pairs of the predrilled holes. Hand tighten a nut on each one. They should now effectively be hinged on one end.

Primary frames, with bases screwed on and perpendicular frame in place.

Primary frames, with bases screwed on and perpendicular frame in place.

Use wood screws to connect one of the 5’ lengths to the bottom ends of the frames, making each into a triangle.

Raise the frames and use one 5’ length placed in the top Y, perpendicular to each frame. Secure in place with a screw at each end. 

Completed tent frame. (Note: I added additional strapping towards the peak, not necessary if you use the materials listed above).

Completed tent frame. (Note: I added additional strapping towards the peak, not necessary if you use the materials listed above).

Screw two more 5’ lengths between the bottoms of the frames, thereby connecting them with a square base.   

Use the canvas to cover the tent. Secure in place with wood staples if desired.

I used some additional pieces of strapping across the top to sturdy up the structure but those won’t be necessary if you use 2x3s along the base (which I didn’t – I just used the scrap wood we already had). We also put a used pallet inside to create a floorspace.


The boys wanted to put their sleeping bags in the tent to make it “cozy” and constructed their own benches to go around the fire pit for dinner.

The boys immediately took a liking to their new play tent, but were disappointed when they heard we wouldn’t actually be sleeping in it that night. Instead, we built in a fire in our backyard fire pit and the boys constructed some benches around it to enjoy an al fresco fireside dinner in celebration of our new “home”.


This is one happy camper here.

This is one happy camper here.

Our completed outdoor play tent!

Our completed outdoor play tent!

Check Out Our List of 20 Outdoor Family Traditions!

Headlamps on for some pj-clad explorations under the full moon.

Headlamps on for some pj-clad explorations under the full moon.

“On the surface, family traditions are a fun and exciting way to create memories together. But on a deeper level, traditions reinforce a family’s identity, foster togetherness, teach family values and provide comfort and security. Families that create traditions centered on nature reinforce for their children the importance of time spent outdoors. And the results are long-lasting on two levels. First, children who spent time in nature growing up show higher levels of maturity and lower levels of aggression as teens. And second, teens who participate in positive and mutually-agreed upon family rituals report higher levels of self esteem.”

Head on over to Parent.co to read our list of 20 Family Traditions That Will Teach Your Kids To Love Nature!

365Outside Sets Sail

The boys relax on the foredeck during our first day of sailing.

The boys relax on the foredeck during our first day of sailing.

It has taken me a lot longer to write about our sailing trip than I anticipated. When we first set out, even in the first 24-hours, I was thinking about how much material there was already. I was so eager to write all about it! Then as the trip went on and on, it got overwhelming. It was amazing. And it was more than just a vacation. It was a lifestyle. It was simplicity. It represented a broader vision for how we want our kids to grow up. And as my mental list of all the details I wanted to write about stretched longer and longer, I realized that I would never be able to touch on everything I wanted to.

There’s no way to describe the freedom of waking up in the cozy security of your floating home with endless possibility for the day ahead. There are no words for the first time your preschoolers spot a seal right beside the boat who mirrors their same wide eyed wonder. For pods of porpoises playing in our wake. For distant whales and distant shores. For days spent collecting seaside treasures.

All summer we were weekend warriors on the sailboat. We got onboard Friday night when possible or Saturday morning otherwise and stayed there until Sunday afternoon. We did small, local trips or just stayed on our mooring after long days at the beach beside it. It was almost a tease.

But after a summer of waiting we had the opportunity to cast our sights a bit further. The last week in August we packed up and headed out, exiting through the river mouth with plans to return in 10 days. It was our first longer cruise with the kids onboard and our first longer trip onboard our new boat. We spent all summer anticipating this week and when it finally came, it didn’t disappoint.

One of the most exciting parts of a sailing vacation is the freedom to decide where you’re going to go whenever you want. We left our options open to account for the unpredictable winds this time of year. We had hoped to head north to Maine, but when the forecast changed to northerly winds we considered heading south to the Cape and Islands instead. It’s good to have options. As luck would have it, with the departure day nearing the forecast wavered and so did our decision. We did not finally decide until less than 12 hours before departure, and even then we left it up to a final weather check the following morning.

But head north we did.

Without any experience on longer sails or offshore, the boys were our limiting factor for this trip. We planned to sail for no longer than 4-5 hours at a time, though we sometimes sailed 4 hours in the morning and did the same again in the afternoon after a picnic lunch ashore. We covered about 350 nautical miles over the course of seven days (returning home 2 days earlier than scheduled due to a hurricane making its way up the coast). As it turns out, the boys did wonderfully. They put up with everything from no wind and big rolling glassy seas, to 35 knots of fresh breeze and choppy waves breaking over the rails. Though Junior felt seasick a few times, each time he was able to eat some crackers, fall asleep on deck in the cockpit, and wake feeling much better. The boys of course had some of their usual tussles along the way but we were actually surprised that not once was there a meltdown about being bored or not wanting to sail or wanting to get off the boat. So in the most basic sense, it was a major victory.

The boys’ tears upon hearing that we were heading home just echoed our own emotions. We can’t wait to do it again.

And because words are not enough and because I’ve put it off long enough for fear of not doing justice to the experience, please enjoy it through our eyes below.

Is a Family Campground Right For You?

An early morning walk along the pond with friends.

An early morning walk along the pond with friends.

A few weeks ago, I packed the boys and what seemed to be the greater part of our earthly possessions into the Honda minivan and joined the northbound traffic from Massachusetts to Maine on a Sunday in August. The minivan parade slowly thinned as we passed first Kittery, then York, Cape Neddick, Ogunquit and Kennebunkport. By the time we exited and turned our course inland, just north of Portland, the steady stream of minivans had trickled down to a fleeting few, mixed mostly with pick up trucks pulling pop up campers or fifth wheels.

Through the power of peer pressure, the boys both completed the hike to Pulpit Rock from the pond below on their own two feet.

Through the power of peer pressure, the boys both completed the hike to Pulpit Rock from the pond below on their own two feet.

We were headed for a legendary place – one we’d long heard about and often seen photos of, but never once set upon with our own eyes. We were heading north to meet my moms’ group at Papoose Pond Family Campground.

A few years ago, when one of my awesome mom friends invited the whole group to tag along with her on her family vacation to this fabled place, a few brave souls joined her for a week of fun, friends, and family. Last year a few more joined. And this year, we along with 8 other families made the trek 3 hours north to experience it for ourselves.

We are not new to camping but this trip was unique in two ways:

First, it marked the first time I’d brought the boys on anything close to a camping venture without The Captain along to help. 

And second, it marked my first experience with a family campground. 

The boys bike along with friends under many watchful eyes.

The boys bike along with friends under many watchful eyes.

These facts almost canceled each other out. On the one hand, I was the only parent responsible for the packing and patrolling of my little crew, but on the other I had the hands and eyes of many trusted friends to help me out. In many ways it was the perfect experience to ease into solo-parent camping with my boys.

So did we like the family campground experience?

Family campgrounds aren’t for everyone, but I definitely saw the appeal and the purpose they serve. Our group was more or less centrally based along one dirt road leading down to the pond. It was easy enough for the kids to run amuck under loose supervision. There were hours of bike skid outs and wood gathering missions. There were squeals of childhood oblivion as our crew of 19 kids splashed one another in the pond, prodded fires with marshmallow-laden sticks, and ventured onto the beach in the early morning glow, mugs of hot chocolate in hand.

It wasn’t what camping has always meant to me, but it wasn’t a resort vacation either. It was somewhere in between.

Is a family campground right for your next family adventure? Here are some points to think about as you decide.

Our hutnick, with bunkbeds in the enclosed cabin space and eating area outside on the covered porch.

Our hutnick, with bunkbeds in the enclosed cabin space and eating area outside on the covered porch.

Decide how much privacy you really need. Papoose Pond is really well set up to accommodate a wide range of comfort levels. They have plain tented sites, but also have cabins, huts and campers. We stayed in a “hutnick” which had a cabin-like sparse room with bunkbeds inside and an open porch with picnic table, sink, and electric stove outside. It provided us with so much added privacy and convenience and it didn’t break the bank. We had a separate dark place for sleeping, the boys could easily nap as needed, and bonus- there was no need to light a fire every morning just to make my coffee. Many of the tented sites had private vestibules (commonly called ‘the garage’) set up off the tents where people could change clothes, store gear, or just sit in peace. The sites are very, very close together so the only privacy will be the privacy of your accommodations. Choose wisely!

Moving logs was serious business for this crew.

Moving logs was serious business for this crew.

Decide how comfortable you are letting your kids run wild, even out of your sight. The boys spent much of our time at Papoose digging in the dirt and riding their bikes crazily down the slope of a gravel dirt road. Most of this was done in combination with feral shrieks of glee. There were many scraped knees but surprisingly few tears. I was lucky to have the added security of knowing that many other eyes were watching and knew my kids, but even without all the company, it would have been nearly impossible to keep the kids within sight and under my verbal control all day. They immediately made new friends and took off in packs like wolves on a scent. There was a very casual communal supervision over them all which is more than fine by me, but it may not be for everyone and I can imagine that it would not be fun to be the one parent chasing down the pack of kids every five minutes, squawking about staying close to the campsite and not getting dirty. If you have trouble letting go of that control, this may not be for you.

All day every day.

All day every day.

Decide how much peace and quiet you need. Is the answer very little? Then you should be good. Papoose Pond had quiet hours between 10PM and 7AM which we found were generally well respected. We also found that in the middle of the day our site, which was somewhat set back from the beach, stayed relatively quiet since most people were out doing activities. But for the most part, there was a low background noise throughout the day, pierced regularly by screaming kids. I normally enjoy the quiet solitude of camping quite a bit, but when most of the ruckus is being created by your own kids or the rest of the pack who you love like your own, I found it didn’t bother me as much. On the flip side, had I been camping without my crew of close friends, I think I would have found it exceptionally grating. Then again, I’m not sure who goes to family campgrounds looking for peace and quiet. There did seem to be multiple extended families and groups camping together so maybe there is safety in numbers on this. If you are looking to simply get out into the woods and enjoy the birdsongs, this won’t be your jam. That said, we did enjoy a silent night on the beach after putting the kids to bed, watching shooting stars and the amazing Milky Way.

Little Bear takes advantage of the nightly carousel.

Little Bear takes advantage of the nightly carousel.

Decide how involved you want to be. Papoose Pond is made for mingling. Throughout the week there are various tournaments to be entered ranging from tennis and ping pong to volleyball and washer toss. There are also structured events throughout the day – kids’ kickball, sand castle contest, limbo, tie dying, and nightly entertainment including an old carousel which runs for an hour each evening. All of the activities are casual and done out of the way so they don’t intrude on anyone’s scene, but that also means that if you want to participate you’ll need to be proactive in reviewing the schedule when you arrive and seeking them out during the week. We especially enjoyed some of the kids’ sports since they provided an opportunity for the boys to get out some energy without me having to facilitate. And it didn’t hurt that they were given free slushies for their troubles.

Any occasion for s'mores is a hit with these boys.

Any occasion for s’mores is a hit with these boys.

All in all we had an amazing time and would love to go back. Family campgrounds aren’t what I think of when I think of camping but they are an awesome way to ease into the camping experience and they are a wholesome family vacation with something for everyone if you can get by without the peace and privacy of your own home. They make it easy and they make it communal. I don’t foresee The Captain choosing a family campground for his next outdoor adventure, but when the pressure’s all on me to provide the experience, it’s nice to have the friendship and support of a group trip to Papoose Pond.

Morning fishing trip - this lasted surprisingly long considering there were no nibbles.

Morning fishing trip – this lasted surprisingly long considering there were no nibbles.

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