365Outside

Refresh Your Life

Category: Tips and tricks (Page 1 of 3)

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.  

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.

Materials:

-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”

Process:

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.

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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!

Getting Our Five-Year-Old His First Knife

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This is Junior, immediately after opening his new multitool. He was so proud of it!

When our oldest turned five last week, we thought hard about what to get him for a present. We wanted something that he would enjoy, but we didn’t want another toy that would soon be broken or cast aside. We wanted something useful, but we didn’t want something that he would find boring or take for granted. We wanted something that would have staying power, not something that would soon be outgrown or only meet the needs of some fleeting phase. And finally, we wanted something special to recognize that five is in many ways the start of childhood and an official graduation from any last remains of the toddler years. Our child is no longer the chubby baby-cheeked tot he once was, but now all sinew and bone, lengthy and awkward colt legs, knobby elbows. He is all boyhood, and we wanted to mark the occasion with some kind of coming-of-age milestone.

So we bought him a pocketknife. 

The Leatherman Leap

The Leatherman Leap

Not just any pocketknife, but a sturdy multitool with folding pliers, screwdrivers, scissors and saw. It has a sleek green casing with little locks on each side where the shiny stainless tools fold out. And it has a sharp, smooth knife blade.

Is five too young for something like this? In some ways, yes. He can’t yet use all the tools efficiently and there are even parts that he can’t yet use effectively. But with the appropriate introduction and the appropriate ground rules, we believe he is ready.

We didn’t make this decision lightly. There was no flippant moment where in a last minute frenzy we just thought, “Ah heck, just order him a Leatherman and have it FedExed for tomorrow.” We know that some of you are probably thinking how irresponsible and stupid we are. How could a five-year old be ready for this? How could we risk our kid’s safety like that? Why bother?

Turns out I had nothing to worry about; he just wants to practice picking things up with pliers.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about; he just wants to practice picking things up with pliers.

But a longstanding truth of parenthood for me has been that I often underestimate my children’s capabilities. I am never fully ready to let go and allow them to take these scary steps alone, and then each time, they surprise me. It is always with a bit of fear that I push the back of that bike and send my child hurtling down the road on two wobbly wheels, handlebars shaking before he begins to glide smoothly, feet finding the pedals and beginning to work. I pulled him thrashing from just beneath the pool’s surface, clutching him close to me countless times before a swimming teacher showed me that if I just stepped back, his little head would bob right back up on its own and his feet would flutter as his arms pumped, working his way to the edge of the pool, all baby-toothed smile and glittering eyes. They are always ready before I am.

So when I first considered getting him a knife, I did what any 21st century mom would do and I googled it. It was a bit of an eye-opening experience when I typed in “Should I get my kid a” and the first autofill queries that popped up were:

“Should I get my kid a phone?”

“Should I get my kid a fitbit?”

“Should I get my kid a car?”

“Should I get my kid a flu shot?”

Sigh. . . . Moving past that, the first article that popped up was an old piece from the Today Show that I remember reading a few years back called “Let five-year-olds play with knives?”  The article refers to a Norwegian study that proposed that the best way to safeguard children is to let them take risks. And I believe it’s true that if we childproof every aspect of their lives, they will never learn to assess risk independently.

Junior uses a kitchen knife to cut calamari for dinner.

Junior uses a kitchen knife to cut calamari for dinner.

I also reviewed a number of articles about letting young children use knives in the kitchen. Starter knives are now actually a thing, and they are popular! I know several friends who have used them and even saw an awesome video of one friend’s three-year-old hacking away at a sweet potato with one while at school.  I was confident that a five-year-old could theoretically be ready for a multitool, but I also wanted some guidance in how to introduce it to him.

In addition to making sure that I wasn’t a total lunatic for thinking my five-year-old could handle this, I also wanted to make sure that I framed the experience in the right way. I read up on common rules for a child’s first knife. One pamphlet from the American Knife and Tool Institute had good guidance about safety and maintenance. Material from Boy Scouts of America (I know, I know, but bear with me) had similar advice.

Once we were armed with information, we introduced Junior to his first multitool.  

To start with, there was a lot of fanfare involved in giving him this gift. We built up the anticipation over the days preceding his birthday, and on the big day we waited until he’d opened up all his other presents and was cuddled snuggly between us on the couch before we brought out his one final gift. We lectured him on the importance of the moment before we let him open it up. We talked about the big kid responsibilities that come with it, and the fact that privileges can be taken away just as quickly as they’re awarded.

Oh boy was he excited. First he wanted to open all the tools to see what there was. Next he wanted to practice using the pliers by picking things up and putting them down over and over again. Then he wanted to use the screwdriver to open the battery compartment on one of his other presents. And finally he wanted to cut up some paper with the scissors.

For now, the multitool comes with some specific rules.

  1. Mama and Daddy keep the multitool in a safe place when it isn’t being used. This means that Junior needs to ask each time he wants to use it, and when he does ask, we ask him what he’s going to use it for. We remind him not to use it in any other way without asking us first, and we check on him periodically while he uses it. So far he has only used it to replace batteries in his toys (over and over again, with the same batteries) and to “reach things” with his pliers.
  2. Junior is the only child who may use the multitool. His friends cannot use it, and his younger brother cannot use it. Little Bear is a bit jealous but so far seems to respect the limits and talks about how when he’s “a big boy” he will get his own.
  3. The saw cannot be used without a grown up. Most of the tools are not likely to cause any kind of injury, even when misused. The saw could though, being that it is sharp and serrated. For that reason, when Junior wants to use the saw, he needs an adult present to keep an eye on his use. So far, he has either forgotten about the saw, is scared of it, or can’t figure out how to unfold it. Whichever the case may be, he is not interested in it yet but recognizes its potential risks.
  4. The child-sized Leatherman Leap

    The child-sized Leatherman Leap comes with a removable knife blade.

    No knife yet. WHAT? I’m sure you’re wondering. How could we give him a knife and then make a rule that he can’t have a knife? Well, thanks to a genius design feature by Leatherman, the children’s Leap Leatherman comes with a removable knife blade. If Junior wants to use his knife, he’s going to need to prove that he can use it responsibly without the knife blade first. I’m not sure when we’ll put the blade in; we haven’t put a timeline on it. We’ll see how he does with what he’s got first. I tend to think that when he’s ready for the knife blade, we will get him a simpler knife first to use, and then move back to the multitool. The Boy Scouts guide suggests starting with carving soap when kids first learn to use knives, and we will probably go that route when he’s older.

So far, he is pretty content just to trim weeds with his new multitool.

So far, he is pretty content just to trim weeds with his new multitool.

I will admit, I was nervous letting him use his new tool the first few times. I worried  he would cut himself with the scissors or pinch his skin when he tried to fold it up. Like any parent, I want to protect him. But if I spend all my time protecting him, he’ll never get the chance to grow and learn to protect himself. He cannot learn risk without experiencing it.

I attended a talk recently by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” and founder of the Children & Nature Network. One of the issues he addressed was the trends of injuries in children, and how recently doctors report fewer acute injuries, like broken bones and lacerations, and more stress injuries caused by overuse, like tendonitis and bursitis. He hypothesized that this is because kids now have less variety in their play. They are getting stress injuries from playing video games, carrying heavy backpacks, or becoming specialized in one sport from a very young age. Gone are the days of the common acute injuries, like falling off the monkey bars and breaking your arm (as my good friend and I both did in second grade, several weeks apart.)  These are the days of carpal tunnel syndrome in an 8-year-old who spends too much time on the computer. These are the days of 12-year old girls tearing their ACLs in their fifth soccer practice in as many days.

So, could my son hurt himself with his multitool? Absolutely he could. But I would rather my kid have the kind of childhood that encounters acute injuries periodically than the kind of childhood that suffers chronically from stress injuries. There’s no way to know if Junior is ready for this tool other than to introduce it carefully, set reasonable ground rules and, the hardest part, let him go.

How (and Why!) to Create A Natural Play Space

The Backyard Problem

The patio as we found it when we moved in.

The patio as we found it when we moved in.

The patio after we cleared it, still before kids were on the scene.

The patio after we cleared it, still before kids were on the scene.

For years we have struggled with our backyard space. When we first moved in, there was a patio area completely overgrown in one corner. We cleaned it up and set up our grill and lawn furniture there, only to discover that it was so shady and damp, no one naturally gravitated to the space. When Junior was younger, we added a fence along the adjacent side, making it even darker. It’s probably not our longterm solution, but for now it works just right for us.

For a while, the boys were more or less content to push metal dump trucks around the backyard. Gradually though, as they got older their play became more interactive. They wanted to not just push their trucks around, but also load them with mulch, rocks and sand. Over time, our lawn became a depository for any materials they could transport, dumped in tiny mounds on a whim. The boys emptied their sandbox over a period of several months. They disassembled a rock wall. They dug up the lawn in several patches that never grew back. Clearly we needed to up our backyard game.

Trial and Error and Error and Error

Little Bear sits amongst the plastic play zone.

Little Bear sits amongst the plastic play zone.

So, naively, we bought more toys. We wanted to get the kids engaged in playing again and we figured that these were things that would engage them. First it was a climber/slide combo. Then it was a playhouse. Then it was a big plastic tugboat gifted to Junior for his fourth birthday after he requested a tugboat of his very own. Each new piece of backyard play equipment was greeted with initial excitement and became the center of attention for a finite period of time. But eventually each became old news. The climber gathered fallen leaves that rotted into a slimy film at the top of the slide. The playhouse sheltered cobwebs and slugs. The tugboat gathered rainwater and became an ecosystem of its own, breeding mosquitos at every opportunity. Meanwhile, the boys continued to dig up flowers and overturn planters in their oblivious play.

Finally, A Solution

Playing in the natural play space at our neighbor's house inspired us to build our own.

Playing in the natural play space at our neighbor’s house inspired us to build our own.

Over the summer, our neighbors began to transform a small section of their backyard into a natural play space. The boys loved it immediately. They wanted to spend every afternoon there, and they didn’t seem to tire of it. In fact, tellingly, they would plead, “Mama, can we go work in the play zone?” each time they wanted to use it. They didn’t want to “play,” they wanted to work. For play is the work of children.

Really, while we all appreciate playtime, we also all have a deep need to feel accomplished at the end of the day. My boys feel accomplished when they are setting their minds to a task and working towards its end. In the natural play space, they work together and independently to move rocks, build structures, tie ropes, and clear debris. They imitate the physical work they see around them. In their minds, they are doing something much more than simply playing. They are working. To move a log, they may try three or four techniques before they get it right. They build pathways, experimenting with different surfaces and distances. They “plant trees” by digging holes and burying stumps in them. They engineer towers of sticks and rocks. They sort shells.

Our natural play area

Our natural play area, before the boys got their hands on it.

Last week we finally emptied the play gear from the corner of our yard. We called it Operation Plastic Eradication. In its place, we left a collection of natural materials. There are logs, sticks, bricks, rocks, ropes, wood chips and hay bales. We rigged up a few pulleys and a rope ladder from the fence. We haven’t finished (mostly because it’s a fun project to work on) but the boys are enthralled by it.

Junior and Little Bear hard at work.

Junior and Little Bear hard at work.

Since removing the traditional play equipment, their play has become more creative, more engaged and more persistent. I have to drag them inside for dinner, caked in mud, grass-stained knees and dirty fingernails. They discuss their “projects” at the table – voices husky as they assign imaginary work roles and request additional tools (a rake – yes, another shovel – yes, a chainsaw – sorry.)

The Results

Work in progress from the boys

Work in progress from the boys

This natural playscape is more aligned with what I already know about children’s play and how they interact with and learn from the world around them. Traditional playgrounds provide so much context that little is required from the child himself. Natural playgrounds provide only the materials; the children devise the context for their play themselves and in that way, the play becomes endless. The limit is only the child’s imagination. It provides more opportunity for problem solving, for experimenting and for cooperative work. A natural play space in the yard provides the kids with much of what they are missing by having a fenced yard. Essentially it allows forest play in our own backyard.

It has only been just over a week since the natural play space took up residence in our yard. It’s a bit early to say how its novelty will compare to that of the plastic equipment. But if the last 10 days are any indication, I would say that it’s got staying power.

Here are the details:

Step 1: We removed all of the plastic climbing and play structures from the area. I even managed to sell some! We had previously put wood chips down in this space and decided not to refresh them right now, with snow around the corner. We will add a fresh layer of wood chips in the spring.

Step 2: We relocated a large deck box to the corner of the play space. It doubles as a work area and as storage for toy trucks and tools.

Step 3: We cleared overgrowth to create more natural light. This included taking down a wisteria that had grown to completely overhang this part of the yard, making it damp and buggy. We also took down two small cedar trees. Both cedars and the wisteria were repurposed in the play area.

Step 4: We sourced mostly natural materials, locally. These included:

  • Short, large diameter logs (from our own woodpile)
  • Longer, small diameter logs (cut from the cedar trees)
  • Sticks (gathered in the woods and cut from the wisteria)
  • Bricks (found under our porch)
  • Large stones (found around the yard and neighborhood)
  • Shells (from the beach and leftover shellfish – just rinse and leave in the sun until clean)
  • Lumber scraps (from our barn and from disassembled bed slats)
  • Rope (also from our barn)
  • Pulleys (spare sailboat rigging)
  • Cross sections of cedar trunk
  • Hay bales (leftover from a “farm” themed birthday party, but available locally from our co-op)
  • Rope ladder (old Christmas present, happily repurposed)
  • Slate stepping stones (leftover from a patio we’d previously removed)

In the future, I’d like to get some metal buckets to use with the pulleys. (The single small plastic beach bucket doesn’t do the trick, and it’s an eyesore.) I would also like to add some water elements in the summer. The rest . . . will up to the boys’ imagination.

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The finished product!

The finished product!

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!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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