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How Do You Find Awe?

A moment of awe onboard Little Wing

A moment of awe onboard Little Wing

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

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

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

Perfect way to spend a heatwave.

Perfect way to spend a heatwave.

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

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

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

Last romp on the tidal flats before the storm.

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

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

The storm brews on the horizon.

The storm brews on the horizon.

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

Our reward for waiting out the storm.

Our reward for waiting out the storm.

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

The boys watch the lightning on the opposite horizon.

The boys watch the lightning on the opposite horizon.

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

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

The last drops of a delicious sunset.

The last drops of a delicious sunset.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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?

 

How I Get Two Toddlers Packed and Out the Door For a Beach Day In 20 Minutes or Less

You already know that we’re always in a rush.

So it’s no surprise when I leave the house at 9 am, two kids in tow, with the intention of grocery shopping, returning home to put the food away, making a picnic, packing for the beach, and being out the door again by 10:15.

Little Bear's favorite beach activitity: solo exploring!

Little Bear’s favorite beach activitity: solo exploring!

You see, when it’s mid-October and a beach day presents itself, you simply cannot ignore it.  It’s an unwritten rule that beach days in mid-October must be taken advantage of.  Especially when said gorgeous, 70 degree sunny day happens to fall on a holiday Monday.

This is exactly what happened today.

And we did it! I pulled up to the gate at the beach parking lot at exactly 10:30.  Mission accomplished.

So what magic trick did I use to propel me and two children faster than the speed of light?

Well, we arrived home with all the groceries at 9:45.  That left me half an hour to put away groceries, pack a lunch, pack a beach bag, change the boys into beach clothes, and get everything and everyone in the car, ready to go. And believe me, when I’m in a hurry these kids have a tendency to move about as fast as a glacier.

But hope isn’t lost.  I’m lucky enough to be a pretty experienced beach-goer so I’ve got a system in place, for days like this when it’s just me toting along a two-year old, a three-year old, and all our  gear.  And I’ve refined our system enough this summer that I think it’s share-worthy.

So here we go.

"Look at this hermit crab, Mama!"

“Look at this hermit crab, Mama!”

There are three ways to fail at beach days with the kids:

  1. Too cold.
  2. Too hungry.
  3. Too bored. (I take issue with this last one because I really believe that the beach in and of itself should be enough entertainment, but I’m keeping this real so just bear with me.)

I have fallen victim to them all. This is of course made worse by the fact that your toddler will have zero ability to tell you what is actually bothering him or her.  Conversations with my kids when they are about to lose it typically go something like this:

  • Mama:  What’s wrong?
  • Child (lips blue, teething chattering):  Nothing.
  • Mama:  Would you like to sit on the towel with me and warm up?
  • Child:  No. I want to play dinosaurs.
  • Mama:  Ok, I will be a t-rex.  What kind of dinosaur do you want to be?
  • Child (face turning purple and heading rotating 360 degrees):  I’M NOT A DINOSAUR.  I’M A BOY.  I WANT TO PLAY WITH REAL DINOSAURS! I WANT A REAL LIVING DINOSAUR TO PLAY WITH RIGHT NOW!!!!!!

This might be no big deal at home, but at the beach it’s a whole different story.  The worst part about failing at beach days is that once you’ve failed, you’re stuck on the beach with a giant bag of unpacked stuff spread all over the sand, and a child who seems to have lost all muscle control by the edge of a tide pool and is shrieking at piercing decibels.  Your car is probably parked about a mile away.  So good luck.

See what I mean?  The stakes are high, my friend.

My ace is our beach bag.  I keep it packed with the essentials and in the mudroom, ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The contents of my beach bag - all we need for a day at the beach!

The contents of my beach bag – all we need for a day at the beach!

Here’s what we keep in our beach bag all the time:

  • Two towels.  These are larger sized beach towels, but thin.  I love them because they provide a ton of space for seating but don’t take up a ton of space in the bag.  I know some people are really particular about fluffy towels, but we are not them.
  • Sunscreen
  • Baby powder.  I have never used baby powder on the kids or myself in any kind of routine personal hygiene, but I do use it all the time at the beach for removing sand.  It is magic.  Sprinkle it on their hands, rub briskly, and voila – it’s like they just washed!  I also use it on their feet before they get into the car.

    Keeping cozy in wetsuits

    Keeping cozy in wetsuits

  • The boys’ wetsuits and rashguards.  Today, both boys wore t-shirts with their board shorts.  I brought their rash guards so that they’d have something long-sleeved to put on while playing if they wanted. The wetsuits are always ready when the boys want to splash around.  The water is pretty chilly right now, but even in the middle of summer it’s never that balmy so these are a must for long days in the water.
  • A little diaper pack.  Both my kids are potty trained, but Little Bear still sometimes does not give much notice when he needs to go.  When it’s just me and the two little ones, I don’t see myself scooping him and Junior up and sprinting up the path, through the parking lot, and to the port-a-potty in any timely manner.  Also, I admit it.  I have an unreasonable fear that he will fall in.  So, I bring a few pull ups and some wipes.  If he needs to go, I put the diaper on him, and then change it as soon as he’s done.  I used to bring an actual potty with me (and we still do when we’re out on our boat) but I stopped bringing it to the beach once I realized that if he did drop a doozy, I’d have to carry it all the way to the port-a-potty to dump it anyway (duh).  I keep the diaper stuff and an empty trash bag in a little wet bag that can be used for sandy, wet bathing suits if needed on our way home.

To get going, I only need to add:

Murphy's Law: Someone will always require a complete change of clothes.

Murphy’s Law: Someone will always require a complete change of clothes.

  1. Complete changes of clothes for the boys.  I make sure to bring extra cozy clothes that I know they’ll wear.  They really only want to change their clothes if they are cold, so I pack sweatshirts and thick cotton shorts.  I also always have an extra change of clothes in the car too, just in case.
  2. Water bottles.

    Snacks keep everyone happy!

    Snacks keep everyone happy!

  3. Food.  I try to pack things that can be eaten in multiple small portions so that it’s not a huge deal if anything gets dropped in the sand.  I cut sandwiches into small two-bite chunks.  I break up bananas.  I give them two pretzel sticks or half a cheese stick at a time.  Other popular beach snacks for us are cereal bars, applesauce or yogurt packets (the kind you drink), and just about any kind of fruit.

I’ve whittled this packing down a lot this summer from a much larger pile that required one of those cumbersome beach carts that I eventually hated.  I used to bring a huge beach tent.  It is an awesome, lightweight, easy-to-set-up tent so none of that was the problem.  The issue was that it was awkward to maneuver down the boardwalk on the beach cart, and I could never get the kids to sit under it. It really just provided personal comfort for me for about ten minutes a day so it was more trouble than it was worth.  The same goes for the beach chair that I used to bring.  I miss it sometimes, but when I’m by myself at the beach with both kids, I don’t get much time to lounge anyway.

Our old beach setup- way too much stuff for me to handle on my own! We reserve this gear for boat trips now!

Our old beach setup- way too much stuff for me to handle on my own! We reserve this gear for boat trips now!

Other things that I’ve removed from our beach packing include the huge shovels, buckets, nets, and trucks.  Instead, we now have a small mesh bag that Junior carries himself.  It contains a few small trucks, some small sand tools, and one small bucket.  Anytime he wants to bring something else, I tell him to go ahead as long as it fits in his bag and he can carry it. Sometimes Little Bear carries a ball too.

So, there you have it.  That’s how I get out of the house, to the beach in less than twenty minutes, with two kids under four.  It doesn’t take tons of stuff and a full camp setup to enjoy a day by the ocean.  A full day beach day on my own with both kids used to overwhelm me with packing and prep work.  These days, I keep it simple so that we can be out the door, and enjoying the day, in almost no time at all.

A beautiful fall day at an empty beach!

A beautiful fall day at an empty beach!

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