Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Walking to School

I had a vacation day I thought I'd already used, so I took today off. So I walked Boo and the neighbor kid to school.

There's just a slight dusting of snow on the sidewalk. Just enough to look for tracks. Mostly people tracks, several dogs, a neighborhood cat or two. The exciting ones are the rabbits. Boo thought they looked like deer tracks, so we had to look at the little toe prints in the paws.

They also found icicles and used them to write "secret messages" in the snow.

Then they stuck their hands in the snow, took their hats off, and licked snow off the sidewalk behind my back (I think that's where the snowy noses and grins came from).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Get Out!

Many people get the “Birch, you’re being crazy again” look on their faces as I regale them of stories of my weekend camping. Hiking, Avoiding minor disaster. With my small child. Personally, I think it’s kinda awesome, or I wouldn’t be doing it. 

But then some small number of them say, “Wow, that sounds really fun… but I could never do all that.” 

And yes, if you’ve never camped, you will not succeed backpacking with a kid right away. And a lot of families don’t live as close as we do to nice trails and wild spaces. 

But you too can get your kids outside. By not letting perfect be the enemy of good.

Do you garden? Even a small container garden gets kids in tune with weather and seasons, dirt and worms and pests and weeds. Boo has a couple containers in the big garden where she grows carrots and radishes and lettuce and peas (things that are easy to grow). She also has a dirt pile where she digs for worms and treasure. She hides in the bushes and climbs the maple tree. She and the neighbor kids chase each other around the house. 

Diggin' in the Dirt

Walking as a family is good, even if you can’t get to the wilderness.  Walk around the block. We were once stuck with the adults needing a hike and the kid wanting a playground. So we went to a park where we could take a trail from one parking area to the playground at a different parking area. We live in town, so we can walk to the library, the hardware store, and 3 playgrounds. 

Run Away - super-hero style

I had many happy nights sleeping in the tent in the backyard as a kid. Boo’s a little young to do that without an adult, but I have offered to chaperone her backyard camping trips next summer. Backyard trips don’t need a lightweight tent, or even one without chipmunk holes in it. 

The best part of camping was always cooking over a campfire, and we don’t do that backpacking. We do cook over a fire and in coals in the backyard a couple times a year. We have a portable fireplace, but we used to have a ground fire, and we burn the woody yard waste. It’s enough for hotdogs, potatoes, and s’mores. 


I went camping with my parents all of once, and I never camped outside a backyard until I was an adult. I got where I am through friends willing to put up with my fumbling and fear of freezing. So if you’re an experienced outdoor person, invite a newbie along. If you want to become an outdoor person, take small steps, seek out people who do what you want to do, and have fun.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Everyone needs to know how to tie knots, right? 

We tie our shoes, tie ribbons on gifts, tie saws on tethers to drag up in trees, tie pea plants to trellises… We even occasionally tie knots out in the woods. 

Boo has always been interested in tying. She quickly claimed my short length of extra (usually laundry) line for her backpack. 

We start with the half granny knot, also known as “cross, tuck under, and pull.” Then she worked on adding a second, just the same, to get a faincy-dancy granny knot. 

Knot Practice

Granny knots are good for tying leaves into a belt.

Even More Tree Climbing

Or making my work boots impossible to get out of… 

Thoroughly Tied Shoe

She and J will often take her string, or some found line, and tie laundry lines, fish lines, or monster traps around camp. 

Practicing Knots

Lee and I have been known to sit around camp and learn new knots around the campfire. Turns out my knot pamphlet is a little tricky for her. But not for long at this rate...

Knot Lessons

The first knot I remember after tying my shoes was a slip-knot, and I still use it fairly frequently. I do not have a large repertoire of knots, but I’m learning. 

What knots did you learn as a kid? Which do you use the most now?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"I Wanna Snow-Cave Camp!

Looking through the clearance section on REI I cam across a pic of a tarp in the snow. Suddenly, a little voice shouts in my ear, "I want to snow camp!"

So it doesn't snow much where we are, and it would take a little doing. How old do you think a kid needs to be to go snow camping?

winter camping

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weekend Tidbits

Both Saturday and Sunday saw Boo charming fishermen. She was shown big fish, and the guy in the nice bass boat came in close so she could see his bait.

During our "explore", Boo walked through a burr bush. She must have gotten every single burr on that push in her shirt and hair. Poor kiddo. It was bad enough that I had her climb trees without a shirt on so I could pick burrs out better, and I reached my patience limit with her hair and Lee had to finish.


The rest of the park we saw was fine, but around the campsite, the only plants were nettles and poison ivy. Turns out nettle flowers sting a whole lot worse than the rest of the plant.

While setting up camp, we found a mostly dead "It's a Girl!" mylar balloon. I stomped on it to pop it as we were packing up, and it made a huge bang that echoed like a gun. I would not have been surprised to see a ranger come investigate it.

We had a good weekend. Did you do anything fun?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Secret Trail Markings

Boo started school this year, and it's been a big adjustment. We really cut down our after-work hikes with her, because she was so tired and cranky. But on Labor Day, even though she was still out of sorts, we dragged her to the trail. And we woke her up gently (she hasn't fallen asleep in the car for ages!) After we poked some food into her, she perked back up. We took a hilly, 2.5 mile hike. And it really perked her up. She was the happiest she's been since school started. Well, lesson learned right there. Back to the woods even if she doesn't want to and would rather play with her friends.

When she wasn't running, she was making "secret trail markings". She wouldn't tell us what they were.

Secret Signs

Of note in the pic: whistle on a break-away cord, camera, temporary tattoo, and a stick.

Then her sandals gave her blisters, she she spent the second half of the hike running barefoot up hills.

Do you kids do better for being outside, even when it seems counter-intuitive?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fun with Naturalists and Docents

All the kids I’ve hung out with have taken to the outdoors like they were born to it. (Weird, I know.) They look at things, as questions, and think. 

But even though they love the outdoors, they do get something more out of it by knowing stuff they hadn’t thought to ask. Enter professional and volunteer natural world educators: rangers, naturalists, and docents. (There may be more names that I don’t know, but you know what I’m talking about.)

These people know stuff about an area that we, as visitors, don’t. They often have a table, booth, or class to attract interest. They generally enjoy interacting with the public. And even if your little angels are acting more like little devils, kids are less likely to be horrible to strangers. 

Victor the Corn Snake
Getting face time with a snake. Boo loves the snakes.

Wild Ginger
A chance encounter on the trail during the Earth Day festival resulted in smelling wild ginger and tasting invasive garlic mustard.

Tree ID
A kids tree ID hike.

Discussing Snakes
Discussing rattle snakes and other natural hazards in San Diego.

I enjoy the outdoors more when I am more informed about the interesting things where I am. Turns out kids do, too. I highly recommend finding one.

Do you take advantage of naturalists and docents?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

North Carolina Day Hiking

June30 – July 6, 2013

We spent a week with a friend’s parents near Brevard, NC. In addition to our flooded-out overnight, we spent most of the weekend tramping around the mountains and having a good time.

Cool Clouds

This is the view off the back porch. Sometimes you can see a lot more mountains, but not the week we were there.

Sock Butterfly

This butterfly loooved my sock, kept coming back despite repeatedly being looked at by the kids.

Sunglasses Retention Strap

Boo tied my sunglasses to my hat so I wouldn't lose them.

Picking Blueberries

We found some free-range (feral?) blueberries.


Even though it was the first weekend in July, it was rainy and cool most of the time. This was the only time we waded, and we weren't in the water for long.

Compass Work

We took time for compass practice. She can consistently get the compass flat enough to work, and is getting better at remembering that the red end (as opposed to the white end) is north.

Hiking Stick

She found a lot of hiking sticks. This one had some serious moss growing on it.

Kids Observing the Newt

Boo spotted this tiny newt on the trail. I'd seen it and dismissed it as a leaf bit. The kids were enthralled, and appropriately respectful.

We saw a lot of waterfalls, a lot of overlooks. We got very wet. We once covered the entire deck with drying gear. We ate a lot of smashed sammiches. The girls went to a Woodsy Owl program on the 4th.

Do you plan your vacations around being outdoors, or do you just squeeze some in if you can, or do you leave vacations for being lazy?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Exploring a San Diego Canyon

We recently visited my sister, brother-in-law, and baby nephew in San Diego, CA.  We went to see the baby and visit, not to disappear into the wilderness, but we did manage a couple excursions. 

Their house abuts a canyon. Not a big one, just enough to make some roads not go through. But it’s a very different natural area than we are generally accustomed to. Boo was barely 4 when we last visited, and doesn’t remember the canyon. So once morning, we scrounged up some socks (and I borrowed my brother-in-law’s shoes), and went exploring.

Explorer Kid
She loved scrambling around with no need to stay on a defined trail. This tree she thought would make an awesome house.

Treasure in the Sand

There were all sorts of exciting found items. Like beer bottles. Which are great for digging for buried treasure.

We do have cacti in Illinois, but it's short, sickly looking stuff (the ones I've seen). This is a little different.

How much outdoor time do you get on family trips?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Wet Night in North Carolina (Part 3 of 3)

Monday-Tuesday, July 2-3, 2013.  Pisgah National Forest. Black Balsam, through Graveyard Fields, to the Skinny-dip Falls Trailhead.

Morning: Escape

It was still raining in the morning. Even though I had been careful, my bag got wet. Wet legs? Sweat? Condensation? Oh, the little puddle at my feet… The down was only ~1-2” deep over top of me. Boo was curled into the corner of the tent, in another puddle. We were both warm enough, but it was a good thing it wasn’t cold and we weren’t sleeping out another night. We had a small creature (lizard? salamander? newt?) on the tent. We took a picture of its shadow, but we never got a look at it.

Photo Op

Eventually the rain let up enough that we got out of the tent to start breakfast. 

The worrisome waterfall in the trail out was down to a reasonable stream size. We could all walk that with our packs. But we had almost as long a day planned for Day 2 as Day 1. And the trails would probably be wetter and slicker. The rain had really demoralized the kids, probably because they were cold and wet starting out. 

Breakfast helped, but we decided that, instead of pushing for our planned pickup point, we’d bail, and head for the trailhead less than a mile away by Looking Glass Falls. The bridge across the river was high, so it should still be in place. We texted G our alternative pickup plan. 

Breakfast was good for the kids. Oatmeal and hot chocolate. S and J had homemade oatmeal with stuff. J insisted at length that it was the best oatmeal he’d ever had. My coffee was half rainwater and half hot water. Once we got confirmation from G that she could get us, we told the kids they only had a mile to go, and that cheered them immensely. Boo went from whiney floppy to excited in 2 sentences. 

And the heavens opened again. But not the flooding rain of the night before. 

Then we had to pack up. (Mostly) dry sleeping bags in the plastic trash bags we use for backpack liners. Wet clothes and food bag in Lee’s bag. Wet tent in my bag. I usually roll the tent, but I just wanted to get going. Oof, everything’s a lot heavier! 

J and S have raincovers for their bags. They fussed a bit getting the covers over their sleeping pads.
J was shivering in his shorts as we did a last sweep of the campsite, making sure we’d gotten everything. Lee fed Boo a double chocolate espresso granola bar as everyone loaded up. 

I chose to hike in my raincoat over wool shirt, and nylon shorts. Keep my torso warm and dry (mostly), and let my legs get wet. It wasn’t any colder than 60F, with very little wind, and it worked for me. Boo started with the bottoms of her pants on, but requested them off soon after they got wet.
It was slow going. Yes the waterfall was down, but the trail was 1-2” deep and rocky. Boo needed a lot of help. We generally kept much closer together than the previous day, but there were many more places where we went one at a time so we didn’t fall into each other (a lesson the kids have not yet internalized). 

The kids were troopers. The wet rocks were harder on Boo’s little legs. She usually keeps up pretty well, but she was hands down the limiter on speed. The kids weren’t allowed to hike next to each other; we wanted an adult on either side of both of them Just In Case. 

Skinny Dip Falls was very high. We found an abandoned Angry Birds t-shirt. It amused us so much we took it home.

We emerged from the woods, stomped through one final rivulet of water, and were at the road. We couldn’t see far between the twists of the road and the fog, but we listened carefully and crossed like a family of ducks (single file, kind of scattered, hoping everyone would make it). As we walked into the pull-off, G turned in behind us! 

G took our picture, then we stripped off everything we could and threw it in the truck before the rain picked up again. We stopped at our planned take-out point, and, no, there was no way Boo could have made it, and the rest of us wouldn’t have had a good day, either. 

Back at the house, there was just enough sun that afternoon to dry our things on the porch. It was the last sun we’d see until Friday afternoon. 

Even having to watch my steps so closely, even worrying about the kids, even with my feet sloshing in my boots… It was beautiful. I wish I’d had a raincoat for my camera, instead of having it carefully wrapped in my pack. Or even just had a chance to look around more, or worry less about my kiddo cracking her head. This was one of those things that’s none to pleasant at the time, but after you’ve dried off and had a shower, you’re sitting around, telling the tale, thinking, “Yeah, that was awesome.”

photo courtesy Gwyn Krause
Part 2: In Camp: Flood