outside

in which we all get covered in dirt

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Sunset at the Fairyland lookout at Bryce Canyon National Park.

We arrived in Salt Lake City after a long day of plane travel, having schlepped our ten (ten!) checked bags from the baggage claim to the rental car agency, only to realize that said bags would not fit in the car. Unless we strapped a child to the roof. We shelled out the cash for a minivan and headed to the grocery store to stock up for ten nights of camping. Check. On to REI, where we needed to purchase some propane and sun hats. It was here that all three of our dear little children lost their minds. Us parents made a mental note never to travel with them again, and we made it to the hotel before they fell asleep in two minutes flat, hours after their normal east coast bedtime. 

"Are we making a big mistake?" Patrick said, with eyebrows raised in annoyance and exhaustion. 

"Maybe," I answered. We again discussed plans to postpone all future travel until they turned 8, 11, and 13. "It is a bit easier to camp twenty minutes from home."

Thank goodness we slept well, because there was a four-hour car ride to Bryce Canyon ahead of us the next morning. Dude. What were we thinking? 

Choruses of "are we there yet?" and "I don't want that music!" and "but I want that music!" were heard from the back seats. At least we had rare snack foods on hand. Never underestimate the power of cheddar bunny crackers to assuage the masses. 

Setting up camp in Bryce was filled with more whines.

But then ... then the big cousins arrived. And everything was all better.

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Calf Creek Falls in Utah. A very hot, six-mile hike in full sun, with a very beautiful waterfall destination. Bring lots of water. More than we did (ahem.)

Aside from a few nights of coughing for Lachlan (hello, high elevation!) and sub-par sleep, we started to hit our camping groove. From Bryce, we headed to Zion, then on to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (which is very different from the South Rim, so I hear. Sparsely visited, nestled among pine, aspen, and lupine - our camp site was a quick walk from the edge. Stunning.) 

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I had lots of time to think about some things on this trip. With no internet access, I spent my evenings in quiet contemplation. There were no hobbies to busy my hands (I brought the wrong knitting needles, drat!) I did get out to hike as much as possible. And while that isn't always easy to do with little children, who are more interested in small things and less interested in the grandeur of canyons, I did squeeze in a few hard hikes with a toddler on my back, and a handful of solo explorations. And what I realized was this: challenging my body in Nature is my jam.

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I hear so much about how important it is to set aside time to exercise. How I need to move for so many reasons. Exercise is an obligation if I am to reach my full energy quota, my optimum body function. How many of us view exercise as an obligation, not a joyful experience that we look forward to? Hiking, for me, is pure joy. Pure fulfillment. I could hike to the top of a mountain and not think about how much longer I had to go. I could go on for miles without wondering when I could stop. 

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Finn and I hiked The Narrows at Zion, and this is the only picture I got. Despite being out of focus, I love it!

The first thing I did when I got home was sign up for my local hiking meet-up. If I'm going to invest in personal rejuvenation and health, this is how I'm going to do it. There needs to be a balance in my "me time." Too much time spent hunched over a sewing machine can be good for my mind but bad for the body. Equilibrium can be reached by balancing quiet, crafting time with joyful movement. Starting now, I'm going to explore how to honor that body/mind balance in my free time, looking at both as a pleasurable respite rather than an obligation. 

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And yes, I would take my three kids on another crazy camping adventure. In fact, I recommend it. As long as you add big cousins or friends to the mix! Nature takes the drudgery out of movement for people of all ages.


sky top orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

skytop orchard

Baskets. Panoramic views. Running, almost tumbling down grassy hills. A hayride (with requests for many more). A normally cautious child exploring his newfound tree climbing passion. Warm apple cider on a cloud-filled, crisp morning. Apple donuts before lunch, because that's how we roll on apple picking day.

If you happen to be in the Asheville area during apple picking season, do take the time to visit Sky Top Orchard. This was our second year visiting, and it really is an amazing place. A beginning-of-autumn tradition has been solidified for our family. Patrick and I found ourselves recalling what was going on in our lives at this time last year when we went apple picking - he had just started his full-time job as a computer programmer, and I had just stepped more deeply into my role as a full-time stay-at-home mama. And here we are now, my belly round with our baby girl. That is something we surely didn't expect! Next year, we'll attend as a family of five. What else will have changed between now and then? Oh, the possibilities held within a year.

Now I have 23 pounds of apples to process, and I can't find my beloved book, Canning for a New Generation. Must have loaned it out. Can anyone recommend a good applesauce recipe without sugar? Or a pie filling recipe without weird ingredients? We're itching to start peeling and coring some apples.


welcoming autumn

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

Autumn festival

It's been a particularly festive and colorful week. An autumn party to attend, apple crisp to be baked and shared, summer clothes to be put away and pants and long-sleeved shirts to be brought out of storage. Tomorrow, we leave for our second annual camping trip to the Appalachian mountains for some apple picking and cool weather hiking. 

Not many words today, just some pretty pictures. Wish me luck packing for the trip with two very tired boys in tow! 


imagine childhood book review + giveaway

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That book up there? It's amazing. Of course, I knew it would be - I've been a loyal visitor the Imagine Childhood blog and a supporter of their store for many years now.

What author Sarah Olmsted has crafted is a deep, relaxing breath in the form of a book . It's an invitation to experience the wonder of nature in a creative way. An invitation to notice. An invitation to experience a forest, a creek, a pond - through the eyes of a child and alongside your child.

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The activities in Imagine Childhood, I would say, are geared toward families with young children or older children who are able to read and craft on their own. None require a developed skill set - the sewing projects are very simple, the woodworking projects extremely basic - so anyone can jump right in. Everything can be made with little and big hands working side by side.

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The boys eagerly chose to work on the mud house project, and it was a delight to work alongside them. I cut the wood forms and they did most everything else - from oiling down the sides of the wood (even the oustide of the form - unneccesary for the house, but somehow perfect work for Finn, as you can see above.) Finn made design decisions (such as choosing to hammer a door frame together rather than using a bigger block. I just followed their lead. Come to think of it, Imagine Childhood and my other favorite, Project-Based Homeschooling, are perfect companion books.

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Lachlan really got into the mud part after his nap. (Do you see him nearly falling over in one of the above pictures, unable to give in to sleep with the excitement of the mud house construction?) Hold on - I have to go give him a smooch this minute - ok, I'm back!

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And here is our mud house thus far, still drying. Come to think of it, it had a very generous watering in the last few days, first by eager boys who love to go around watering this and that, then by nature herself, in the form of a rainy day. I'm not sure if it will ever dry properly without splitting, but the experience itself was quite worthwhile regardless. There is a town of mud houses being planned, as well as many other projects from Imagine Childhood.

Building this with the boys made me remember one of my first blog posts, back when I was living in rural Mexico and building a cob wall to protect our garden. It wasn't surprising that building with mud attracted the neighborhood children; there's something so simple, functional, and rewarding about it.

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Cob wall

Roost Books has generously offered to give away two copies of Imagine Childhood to my readers, and Sarah has chipped in a $25 gift certificate to the Imagine Childhood Shop. Three opportunities to win! Leave a comment to enter. I'll pick a winner on Saturday, December 1st.

Good luck!


Comments are now closed - congratulations to Gwenn, Joy and Milena!


they hammer in the morning...

... in the evening ... all over our land. Oh, it's darn cute around here, friends, let me tell you! Both Finn and Lachlan are ever-so-enthusiastic with our chicken coop building project. 

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building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

building the chicken coop

Our pint-sized tools, work gloves, safety glasses and tool belt are from For Small Hands. Everything is the right size for Finn, (who hit the three-and-a-half marker on Saturday) and Lachlan enjoys using the safety glasses and hammer, too.

The bones of the coop are set - now for the roof (and everything else.) So far, so good - we're using the Garden Coop plans, and they're easy to follow for us woodworking novices. 

I'm not sure if you read the comments on Friday's post announcing the arrival of the chicks, but I have to share a conversation my mom had with Finn while they were driving home:

Mima: How are the new chicks, Finn?

Finn: Good! We can hold them if we sit on the floor and put our hands like this (two little hands cupped together).

(Pregnant pause.)

But we cannot throw them...(another pause)...Laquinn (Lachlan) doesn't know this.

Goodness! Must teach Lachlan not to throw the chicks, I suppose! The chicks are still alive and thriving, despite Finn's lack of high esteem for his brother's behavior. :)


Friendship

Hi, I'm Charlotte and I'm guest blogging in this space for Meg while she prepares for Quilt Market this month.  I feel honored to be writing here on this very page where our special friendship began.  I started reading Meg's blog before Finn was even born and sometime during his early months I realized that Meg and I lived in the same town, with boys just a few months apart.  So I wrote to her, and it felt something like writing to Punky Brewster when I was seven years old, only instead of a junky fan club postcard and Punky headshot, I got a playdate with Meg, the crafting and parenting rockstar. (Guess what?  Despite being starstruck in the beginning, she's just like you and me!) We found some common ground.  We got to know one another.  Then we got pregnant at the same time again, this time with Lachlan and my little girl, Kenzie.  We rode that rollercoaster together, and our bond strengthened.

Meg is one of my best friends, and when I thought of what I could say during my time in this space, I kept coming back to Meg herself.  I hope to share the things I love about Meg with you, and give you a more intimate look at the woman behind the blog.

This week we headed to our favorite river spot together, me with my four kids and Meg with her two. We hope to make this a weekly adventure through the seasons and this week's visit didn't disappoint, with clouds and rain and sun all in the same visit!  The rain didn't dampen our spirits and even made the views more beautiful.

I suppose to an untrained eye, nothing remarkable was happening.  Kids played.  Kids got wet.  Boots got muddy.  Insects and snails were captured.  There were smiles (a lot) and tears (a few) and lots and lots of snacks for our busy adventurers.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind.  We could spend that extra half hour cleaning house or doing one more work task or simply  choose to stay inside on a slightly damp day to avoid the mess and fuss.  But we wouldn't want that, now would we, Lachlan?

No.  Because the outdoors has lessons to teach us.  My own over-active brain slows down and breathes deeply.  Questions bubble forth from my older ones with regularity - do trees have DNA?  How do the leaves in the river affect the ecosystem?  Did the rocks erode from rain or from the river when it was higher?  They relax and open themselves fully to the experience, with creativity and problem solving blending into one seamless experience.  And Kenzie?  Well, she's been hesitant around steps lately.  My house has six sets of steps inside (yes, six!  they vary from 1-3 steps all the way to a full flight) and she was refusing to go up or down them, protesting to be helped each time, even transitioning from room to room.  But outside?

Despite their size and irregularity, she conquered that fear.  Thank you, nature!  And thank you, Meg, for bringing this city-girl out into the wild every week and reminding me that we have so much to learn just by being present.


where we're going

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We never know where we will end up when we start along a path, do we?

Things evolve organically. Our family is changing, and we're taking a turn in a different direction. 

Patrick took a leave of absence from his PhD program in history to take a computer programing job. He would like to finish his dissertation one day, if he can do so while working full-time as a programmer. (A high five for my brilliant and hard-working husband who is both a humanities guy and a mathy, programming guy. How often do those two talents get put into one (darn cute) package? :) 

He will start work soon. We will get a regular paycheck, which is a huge stress relief for us. We were working way too hard to get Sew Liberated to make up for Patrick's grad school stipend which was about to run dry, and it just wasn't happening. It's a good source of supplemental income. It's not enough for a family of four with hefty medical bills. We're tired of money stress. We needed to do something about it.

You know, part of me cringes at the mention of money. I have - as many of you have, too - embraced a movement toward simpler living. Less stuff, less technology. Focusing on time instead of income, living slowly instead of doing everything. Perhaps part of me wishes that I could fully jump on board and simplify our lives to the point where Patrick didn't need to work outside the home. Many families are able to do this, and I am grateful for their ingenuity and gentle influence. I'm moving toward a self-acceptance that we are not one of those families. But thankfully, I know now that we will be ok. We have health insurance. We will have enough money to replace our roof (which is a "green roof" by the happenstance of thirty years rather than ecological standards.) We will be able to buy plane tickets to visit my grandfather who can't travel anymore. We've had many sighs of relief around here.

Of course, Patrick's job precipitates a huge shift for both of us. Since Finn's birth, we have been co-parenting full-time - he worked half the day, and I worked half the day, and we each took the boys when the other was working. Patrick will be leaving around 8:15 AM, and will return around 5:30 PM. I will be with the boys all day, with the exception of three mornings a week when Finn is at his nature school and Lachlan is cared for by my parents. During those three mornings, I will work on the blog and Sew Liberated. It will be an exercise in letting go of the unnecessary, streamlining my productivity, and learning how to delegate. My parents will be gone for four weeks right before Quilt Market in Houston this October, which I am attending this year. I have four new patterns in the pipeline. It will be an interesting Autumn.

What I am both very excited about and very nervous about is orchestrating each day solo, from breakfast to dinner, with Finn and Lachlan. Right now I'm trying to get myself organized, so I know what kinds of fun activities we can do together while at home. I know many can fly by the seat of their pants, but I need to have a flexible plan. I also need to figure out how to recharge. As a borderline introvert, I need head space to myself. I'm contemplating daily quiet time for my non-napper, and looking into a yoga class on Sunday mornings. 

This is where I am - getting everything in line for the next turn in life. I'm full of optimism that with it will come new lessons, less stress, and a soon-to-be-found groove.


solstice camping

This week's "Just One Day" will be up tomorrow. Happy Solstice, everyone!

solstice camping

solstice camping

solstice camping

solstice camping

solstice camping

solstice camping

This past weekend, the boys and I went camping with our friends to celebrate the longest day of the year. The lingering sunlight didn't keep them from falling asleep after a long day of play in the great outdoors, as you can see.

It was our first camping trip away from our backyard, and we did it without Daddy, who was at home getting some uninterupted work time. (Yes, I was slightly nervous, and nope, I didn't get much sleep.) But it went really well, all things considered.

Growing up, I went camping frequently, and as I got older, my dad and I would spend many weekends backpacking in the Lakes Basin area near my home. 

When Patrick and I got married, we registered at REI, not Macy's! Good thing, because dishes wouldn't have held up well in our cross-continent, cross-border move to the Mexican Sierra. We did a good deal of backcountry exploring while living in Mexico.

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Our "first home" was this tent, and our linens were our sleeping bags. Here it is on the precipice of a mesa in the middle of nowhere in the indigenous Tarahumara community of Rowerachi. That's me, wearing the traditional dress during Semana Santa. (Next dress pattern anyone? Hehehe!)

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Our hope is that we can do more and more backpacking once the boys get older. We started off in the backyard, then a campground with water and parking, but my preference is definitely to get out there and fall asleep to the sounds of nature rather than the sounds of neighboring campers chatting. 

Outsideways has been a great resource for kickstarting the backpacking bug as a family with small children. The blog is the joint venture of Renee of FIMBY (great homeschooling and healthy eating resource!) and her husband, Damien. Outsideways chronicles how they got to where they are now - a family of five that makes backpacking and outdoor adventures a priority.

We ended up investing in a Hogback Tarptent (it's super lightweight!) that will be able to transition from car camping to backpacking. We anticipate having to carry the boys' sleeping bags and pads, as well as the tent and our food, for a while. We'll slowly transition them to carrying their own gear, but you can see why a lightweight tent was a must. I think we can do a short hike "in" with the boys now, maybe a mile, and manage carrying all their stuff and (the occasional) boy. That's the key. We can only go as far as they can walk. I'll report back when we actually try this. :)

Finn has a Big Agnes Little Red Sleeping bag which has a slot in the back so you can stuff his sleeping pad directly into the bag. There's no worries about the bag slipping off the pad in the middle of the night - my only gripe is that I can't manage to keep HIM in the sleeping bag. It's hot, so it's unzipped, and his whirling dervish legs propel him all over the floor of the tent. He slept great - I just had to readjust him quite a lot. 

Lachlan just sleeps on an extra foam pad with a blanket. Maybe next year he'll be ready for his own sleeping bag.

Little by little, we'll become a backpacking family. In the meantime, we'll save a lot of money on vacations and road trips by being able to camp instead of stay in a hotel.  I'll keep you updated as our adventurous daydreams become reality!


secret garden

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I'm not going to lie. It's a jungle in our backyard! While it is so funny to think that we had the notion that we could come close to keeping all of these weeds at bay, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Because, tucked in amongst all those (sometimes quite pretty!) weeds are hidden vegetables and fruits that the deer can't find (and sometimes, to be honest, we have a hard time distinguishing our lettuce patch from the weeds, too!)

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Little boys, as it turns out, have no trouble finding such treasures. Like these four blueberry bushes so lovingly planted a few months back with the help of his Papa.

"I need a bucket! I need a bucket!" I hear as a blonde-headed torpedo flies past me, heading in the direction of our Secret Garden. He sat there for an hour, picking. And eating. And talking about Blueberries for Sal. I am reminded that we did not buy this land to tame it. We bought it to take care of it. To protect it and the little boys, birds, and animals who live here from herbicides and pesticides. We bought it - a human-life lease on a place that was here long before we were, and will be here long after we pass on - to live here. To weed when we can, to grow some things that will nourish our family.

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A carefully cultivated landscape and garden are, perhaps, down our path in the future. But for now, I am choosing to weed less and lie down on a clover patch, blonde headed boy in the crook of my outstretched arm, searching for animals in the clouds.


oh brother

oh brother

We're being far too serious here, Finn.

oh brother

What we should do is get our crazy on, like this:

oh brother

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!

oh brother

Screaming at the top of our lungs while covered in mud sure is fun, isn't it?

Some of you have asked about my secret method for cleaning off my boys. Truth be told, my boys are often covered in something - mud, weeds, oatmeal, peanut butter - I am not one to fuss over their appearance. 

But being dirty is the sign of a day well spent! To keep them from leaving a trail of mud in their wake as they move through the house, I just hose them off, dump their messy clothes in the washer, and dump them in the tub before dinner. 

Then it's my tub that's dirty. It never ends. The soil everywhere is a sign that we made the right decision by moving out here to some land - they're country boys, these two. Nothing is better than being outside. I'll take the ever-present dirt packed underneath fingernails.