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7 ways to strengthen your relationship with your child despite sibling rivalry

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There are always good moments. Moments when they are cuddled up together reading a book, times when they are helping and encouraging each other, coming up with some funny game, or giggling about an inside joke.

Then there are the other times.


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You know, sibling jealousy stuff. Little behavioral outcries for connection. Totally understandable, right? I mean, could you imagine having to share your partner, your one-and-only, with two other people who are angling for his/her affection? And can I just bemoan, for a bit, the lamentable fact that there are only TWO SIDES of my body while sitting on a couch reading a book, and TWO HANDS available while out on a hike? I know. I wish that, with the birth of my third child, I also acquired a third arm. Octopus appendages preferable.

When I consider the long view of parenting, what seems to be the most important factor (and ultimately, the only one I can control) is my individual relationship with each of my three children. As adults, they may end up good friends, they may end up living far from each other and seeing each other only occasionally, or they may be so different that they don't find much common ground. Of course, I hope that I'm building a strong sibling connection through homeschooling, family adventures, and traditions, but in the end, their relationships with each other are theirs alone. But my relationship with each of them is totally in my hands, and I strive to connect deeply with each of them.

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Going through a phase where my kids are bickering more often that usual means that I need step back and observe if  there are any needs that aren't being adequately met - unmet needs which might correlate with the uptick of feelings of jealousy.

For us, that generally means that there has been a dearth of time alone with me. Time when I can focus on each child without distractions. Totally impractical, yet totally necessary for my kids' emotional health. Some days I struggle to get food made, shuttle kids to a lesson here, write a blog post there ... let alone make time for my own self-care. But here are some ways to connect with each child individually that have worked for me in the past. Starting today, I'm going to take my own advice and implement as many of the following strategies as possible. I should note that, for my kids, stealthy "special time" is better for sibling harmony than announcing to everyone that "Mama is going to spend 15 minutes playing with Lachlan. You other two do your thing, then it will be your turn!" That only rubs vinegar in their wounds.

Here are some ways that I can sneak in moments of connectedness with each child even amidst a full day:

1.) Steal little moments: Out of eyeshot of siblings, whisper sweet words of love and appreciation into each child's ear. Look at that child with a twinkle in your eyes. If you find it helpful, keep a little tally sheet for your own use, showing the number of whispered love messages/hugs each child has received that day.

2.) Take advantage of quiet moments to have a big, juicy conversation: When the other kids are engaged in their own activities/play, sit beside the free child and start a conversation about what he/she is doing. Follow conversational tangents, be curious about what that child is thinking. Express sincere interest in his/her interest(s).

3.)Little love notes: A simple note of appreciation or something that you noticed about the child's experience that day, left under a pillow, in a lunch box, or in a book that you pick to read together.

4.) Whisper to a child who needs some extra lovin' that you'd like to share some special time with her, and ask if it's ok if you invite her siblings to listen to an audiobook together while you play/chat together. I find having a multi-headphone splitter a great tool for this. The kids are able to hear more clearly, and thus focus more easily, on their story. Each of my kids has a different version of these animal headphones.

5.) Schedule dates with each child: We are lucky in my family - we have three children, one set of grandparents who live in town, and two parents. This means that we have the freedom to set aside a morning or afternoon where each child receives some special attention - one with me, one with Patrick, and one with my parents. Ideally, we do this every few weeks, rotating kids.

6.) Focus on the positive interactions: Write down the good moments. Do a little mental tally of those moments of kindness and mention your gratitude for such moments to your child before he or she falls asleep.

7.) Every week, have a meeting with each child: Ask what their priorities are for the week - what do they want to play? Who do they want to see? What are they curious to learn? Write them down, and discuss how you might be able to fit their interests into the family calendar.

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And don't forget to take lots of pictures and videos of them having fun together. My husband thought that he and his siblings constantly fought, but was surprised to see some long-lost family videos that indicated that his memory was slightly skewed. They were all being so darling and sweet to each other! For your kids' sake, make sure they remember the positive interactions that they shared. Tell stories about those funny and kind sibling moments, watch the fun videos, and pull out the photo books often.

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Encourage Your Kids to Hike and Give Them a Lifelong Gift of Joyful Movement

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In the past year, we've slowly emerged from a period of time during which I couldn't take my three kids out to hike by myself. When Sadie was born, Lachlan still very much needed to be carried after a short period of walking. He can tire easily (he only has half a heart!), but sometimes he just didn't feel like walking – something he shares with most kids of preschool age, I imagine. And when a preschooler doesn't feel like walking, well … you shift your ideal to accommodate your reality.

 

My ideal is being able to enjoy multi-day backpacking trips with my kids. I grew up next to the Tahoe National Forest, and my dad and I would often head to the trail for the weekend. My dad is not an effusive guy, but during those hikes, camped beside isolated Sierra Nevada lakes, we connected. We didn't talk each other's ears off, but we did hard things together, and shared many funny moments. I want to experience that same distraction-free connection with my kids. Also, my dad's implicit confidence in my resilience as a backpacker framed so much of my self-conception as a woman today – no less capable of doing hard, adventurous, physically and mentally demanding things than my three older brothers. This is an image he cultivated in me from the time I was four, when he and I summited Mt. Lassen. Throughout my life, he told that story proudly. How the rest of the our friends' kids grumbled their way up the trail, and I kept on truckin' and singing, all the way to the top. He and I did a goofy dance in the summer snow patch at the summit. It is one of my most cherished childhood memories.

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My little guy with a congenital heart defect would not have been able to summit Mt. Lassen at age four . Instead, I adjusted my ideal and we picked hike-free natural places to explore while he grew in physical and mental resilience. We would (and still do) bring a picnic, art supplies, nets, magnifying glasses, field guides and set about exploring and simply enjoying the nature right around us. Sometimes we would go for very short hikes, but we tended to stick nearby. I wanted to cultivate positive vibes about nature. Check.

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And yet … I didn't want our experience of nature to remain sedentary. I am very aware of the benefits of moderate physical exercise for heart kids. Lachlan's heart function depends on a lifestyle of movement. His little heart is a muscle, and the more regularly he works it out, the better and longer it will serve him. He won't be able to play competitive soccer, basketball, or any organized sport like that. But as a family, we can provide him the knowledge of a physical activity that he can continue to enjoy well past the time that most adults stop participating in organized sports and start sitting in front of a computer screen for work. Hiking. Outdoor adventuring in general. A joyful gift of lifelong movement and health.

Here are the things that I'm currently doing to pass along a love of movement in nature, with a goal of going on our first family backpacking trip within the year.

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Scavenger hunt hikes

Sometimes the excitement of a scavenger hunt will get them out of the house in a jiffy. These can be “collecting” scavenger hunts, where they look for bits of nature to bring home for the nature table, but sensory scavenger hunts are my favorite. They have a list of things to see, smell, touch, or hear. Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

 

Snack bags

Have snack, will walk. It's really amazing to me how far my youngest two can go when they have bags of crackers or popcorn to dip into. While I try to keep cracker-face-stuffing to a minimum at home, on the trail they are a much-anticipated treat.

 

Gear Up the Kids 

Sometimes the gift of a special hiking backpack, hydration system, hiking boots, or trekking poles will inspire them to make some forward momentum on the trail. Lachlan is a big fan of “gear”. (Finn would go naked and barefoot into the woods, and Sadie of course prefers wearing her Halloween-princess-costume-turned-hiking-dress, but Lachlan is motivated by his backpack!)

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Gear Up the Mama

Two items have changed my ability to hike solo with my little family: my backpack with a comfortable hip belt and my ultra light-weight Boba Air baby carrier, which folds itself into a tiny zip bag when not in use. I'll start with the Boba carrier – I always stow it in my backpack. In case Lachlan or Sadie get tired, I can pop them in the carrier. In case both of them get tired at the same time, I can (as a last resort) put one in the carrier and the other on my shoulders and view it as an excellent work out! (I always anticipate this, and consider it a gift of a great work out rather than a situation to be feared and avoided at all costs.)

 

My backpack is filled with crackers, extra clothes, and water, mostly. It also provides me with the ability to facilitate a sweet little rest time, if needed. I love to pack a nature-themed story book like The Burgess Bird Book for Children, as well as some simple nature journal supplies (The boys tend to carry their own sketch books and water in their trail packs now, but I started out carrying everyone's supplies so as not to weight them down before they were ready.)

 

Sometimes a Curriculum is Helpful

I have loved some of the suggestions in Exploring Nature with Children, a Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool curriculum. While we are radical unschoolers and don't follow curricula, I use this as a learning resource for myself, so I can be informed about seasonal details in nature. The book's suggestions are great, as are the themed nature walks. There are even some crafting ideas thrown in there! Highly recommended.

 

We've also participated in and enjoyed the Wild Explorers Club. The kids get weekly “assignments,” which vary from week to week. Some of our favorites have been making your own special walking stick and creating a map of a hike or natural area. When they complete a level (about 4 assignments), you can order them a special badge. We put our membership on hold this fall, but the boys have been asking to start up again. I should get on that.

 

Find a Hiking Community

It's no surprise that kids move more quickly, and with more gusto, when they are doing it with friends. So much more running happens on the trail when we hike with other kids! We are fortunate to have outdoor-loving friends. If you're still searching for your tribe, see if Hike It Baby or Adventure Mamas has an active community in your area.

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Go Slowly, Go Quickly

Be prepared to stop and play in water. Be prepared to marvel at small things. Be prepared to notice the feeling on dirt as it sifts from one hand to the other. Children move slowly, and we should follow their lead. Conversely, be prepared to play a game of tag. Be prepared to race to a tree. Be prepared to be playful. Children can move quickly, and we should follow that cue, as well. Nurturing a balance between fast and slow will keep everyone in balance as you hike.

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Talk it Up, Build Their Identities as Hikers

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Just like my dad did for me, talk about what amazing hikers your kids have become. Be in awe of their small triumphs, their resilience, their ability to do hard things. After a hike, talk up all of the neat things you saw, all of the fun you had. Plan hikes together - start a Pinterest board together of nearby trails you'd like to get to know. Teach them navigation skills, give them a camera to help document your nature discoveries. Let little ones take turns leading, and thank them for their help afterwards. Tell bedtime stories about them as explorers. Brag about their hiking to their grandparents in the same way you would mention how well they are learning to read.  Essentially, communicate that joyful movement in nature is an esteemed family value. In time, your children will come to self-identify as capable outdoor adventurers.

 


sky top orchard

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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.