All posts by radicallybroken

Gear and The Husband Guest Posts

Hey Everyone! I am so excited to let you know that my amazing husband has done this guest post for us. He’s amazing and I am excited to get to share just a piece of his genius with all of you. 

Look at that handsome guy! He has been camping since he was a child with his family, he can tie almost any knot, he is calm in the face of all things, and is my complement in all ways. Enjoy!

Like Claire wrote in the last post, you don’t need all the gear you think you need. However, you do need some. I like REI’s list of the Ten Essentials. They say you need navigation, light, sun protection, first aid, a knife/tool, fire, shelter, food, water, and clothing. I would tend to agree with them.

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Photo courtesy of rei.com

Once you figure out what you absolutely must have to go outdoors, you need to figure out which equipment you want and how to acquire that equipment. If you ask the internet what equipment is best for camping/hiking/outdoor activities, the internet will gladly point you to the most technical, researched, overdeveloped items you can buy. (I’ve gone to outdoorgearlab.com almost obsessively. Although I like sectionhiker.com too.) Those items come with a price tag that reflects all the development work that went into them. If you are going to summit Mount Everest, save your pennies and buy that gear. It will serve you well. If you are going outside overnight or to escape the suburbs, then don’t buy that gear.

 

So, where do you get all this stuff?

 

Some outdoors brands have brick-and-mortar stores. Hopefully, you’ll find helpful people there with experience who can direct you to the items that fit your needs and budget. Unfortunately, dedicated brick and mortar stores are only available in the largest cities.

My favorites: Patagonia, The North Face, Eddie Bauer

Then there are the outdoors stores that carry several of the blue-chip outdoor brands. There is usually more variety here with respect to use and budget. Usually, these stores will also have helpful people who can point you to things that will help you go outdoors successfully. I love going to REI because it gives me a chance to put my hands on things. It’s hard to tell online how heavy a base layer is or how thick a particular set of gloves are. Besides, there’s one close to my office and I like to wander around in it. (Claire’s note: This place is super dangerous for us because there are so many fun items that we love. Even our kids love walking around REI and Bass Pro Shops to look at all the gear. It’s infectious! But hey, if you don’t buy anything, it’s a cheap date.)

My favorites: REI, Bass Pro Shops, Sun & Ski, Field & Stream, MooseJaw

If all of those are out of your budget, many major sporting goods stores will have outdoors gear. Usually, the staff is helpful, but you’d have to get lucky to find someone with the same experience as someone who’s working for a dedicated outdoors company. But also there are more options. You don’t have to get something that’s designed specifically for backpacking if you’re not going backpacking. Plenty of sporting brands will make clothing that will keep you safe from the elements, but might not have the bells and whistles the internet says you “need”. You can (and I do) buy paracord from anywhere. Who doesn’t need more rope? (Claire’s note: This is literally his life mantra. “You can never have too much rope.” And, judging by the amount of rope and paracord we are in possession of, he means it.)

My favorites: Academy Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gander Mountain

If you are still not satisfied with those options, you can go to your favorite big box store. You’re not likely to get much help in identifying good equipment, but it sure is cheap. By the same token, you don’t need an avalanche-capable tent to spend a spring weekend in a southern state park. These stores will probably carry the Coleman brand. That brand has been a gateway drug for our gear. Our first tent is from Coleman and my Coleman camp stove has some nostalgia tied to it because an older version is what my dad cooked on when we went camping.

My favorites: Target and believe it or not, Costco

If you’re looking for ruggedness, military surplus stores can be a good place to find camping and survival gear. Here again, you need to know what you’re looking for to find something that will fit your needs.

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Once you’ve exhausted the places you can physically walk into, you can go online. Depending on where you go, you can find the top of the line peak-bagging gear or you can stumble into cheaply made junk. Amazon is a blessing and a curse here. There’s no helpful guide to say, “this item you’re about to buy has no guarantee that it will survive a stiff breeze.” Reviews are only so reliable. On the plus side, there are infinitely more options online. You can browse Amazon, eBay, or Craigslist if you like.

If you like the excitement of flash sale sites, theclymb.com and massdrop.com have you covered.

If you want the best new gear, go to the brand you want. Outdoor Research, Rab, North Face, Kelty, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Gregory, MSR, Arc’teryx, United by Blue and on and on.

If you don’t know the brand you want, go to REI, Backcountry.com, Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, Gear Co-op, MooseJaw, you get it.

If you want to rent big ticket items before you buy them outdoorsgeek will rent gear as well as some REI stores.

All these sites have sale and clearance sections that can save your bacon if you get lucky (Claire’s note: Check out REI Outlet/Garage and consider becoming a member so you get access to their big sales.). We’ve benefited from putting outdoors gear on Christmas and birthday wish lists. But there are whole sites dedicated to selling stuff on the cheap. These sell items that are not the latest and greatest, but still good stuff. Think steepandcheap.com, sierratradingpost.com, campmor.com, campsaver.com, decathlon.com, and mountainsteals.com. Also if you plan things out far enough in advance, you can buy gear out of season. Winter clothing is the cheapest right as winter is ending. Same with summer items. Most big box stores consider camping and outdoors activities a “summer thing”. Use this to your advantage when fall rolls around.

It must be said here that the cheaper gear is, the less you know about how it’s made. Some companies are glad to source their materials from countries that have poor worker protection laws and poor conservation efforts. Outside online profiled the Decathlon brand here.

If you have a preference for sustainability and conservation, the internet has you covered here too. There are brands that clean up trash for every item you buy (United by Blue). There are brands that give back to help alleviate poverty (Cotopaxi). Patagonia is getting political with its conservation efforts. Clif Bars make sure all their ingredients are traceable and sustainable. Marmot uses fewer chemicals in their manufacturing and is incorporating recycled materials into its products. Many of the major brands are opening online stores that sell used and refurbished gear. There might be a patch on that jacket or there might be a seam that needed repairing, but preventing these items from going to a landfill or the Great Pacific garbage patch is a noble endeavor. These sorts of things can be found at rei.com/used, wornwear.patagonia.com, outdoorsgeek.com/product-category/buy-now-used, thenorthfacerenewed.com and renewalworkshop.com. There is a push currently for outdoors brands to care for the environments they want their customers to enjoy. If you can, support these efforts.

Let me know if you have tips or tricks that I’ve missed.

Otherwise, gear up and get outside!

Meal Prep, FODMAP, and the woes of eating in the forest

This last weekend I went camping and it had its ups and its downs. We took all the kids and lots of it was exactly what we needed. But there was one major hiccup.

Food.

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Do you remember that special new protocol I am on to keep me feeling like my best self? It’s called the FODMAP Diet, although I hate the word diet because it is in no way related to weight loss. Monash University describes FODMAP as this…

What are FODMAPs?

Put simply, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods and food additives.

It stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols. This cuts out gluten, dairy, legumes, fermented foods (I may have cried over kimchi), garlic, onions, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. For more information go here.

This makes all food a challenge for me, but it makes eating while camping/hiking even more challenging. Many of my go-to foods have now been cut out of my life.

When I first started eating this way, I would literally open up my refrigerator, look at the contents, and cry.

I had no idea what to eat, how to make it, or if anything would taste good. When I go to events, most of the time I cannot eat anything there which makes me feel unsociable and isolated. It is a constant difficulty even now.

Cut to this weekend and my amazing husband went to buy all the food for our camping adventure. He worked so hard to find food I could eat, many things still ended up being non-compliant for me. Part of it is that, even after 8 months or more of doing this, it’s still hard to remember all the items I cannot have! I have an app that I can search in to help me because even I have trouble sometimes, especially with food I do not eat often.

So get to camp and guess who does not have enough food? It’s me in case you missed that.

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Praise the Lord for eggs or I would have just been hungry (on top of freezing).

So I am going to begin sharing new and improved recipes on here for how to take your dietary needs camping. Here’s just a first look at one recipe:

Camp Chili

1lb beef
1lb spicy ground pork (because sausage is out now)
No beans
Cumin, Chili Powder, Paprika, Parsley, Basil (let’s be honest I do this by feel/smell)
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 cans Tomato Sauce
1 can Tomato Paste
Water
1 Carrot (ground to a pulp and tossed in – you can’t taste it)
1 handful of Spinach (ground to a pulp and tossed in – you can’t taste it)
1 Baked Potato (to pour it on)

Directions:
Brown the meat and add a small portion of the spices until it is fragrant and slightly colorful. Add cocoa powder and stir. Add all the tomato products at once. You can also use Rotel here if there is nothing it that bothers you. I like the chunks but it says “spice” and since I do not know what that means, I steer clear.
Now I fill up 1 can of tomato sauce (now that it’s empty) with water and pour that in. You can always add more later if needed.
Grind up the vegetables in the food processor, blender, or chop it up if you want and throw it in.
Bring everything to a boil then let it simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours. (after about 30-40 minutes, test it and adjust seasonings as needed)

You can box this and take it camping, or you can make this in a cast iron dutch oven over a fire which will mean maneuvering it reduce the heat when needed.

Only YOU can decide when you’re chilly is done. I prefer mine pretty thick and very fragrant. Stir it every now and then until it is the consistency you want.

Are you vegan? Take out the meat (obviously) and add in any beans you want! I used to love making this with kidney beans and pinto beans, but black beans are tasty here as well despite being less common in this variety of chili. Consider pouring your chili over rice instead of potatoes if you are worried about getting that complete protein here, but you know yourself and what you need. Also, consider sprinkling nutritional yeast over the top instead of the cheese others prefer to get a similar flavor. I love the stuff! (if only it was cheaper! Do you hear me, Sprouts??)

Enjoy and See You Outside!

What do you NEED to go camping?

A huge part of planning a large scale trip, and one of the biggest drawbacks for people who want to start camping, is gear.

So what do you even need for your basic campout?

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Need:

  • Campsite
  • Ground Pad (or air mattress if you’re glamping)
  • Tent (optional)
  • Cooking method
  • Cooking utensils
  • Food

Okay, so a lot of times people have this mental list of all thing things they “need” to go camping. They have decided that it requires a tent, ground pad, sleeping bag, specialty pillow, specialty stove, special utensils, special clothes, special coolers, and on and on it goes. People end up racking up hundreds of dollars in things they supposedly “need” to go camping.

But it’s not all that.

If you go to a nearby state park or check out hipcamp.com to use someone’s property, there are really only a few things you need. You could even camp under the stars without a tent if you are up for it, or make a rain fly out of a tarp for some protection. I prefer a tent, so this is how it looked for us before we had gear.

We got a tent with gift cards from our wedding so we lucked out there, but we got it from Target. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need a to head to REI and get an ultralight tent. A Coleman tent from Target will do just fine.

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Here’s my Target tent! We’ve had it for 9 years and it is still going strong.

We bought some cheap ground pads although honestly, some of those egg crates or even a mattress pad would have been just as good because the ones we bought were barely a step up from the ground. My kids actually don’t mind sleeping directly on the ground as long as there aren’t rocks, so you have that option too.

So did we buy fancy sleeping bags or…. no. No, we didn’t. The husband had an old sleeping bag from high school and we had a lot of blankets that we took of our bed. We also brought our regular pillows from our house. Ta-da, your accommodations are taken care of!

So now for the next most important part – eating. You have to eat. As you can see here I brought a cooler and a large tub for this campout but before that, we used cardboard boxes that were leftover from having items shipped to our house or wedding presents. If you don’t want to worry about cooking (I have done a no-cook campout before), you can just bring granola bars, cereal, dried fruit, apples, and anything that does not need to be refrigerated. And for the first night, you could pack yourself a sandwich or something that can last outside the fridge for a short time.

But if you do want to cook, you have two options. You can buy a camp stove or you can learn to cook over a fire. The good news is that you’ll probably want a fire either way because campouts feel sad without a fire. Wood is cheaper than a stove and often times can be purchased (or even must be purchased) at your campground. Make sure that the wood is good and dry or it won’t do much good. I’ll talk in another post about the best ways to get a fire started, but for now, let’s just assume you can start a fire (bring some newspaper or something to help you out). Ta-da, stove.

When we first started out, guess where we got our cooking pans and utensils? If you guessed our house, you are on the money. We just brought our own pots/pans and spatulas or whatever we needed. We stored food in the cooler with two bags of ice and ate on paper plates. (note: make sure to bring trash bags and properly dispose of your trash) We actually ate canned chili with our first kid campout and had to open the chili with a Swiss Army Knife because I forgot a can opener. You live, you learn, you never bring canned goods on a campout again (if you’re me).

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Most campsites have a fire ring – this is the safe place for your fire

So now you have no excuse. It’s so clear that you need very little to start camping and the cost of a campsite is often times under $10.

So, where will you go?!

See you Outside!

 

Getting Out

So after a week and change of Christmas and having a blast with my families, I need to get out of the house. We had seen movies and my sister had saved me one day by agreeing to walk with me, but for the most part, we’ve been indoors. Then all the rain this week. Goodness.

I have discovered over the years that I cannot function if I don’t get outside enough. We had plans to go camping and I was sick, but I am well now and I needed to be free. Outside. Alone.

I took my Canon with me because I am working on learning to use it without any presets – Manual here I come – so I wanted to play with it. We are so blessed that behind our neighborhood there is a series of paths around the bayou. There are benches, trees, and tons of birds, ducks, etc that hang out back there. So even though I could not go very far, I can head to those paths and pretend I am not in the city just for a little bit.

Here’s what I saw:

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I will admit that I did not get nearly enough good pictures of all the birds. When I would get close, they would fly away and my white balance was off in a lot of them. But it was so peaceful. It smelled like trees and grass and water. Just like everything should.

Here are my absolute favorites, a couple of which are in my own front yard.

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I am currently stuck inside, but at least I can look at these lovely pictures and I am contemplating going to get the hammock. I’m also petitioning my HOA to let me plant raised beds on the sides of my house so that I can plant food. My backyard is so shaded that most things won’t grow and when I tried potatoes something in the ground ate them all! But the sides of my house get tons of great sunshine. I need to get my hands in the dirt and grow something for my family. The old house gave that to me and I miss it in the new place.

I also feel like this will help with me trying to lower our budget and our footprint.

Today was also “no car day”. I have to pick up my oldest by car because, despite my requests, they won’t let me pick her up on foot or bike. Anyway, we walked her to school and I told the others that if we had to do anything else today, we would walk or bike. Today, we are not using the car. Low footprint.

For now, I’m working, I’m watching Gilmore Girls, I’m eating a Mallomar (because if you already feel nauseated, why not eat something that is normally contraband for your protocol), I’m wishing I were hiking, and I’m looking at these beautiful photos.

Scratch that. I’m going to get my hammock.

Here we go again

So, I know, I know, I have been gone for ages. Can I just saw that life got the better of me for a bit? I thought the summer was full and difficult to write about because it seemed to hot to camp and we were too broke for adventure in July. But I had no idea that the fall would turn out to be one of the hardest semesters. Why?

Public School.

Ha! I thought that having my kids in school was going to make all this space for me and for writing. But life had other plans. The transition to school was very hard on everyone, especially my kiddos. I started teaching an ESL class which was such a lovely addition but took more time than I realized. I ended up, despite all the “time” I was supposed to have, with about 3 hours a week to myself. 3 hours to do chores, write, read, exercise, work (because I also got two new jobs), plan, shop, etc. As you might gather, three hours is not quite enough to do all that.

So I spent the entire semester surviving and trying to refigure out my life and schedule.

And I’m not done! I don’t have it all down perfectly yet.

But Christmas break has done our family so much good. We have seen family, we have slowed down, we have stayed home, and we have loved each other well.

We planned to start off this year with a camping trip because that always makes us feel renewed and refreshed, but I got sick with a stomach bug and that did not feel like ideal camping circumstances. Alas. We are hoping for a redo here soon.

For now, we are settling with playing outside, getting muddy, listening to records while lying on the floor of my room, and lazy times in the hammock when we need a little renewal.

We are also doing some work for renewal. We are cleaning, we are purging, we are starting fresh with less.

We are also beginning the process of lessening our footprint and getting rid of waste. I know that’s what we wanted to start doing in the fall but all the things took all the money and nothing happened. The good news is, you don’t have to do it all at once. In the fall, I switched from disposable cotton balls to washable cotton rounds and attempted making my own laundry detergent. Bad news, making it costs significantly more than buying it so I am still looking for a different solution. We also transitioned some of our plastic wear to glass and changed out my shampoo/conditioner for a more natural option with an earth-friendly bottle. I’m not done figuring out perfect ways for these areas, but it’s a start.

In the new year, we have made the switch from dryer sheets to wool dryer balls and have a system in place for how some things are going to get purchased. We have set an end date for some items. When we run out of X, we will buy an eco-friendly, reusable version next. I think this also allows for some grace. I have been reading Zero Waste Home, which is so good, but even she says you have to find a way to make this work for you without overwhelming your day-to-day.

Also this fall, I was diagnosed with a GI problem that has led to severe dietary limitations. The worst part is that it’s working, so I have to keep doing it – ha. I never realized how emotional it would feel to have to give up so many foods or to feel so isolated at parties. I absolutely dreaded the holidays. I cried off and on heading into Thanksgiving. But, gift of all gifts, people saw me and made space for me.

At Thanksgiving, we headed to my in-law’s house and I was prepared to smile through eating very little and living off deli meat and grapes. But, they prepared for me! There was gluten-free bread, dairy-free butter, and so so many options. The big meal itself was almost entirely gluten and dairy free (FODMAP approved) except for 1 thing (mac n cheese) for which they made me an alternative (Daiya is my happy place). I cannot even express to you in words how loved I felt. I helped cook and clean and really anything I thought I could do because I wanted to show them in return how deeply loved I felt by such a gesture. I was ready to felt isolated and forgotten. Even my brother-in-law, who got special cupcakes for his upcoming birthday, had them made where I could also partake. It was truly overwhelming. We hung out, we did the largest crossword ever, we played with the kids, we talked, and through it all I felt so loved and a big weight of stress was taken away.

I had not realized how stressful food had become for me when I have to leave my house. Such a weight was lifted.

At Christmas, I was so blessed again. My sister and niece have been dealing with food restrictions for years so they were ready to help me. My sister came to Christmas loaded with food I could eat and my mom made efforts to make the meal feel friendly for me. I am a blessed woman.

So here we are in a New Year and I’m hoping it will not just feel different, but be different. We picked our word Retreat in an effort to change the outlook of this year and are already beginning that process. I’ll write more on our word specifically later. With all the craziness of the last few months, we want to stop, slow down, rest, and recharge. We want to get back to what matters. We want less stuff. We want to care for people and the earth. It’ll be less, but also more.

Thanks for reading this novel and for catching up with me.

Happy New Year!

We picked our Park!

As you might know, the husband and I are slowly training and planning for a big backpacking trip that is still a year and a half away. That may seem like ages to you, but we are planning to lots of smaller trips and training to make sure our first major backpacking trip is successful. As much as I enjoyed reading Wild, I’m not sure I want to prepare so little.

So we began to think through our limitations –

  1. Altitude Sickness: Guess who has the world’s most amazing case of altitude sickness and also enjoys using hyperbole? It’s me! I start..ahem…emptying the contents of my body around 6400ft so that limits where we can go. There are so many places that are very high up (I’m looking at you Glacier National Park) we would like to go, but it would require going to a lower altitude for a few days (i.e. Jackson Hole or something similar) to get acclimated, and then making the rest of the trek. We do not have that kind of time right now.
  2. Winter: Our anniversary is in the winter and we want to go in at least the same season as our anniversary. It turns out a lot of parks are not great in the winter or need skills we do not have time to acquire to navigate the park. Sigh.
  3. Backpacking: We don’t want to drive at all while we are there. We want to actually backpack the whole time. Who knew that could be difficult in some areas?!

 

So we finally chose a park! Let me show you some pictures and see if you can guess…

Yosemite National Park at sunrise, California, USA
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Can you guess?!!?

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Yosemite National Park!

 

So bring on your tips and tricks!

See You Outside!

Training for the Half

So last week I told the Facebook world that I did a crazy thing, and I did! I signed up for the Houston Half Marathon.

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This will technically be my third half, but only the second half where I have trained properly. The first half I ever did, my newlywed self and husband attempted to do it together. You may see a knight appear over my shoulder here and say, “You have chosen poorly.”

You see that year it rained a ton (and I just cannot seem to run more than two miles on a treadmill – treadmills are the devil’s workshop slash they are boring and hard on my knees). But also both the husb and I (mostly me) got sick a lot. Not to mention that the husb is a foot taller than me so can you guess how running together went down? If we ran at his pace, I was a goner after just a few miles because I had to run four steps to his every one. But, if he ran at my pace, he was almost walking and not at all tired when we were done.

Suddenly, it was race day and we had never run further than four miles. We managed 6.5 miles running before I had a case of the runs (TMI?). After a lengthy wait for a port-a-potty, we were back on the road, but the run was all gone from me (the runs and the running spirit). So, we walked. About mile nine, I hated everything and everyone. Some poor soul offered me an orange and all I offered her was my look of disdain. I wish I could go back and apologize. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! I would tell the woman. I AM BEYOND TIRED! I ate a banana, drank some water, and made the husband take me home. I cannot believe I woke up before 6am for this.

So it was not a success.

The second half-marathon, I actually ran the entire thing. I had just given birth to my first kiddo and I needed motivation to get up and moving. So I printed out the Hal Higdon novice 1 schedule and got to it. I treated running like my part-time job and my husband promised me that if I ran the whole thing he would buy me one of those quarter zips I wanted so badly. I found an ancient jogging stroller someone was tossing out and I started bringing the tiny one along when she was finally old enough to sit up. The stroller was awful and one of the wheels always listed to the left which left me fighting it and my arms incredibly sore. But I kept going. I was determined. I began eating healthier, not crazy healthy, but more healthy so that I would have enough fuel for my new running schedule.

And guess what…I ran the whole thing. I did it.

But there are things that people who train for half-marathons tell you that are LIES and things that they do not tell you which I think you should know.

First off: They tell you that if you train for 10 miles, you will have enough adrenaline to take you the final three. Maybe this is the case for flat places, but I ran the Fort Worth Cowtown which may not be the most hills ever, but was more than Houston had trained me. So I made it exactly 11 miles and change before I wanted to give up and walk home. I still ran the final miles, but only by sheer stubbornness and perseverance. Also, there was no “Mile 13” sign, so I honestly did not know how close I was to the finish (maybe .2 miles) when someone says, “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!!” And I just barely held back a yell of, “SHUT UP!” I did not yell, I just did not acknowledge it at all. Clearly my kindness comes out when I am under exercise induced duress.

Second off: Your toe nails might fall off or turn black. Why did no one tell me this??? I started seeing some signs from the many people who come out to cheer and gawk at the runners and they said, “We love you even if your toenails fall off!” I was literally like, “WHAT?!?!?!?!” I’m looking around at the people running around me (and that older woman who is walk/running faster than I am running, ok wonder woman calm down) to see if anyone else is as confused and concerned as me, but everyone else is either just running or laughing. Now, I ran the whole race without headphones or any thing to distract me because I’m ridiculous, so I kept running while I stewed over this new information. After the race, my toenails were still in tact, but they were black/brown. The underside of my toenails was full of blood it turns out. I guess my shoes weren’t as awesome as I expected and maybe I should not have bought shoes just because they were on sale. They were hyper tender to the touch and I could not wear tennis shoes for a while. The upside, they never fell off. The downside, it took months of painting my toenails before my toes were back to normal.

So here we are at my third half-marathon, I have three kids, and I’m starting from almost scratch on running. I’ve been doing couch to 5k for a while and I am finally ready to start running for real.

It started so well too – I went running with the middle and the youngest in a jogging trailer (nicer than my last one, thank you Craigslist) while the oldest was at a church activity. But it turned that that two kids each over 30 pounds and a jogging trailer that is over 10 pounds is really heavy and if you combine that with high humidity as well as 95 degree heat, I cannot run quite so far. So I am hoping that the next run will be better and alone. But we will see. My stomach keeps not letting me exercise early in the morning which is what I really need. Say a prayer.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress as I go. Sweaty pictures and all.

See You Outside!

Galveston Island State Park

If you live with a zest for adventure, you probably are like me and you made a Summer Bucket List. This last weekend we checked off one of the things on our list, beach day.

The problem with bucket list items is that they are hyper exciting, but we have a large family and a highly limited budget. So when we say beach day many people we know chimed in with suggestions Cozumel, Hawaii, Myrtle Beach, Nantucket, Clearwater Beach, California, Martha’s Vineyard, and Key West. I took a deep breath and kindly let people know that those types of locations were not in the budget. So…we went to Galveston.

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You may be thinking, “Ew, Galveston.” But it is family friendly, budget conscious, and can I just tell you that kids do not care about the blue-ness or clearness of the water. They. Had. A. Blast.

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The kids were in suspense until we actually loaded the car, but were ecstatic when they found out we were going to the beach. And even though it was on my bucket list, can I just say that me and the ocean are not friends. I mean, hello, “Don’t go in the shark’s house!” (if you haven’t seen this YouTube video, you are missing out) But for real, there are just so many things in the ocean that can hurt you. Case and point, the husband and I both caught bit or snagged or something by some unknown substance (thank you, muddy water – maybe clearness does matter?) and ended up with a lovely red rash – me on my legs and him on his toes. Yay.

But I knew the kids would love it, so I persevered!

We left the house by 8am loaded up with all the food and beach toys that we could muster (thank you, Five Below). The kids did so so good on the drive which was a sheer miracle. We listened to kids’ music part of the time and…actually let me stop a minute to talk to you about kids’ music. Why is it so bad? Why is it that in order for the music to be kid-friendly it has to be sung by kids and played on a preschool xylophone? Bleh. We have one album that is made for kids, does not make me feel like my brain is dissolving, and has more than 3 songs on it (because for some reason the good music ones only have 3 songs on them, it’s all the artists could muster apparently). It’s a Doorposts album by Dave and Jess Ray. Check it out.

Anyway, we listened to music, we played with cars, and I read them the first chapter of the illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (because I win at being a mom). We change some of the words to make it more toddler-friendly, but they love it.

And a little bit we survived on sheer beach-driven adrenaline.

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This tent SAVED us. Some friends with older kids, like high school aged, have been cleaning out their garage and they gave us this amazing structure along with some other things. It bequeathed to us the most amazing of gifts on beach day – shade.

In fact, our youngest, who liked the waves only in tiny spurts when he was solidly clinging to my body but also laughing maniacally, camped out under this tent and played in the sand most of the day.

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The younger two were a little nervous and not at all sure if they even wanted to get into the water, but the oldest ran into it with abandon. What I wish I could show you is the sheer joy that each of their faces had as they ran into the waves and enjoyed the sensation, but it was a moment to be treasured rather than documented. The oldest spent almost an entire day in the water. She ran in it, jumped in it, swam, kicked, tossed it around in buckets, and begged her dad over and over to carry her out into the deep water. He, of course, obliged. I don’t think she could have made him more happy.

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The middle kiddo was cling wrap to my body all day, but for once I embraced it. I said to both my little clingers, let’s play. And we did. We built innumerable sand castle and domes, we played tag, we went on a walk to see what the rest of the beach looked like, and we saw what patterns we could make in the sand with the different shovels we brought. And they felt loved, so so loved.

I think I so often want them to grow up to be independent, think I’m doing what’s best for them, surviving, and trying to make space for myself that I don’t take enough time to let them cling. I don’t think this is a common philosophy because they do need to learn not to cling sometimes, and I do need to make space for myself (and my sanity) sometimes, but I also need to just enjoy where they are at sometimes. So they clung, and I loved them, and they loved it. Lesson learned, mommy.

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I will be honest that I wanted to tap out about 1pm because I’d had enough of the beach, but the husband convinced me to stick it out until 4. We then headed over to a great restaurant, Gypsy Joynt, and had some delicous, exhaustion food.

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So it sounds like the perfect day!? Well, there was one snag, and it wasn’t my rather intense fear of the ocean that I was perpetually telling to chill out. It was… drum roll please… sunscreen. We brought two tubes of sunscreen and while the first tube did its job with admiration, the second one turned out to be expired. So the youngest, who was in the shade all day, is fine and I only have a little on my legs, the husband is a lobster and the two other kiddos are rocking some redness as well. They look like the world’s saddest raccoons. And the oldest has the top of her hands to contend with. Not only does this make me feel extra extra intense about throwing out old sunscreen, but it makes me want to buy a different brand each year so that if someone were to come upon and old bottle, they would know it was not the current brand. Goodness.

The good news is that the littles didn’t burn badly and have been such good sports about aloe vera. We have done some potent aloe (no fragrance, no additives), and apple cider vinegar which has gone smashingly. No one was even complaining of pain by Monday. Beautiful! Thank you internet for the apple cider vinegar tip! We are usually so cautious that these sunburns really caught me off guard. Now I know way more about sunburns, but hope to never repeat this same mistake at least. Learn from me, oh internet reader!

Other than that snafu, it really was such a beautiful day and I hope to continue making equally wonderful memories with the rest of the summer.

Until later,

See You Outside!

Summer is Upon Us

So what I am realizing is that summer is busy. Very busy. Despite all my best intentions to have one of those summers where there is nothing to do, my kids are not really into that sort of thing. And it turns out neither is the world. So we are carving out spaces to relax, but we are also attending VBSs (yes that’s plural – we have 2 VBSs on the docket), having beach days, swim lessons, Bible studies, and guess what we homeschool year round right now so we still have some work we are doing. For the bored out there, I thought I might give you a little round up of what we’ve done and where we are headed!

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The husband gave me some new gardening tools for Mother’s Day and I finally got to use them! I had already planted potatoes, carrots, and cantaloupe in the backyard, but once it was clear some of our plants were not going to rebound after the winter they had, it was time to pull them up and plant new things! I went for beans and tomatoes. Down side – when I pulled up the plants it turned out that they had tiny shoots of green on the bottom that just had not broken the surface yet, but the plant was past saving after I pulled it out. I was really sad because I hate the idea of killing anything off. Not my thing. But I did plant some seeds and I even got a new sprinkler head (mostly for the kids, but who doesn’t like something that serves more than one purpose) that I used to water them!

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The older two kids have gotten really into games lately, especially during the afternoons where 100 degrees and climbing is just two much for them. The oldest prefers Catchphrase and Taboo while the middle prefers Guess Who!? Above was my attempt to teach them Scrabble which, it turns out, is not a good game for kids their age. Especially for the one who can’t read very well yet. C’est la vie!

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We looove spicy food! It had been ages since we cooked Indian food and we were jonesing. Who cares if the temperature says, “add ice not spice!” We went all in and boy was it worth it. Now I’m wondering if there is a way to make Indian food while we are camping. It would be amazing. Maybe I could bring little balls of dough and make fresh naan over the fire. Yes, yes, yes. Granted nothing I cook will be as amazing as the real deal, but for now (when the funds are too low to eat out at the best Indian restaurants) we will have to just delve deeper into our Indian cookbook and enjoy the results.

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The husband had a birthday! The oldest and I made him a delicious apple cake – I should really say that the oldest made it more than I did as she is determined to become an excellent baker like her mom. I also sent three dozen cupcakes to his work (1 dozen butter cake, 1 dozen french vanilla, and 1 dozen white chocolate) and they were all demolished in one day. You know what’s better than apple cake? Apple cake, sitting outside, with a big ‘ole dollop of vanilla ice cream. (I opt for Nada Moo because I’m dairy free)

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We finally broke down and bought a pool! Can I just tell you that if you’re living where summer is near unbearable, this is a life saver. Not only do the kids play in it almost daily, during nap time I take a camp chair out there and put it directly in the pool. I sit up to my shins in water, reading a book, and finally reaching the perfect temperature. A little shade, a little heat, and a little cool water. This is my nap time heaven.

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The husband and I went to the OneTribe Gala, People Building Peace. This beautiful non-profit works in areas like South Sudan to empower locals to build peace from grassroots up. We got all dressed up and really enjoyed celebrating the work God has done through this group. Afterwards, it had cooled off just enough that we got to walk around the area and grab an ice tea (passion fruit specifically) before heading home.

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I got to hear this excellent band play while some girl-friends and I sat outside enjoying an evening of raucous laughter. I mean we were loud! But what’s better than getting together with the best people, eating some good food, and listening to amazing music? Answer, almost nothing. The only regret I have is that I could not find anyone to dance with me! I’ll be back.

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Okay friends, this is not a drill. I hate kombucha, it is too too vinegary. But, my gut is messed up and I need something that is slightly less sweet to drink while I am hanging out outside in this crazy heat. How is a woman supposed to survive 100+ degrees without a cold beverage. So, I was at Central Market to grab a sandwich during my break at work (because there are no cheap places near my work), and decided to give this a try. I got one for then and one for later. It turns out that Strawberry Serenity is my favorite! I so encourage you to go try this. It will not taste like juice so don’t expect that, but it will also not taste like a swig of vinegar. You’re welcome. You’re gut is welcome too.

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We frequent the local Korean grocery store and a good friend introduced us to these ice cream bars. Now, I can’t have them because me and dairy have a long standing hatred for each other, but my friends loves them so I bought them for the kids. The kids went NUTS. They’re little hands were covered in sticky green happiness from the melting of this popsicle all over their mouths and hands. My friend also told me they are lower sugar than the normal stuff we buy (turns out, I looked and she’s right). Win!

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My beans are growing! We got a good rainstorm and they exploded! Officially all my plants are growing although only about 1/3 of my carrots grew. I’ll have to figure more out about that later. I also have been in contact with a neighbor who is going to let me garden their backyard and I will pay them in produce! Get ready for more plant pictures. Those tools I got are going to have their work cut out for them.

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Solo premier! Not only did we got together, we went with another couple and got to ride in their Shelby Mustang. The husband was a very happy man. The sounds that car made, I’m convinced, are the sounds of his heartbeat. We even all went to get tacos from a truck afterward. Boom.

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I have baked my brains out. I have made cakes, donuts, cupcakes, scones, biscuits, etc. I don’t know why summer makes me crave sweets, but it so does. Here are just two of my creations. That ruffle cake for the sweetest couple’s baby shower and it was such an honor to make the cake. A sick kiddo prevented me from going, but getting to bless them was still worth every minute spent icing that cake.

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The oldest and I officially have a spot we love to go together. We love the iced chamomile tea with just a dash of honey and the pastries available here are the bestest. Plus, they have this amazing relationship with farmers in Rwanda. If you are shopping mostly chains, consider supporting your community and other communities around the world with your dollars. Don’t hear me saying that you can’t shop at Target because I cannot survive without Target, but I can do my best to shop local and to shop small whenever possible. They’re even starting to recognize us and that makes the oldest just insanely happy. So we sip our tea and share our turnover while we chat about life and answer all the questions. All of them.

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Ok the picture is crazy grainy, but swim lessons are upon us! We have some kiddos who have water fear and one with not enough, so here we are learning water safety and swimming. There have been happy smiles, but also tears as they navigate the water. I think overall it is creating confidence in my littles. Have you ever heard the theory that children need a little calculated danger in their lives? There’s this idea that if they do something that they perceive as dangerous (riding a rollercoaster, learning to swim in the deep end, learning to cut up vegetables with a real knife, etc), they grow in confidence and courage. They step up to the challenge, meet it head on, and stand up a little straighter. Of course these things have to be done with appropriate supervision, and safety protocols, but a little danger stretches them and helps them gain maturity.

Not pictured in this round up is the VBS we already attended and the numerous play dates we have been on. Summer is a time for friends! We still have one more VBS, beach day, learning to ride a bike, more swim lessons, and so many more fun things coming.

You might think to yourself, “but you haven’t gone camping at all.” Yes, the summer has been much less campy than the spring, but I think you will notice something they both have in common. They are unplugged.

We are intentional to put our phones, screens, and worries aside to focus on each other, to commune with Creation, to do something fun, to learn something new, to create beauty, to foster relationships. We are walking forward and creating intentional spaces where we don’t need Facebook to fill us up, we don’t need Instagram to tell us that our lives have meaning. By all means enjoy those things, but also take time to just “be”. To just enjoy where you are, and what you’re doing.

Until later,

See You Outside!

Sabbath

One thing I have been learning a lot about recently, but have always done very poorly, is Sabbath or rest. You can ask the husband, but I am consistently running myself to the end. I have routinely been caught saying that sleep is a waste of time.

And, as Westerners, we often glorify the busy. If you’re not busy, you must be lazy. But that’s just not true.

When God created the world, He didn’t rest on the 7th day because He was exhausted. He was still creating. On the 7th day, He created rest.

He started this pattern so that we would follow it, working hard and resting well. In fact, He’s so serious about it that He talks over and over about how He will punish the people and cast them out of they will not rest (as well as letting their laborers, land, and animals rest). It’s not a suggestion.

So this past Saturday, we took Him at His Word.

The down side is that I do not have pictures to show you because it was a purely unplugged day. No cameras, nothing. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was the best day I have had in ages.

Here was our checklist to prepare for Sabbath Saturday:

  1. Clean all the dishes and unload the dishwasher
  2. Have enough clothes washed, folded, and put away so there is no hustle to find clothes for everyone
  3. Pre-plan and prepare all foods in advance so the microwave is the only cooking implement allowed
  4. Buy paper goods so that you do not make any dishes
  5. Look through all of your reminders, phone calls, etc to make sure their are no chores, no business, and no “to dos” to attend to on Saturday.

And then came Friday. The day that we shall not speak of because it was so so terrible. One of my kids literally threw a tantrum every few minutes. Please do not think I am exaggerating here because, sadly, I am not. I was at my wits end when I got prepared to go to work that night and there were still so many chores left to do that I felt Sabbath was already ruined. I started feeling like, “What’s even the point in trying?”

My husband was home while I was working and planning to get a lot done, but the kids, again, had other plans. You see when there are three kids, if one is not crying, don’t worry because there is another that is happy to fill that void for you. The days can be magical fun times, but they can also be so frustrating you literally lock yourself in the bathroom for 2 minutes to just take a few deep breaths before rejoining the chaos.

After I got home about 11:45, we set to work together. I finished a cake I was working on while the husband did dishes and swept the floor (he’d done the laundry while I was at work, bless him). We did not get all the food made in advance despite our efforts because it was 1am by the time we got everything else ready and in place. We went to bed and I was still not at all sure if all this effort was worth it.

You see, I think sometimes when we are intentional to plug back into something God intended for our good, someone else gets scared. That other power that’s fighting for control of you, me, and this whole world is out there pushing back. He wants to tell you those lies that this is not worth the effort, he wants to frustrate you to a breaking point, he wants you to check out instead of plugging in, and he wants you to be so busy that life never stands still. But we have to say no to those lies.

Saturday morning came and our people slept until 8am. Yep. You read that right. I began the day thinking, “Oh look at my little angels who sleep late!” I think God stepped in there and gave me a win to start the day. Let me tell you the rules for our actual day:

  1. No phones – phones must be left in the bedroom on silent so that even the vibration of it cannot distract you from the present
  2. Together time – we will eat all together for ever meal, we will play altogether during awake time
  3. Calm – we will attempt to slow down the speed of our activities and choose calm activities over chaos (reading, swinging, walking, talking, coloring, drawing, play dough, kinetic sand, etc)
  4. Battles – this is a day you pick as few battles as possible, you do not want to let your kid run crazy but this is not the day we worry about matching clothes, wearing socks, combing hair, and even *gasp* brushing teeth, battles will only be picked over larger issues (hitting, kindness, etc)
  5. Bible – we are going to start the day focused on God

So we walked downstairs that moment and I calmly asked my older two kids if they wanted to help me make breakfast (we had at least planned all the meals even if we did not get them cooked – next time). The youngest wanted to stay upstairs and talk with his daddy. Look at that, we already broke a rule of togetherness, but it was in the name of peace and bonding, so we went with it. Also, waiting for breakfast is one of the hardest moments of the day for the youngest and in the name of picking battles, distraction was welcome. My older two were so excited that they both got to help, they didn’t even care what we were having. All five of us sat down for breakfast and talked about what we were thankful for, and what God has given us.

Can I just tell you what a breath of fresh air it was to throw my dishes away after breakfast? This is not our normal thing because we are working hard on getting rid of disposable things on the whole, but for once or twice a month this is going to be how we do it. We did have the pans from cooking, but I gave us a pass and just put them in the sink.

We took everyone upstairs to get dressed, but ended up staying in pajamas for a little while because they wanted to read. So we read and read and read. So many books! All five of us in one room, reading books. It was so calm and so fun, I cannot even describe it. Life for us is usually loud and high chaos, but not on this day. We read books for probably an hour before deciding it was time to get dressed. For lunch we had something fun planned…food trucks!

If you’re thinking that taking kids to a food truck park is super stressful, you are missing out! Most food truck parks have a playground and shade! Plus, each kid can literally pick from dozens of foods to get something they love without complaining. The kids had pizza, the husband had Mediterranean, and I had a craft burger. Win. We played on the swings, we walked around and looked at some vendors they had, and got plenty hot and sweaty. We broke another rule! We were not entirely calm during this bit in that we let them run a bit and dig in the dirt and climb on tires they had submerged in the ground, but we were together and we were having fun. Plus, I think after sitting for so long, it was good for them to burn some energy. Maybe we will adjust that rule.

We headed home and all three of my kids took a nap. Plus, the husband. He took a nap too. We attempted to read together, but we stayed up so late the night before and he does not do well on little sleep that Catch-22 just could not hold his focus. He fell asleep. I read Percy Jackson and The Olympians: Titan’s Curse and finished the book while he was sleeping.

Everyone slept so long that by the time they all woke up, we needed to start making dinner! I had my helpers in the kitchen with me again while the youngest sat nearby building with the husband. We sat together for dinner and had a lot of fun talking to each other. I love talking to my kids. It is in these un-rushed moments that they say some of the most hilarious things, ask the most serious questions, and tell me what is really on their hearts/minds. This slow down frees them up to think.

We did a little more playing with legos and reading books, but before you know it, it was sleep time.

We had one tantrum at bed time because the day had just been so good our middle one did not want it to end, but everyone slept in the end. The husband and I hung out for a little while talking before we decided to call it an early night too.

I went to bed Saturday feeling refreshed and thinking that, if this is how my family could be, this is how I always wanted it to work. Peaceful, loving, and together.

See You Outside.