wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

What Friends Are For

I have been blessed with many wonderful comrades who cheer me on. The cloud of witnesses around me is not all departed people, thank God!

Real live folks can be so incredibly sustaining and we need them. Are you introverts listening?  All you need is a crisis to make you value your connections. If you don’t have any, it would be best for your happiness and life-satisfaction to start cultivating connections. (I think this is especially true for women, although obviously, I have no experience from the male point of view.)

We are designed to be nurturers, taking care of each other, not just our children. Sociologists have long noticed a link between a woman’s reported happiness and the support that is received from other women. This is especially noticeable in what they call primitive cultures, where women often report being quite happy despite obvious poverty, lots of children, and no professional careers.

It is depressing to be all alone, and yes, our husbands can listen and support if we are fortunate enough to have them, but hormones understand hormones. (I feel like I just said something profound there.) Even the Apostle Paul said something about the older women teaching the younger how to live (love their husbands and keep their homes happy). I get the feeling that this is walking along beside them like coaches just as much as it is special meetings where an older woman teaches her wisdom.

We shouldn’t be embarrassed to own that intuition that tells us someone is in trouble or could use a bit of extra loving. Nor should we be too proud to say, “I need some help with my thinking today. I am sinking here. What would you do (any given situation…)?”

This is what my friends meant to me in the last two weeks. If you recognize yourself, this is my thanks to you.

  • A hug and a sincere “wish you well” in passing. That feeling that she cares about my  world.
  • A real snail mail card.
  • Seeing someone from way back when and catching up a bit in those easy conversations that flow between old school friends.
  • Sharing opinions about dress patterns and is it really “easy” like it says; getting to stroke someone else’s fabric stash.
  • A question, “How are you?” coupled with the time to hear the answer.
  • A thoughtful conversation about whether it really is important to raise children in a village, or is it okay to just go it alone; reflecting on what the village means to your own self.
  • A text and a word of kindness. “Hope your day gets some sunshine.” Just like that, it does, even when the sky stays grey.
  • A latte out of the blue, and a box full of groceries that my children dig through excitedly, immediately asking to break open the bag of chocolate chips.
  • A cup of tea shared over stories about life, mine and hers, even though we are in drastically different seasons.
  • Facebook messages heavily punctuated with animated stickers, something only a few people may enjoy, but when you find that friend, you go on sticker hunts to make their day hilarious.
  • Coordinating schedules so that we can get together and chat while our children play.
  • Talking with and over each other, and getting what is being heard and said at the same time.
  • A smile when your eyes meet across the room in church, because you are genuinely glad to see that her sick child is better and she is glad yours is better.
  • A quick phone call that turns into a visit about so many little things that crowd the day, and it just helps to sort them out.
  • Telling that slightly pungent story that you really just have to pass on to one person so they can enjoy the humor with you, since the children didn’t get it and your husband isn’t home at the moment.
  • The safe place where you can express exactly what it is that is wearying your very soul at the moment, and knowing that you are now held in prayer.
  • Feeling that you are not alone. There’s a whole cloud of witnesses and you are on the way together.

clasped-hands-comfort-hands-people-45842

(pexel free photo)

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About Trash and Stuff

I almost missed seeing the turkeys in the sloping meadow  because I was so busy feeling outraged at the litter in the ditch. It’s a real problem here in rural areas where people feel like nobody will see them or report them. My husband picked up a fridge in a wooded area just close to here. Now that is some serious trash! In 1 mile of walking I counted 142 bottles and cans. From my exhaustive survey, (errhrmm) I conclude that beer drinkers (102 beer cans) have less class than soda drinkers (approximately 15 soda cans). There were two coffee cups, 3 fountain drink cups with straws still in them at one of the curves, and in another spot the water drinker (10 water bottles) seems to do her littering. I made another sweeping assumption that this is likely about 5 to 7 different frequent flyers along the road with trash flinging habits, since all the fast food cups were in the same vicinity and the water bottles too. The beer bottles tended to be clumped up at the intersections, which happens to be right outside our picket fence. It is highly annoying.

I was reminded of a walk I took early one morning with my Grandpa about 20 years ago, when he was still vigorous in health. I knew he took a daily constitutional, but when he said 6 AM I thought it was a little plenty early. I managed to get up in time, but politely declined a swig of Jogging in a Jug that he offered before we started. Then he stuffed a plastic grocery bag into his jacket pocket and we set out. I was astounded at the swiftness of the pace he set, and more than a little relieved when he would pause to pick up trash beside the road. He told me that he did this every time he walked, and there were always more beer cans. Being of a frugal mind, he thought they might as well be recycled as in the ditch, so he picked them up. We filled the plastic bag and gave the cans to Uncle Tim to crush in his homemade pop can smasher. When he got enough, they would be recycled and Tim got to keep the money.

I guess there is no point in fuming at the thoughtlessness of others. I might as well follow Grandpa’s example and start picking up trash. My children have this protest pretty often when they are asked to clean up a mess someone else made. “But I didn’t do it, Mom!” While I try to be fair, sometimes I purposely set them up with opportunities to serve a sibling. I decided today that taking the crew on a roadside cleanup would probably be one of the best ways to impress on them to never be the careless flingers of garbage that sullies other people’s lives. I had a school teacher that did Adopt-a-highway with the class every year. I never forgot those lessons and to this day cannot toss even a gum wrapper out of the car window.

Maybe the broken windows theory will take hold right here in our beer-drinking, litter-flinging neighborhood. (Look it up. It is a fascinating social phenomenon that when a neighborhood cleans up it’s surfaces, less crime happens.)  Surely if there are no cans in the ditch already, a slightly inebriated driver would think twice before chucking stuff out the window. Or maybe I should just be pragmatic, like Grandpa, and make money off the trash.

 

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The Claustrophobic Kingdom

That phrase hit me square between the eyes when I read it in an article by Paul David Tripp. He was talking about our words, the power of them to destroy or to build, but the part I kept thinking about all week is my little kingdom of one.

“You live your life in the utterly mundane. And if God doesn’t rule your mundane, He doesn’t rule you, because that is where you live.” P.D. Tripp

In other words, few of all the people in the world ever go into the history books. In a  few generations you will only be a faint memory even to your loved ones. This is not to be depressing. It actually frees me to live TODAY, this minute, and make it above normal for the people around me, because that is where it counts. Mundane is not synonymous with unimportant. It’s just everyday, okay? We all have everyday, where the hair is messy and the toes get stubbed and the bathroom needs to be cleaned. Again. Still, if I do not clean the toothpaste out of the sink and brush the snarls out of the hair, what happens?

It is easier for me to live sweetly when the pressure is on, the people are watching, and company is here. But what about the grinding sameness of deep and dark winter with grey skies and squirrelly people underfoot? Oh, then… when the words slip out sighing or sharp or sarcastic because the people are all so familiar and the very same situation happened yesterday and the day before that and the day before that? (Will they never learn? How many times have I told you?) That is when I need Jesus to broaden my vision beyond the claustrophobia of my little kingdom.

How do I get out of the trap of living for my own comfort, arranging the people who are willing to be arranged, struggling with those who are resistant to my efforts at controlling my kingdom for my own ends? Because I cannot stand the boots all over the floor, but they know, oh they know when I am in it for just myself. This doesn’t mean that it is not okay to make the child go back and line up his/her boots in the row. It means it is not okay for me to scold and rant about such a silly thing as boots.

I dislike when small people who love to eat complain about the food. It is not wrong to teach them gratefulness, but it is not right to sigh, “You guys just eat, eat, eat. All the time. But you don’t like these sweet potatoes or the green beans that I spent the last two hours preparing for your supper! Maybe tomorrow you can just eat cereal all day, huh?” (Well, actually that last line would not work here because they would gladly take me up on it.) There is something really stinky about a passive-aggressive mom who makes herself out as a martyr in order to guilt her children into better behavior.

I find myself at times in a negative holding pattern, where nobody is writing neatly in their lessons and the math is taking too long and the missing commas are distressing me with their portent of ignorant little homeschooled children being launched into the world and showing me up as a terrible teacher. It’s my own little claustrophobic kingdom and it requires some shaking and repentance to break out of it. I doubt I am the only one who has such a kingdom… please tell me I am not.

When this happens, I need a broader vision. What is really going on here? Who is in charge of the circumstances of my life? How do I fit into the story that God is dictating? Is it really as miniscule as lost gloves and muddy carpets? Or am I perhaps missing the point here?

I can constantly bang my head against a wall of futility, because my little kingdom wobbles out of the shape I would like to keep it in; it requires no effort to think about me, my needs, my lack of white space, all the reasons I excuse my stinky attitudes and withered soul. But there is a much greater Kingdom where the merciful receive mercy, the pure hearts see God, hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled, and blessing is measured by life-joy instead of stuff. I am part of that Kingdom by faith! When I embrace the love lavished on me daily, it expands me and spills out like sweet water in a thirsty land.

This is living large in my small space and has a way of curing me of the childish tempers of self-absorption. Jesus takes every space I give Him and glorifies it with His beauty. Possibly this includes the days and days of grey winter space. And the space where the boots and coats and muddy dog prints mix on my tile floor. If my husband is reading this, I am sure he is nodding in agreement.

[Redeeming love] reaches into the private recesses of your everyday life. Look for opportunities to be in someway an agent of that transforming love.” (P.D. T.)

I will end with a funny story about Addy. We were sitting in church when she suddenly noticed that Rita had a tablet and a pencil and oh dear! she had none. I told her she doesn’t need to write and kept on singing. Looking down a bit later, I noticed her little face full of reproach and she whispered in my ear, “Mama, do you even understand tragic?”

It is so easy to see the hilarity when it is a child speaking, but I am pretty sure God looks at me with exactly the same mix of exasperation and humor as I do when my daughter is overly dramatic. (I wonder where she gets it?)

Let’s live audaciously! Let’s do our small things out of the abundance of great love within! Nothing will be wasted that we give away. He promised.

egg-hen-s-egg-boiled-egg-breakfast-egg-160850(source)

 

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Because You Are So Nice: a Giveaway

I promised a giveaway back in the middle of February on the day after I skipped a post. It’s a penance and appreciation gift, as well as a celebration! Because we made it through the rough part of the winter and I had a collection of pretty fabric and an idea. Because I have so much (so many books) and I love to share them. Because you all are so kind and tell me about yourselves and how you look forward to reading what I write after I mention my insecurities.

This is a giveaway open to anyone, but if you are a man, I hope you have a woman in your life who wouldn’t mind you carrying a floral bookbag. Better yet, just give it to her.

First I will show you my Addy and her petalled skirt sewed onto a chipper spring shirt. She dances and twirls through her days (and tumbles and flips). This child is all-out, fizzy and full of pop. She can handle a skirt with many colors just fine. This photo was taken during a 5 second lull.

Addy in petal skirt

Here is the first book bag I made, unabashedly copying one I saw in a Craftsy ad. I decided to keep this one for myself since it was experimental and the one blue stripe is a little too dark, as my sister kindly pointed out when I asked her if it seemed odd. It needed wider straps too, to match the strips on the bag. These small anomalies are not a problem with 3 little bag ladies in the house. “Yook, it’s camofyaged with my dress!” (I will mourn the day the child learns to say “l”.)

Addy with bag

Then I made a small carry tote for Olivia to carry her Bible and Sunday school book, pencils and tissues, etc. to church. And an even smaller squat bag that Rita uses for treasures and bags of apple snitzes she likes to have on hand to sustain her in case she gets hungry. I am down to the last strips of these fabric patterns. There is enough to make something small and cutesy for a doll. The projects were so much fun that I neglected a lot of other things just to work on them. I hope we get to sew in heaven.

In the photo below Olivia holds the one I made expressly to give away. As you can see, it has the wider straps and when you sling it over your shoulder, it fits precisely under your arm at the side unless you are not grown up. Then it hangs down lower and you can dig in it while the strap is still over your shoulder. Inside it I sewed a special pocket so that you don’t lose your cell phone in the bowels of the bag while you are at the library. There is space for keys and a library card too. I am naming it Sprightly Spring Satchel.

Addy, petal skirt

As you can see, this particular bag will be stuffed with some goodies. I am just delighted to share some of the books I have collected from Usborne, those wonderful publishers of children’s literature. I will show you three books that will be in it for your enjoyment, but there will be a surprise title or two, depending on the interests of the person who wins.

usborne giveaway

Would you or someone short and cute in your life like to own these books? All you have to do to qualify for the drawing is comment one sentence describing your favorite place in the world. If you want to write an essay length comment with many sentences, great! But you don’t have to. If you feel shy about posting your real name, you can make up a pseudonym. But you can’t be anonymous. Just don’t forget what you called yourself! Anyone living outside the U.S. can enter the drawing as long as they have an address of someone in the lower 48 to whom I can send a package should they win.

The drawing will close on Saturday, the 19th of March, at noon. Let’s hear from you, my friends!

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Thrills

 

I have lots of ways to amuse myself. If I had a day off, with no one to consider but myself, I might spin off in a few different directions, depending on the wind.

Most likely I would brew a pot of tea, preferably Earl Grey or a black tea with some variation of vanilla. Light a candle. Find the most comfortable spot to sit. Settle down with a mystery story and live the thrills vicariously. For hours.

Or I might pack a water bottle, some power bars and a journal, head to the state park for trail walking in the dim greenness of a forest where nobody can pluck at me. Not a forest with potential grizzlies, just to be clear.

Maybe I would pursue the thrill of bargain hunting at yard sales or thrift stores. I might find a brand new Quirkle game for 99 cents! I might find Usborne books for quarters! I might find a sweater I need!

If the sun came out after a long period of winter, there is even a possibility that I would tackle a garden plot or flower bed and pull all the weeds, then stand back and survey my handiwork with great satisfaction.

Top notch fun, always, is a library book sale. If I could coincide my day off with such an event, I would just have my socks blessed off.

I would eat chocolate on any or all of these occasions. Not cheap milk chocolate. No, only the best bittersweet, with maybe flakes of sea salt or chunks of coffee beans embedded in it.

There is a chance that I would feel like being creative with fabric and sew up something that just makes me happy. Maybe a throw pillow cover or a book bag.

I could even pick out paint and transform my bathroom, then stand there and just marvel at how amazing it looks.

As I was writing these thrilling potential ways to spend a day, I realized something I never thought about before. I don’t have to go to faraway places to have a great time. Sure I would love to “journey to iconic destinations on board a Viking longship”, thanks to Masterpiece classic commercials. But I don’t have to have a wallet stuffed with cash for kicks. I can have fun every day and life is good!

Let me tell you, that list up there? It would have seemed impossibly domestic to my teen self. I was going to change the world! I was going to go to exotic locations and do great things! I was not going to be a North American housewife with a passel of children, canning peaches and stuff. If you don’t believe me, ask my brothers. They called me a women’s libber.

 

Even after my true love found me and we had a couple of babies, I still pined to get out and do things that really mattered. (Translate: things that are obviously noble.) I prayed many times for a way to reconcile the brilliant dreams (save the orphans) with the slightly grubby reality (feed the babies). Something seems to have shifted since the days when it felt like life in the small grey house was just a tad stuffy and boring. My passport has expired and I drive a Suburban to Aldi’s for groceries.  I stay very local, yet I travel everywhere and my borders have enlarged. I don’t have large blocks of time for personal enrichment, but I am just flush with good things.

I feel certain that as soon as I hit publish I will be tempted to bust out and go somewhere, but I will be candid and gratefully say that I think I may be learning to be content with where I am in life. This is not me. It is the spirit of God, giving me what it take to enjoy the ordinary. I recognize this fact with deep humility: if you practice contentment long enough, it becomes a part of your life. It is a deeply happy place in what may appear to others to be a small and restricted space.

There is one thing about being a keeper in a home that’s just a little like white water rafting. I had to sign away my life for this realization of joy.

joy-in-journey

(I deeply appreciate the truth of Michael Card’s song, Joy in the Journey. )

 

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Thrills I Don’t Want

Last night I was playing a Dutch Blitz game with the older children when Gabe started streaming a Patagonia movie about freeskiing. Just like that the game was over as everybody flocked to see. I watched the guy flying down a mountain side, just ahead of an avalanche, his parachute/airbag pack strapped on his back, and I thought, “Now there is a thrill I can certainly live without.”

Shortly after that I read this post by one of the other WordPress 101 bloggers and thought about a similar list I have. My bucket list is probably not very thrilling to others, but I simply do not have any desire to do crazy things for the adrenaline rush. I prefer safety.

  • I don’t ever want to parachute out of an airplane. Or ride a roller coaster. As for that glass bridge in China? Just no. no. no. glass bridgeYears ago we used to visit my uncle’s farm where there was a 70 foot silo with a ladder going up the side to a tiny platform and catwalk at the top. My sister and her intrepid cousin climbed it at least 3 times in one day, just for the view. I only went up once and was glad to stay down after that. I didn’t care for rubbery legs. Even if we could see all the way to Trenton.
  • I don’t have any desire to eat escargot. Or any other slimy mussel things. Not even oyster soup or baby octopi. Mushrooms are enough of a stretch for me if I feel like something slimy. Which I don’t. Unless it’s tapioca. I can manage gelatinous tapioca.
  • I don’t want to go to a football game. Or a baseball game, for that matter. Once we were given tickets to a game and I couldn’t believe I forgot my book.  I sat there and tried to see from way, way out above third base somewhere. Seriously, it was so cold in the stands. More boring than cleaning the bathtub.
  • I do not ever, ever plan to go deep sea fishing again. Three times I have been on a small fishing boat. Every time I got so green around the gills I couldn’t function beyond moaning for land. My Grandpa always said you won’t get sick if you eat only dry crackers before you go out. It’s not true. The fish have plenty of food without my crackers.
  • I don’t have any longings to kayak in white water. I have this sweet sister-in-law who is a secret adrenaline junkie. I will gladly watch her babies while she gets her fix. I will even take care of them if she ends up in the hospital. Just don’t ask me to sign my life away before I get into an inflatable raft.
  • I have zero ambition to live in a McMansion. Imagine all that cleaning! Neither do I have a yen for a tiny house. I already live in one. Sort of. It’s great just like it is, except when I have company. A little more room to store the baking pans might be nice, but not 2 dishwashers side by side.
  • I don’t want to hike in grizzly country. Nope. Too many Drama in Real Life stories flash through my head. I don’t think I could carry a big enough can of pepper spray to feel safe.

Tomorrow I will regale you with a list of recreational things I love. I bet you can’t wait. Haha.

Do you have an un-bucket list? Tell me what I missed.

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Blogging 101, Assignment 1

It was with a bit of trepidation that I signed up for these assignments from WordPress, seeing as I usually only write when the phrases start scrolling through my head. Sometimes it’s the middle of the night and sometimes it is while I am on a solo walk that I get inspiration. A bit of discipline is a great thing though, so I will introduce myself to the world today, along with my blogging goals, as I have been instructed. 🙂

As a little girl skipping to the Amish school where my formal education started, I had no aspirations to be a writer. I just wanted to learn to read those letters that fascinated and scared the wits out of me whenever I looked at a book without pictures. I was fairly certain that reading would be too hard for me. Fortunately for all of us, we had an amazing teacher who pulled out our strengths. Even though she had about 30 students in four grades, she noticed us individually and managed to pull us all together in a joyous quest for knowledge. Once I could decipher the puzzling groups of letters in the books about Reuben and Rachel, I galloped along reading everything I could lay my hands on, including cereal boxes and shampoo bottles. Literacy was for me a portal with endless vistas to explore.

It has been about 30 years since the Amish school days, but I still think of myself as a learner. We are all apprentices of life, whether we like it or not. I have failed a lot of exams in my life, but I get to do them over until I pass. There are plenty of activities for my hands to do and unending conundrums for my head to figure out just here in my little house with my family.

My husband is my best friend and my encourager. When we got married 14 years ago, we didn’t know much, but we did know that whatever comes, we are in it together. I stand by him and he stands by me. Don’t try to get between us or we will raise our hackles and fight. We are blessed with five children, ranging in age from 4 to 13. Those life exams I referred to are mostly courtesy of the children. 🙂

Some may think the life of a stay-at-home mom to be impossibly restricting, and I have to admit, it is harder than I ever imagined. While my children are smallish I am “keeping” our home. I mean that both in the Biblical sense of a woman who stays at home and in the contemporary sense of someone such as a zoo keeper who keeps the habitat pleasant and cares for the animals. I consider this my life work, worthy of all my consideration.

Part of that consideration is homeschooling our children. Some days I love it and some days I hate it, but it does work really well with our lifestyle. My husband is an RN with odd 12 and 8 hour shifts and mandatory weekends as well. Our school days are flexible and vacations are always off-peak season so we can stay a family unit. Speaking generally, we like learning about stuff together. Research reports are a little “meh” says my oldest son. My personal enthusiasm for practicing the writing craft has not yet translated to my children.

I process life through writing. When I started blogging eight years ago, it was mainly to stay in touch with distant family members. Then I realized that I really liked having this record of our lives and the developments in them. Eventually it sort of became a record of God’s work in my heart, and now my blogging is a mash of all of the above.

One night I needed a new title, since my first blog “Living and Learning” was not working out. I sat at the computer, sorting through the innards of my shiny new WordPress site and got an idea. There was a bookcase of children’s books right beside me. What better way to give a nod to my insatiable love of books than to play with a title? “Make Way for Ducklings!” I thought. Alas, every variation of the title was already taken. How about “Mrs. Tiggywinkle”? Nah. She was too prickly. I wanted something easy to remember, which is how I came to “Wocket In My Pocket”. Thank you, Dr. Seuss. I like that wockets are anything. We have wockets everywhere around here. Lots of them are fun to write about.

I chose my tagline “looking for the unexpected in the mundane” because that is what I do. It takes conscious effort not to settle down among the clods in the mind-numbing mundaneness of laundry piles and sticky floors. I am trying to dust off the ordinary and find the shiny bits in life.

Nobody was more astounded than I was when I started to get loyal readers. It is the best part of blogging: getting feedback, hearing that what I wrote connected with someone else, feeling that putting my heart out there may have cheered another person on. Blogging is scary enough that I have considered quitting altogether many times. But here I am, still getting up early or staying up late to try to string words together in a compelling way. Thank-you for reading.

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Anybody Can Do It

Over the years we have learned a few coping strategies for squeezing all the fun out of a family camping trip. That could be taken two ways, I suppose. The year we were in tents in a deluge that lasted for days? No fun. At all. The ancient cabin on a lake in the UP? Charmed, every minute of the time. If you do your strategizing ahead of time, even the dreaded unpacking is not so bad.

Strategy number 1. Pack a camping/picnic tote that stays packed in storage whenever you are not out. This has been a game changer for me. A few years ago I bought a large, sturdy, lifetime-guarantee tote with a lid that locks down tightly. In it I packed all the things I always ended up packing every time we went for a day at the lake or on overnight jaunts.

  • dishpan, ratty tea-towels and dishcloths, bottle of Palmolive
  • paper towels, roll of trash bags, ice cream bucket
  • clothesline and clothespins, firestarters
  • mosquito spray, hand sanitizer in a pump, matches
  • aluminum foil and assorted aluminum pans, gallon ziploc bags, coffeepot
  • flexible cutting mat, old cooking utensils that I won’t stress over losing
  • mugs, (we hate drinking out of styrofoam) plastic cups labelled with each person’s name, plastic spoons and forks sturdy enough to be washed

I customize the cookware stuff before each outing. Sometimes we just need roasting sticks, or a stockpot, or maybe a frying pan. We eat off paper plates, but the rest gets washed. Labelling the water cups eliminates a lot of washing. I went so minimalist this time that we didn’t have enough drinking cups when we got company. :/ We pull a trailer behind our Suburban, usually for the bikes and fishing gear, but this time I packed everything except clothes in totes. They were in categories and labelled clearly: towels and sheets, games and activities, food stuff, snowpants, etc. etc. I liked how shipshape this kept the cabin. Well, sort of shipshape. One tote, emptied, became the hamper. This made homecoming and laundry sorting really easy. Do you have any idea how many dirty clothes can fit in a tote?

Strategy number 2. Let the children each pack one backpack/duffle bag. This is for clothes and treasures and it is ample. If they protest, I tell them that I once did a 6 week international trip with just a carry-on bag. What doesn’t fit doesn’t go along. If you think you can’t live without the stuffed puppy, you are going to have to leave something else behind. It’s helpful to make a list of how many outfits for how many days, and just chill with their choices. The more camo, the better. Pj’s can be worn day and night. Nobody cares. Camping is not a fashion show. Once they think they have everything they need, a parent does a cursory luggage check. Each child is responsible for his own luggage the entire time. Load it, unload it, keep it out of harm’s way, put your stuff back in it, zip it up. You people with small children, just wait. It’s coming soon! I helped my little girls pack their clothes, but they did the rest.

Strategy number 3. Provide some activities for rainy days. It will happen, especially if you are depending entirely on sticks and rocks and sand to entertain the children. While we are pretty free-range in our parenting style, (if you tell me you are bored, I will find something for you to do and it might not be fun) we try to remember that camping is not just for adult relaxation. It’s a great chance to bond and play together for hours away from pressures and technology.

Strategy number 4: Keep it simple. Remember my food menu? 🙂 Keep it local. Try to become well acquainted with the area you are camping in and milk it for all it’s worth: trails, geo-caches, nature programs, scenic overlooks, birdwatch areas, swimming, boating, whatever. If you think your people need theme parks and ice cream to be happy, fine. But remember that if you go out and about you are going to have to shower the people and hope to goodness they packed a decent outfit.

life-in-the-woods

Strategy number 5: Do not complain about lack of comforts. Just do something about it. My brother once installed an air conditioner in his tent’s doggy door. Take what you need to feel prepared, but if you miss something obvious, it’s best not to articulate it.  I tell you, if you voice unhappiness, every short person will pick it up and join you in the chorus, loud and clear. I was deeply disturbed when I thought of an unheated outhouse, modern or not, in 20 degree weather in pitch dark, on a trail in the creepy bushes. It was not something that I was going to be able to cope with well. That Luggable Loo seat saved the nights. Installed on a trash-bag-lined 5 gallon bucket, with a layer of Feeline Pine kitty litter in the bottom to absorb moisture, it worked like a charm and I have to say, I felt quite proud of my foresight. Gabe and I no longer enjoy sleeping on the ground, so we camp in cabins with bunks. We like sites with electricity and running water. If there is something you dislike about camping, there is probably a solution for you. (Have you seen those folding recliners?) It just depends on what you are willing to schlepp along.

2012-10-17-snail

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Easy Peasy Camp Food

When we camp it seems that much activity centers around the food. The Pinterest search I did for great camp food brought up grills and skewers and lots of men standing around drooling while meat juices drip. I veered off on a completely different tack, since I had no desire to coddle a charcoal grill in 20 degree weather. I could have happily lived with cereal or protein bars for the duration, but I don’t like when people talk about how much their stomachs are groaning (Addy’s words) and it is equally disturbing when the polite child sidles up and whispers,  “Is there anything to eat?”

My game plan for this trip was to make a menu of Sustaining Foods, carefully think of portions, cook the dishes ahead of time, and not have any leftovers to bring home. At the last minute I threw in a bag of tater tots and a few packs of hotdogs with a bottle of ketchup just for a bit of  a buffer.  This turned out to be a smart move, because there were no restaurants close to the park and we were much too eager to get to our rental to spend time casting around for one. So the arrival banquet was just that. Hotdogs and tater tots. Yummy.

Here’s my Easy Peasy Camping Menu:

  • Breakfast One- Pancakes (just add water, thanks to Aunt Jemima) with some extra toppings like nutella and peanut butter, sausage patties, hot chocolate or coffee (Gabe cooked this meal. Gregory did the dishes. Win for me.)
  • Supper One- Baked potatoes with hamburger topping, lettuce, sour cream, fresh veggies-plain, because I forgot the Ranch dip. (I cooked. I mean I wrapped the potatoes in foil. The rest was precooked at home. Alex washed the dishes.) For a dessert/bedtime snack we made monkey bread, very dry because I forgot the extra sugar sauce, but tolerable when dipped in hot chocolate.
  • Breakfast Two- Scrambled eggs with cheese, cinnamon raisin toast, coffee, oranges
  • Supper Two- Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, assorted store-bought confections for dessert. (Is a double-stuffed oreo a confection?)
  • Breakfast Three- cereal and milk so that cleanup would be quick and easy before we had to check out.
  • Supper Three- a restaurant on the way home.

Maybe someone is interested in the snack list. Because we all know what happens with growing children. (What? You can’t be. We JUST ATE.) To minimize this frustration I took along a bag of apples, a bag of clementines, a jar of peanut butter, a hunk of cheese, some lunchmeat, extra bread and butter, and a few packs of Ramen. After we made the pretzel cabins, there were those to nibble on as well. If you didn’t like the selection, you weren’t hungry, and I heartlessly stuck to that.

This plan worked pretty well. I didn’t have to take any seasonings except salt and pepper because I had taste-tested everything in my home kitchen. Even so it seemed that we ended up with a ridiculous pile of supplies. There were just a few leftovers in the fridge after each meal, enough to drop into the cracks of the hungriest children. 🙂 Gabe thought to casually mention to me during our drive that he had invited his sister and her family for Friday night. She would bring extra food he said. That was great, only there was no cell service unless you hiked a few miles, so Ruby and I were not in touch. She brought whatever worked for her, and I heated the leftover potatoes and toppings and then she cooked our Saturday breakfast so that we were fortified with more than cereal on the drive home.

The drive home ended up being through Jonas the Storm. The restaurant meal plan was flawed, alas. “Oh well,” I told the children, “we won’t starve. We still have our cheeks.”

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And that is how it ended, our vehicle just barely off the road and a snowed-in weekend. 🙂

I have one more camping post, all about ways to make it doable with a family. Until tomorrow!

 

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Winter Camping: Stuff to Do

It was fun! But we expected that. We took ourselves, the family circus, along. 😉 Sorry to be so conceited, but there was a point in our wedded life where we figured out that we don’t need a lot of other people to have a good time. There is a time and place for parties and crowds and there is a time and place to regroup with quiet simplicity. The two are rarely synonomous. Of course, dreaming of reading a book by the fire for hours means a woman must plan ahead wisely concerning activities for the plentiful energies of the offspring.

I did a bit of sleuthing online and discovered the duct tape craze that has been around for quite a while, apparently. The rolls of fancy duct tape are kind of small, but I chose a variety of colors and patterns at Walmart and hid them deep in the bowels of my bedroom. This is necessary when you live with the sorts of creative people who find a fresh roll of tape a sort of siren call to make and do. I also packed some craft knives and a cutting mat. (Just before we left home I let Alex watch youtube videos of people crafting with duct tape and he took it from there. Hours, people, hours of wallet making and duct tape flowers, etc. Worth every penny.)

The children looked longingly through a shipment of Usborne coloring books recently. “Nope, nope, nope,” I told them. “Don’t even think of starting in one of those.” But I secretly stuck a few detailed coloring books and my best gel pens and felt-tipped markers into my activities tote. (Hours, hours, of creative fun. Even Gabe got into it.)

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We never go anywhere without books. January was Read-Aloud-Challenge month, so I tried to pack books that everybody would enjoy listening to, as well as easier chapter books for the girls. Cheaper by the Dozen is always a good choice. “Sometimes I wish I was an only child,” someone was heard to mutter and we all laughed and said, “You are just quoting Ernestine.” It totally took the wind out of his sails. Another series we have been working through in fits and starts is The Mysterious Benedict Society. You know you have a winner when a blase’ teenager can’t help but read with all the voices and expressions and every time he quits the little girls demand, “READ.”

For myself I took Forgiven, the book written by Terri Roberts describing the terrible journey of hurt and healing after her son shot the little girls in the Nickel Mines school. I did read beside the fire with a flashlight after the children were in bed.

I am not really good at the gingerbread houses at Christmas time thing, but I like the idea. Once again I found the web to be an inspiration and amassed a few bags of various pretzels, some fanciful candies and a batch of royal icing. It seemed an appropriate thing to do while camping. I helped Addy, of course. Gabe helped Olivia. But nobody helps Rita. I loved her claim shanty with its animal paddock. She was serenely unbothered by its unorthodox look.

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The rest of the space in the activities tote was games: Settler’s of Catan, Canasta, Boggle, Chess, Monopoly, etc. Oh, yes, and in a crack went a portable DVD player and Where the Red Fern Grows, although I was skeptical that the girls could handle the sad parts. They duck around a corner when the scenes get too tear-jerking.

We were just delighted with the 8 sided Tyler cabin. I include the second pic so you can see our totes and firewood on the trailer.

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Everybody in the family thinks Lady could just live with us, in our space and stuff. All but me. There I put my foot firmly DOWN. But she did like to be with us in the cabin, toenails clicking on the wood floor as she did laps, looking for someone to throw her toy.

We spent a good bit of time outside, naturally. The trails ran right past the cabin, so it was great for strolling through a few inches of powdery snow. Just up the road was the frozen lake where we rented skates for all and bought hot chocolate at the commissary. There were about 6 other people on the ice. No worries about getting into anybody’s way. These two spent most of the first hour sprawling and hauling each other back upright. I was surprised with their cheerfulness over losing their feet repeatedly. Until the sun went down and they got cold, that is.

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Yup, it was fun.

Coming tomorrow: Easy Peasy Camp Food

(and I promise I will get to the Luggable Loo one day)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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