Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Little Fishing

 I think this may turn into our summer of fishing. We've already gone three times, and one time Desert Boy even caught fish, learned to clean them, and ate them for dinner (I was out of town so missed getting photos of that momentous occasion). He loves to fish. I'm good with that. I'm thinking of lots of fishing trips this summer where I bring my lawn chair, a good book, and let the kids fish to their hearts' content.

Do you like to fish? What's your favorite fish?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Survival: Making Fire

 My husband decided it would be a god time to try our fire making skills. This is something that's always stressed on the survival shows we watch. On the other hand, we don't want Desert Boy to get too enthusiastic about making fires. So we decided we would start with a fire-making method that isn't too hard, but does require some specialized gear: a magnesium bar and flint.

We gathered fine fuels, had something to shave the magnesium flakes onto, and set off to make a fire. I love the look Desert Girl has in the photo above.

Dear Daddy took a turn and couldn't get the fire going.
Desert Boy took a turn. He couldn't get it going.

I took a turn. I couldn't get it going.
Dear Daddy tried again. It still didn't work.

I was grumbling. If I were in the backcountry and cold and miserable and needed this fire, it took way more effort than I would have!

Finally a little bit of smoke appeared. But do you see an extra ingredient in the photo above?

The extra ingredient was a lighter. A tried and true, easy way to start a fire. (I don't consider this cheating, I consider it smart!)

So why couldn't we start a fire with a magnesium stick and a flint? I went to YouTube to get some pointers and found this nice video:

We probably didn't have enough magnesium.

So I tried again. And let me tell you, I couldn't get enough magnesium flakes (the size of a quarter) in fifteen minutes. I was not impressed. So we will be looking for other fire starting methods. In the meantime, we'll keep a lighter with us!

We might not be too good at survival right now, but we're going to get better this summer!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who voted for this blog in the 2013 Outdoorsy Mom Blog contest!

My goal was to get in the top 25, and you helped me not only accomplish that, but also to get into the top 12!

Thanks so much!

One of the benefits of the contest is learning about all the other outdoorsy moms out there. I've really enjoyed checking out the various blogs and recommend giving them a look. I've also made some new virtual friends, have gotten ideas for this blog, and been inspired.

Thanks again!

Waiting for the School Bus

What are these cute kids doing? Waiting for the school bus after a hard afternoon of play (like all the dirt on Desert Girl's clothes?)

 They have a very good reason to cover their ears--the air brakes on the bus! It's something most of us wouldn't notice, but their delicate little ears realize that that noise is quite loud. They also think it's kind of funny to put their hands over their ears.

 The school doors open, and off comes big sister Ava.

Then comes big brother Desert Boy (in a slightly grumpy mood). Maybe a trip to the playground is what everyone needs!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our All-Natural Easter Egg Dyeing Experiment/Fiasco

Ready to make some naturally-dyed Easter Eggs? I sure was! I had heard all about the evils of regular food dyes and was sure I could make a wonderful post about how simple it would be to dye your Easter eggs with common ingredients that wouldn't compromise your health.

I was sure the post would go viral*, flood the Internet, make me wildly famous and rich and I'd suddenly be making appearances on all the major networks and be getting mail trucks full of mail from moms thanking me for saving their kids from doom.
*My husband thinks it's funny that bloggers actually want something to go viral, he says it sounds pretty bad to him. 

Okay, my illusions were a little lot over the top. Sometimes I get a wee bit carried away. Maybe.

Anyway, after actually dyeing our Easter eggs with natural dyes, I'm convinced this post won't go viral. Read along and you'll see why. 

Dye your Easter Eggs with Natural Ingredients

First, to dye your eggs, you need to gather your ingredients. 
I kept it simple: canned beet juice to make red, turmeric to make yellow (saffron apparently also works), and red cabbage to make blue or purple.

 The kids help cut up the cabbage. (Hopefully I'm not a bad parent to let my five-year old use a knife. Sometimes I worry. And then I worry about worrying. And now I'm off on a tangent, so I'll just stop right now.)

Then I put about half a cup of water in the bowl with the cut-up cabbage and put it in the microwave for a couple minutes. (Alternatively you can heat it up on the stove, but I thought microwaving might be a little easier, and I was all about easy natural food dyes.)

 Meanwhile, we mixed a little turmeric in with some water and poured the beet juice into a cup. (Yes, I know that using canned beets instead of fresh beets was taking a major shortcut. That sounded good to me.)

 Here's the result of our cut up, microwaved red cabbage. (If that came in a can, I'd be tempted to buy it too, especially for dyeing Easter eggs.)

 I had read that if you add baking soda to the cabbage juice, it turns it blue. Wow, we could get two colors out of the cabbage! Then we put the eggs into the different cups and let them sit for a few minutes. We took them out, and this is what we got:

Blah! Not much color! The cabbage juice hardly did anything, the turmeric was barely yellow, and the beets looked just slightly orangish.

Oh boy, this wasn't turning out like I hoped. I thought for a minute. What could I do to make the colors more intense? Maybe vinegar would help. I put a tablespoon of vinegar into each cup. The cabbage juice turned color (which will soon be the subject of a separate science experiment post!).

Then I put eggs back into the cups and let them sit for three minutes, getting the following results (the eggs farther from the cups):
 The beet juice had improved, but nothing else. In fact, the turmeric looked worse.

I couldn't figure out what to do. So I did what I often do when I am in the depths of despair, at my wits end, looking for a good time (ha, ha)...I went on the Internet.

I found this beautifully photographed blog that had gorgeous Easter eggs. It inspired me to do two things: heat up the colors I hadn't yet heated up (turmeric and beet juice). The heat made a huge difference for the turmeric, and it started turning eggs yellow in just a few minutes. The other thing I learned that using natural dyes means it takes a l - o - n - g time. Like overnight. Another blog told me 10-20 hours for the eggs to pick up the colors.

For goodness' sake, I'm not going to wait 20 hours to dye a single egg. You have got to be out of your mind! (Instant vision in my head of my brain as a raw egg, and that raw egg bursting.)

I was a little past frustrated. So I did what any good mom would do: I plopped a few eggs in the colors and gave the rest to my kids with crayons and told them to color them and make them look nice. Crayons are non-toxic, right? (I sure do hope so, because if I have to start making my own crayons, I may just go over the edge).

We ended up with a very nice batch of eggs. And I just might even give natural dyes a try again next year, because by then I may have very well forgotten how I felt this year.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

14 Recommendations for a Perfect Hike with Kids

Last week we had a wonderful hike with friends. We love going on hikes, and this one was particularly fun. How can you turn a regular hike into a super hike? Here are 14 recommendations.

1. Invite friends. Friends make a hike much more fun, because you can share the experience. For kids, friends can be a wonderful distraction. Invite an adult friend, too--it's a chance to catch up on adult talk, plus the extra help can be great. Also, ever notice how sometimes your kids ignore you but will listen to another adult?
Friends make a hike even better.
2. Make it an adventure. Try a new spot or go to one that's familiar but with a twist--in the rain, at night, in a different season.  We went to a gully not far from our house, and not far from the road. The thing that made it special was that we hadn't explored much of it and there aren't any trails in it (except animal trails).
Making a regular hike a super hike--it's mostly how you think about it.
A super hike isn't just walking--it's an adventure!

3. Don't have a destination. I didn't think we would get far on our gully hike. But that didn't matter. Being outside was more important than getting somewhere. In other words, the journey took precedence over the destination. We told the kids they would get to decide where we went (you can imagine how they loved that!) For our hike, we actually made it over a mile. But it took four hours!
Our hike didn't have a destination; instead, our goal was
to meander through the gullies and see what cool things we could find.

4. Pack plenty of food. Better yet, have the kids pack the food. Anyone who's hiked with kids know how important snacks are. My kids love to help choose the food we'll bring on a hike. For this particular day, we decided on a picnic lunch, with hot dogs, chips, oranges, fruit leather, and water. The kids realized that hot dogs meant that we would have to make a fire, so they looked forward to that with great anticipation. Our friends brought some delicious hummus, Melba toast, and strawberries. Kids (and let's face it, adults, too), often gravitate to something different, so it's fun to have two sets of food to choose from!
A hot dog tastes extra good when you get to prepare it yourself, including making the fire.
Friends' snacks are also a favorite.

5. Have the kids carry their own backpacks. Ever since they were little (really little), I've had the kids carry small backpacks. They usually carry their own water bottle and a snack or two of their choosing, along with a small first aid kit. Desert Girl's first aid kit consisted of a single bandaid in a ziploc bag. Desert Boy's had about four bandaids, and he also took a notebook and pen so he could write about the trip. The kids like being able to get to their own food and water, and teaching them young to carry a pack will make it even easier when they get older. If they get tired on the hike, I take the backpack from them, and they suddenly have more energy (but don't do this too early in a hike or you'll get worn out!). Also, be sure to inspect your kids' backpacks before you start. Desert Girl had several extra toys that added weight but wouldn't be useful at all.
Desert Girl getting a bandaid out of her backpack for Charlie.
She was so proud that she was prepared. 

6. Find a challenge. Or two or three. Do we remember the easy times in life? Not so much. Usually our strongest memories are the difficult times--the challenges and choices we faced. If the entire hike is easy, we'll probably forget it. But if there was something hard that made us dig deep into ourselves and find some inner strength, we're much more likely to remember the hike and our feelings of overcoming something difficult. (Just make sure the challenge isn't too difficult or dangerous!)
Desert Girl finds she can get down this steep slope by sitting down and pretending its a slide.  (Boots on the wrong feet may or may not help.) The boys scramble up a steep slope, not sure if they can make it up.

Desert Girl squeezes through a tight spot.

7. Be in awe of what you find. Take time to really observe what's around. Sometimes that's no problem--kids can stare at ants walking for hours. Other times, they're rushing, so you might have to slow them down. Asking questions about what they're seeing can sometimes help them pause and consider what's around them.
How long are the roots of a desert plant? Why are they so long? The boys checking out a little cave.
Where did all the dirt fall from? Why? 

8. Try out a new gadget. Short hikes can be a great place to introduce your little ones to things they might need on longer hikes. We brought a compass and explained how to find north. Then we also tried the watch method of finding north and the shadow stick method. They all matched perfectly (to my great surprise!). Other great things that you could introduce them to are water filters, first aid techniques (and more advanced supplies than bandaids), and maps. Although the kids probably won't learn everything they need to know in the short lesson, it will be a good introduction.
Charlie trying out a compass.
You can introduce your little hiker to gear you plan to use on future, longer hikes.

9. Dress like a champion. You'll have to supervise what your kids put on, and maybe make some suggestions. Desert Boy thought it was really cool when I told him he should wear his wicking shirt, because he knew we were going for a real adventure then. Desert Girl insisted on a skirt. I was okay with it, as long as it was over pants. That turned out to be important, as the skirt soon caught on every bush and we had to take it off. Still, just knowing she had it in her backpack for later use kept her happy. Also make sure you have enough layers for the kids. Getting cold can make a hike miserable for everyone. Hats can be a great way to limit sun exposure.
Hiking in style.
We always have layers to take off or add as the temperature changes.

10. Give the kids a little space. Kids need some alone time on a hike just to be kids. I usually tell my kids that they can walk ahead as long as they can see me. In our area, mountain lions are the biggest predators, so I don't want the kids too far away. Depending on where you live, you can decide what the right distance is to let them have a little space. Alternatively, you can let them have a little alone time during a break, where they stay put and you can observe them from a discreet distance.
Desert Girl shares a secret with Charlie.
I couldn't hear what she said, but I could see that they were just fine.

11. Walk like a dinosaur. Desert Girl started roaring and had her arms stretched out in front of her during her hike. She had turned into a dinosaur, and was eagerly trying to "eat" the boys. Desert Boy used to turn into a train and "chop-choo" his way down the trail. We got some odd stares when he imitated loud train whistles. When your kids start to get a little tired, encourage them to use their imaginations to become their favorite animals or machines, and they may be able to hike a little further without complaining.
Desert Girl pretending to be a dinosaur and chasing after the boys.
Have your kids use their imaginations as they hike, and they'll hike longer.

12. Get dirty. Kids will immediately forget how tired they are if they can splash in a mud puddle!
Charlie found a mud puddle and somehow managed to step right in the middle of it!

13. Improvise. At the end of the hike, we went fishing with kite string and a paperclip. The kids thought it was brilliant. And it's what they remember best! You might be able to improvise sledding with a paper bag, a raft with old logs, a hiking stick out of a branch, and more.
Desert Girl fishing with kite string and a paper clip. The kids wanted to go swimming, so we said go ahead! It only took them a few steps in the cold water before they realized that maybe they should wait a couple months.

14. Take photos. I like to remember our times together, so I usually have my camera on hikes. I also find that photography helps me relax and go at a slower pace. I'm not as focused on getting somewhere, instead I'm trying to find good camera angles and interesting things to photograph.
A happy crew at the end of a fun hike.

 Hope this helps you have your own perfect hike!
 Do you have any other tips for hiking with kids? If you do, please share in the comments.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Foot Frenzy

There comes a time,when a desert survivor looks for a little culture...

...a place to learn something new...

...a challenge that will help focus the mind...

...a group of wonderful women with whom to share some time...

...and that is called tap class!

Once a week we gather to click our heels and tap our toes, and it is a real treat.

We are preparing for a performance to the tune of Footloose. Here are the first four seconds. It just keeps getting better after that!

"I grew up with six brothers. That's how I learned to dance - waiting for the bathroom." -Bob Hope.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

You're in the Doghouse Now

The doghouse is one of Desert Girl's favorite places to hang out. Note the sparkly shoes, flashlight, Blackberry. She knows how to enjoy herself! She wanted a sleeping bag so she could spend the night, but we said no. What mean parents. She will have to sleep in her own bed tonight!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Little Archery Practice

 With the warmer weather, it's certainly easier to get outside more often. Desert Boy wanted to go out and practice with his bow and arrows that he got for Christmas. He had made his own target.

 ...aim...! He did quite well and challenged me to a little competition. I stood farther away and was challenged! I need to practice more.

 Desert Boy really wants to be able to shoot the birds. We have a lot of non-native European starlings and Eurasian collared doves around our house, so if he does shoot them, that would be a good thing. And the collared doves are big enough to eat! I don't think we'll be cooking up anything real soon.

 He's determined to be good, though. He needs to spend some time with his Uncle Matt!

 Desert Girl wanted to try. We quickly she figured out she wasn't quite big enough, but she was a good helper retrieving arrows.

 What good kids! (When they aren't fighting :)

The next challenge was to climb a tree. I told Desert Boy I didn't think it was such a good idea, especially in cowboy boots, but he decided to go for it anyway. I was anticipating some tree rash, wails,  and bandaids.

He made it up fairly high, but bark really isn't the best climbing material.

 So he made a wise decision and jumped off.

The third outside activity took place while I went into the house for a few minutes. Desert Boy found a rope, tied his sister's hands together, threw the other end of the rope over a branch, and then started pulling on it in an attempt to get her up into the tree. I was glued to the window and didn't have my camera handy, so unfortunately didn't get any photos of this experiential learning. Again, I was waiting for loud cries, but in less than a minute it became apparent to Desert Boy that he just wasn't going to be able to pull his sister up in the tree (he only weighs about 5 more pounds than she does). She was quick to get the rope off her wrists and go off to do something by herself. I think they both learned a lot from that little experiment. I will be sure not to teach Desert Boy how to use pulleys and mechanical advantage--we do have enough equipment around here that he could get his sister into the tree by himself!

Hurray for outside time!
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