Reveling in the glory and beauty of everyday life... all the mess and chaos of raising five little girls!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Children Outdoors

Here's another article for your reading pleasure! :)

A warm June breeze gently tousled blonde ponytails and rippled the surface of the lake. I rested my canoe paddle across my (eight month pregnant) lap and breathed a happy sigh.  My two year old leaned against me to plunge her child-size paddle into the water and I could smell sunscreen on her sticky-warm skin. The big girls giggled as their paddles clapped together, then hushed as Dad pointed out moose grazing along the shore.

Those sweet moments of savoring both the beauty of nature and the wonder of life together as a family are the WHY of taking our children outdoors.  We experience the outdoors side-by-side with our little ones to form strong family memories and create a unique family culture, and to kindle an interest in nature, exploration, and adventure, as we instruct them in skills, character, and knowledge of the natural world. For our family, there is nothing more rewarding – or more fun – than sharing an outdoor adventure.

That said, the logistics of getting outdoors with small children can be daunting. After seven years and four children, our family has discovered simple ways to make outdoor exploration do-able during this season of raising little ones.

Invest in basic equipment to make venturing outdoors easier.  While good equipment can be expensive, its value is truly priceless. Depending on your interests, a comfortable baby carrier and sturdy Chariot-style chassis are probably the two most important pieces to own.  We love the versatility of our Chariot, and have used it for everything from cross-country skiing into Granite Hot Springs, to bike riding on the park road, to jogging up Cache Creek. Whenever we have been blessed with a new baby, I have “worn” my infant snugly in a cloth Beco carrier, zipped into an oversized coat if the weather was cold or snowy.

Adjust your expectations.  Choose activities that are family friendly.  Obviously, little ones can’t mountain climb or back-country ski with you – but there are many activities that do lend themselves to tiny tagalongs.  We have chosen to hike, bike ride, car camp, and canoe in the summer.  During the winter we devote weekends to cross-country skiing.  We know plenty of other families who find creative ways to make downhill skiing together feasible; for us, cross-country allows us to stay together and explore less crowded areas.  Find activities you enjoy and tailor them to meet the needs of your family!

Start small. It is important to remember that every adventure is new to your little ones!  You may have hiked to Hidden Falls a dozen times, but if it’s the first time your preschooler is trekking on her own strong legs, it constitutes an adventure. Bend down and see the world through their eyes.  Taste the sweet snap of a wild huckleberry, throw pebbles in the river, look with wonder at every wildflower, throw snowballs, and take off your shoes to feel the cold water tickle your toes.

The flipside of starting small is that our children have much greater strength and resiliency than we think. Don’t underestimate them! Tell your children that they are strong and courageous and they will become strong and courageous.  The canoe trip I described earlier was actually an epic, all-day adventure that included four lakes and three portages.  Our kids trooped gleefully alongside us from String Lake, to Leigh Lake, to Bear Paw Lake, to Jackson Lake.  Then just 6, 4, and 2, our girls shared in the excitement of our grand adventure and were delightful boating and hiking partners.  Call your kiddos to new heights and watch them follow you with eagerness! Dancy Tolson, a local mama, adds that her little ones always go farther and faster when friends are around to share the exploration.

Turn mishaps into adventures. Things go wrong. It pours rain when the forecast called for sunshine. Parents make mistakes. Important items get forgotten. Roads are closed and we have to find an alternate route. The planned-for campsite is already occupied. But, if we, as parents, maintain a cheerful and optimistic attitude regardless of the circumstances, our children will follow suit. They will see us facing adversity and labeling it “adventure,” and they will turn their sweet faces up into the falling rain and laugh as their hair gets drenched. Becca Block, mom of three, says she turns bad attitudes around with cheerful songs and games as they hike or explore.

 During last summer’s fire ban, my husband and I forgot the camp stove on an overnight trip. That meant we had no way to prepare s’mores – or anything else! Rather than fret, we called on our girls to be creative.  Within a few minutes, they had built a pretend fire out of twigs and pinecones.  With much gusto and laughter, they pretended to roast marshmallows and giggled as they scooted away from the imaginary smoke plumes.  We ate cold s’mores, and we made a precious memory.  

Having ample food and water is an important part of making outdoor adventures fun for little ones. They need energy to keep going, and to maintain cheerful attitudes along the way.  We always bring chocolate.  Whether it is in the form of cookies, hot cocoa, or a Symphony bar, chocolate is a necessary part of our day.  It provides quick energy for weary toddlers, and motivation to take those last few strides to the summit.  And, it’s a tradition. A simple and sort of silly piece of our family culture.

Just as food and water are important, it is also imperative to be prepared for weather changes with appropriate clothing.  This might go without saying, but be sure to pack warm clothes, blankets, raingear, sunscreen, hats, or whatever weather-appropriate garb might be needed.   My husband, Erik, claims he has never been cold in the wilderness; he has only been underdressed.

Recently, a simple statement from my oldest daughter affirmed to me that our time “adventur-ing” as a family has truly shaped who we are.  On a warm Saturday afternoon, the girls had the opportunity to attend a free movie at the theater.  When I mentioned the option, they thought for a moment before Elisa spoke for them all. “Mom, movies are fine, but we’d rather play outside. We’re Wachobs. That’s what we do.”  I laughed until tears pricked my eyes, then picked up my phone to call my husband. Yup. We’re Wachobs. That’s what we do.

Food, Faith, and Fellowship - Without Friction

Since I have not been consistent about posting...  I thought I would share a couple of articles I have written over the last few months.  I have been toying with trying to get them published somewhere, but in the meantime, if you have a few minutes, enjoy!

Food, Fellowship, and Faith – Without Friction
My daughters and I love to read together – curled up on the couch by the fire, or propped on pillows in bed.  We really enjoy novels set in the nineteenth century, novels about simple families in simple times, when ladies churned butter by hand, horses pulled buggies to church, and everyone pitched in to do the hard work of living off the land.  One of the common threads of “olden day” stories is the way food and fellowship are woven into the patterns of work and daily life.  Men worked hard to provide their families sustenance, and the women labored equally hard to turn that provision into nourishment.  Historically, people ate the food that was available to them, the food that the land in their area would give.  Ma and Pa Ingalls butchered hogs in the Big Woods, served wild rabbit on the prairie, and lived off potatoes during the relentless Long Winter. In Mountain Born, Peter and his sheepherding family enjoyed frequent mutton.  Caddie Woodlawn’s family marked the calendar by the nuts and berries they gathered, and the produce their garden produced.

Today, our food choices are not limited either by our geography or by the season.  Most of us do not live off the fruit our own land produces. Instead, we wander grocery aisles heavy-laden with every variety of food imaginable.  We can purchase fresh fish even if we live inland.  We can eat strawberries in February, and buy olive oil imported from Italy.  We live in a time and place of great abundance.  And of many options. 

Out of the luxury of abundance, our Western culture has seen new problems and new ideas emerge.  Over-abundance has led to obesity, with its myriad of connected health issues.  It has also given rise to a culture of food that is vastly different than the simple provision and life-sharing that marked Laura Ingalls’ life.   People now have choices about what they will eat.  We can choose organic food. We can find all manner of convenience, ready-made foods.  We can opt for gluten-free. There are vegetarians, and vegans.  Some people prefer low-fat diets, while others think high-protein is best.   Instead of relying on the family cow for our daily milk, we face a refrigerator section filled with low-fat, non-fat, whole-fat, lactose-free, soy, almond, rice, and coconut milk, and weigh the nutrition benefits of each against the varying costs.

As I flip the rustling pages of Little House on the Prairie with my daughters, I think about how we may have gained much in terms of knowledge about nutrition and availability of food, but we have also lost much.  A realm of beautiful simplicity has become complicated and sometimes argumentative.   I think about families and neighbors gathering, giving thanks together, breaking bread – and I think about how the differing opinions clash and the breaking of bread sometimes breaks relationships instead.  And I think about Jesus, and the bread He broke, the fellowship He shared, and I wonder how the Bible might speak into the friction that arises over food.

Old Testament laws designated categories of clean and unclean foods, and gave detailed dietary guidelines. However, in the dispensation of grace – the time after Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection and the indwelling of believers with the Holy Spirit – those laws have been fulfilled. Grace and freedom in Christ have overtaken the rules and regulations that made up Old Testament life.

Several Scriptures speak directly about the freedom we have in Christ to eat and drink according to our own consciences.  1 Corinthians 10 talks about believers eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols and gives freedom to buy and eat any food in the market, because “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains.”  Paul says, “If I partake with thankfulness, then why am I slandered concerning that which I give thanks?” And, most importantly, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  In Romans 14, he contrasts a weak believer who eats a ceremonial diet of vegetables with a strong believer whose conscience is clear to eat “all things.” Verse 6 says, “He who eats, does so for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” Further down in verse 13, it says, “Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore…”

It is clear from these verses that we have Biblical freedom to eat all foods. The issues of our times may be different than those faced by Corinthian believers, but the solutions are the same.  It does not matter what we choose to eat or not to eat.  What matters is that we choose to eat with hearts of thanksgiving to the Lord, and that we eat without passing judgment, without placing a stumbling block before a fellow believer, and without breaking relationship over issues of Christian freedom.  We are to eat – just as we live and breathe and pray – with a posture of grace.

Remember what Jesus called Himself? One of the names He gave to His followers was “the bread of life.” He said, in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”   The choices we make about our physical “daily bread” are truly insignificant. Believing in the eternal bread of life is of far greater importance. Physical bread – whether whole grain, gluten-free, or even plain, unfortified white – sustains us in a physical sense. But Christ offers us eternity with Him when we “partake” of His sacrificial bread.

The Bible also speaks of the breaking of physical bread as an essential aspect of fellowship and communion with others. Jesus broke bread with His disciples.  He shared the Passover feast with them. He cooked them a breakfast of fish at the Sea of Tiberius after His resurrection.  In Acts, the Christians were “…continually with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Chapter 2, verses 46 and 47) They were of one mind, taking their meals together with gladness! Whatever differences they had were laid aside, and they broke bread together as a symbol of unity and fellowship. Isn’t that a beautiful model?  My husband and I have, for the last five years, opened our home one night a week for a small group Bible Study.  Somewhere along the line, we decided to follow the pattern of the early church, and take our meals together.  With gladness and sincerity of heart, we share a potluck meal with a group of one-hearted believers.  Giving thanks and partaking of a shared meal has changed our group’s dynamics.   When each one brings what they have to share, and we fill our plates with nourishing food prepared sacrificially by the busy and loving hands of our Christian brothers and sisters…  unity happens.

How do we experience unity when we still all have preferences and beliefs about food? We bend. We give. We offer grace and we lay down our rights. We lovingly prefer others instead of only looking after our own interests. We continually thank God for His provision.  We learn to see food – all food – as a gift from His hand, and we rejoice in fellowshipping with others as we, together, thank Him for it.

Personally, I prefer to eat whole, natural foods.  I cook very, very simply, from scratch, most of the time. No fancy recipes, just basic whole-food ingredients. I avoid commercially prepared foods as much as I can (with exceptions for crackers, canned tomato soup and granola bars). We don’t eat cereal; instead I cook oatmeal , or flip pancakes, or scramble eggs with a little cheese, or make smoothies.  I like incorporating different grains into my cooking and baking, and we eat vegetarian meals several times a week.  I am pretty lenient with sweets, as long as they are the home-baked kind.  I will feed my kids a homemade cookie almost any time they want one; I just don’t like them to eat potato chips or candy. Funny thing is, my sweet mother-in-law absolutely delights in feeding my little ones potato chips and candy.  She loves giving small gifts, and takes uncanny enjoyment in giving them non-Mama approved treats.  I am learning (slowly) to love my mother-in-law by just quietly letting her do this. If I argued and made a fuss every time she offered my girls candy or chips, I would be robbing her of grandmotherly joy (and believe me, I have done this in the past!). I would be squelching her generous spirit. So, I am learning to step back, to realize a potato chip offered in love will not harm my children, and to choose nurturing a relationship over maintaining a standard.

My mother recently shared a story with me that exemplified taking the “higher road” of grace.  During a busy shift at the flower shop she works in, a co-worker brought in a homemade meal for everyone who was on-duty that day.   One of the women is a vegetarian, and the meal was authentic chicken mole.  Thanking her co-worker, the vegetarian employee simply ate the chicken.  Later on, my mom expressed her surprise at this. She said, “That was so gracious of you to eat the chicken.” The woman’s response was short and emphatic. “Of course I ate it. If someone is going to go to the trouble of preparing a meal for me, you’d better believe I am going to eat it.”  For her it was that simple.
Please don’t think I am saying that one should always lay down his or her beliefs and eat something their conscience is uncomfortable with.  A hard and fast vegetarian does not necessarily need to eat meat because it was prepared for her. However, this story portrays one woman’s grateful heart, and her willingness to set aside personal preferences in order to gracefully receive the blessing that was being offered her. She lovingly chose to honor her coworker rather than uphold her own standard. And I think we can all learn from her.

If we are hard-hearted and unwilling to bend or bow – it could be that food has become an idol in our hearts.  When we are willing to “give a little,” we demonstrate with our actions that relationships are more important than being right.  Whether it is a vegan nibbling a butter-rich cookie or a meat-lover enjoying a hearty lentil soup, each of us can bend towards one another in grace. We can bow our heads and give thanks together to the One who provides nourishment of all kinds for our bodies. We can enter into communion together as we break bread and fellowship over sustenance.  We can partake with thankful hearts and clear consciences towards one another, and receive in faith the dual blessings of food and friendship.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May Exploring

 Hope - proudly showing me her strawberry. Yum! Here we are, setting off after school-time to enjoy the back pasture.  My girls have recently begun exploring every inch of our 7 acres... and they have created their own hideaway - only accessible by a two-log bridge they built themselves.  We have been having picnics, wading in mucky irrigation water, and crossing fences to visit our friends whose cows pasture in the adjacent land.  We are having a delightful, warm May filled with lots of exploring, growing, and discovering!
 Big grin from my big girl.
 Elisa, pulling the wagon all the way to the back pasture.
 Sadie, opening the gate.
 The trek to the "back 40."
 In this one you can see our friend's barn on the hill above us. Kind of a trek through the springtime grasses, across a few ditches...  lots of fun!  Our friends have a wonderful pony the girls have ridden twice.
 Sadie, eating her lunch in the sunshine.

 More strawberries!
 Fishing for muck.
 Good thing we packed baby wipes!
 The bridge the girls built - all by themselves.