Thursday, February 4, 2016

Backpacking Trial

I've decided on a blog shift.  I no longer use the blog to keep family and friends updated on smaller events in our life, but I do use it to share homeschooling resources and to record travel and race details.  Also, as the kids get older, and their lives get more complicated than "learned to walk today!" there's less for me to share about them.  Their lives and experiences are more solidly their own at this point, it's not my story to tell.  So I'm going to be cancelling my ad contract so I can continue to update less frequently and I can focus on the bigger events and projects.

With that said....we recently had a big event!  After our summer camping road trip, and seeing the Appalachian Trail, the girls started talking about backpacking.  They had shown interest before, but living out of a tent for a week really got them amped up and talking about big backpacking trips.  We tried to explain the differences between backpacking for any distance and always being in a campground, and that just seemed to encourage them.

Right after Christmas, I was itching to get away for a little while and we decided maybe it would be a good time to take the girls out for a backpacking trial.  This was also a bit of a trial for Josh and I.  Since you don't want to load kids up with too much weight (10-15% of their body weight, and we've got small kids), most of the equipment carrying fell to the adults, which meant we were each carrying our own gear, plus added kid gear.  We had to spend some time with all our gear spread out in the living room figuring out what we could pack where.

Once we figured out it would doable, we started searching out a good location that would allow us to get away from the car to a primitive site, but didn't require more than 1-2 miles of hiking.  We didn't want to force the kids on a miserable march, just wanted to do something very short and see how they did.  We settled on the Turkey Creek area of Big Thicket National Preserve.  We were thinking maybe we'd start at the Pitcher Plant trail and hike south.

While Josh talked to the ranger about our camping plans, the girls and I had fun checking out the visitor's center
Checking out the snake and alligator display
Taking turns flooding a cypress slough
More wildlife lessons

Giant pitcher plant model
A window to see what the inside of a pitcher plant looks like
More hands on fun in the kids' education room

It turned out we could not camp where we planned.  The ranger informed us there was currently another hiker stranded on an island in that spot because the creek had risen overnight from rain to the north.  He directed us to a safer location though and let us know there were well established places that were common camp sites.  We quickly loaded up the car and drove to the appropriate trail head.
Baby's first backcountry permit!
 Everyone was eager to get going, so we donned our packs and then propped up the camera for a group shot.  We took Sierra's camera because it's small.  Picture quality suffered a bit, and all of the pictures got stamped with the wrong date, but we made do.
 The kids each carried a bag.  Secora just had some water and a few snacks.  Poor Sedona got a regular backpack because we were one pack short.  She had her sleeping bag and some water and we'll definitely need to get her a pack if we do anything longer.  Sierra carried her sleeping bag, water and her sleeping pad.  As you can see, the trail is wide and flat.  Definitely a gentle introduction to backpacking.
 There were even benches along the way!
 And nice bridges to keep our feet dry.

 Everyone was hiking merrily along until we happened upon this:
 We were supposed to go past this point, but the higher water had blocked our progress.  There was no way to get past without soaking everyone's feet and getting wet on a night it was expected to freeze just didn't fit in with our "gentle, trial run" plan.  So we turned around and started scouting out a spot to camp.
 Success!  We found a clearing off the trail and Sierra zeroed in on area that looked good for a fire pit.  She started digging and sure enough, the remnants of previous fires were buried in that spot.  She cleared it out and they all collected downed twigs to get a fire going before nightfall.

 Josh and Sierra also started making up some dinner.  We had bought ourselves a JetBoil stove with some Christmas money we got.  Most definitely a step up from our old backpacking stove! We had brought tortillas, cheese and the pouches of pre-cooked ground beef we had tried over the summer.  The pouches of beef just have to sit unopened in hot water until they're warm, then the water can be used to make hot chocolate or whatever else.  Secora had a corndog warmed over the fire.  We have to find better backpacking food ideas for her.
 Before long, everyone sat down to dinner.  Sedona dropped beef in her hot chocolate....and declared beefy hot chocolate is pretty tasty.  We huddled around the fire for a bit and sang a few camp songs and the girls started to learn the realities of not have facilities nearby to wash hands or dishes.

I learned a few lessons about handling three girls learning how to go to the bathroom in the woods. First...we have entirely too many girls.  I swear I was tromping off behind a bush with somebody every 30 minutes.  Second...a preschooler isn't going to understand the concept of not peeing on her feet.  Thankfully we only made that mistake once and I had packed extra clothes for her.  I figured out what worked best for her was to hold her so that her feet were straight out in front of her.  This left me holding all of her weight though and sitting over a log probably would have been easier had I been able to find a suitable one.  I used to make fun of those stand up to pee devices, but now I'm thinking we need several.

When it was time for bed, everyone gathered in the tent for a few games of spot it.  Us girls were in slumber party mode and I think this is when Josh had his own little, "we have entirely too many girls" moment.  Nighttime had a little drama when I confidently declared there was minimal slope to the ground under our tent and I would be fine sleeping with my head down hill.  We are nearing the limits of our tent space and have to sleep head to toe to fit comfortably now.  Well, the slope was not minimal and I was overly confident and I woke up feeling like my entire blood volume was behind my eyeballs and I was going to die.  I sat up for a long time, I insisted on turning the kids so everyone was uphill, and I generally wreaked much havoc in the middle of the night.  But we eventually all settled down again and slept until morning.

 Morning brought oatmeal and more hot chocolate.  The oatmeal we've been taking on camping trips has flax seeds in it and we learned those are pretty much impossible to clean out of a bowl/cup in the backcountry.  We will need to revise breakfast plans in the future.

  After breakfast, the adults worked on packing up while the children ran through the woods, like children tend to do

 Before long, we were all packed up and ready to head back to the car.  We tried a family selfie, but it proved difficult to fit 5 people into a picture while having no idea where the camera was aimed.

 Of course, the one that finally caught everyone also came out blurry.  And with that dang date stamp in a spot where I can't crop it out.
 Adorable baby backpacker!
 We brought our water filter, but had no need to use it.  The girls wanted to see how it worked, so we stopped to filter water just for fun
 Back at the ranger station, we checked in to let them know we were fine and tell them about the flooded bridge.  The girls also completed a Junior Ranger badge before we headed home

All in all, it was a successful trip!  I think our next step might be to go back to the same spot and hike the whole trail in this section (about 15 miles) over 2-3 days and see how the little ones handle 5-ish miles per day and multiple set-up/pack-up routines.  It's a nice trail to start with and set-up in a way that makes it easy to cache water along the way.



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Gingerbread Houses 2015

(note: for detailed directions on how to host your own gingerbread house party, visit this post)

After needing to take a break last year, we were back to gingerbread houses this year!  I needed to make 24 houses, so I mixed up 10 batches of dough:
After cutting out all the pieces I needed, I somehow had an entire recipe of dough leftover.  Fair warning if you're planning a party, this may only be because I've got my system down and have no wasted dough during the rolling process.  Thankfully, I kept that extra dough in the fridge until after the party, more on that later.
Do these pictures make anyone else think of the Weeds theme song?  No? Just me?

After much, "Is TODAY gingerbread house day?" from the five year old, gingerbread house day finally arrived.  It happened to coincide with a cold snap, so we had a hot chocolate bar set up.
Party number one was set up and ready to go!
Before long, icing and candy were everywhere and I was FREAKING. OUT.  I realized I had the right number of houses out for this party according to my list, but I was one house short.  In the moment this was fine because I was ready for a second party happening later in the day, so I just took one of those houses, but that left me one short for the second party.  A whole house short.  I've never been short before and I was so confused about what was going on.  Then I finally realized I had invited one child without adding their name to my list.  My own kids had already started decorating, so I couldn't even make a deal with one of them to give up their house and decorate later.  Thankfully, Josh manned the party and I was able to get that leftover dough out of the fridge.  I frantically rolled, cut and baked more pieces.

The kids up to their elbows in icing and candy were oblivious to the drama:
Secora was very serious about her house this year.  She eventually covered every square inch of that house:
My last minute house mostly cooled off and I quickly assembled it so it'd have about 30 minutes to set up.  That's it on the end on a foil covered board (because I was also out of cardboard bases).  The second group of kids was our girl scout troop, so I assigned that house to one of my cadettes that I know to be capable of self-control in any circumstance and warned her that it would hold up as long she was gentle with putting candy on:
Secora kept working through party #2 and thought she was done when we took this picture, but then got extra icing from some of the girl scouts by playing the "cute little sister" card.
Another "false finish".  She realized she could also put candy on the cardboard after we took this:
"Hmmmm........there might be space for one more m&m over......here."
Sierra ate more candy than she stuck to her house, I think.
Sedona is still a fan of layering the candy:
Houses, houses, houses!!


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