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Friday, August 30, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Hiking and Camping: Part 2

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.

Last time, I talked about the basics of packing for a hiking trip.  But before you set foot on a trail, it's important to take some time to change your mindset.  This is a big focus of all the books and magazines we studied for years, and it makes sense.  Most of us start out with very little experience outside of a very developed society, and the rules and expectations are just different.  You have to think like a hiker when you're in the backcountry, or you and others around you will not have a great time.

Think Like a Hiker

1)  Every Ounce Counts.

Let's talk about those first disaster trips for a second.  What kind of stuff did I pack in my bookbag?  (Because it was a bookbag at that point, not a hiking backpack with padded shoulders and a waist strap.)  Let's see:  hardback books, jeans, cans of beef stew (gross), and an entire canister of Gatorade powder.  Like, enough to make 30 gallons of Gatorade.

Why?  Why would I bring those horribly heavy, terribly impractical things on a three-day (ended up being a one-and-a-half day) hike?  Because I wasn't thinking like a hiker and because I was terrified of forgetting something.  This is why it's so important to make your master list and go through it many, many times.  You don't want to be impulsively throwing extra things in your bag at the last minute "just in case you need them."  That's a good way to add another ten or so pounds to your pack.

The "Every Ounce Counts" rule means that you get rid of all the extra packaging when you pack your food.  It means that you take zip-off pants instead of a separate pair of shorts.  It means that you try to plan your hikes around water sources so you don't have to pack three days worth of water, one of your heaviest items.  This is the number one rule of packing, and it affects everything that you bring.

Some people get really extreme with this rule and drill holes in their toothbrushes, or take off the zipper pulls on their clothing.  Some people buy cheap books and just tear out the few chapters they think they will read on the trip.  If you keep those things in mind, all of a sudden, your debate about whether or not to bring toothpaste doesn't seem so crazy.

2)  Be Prepared

Yes, the old Boy Scout adage.  This seems to contradict the first rule, but they actually work together.  The challenge, and I think the fun, of packing for a hike is to take everything you need and not one thing more.  When you get back from your trip and unpack, you should be able to look at everything in your bag and think, "Yup.  That came in handy."  On the flip side, you shouldn't have to say, "I really wish I'd had that."  (I mean, besides pizza.  Everyone wishes for pizza while they hike.)

Brian is the master of efficient packing.

So when you pack, you are always going back and forth between needing to be prepared and needing to pack lighter.  Again, thinking back to those early trips, I may have had tons of unnecessary stuff, but I didn't have a foam mat, so I froze at night as the ground sucked all the heat out from under me.  All the jeans in my pack couldn't insulate me as well as a thin foam mat would have.  Choose carefully.

3)  Hope for the Disney Ending.  Prep for the Shakespeare Ending.

This kind of goes along with the whole "Be Prepared" thing, but it's a little more specific than that.  You need to think about worst case scenarios.

Because this guy is definitely worst-case scenario.
This guy happened.  To me.

In regular life, worst case scenario usually means we call 911 and have someone available to help us in minutes, or we have a car that we can drive to or away from wherever we do or don't want to go.  In the woods, worst case scenario is pretty bad.  Someone gets hurt, you have no phone signal, and you're several hours away from the nearest road.  Plus, you have no Google to tell you whether or not that little guy up there is going to make your finger fall off, or if the pain is just for funsies.

You need to spend some time reading up on first aid and emergency care.  Learn how to splint a broken bone.  Learn how to signal with a mirror.  Learn how to treat a burn.  Learn to recognize venomous snakes, and whether or not you have flesh-eating caterpillars in your area.  And most importantly, carry the right supplies in your first aid kit.  Carry sting-ease to treat insect bites and evil (but harmless) saddle-back caterpillar stings (see above). Carry burn cream, topical antibiotics, bandages, and medicine.  If there are snakes in your area, take a snake bite kit.  You'll probably never need it, but take it anyway.  Always, always always take a map.  Even if it's to a trail you've been a hundred times.  You never know when you might need to find the quickest route to the highway, and it's probably not that lovely switchback down the mountain you just spent five hours on.

In the ten or so years we have been hiking, we have only had to deal with minor injuries, the worst of which was some second degree burns, so odds are that probably nothing will happen.  We're also really careful, we think through situations to make sure we are not putting ourselves in danger unnecessarily, and we always have the supplies we need in case something does happen.  We hope it won't.  But we're ready if it does.

4)  Leave No Trace

This is a huge one.  It is your personal responsibility to make sure that any trails, campsites, or other locations you visit show no sign that you were ever there.

Pictured:  Unspoiled beauty.  Keep it that way.

Of course, first and foremost this means no littering.  Everything you pack in, you should pack out.  Don't try to bury your trash.  Animals will just dig it up.  If you bury your TP, make sure the hole is 6 inches deep or deeper.  (There are actually entire books devoted to the issues of using the restroom in the woods.)

Don't, I repeat, DON'T try to burn your trash on your campfire.  The fire is rarely hot enough to burn it completely, and it just makes a trashy mess for the next camper to clean out.  If you do find someone else's trash, pack it out when possible.

Beyond just trash issues, though, if you made your own campsite, when you leave, no one should be able to tell you camped there.  Re-cover the ground with leaves or pine straw, cover your fire pit with dirt (after it is cool enough to rest your hand on), and double check for ropes tied to trees.  Leave. No. Trace.

If you use an established campsite, still make sure that it is the image for a perfect campsite.  No trash, chopped branches, food on the ground, or whatever.  Leave. No. Trace.

When you're hiking, make sure that your foam mat isn't brushing up against trees and leaving little foam crumbs like Hansel and Gretel.  Move branches aside as you pass instead of hacking them down with a machete like you're Crocodile Dundee.  Take the switchbacks instead of cutting a path straight down the mountain, which increases erosion and adds wear to the landscape.  Walk single file in a group so you don't widen the path.  Talk softly so you don't disturb the wildlife for the group a few minutes behind you.  Leave. No. Trace.

5)  Share the Trail

There are lots of basic policies and customs for hiking that are rooted in courtesy and safety.  Spend time reading up on these in hiking books, blogs, and magazines.  For example, there are lots of do's and don't's when you are hiking on a trail with horses.  You always give them the right of way if they need to pass you.  You try to stand off on the side downhill and don't make any sudden moves so you don't spook them.  You try to find another trail so you don't have to hike in horse poop all day.  Those kinds of things.

Not familiar with "Leave No Trace" policies.

Generally, you pass on the left of the trail, and smaller groups tend to get right of way because they move faster.  When you stop for a break, move completely off the trail so other groups don't have to step over you.

Of course, don't litter on the trail.  Even sunflower seed shells, apple cores, and other "natural" trash is still trash that no one wants to see while they are out in the woods.

There are lots of other things to keep in mind while you are hiking and camping, which is why I highly encourage you to read some books about backpacking.  Here are few I recommend.  These are books we have read over and over, and they've been really helpful.


  Click here for Part 1 of this series.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Awesome Summer Play Dates for Young Children

I am very blessed to have such wonderful friends and family so close to me.  At the beginning of this year, I decided to try putting together a playgroup of friends and family members who could meet once a week or so and form a kind of support network.

It's been awesome.  The Facebook group that we have includes a whole bunch of people now!  Sometimes we have big groups and sometimes just a few people come, but we always have a great time.  We meet at people's houses or at public places.  Indoors and outdoors.  It's a great thing to look forward to every week, and it's low pressure, so if you can't make it, no big deal.  If you can, great!

I thought I'd share some of the fun things we've done recently, in case someone wanted to do some of them for their playgroup.

Splash Pad

Splash pads are a relatively new phenomenon, and I so wish they had thought of these back when I was a kid.  Basically, you get to play in fountains and have water dumped on your head.  It's all the fun of water without all the drowning and horrible sanitation issues we try not to think about in a public pool.

Ours also has a section for younger kids that doesn't dump water on their heads.  This is perfect for Cricket and her friends, who are just getting used to being splashed and investigating water.  Downside: ours won't let you bring any toys.  They even made us put away the little plastic cup she was using to catch water with, for some reason.  Upside: plenty of picnic areas for lunches and hanging out, plus it's right next to a park.


Swimming pools are a staple of summertime entertainment.  Our group is fortunate because we have several families who have their own pool or a neighborhood pool that we can visit.

It's great fun, especially in the Alabama heat, and the kids love it.

Berry Picking

We have done berry picking twice with our group.  At the beginning of the summer, we went strawberry picking.

It was really fun, the plants were low to the ground so they were accessible for the kids, and of course, everyone loved getting a bucket of berries!

In the middle of the summer, we went blueberry picking.

It was ok, but honestly, not as much fun this time around.  It was really hot by then and the bushes were much higher, so the kids had a hard time reaching them.  I'm still glad we went, but I would go first thing in the morning next time.

Pictured: An Unhappy Cricket
Backyard Fun

One of my favorite play dates was just having people over to the house.  We filled up the baby pool with water and balls.

We filled up another pool with cooked spaghetti, and of course, we had the water table and the swing.

We had a blast!  We didn't have a huge turn out because several families were out of town, but that just means we get to do it again soon!  The great thing about backyard playdates is that you can always go inside when you get tired or hot.

Art Museum

The Art Museum downtown has a great children's area.  It's big, it's air conditioned, and it's free, making it a great place to visit on super hot days (or rainy ones).  There were lots of things for the kids to do, from light tables to mask decoration to sensory displays.

They also had great books, puzzles, blocks, and computer games, including some games where you create a picture and then email it to yourself so you have a copy.  Here's one from Cricket and one of her friends:

Pretty cool, huh?

Children's Museum

We are so lucky to have such a great children's museum in our city.  It has a huge area just for kids 5 and under, where they can play in tunnels, use toys and books geared for their age, and even enjoy a huge water table!

They also have a big sea life exhibit, which the kiddos loved.

This one is a little pricier, but we used Groupons and there are coupons, memberships, and discounts floating around, too.


I think our group has canvased every park in a 25 mile radius.  Some are better than others, because of shade and fencing, but it's always fun to bring a picnic lunch and let the kids play.  Even the little ones love the swing.

Parks are usually a good middle point for people who live farther apart, and of course, they're free.

Library Activities

Just about every library has something going on for kids.  It's kind of their thing.  We have two or three libraries near us, and they all did great summer programs.

They did story times, crafts, puppet shows, jugglers, magic shows, reptile shows, and tons of other stuff.

It was geared for all different ages, so some of it we enjoyed more than others, but still, it was all free and it's in the air conditioning, which is all I need to hear on a 95 degree day!

Kids' Summer Movies

We actually didn't do this one, but it was always a back-up plan.  I haven't started letting Cricket watch television and movies yet, but once I do, the summer movies at the theater are gonna be a hit!  Most theaters have a program during the summer where they will show a recent kids' movie during the day for like, a dollar or two, sometimes even with a snack!  It's fun, easy, and cheap.  I like it.

Of course, we've done in-home playdates too, which are fun and very easy.  The kids love playing with toys that are new to them, and the little ones like Cricket are usually fascinated by watching the older ones.  Those are some of my favorite times, because we moms have a chance to actually talk, and let's be honest, that's really what these playgroups are all about, right?

Monday, August 26, 2013

An Awesome Mad Lib for Every DIY Project Ever

This is my 100th post!  Yay me!

To celebrate, I thought I'd do something fun and different, so here is a mad lib for your reading pleasure.

How to Be Awesome at DIY (Verb ending in -ing)

First, it is important that you get organized, so you'll need to assemble all your (plural household item) and get a few (plural unusual and more expensive nouns) from (favorite store).

Second, you need to prepare your work space.  Clean out your (room of the house) with plenty of area to set up your (noun).  This space now belongs to (same verb ending in -ing) so you will not be able to use it for regular (activities) again for a while.  Adjust life accordingly.

Now you are ready to begin.  Start by taking your (household item) and breaking it.  This is a crucial step.  If something doesn't break during your project, it didn't really happen.  Also, make sure that you lose at least one (noun) and that another (profane adjective) (noun) for some reason does not function as it should.  Since you don't have a (obscure noun), which is crucial to success, you will have to make do by using a (completely unrelated noun) and rigging it so it will (verb).  This will most likely result in an injury to your (body part).  Have first aid available.

At this point you will need to stop and chose one of the following:

  1. (Maternal verb) a crying baby.
  2. Answer your (technology).
  3. Take your toddler out of the (household storage area).
  4. Let the (animal) out and then back in.
  5. Cook (meal).
  6. Pick up (family member) from (location).
  7. Go buy more (small but important craft object).
  8. Clean (substance) off the (part of house).
  9. Watch (TV show involving crime).
  10. Throw the (noun) across the room in (emotion).
After you have regained your (state of mind), you are now ready to finish your project.  Make sure to check Pinterest (number) times to ensure that you are doing it (adverb).  Right around now, you should be realizing that you totally skipped step (number), and you will have to redo your (deity)-forsaken project.  You might think about giving up, but remember, with all the money you save by doing it yourself, you will be able to afford (Choose one:  anger management/ /therapy/ /burn treatments/ /supplies for the next project).

When you have finished, take lots of pictures and put them on (social media network) so that everyone will know how (adjective) you are.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor in your (room of the house) or better yet, give it as a gift for (holiday).

Bonus (nouns) if you brag about it on your blog!

I would love it if you posted your completed stories in the comments.  I may even let the person or persons with the most hilarious stories pick a future blog topic as a reward.

Have a (adjective) day.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Random Pinterest Awesomeness

Here are some things I found on Pinterest that either save money, help me organize, or save time.  It's kind of a random assortment, but it's stuff I've been wanting to share, so here you go.

1)  Make Your Own Foaming Handsoap

This is an awesome trick to learn.  Basically, the only thing special about foaming handsoap is the pump.  Inside, it's just diluted soap.  So you can refill the bottles you have or go buy one at the Dollar Tree and then just put in 1 part Castille soap or dish soap and 3 parts water.  I put a couple of drops of tea tree essential oil in there, too, for disinfecting.

2)  Dry Erase Menu Board

This was one of my first Pinterest projects ever, and I still use it.  Just get a cheap frame, put a piece of scrapbook paper or whatever else goes with your decoration in the frame, and use the glass as a whiteboard.  I started off using it as a memo board like in the picture, but now I use it as a weekly menu board so Brian and anyone coming over can see what's for dinner!

3)  Sticky Note Goal List

This is a cool idea, and very cheap to make.  It's just boxes drawn on a piece of cardstock that you can use to put goals or a check list or phone numbers or whatever.  It's really cute, and I added the checkmarks underneath so that when I finished something, I had a bigger sense of accomplishment.

4)  Italian Dressing Mix

I've made other mixes and condiments and talked about them before, but this was a new one.  It's powdered Italian dressing mix, that you can either add oil and a few other ingredients to if you want to actually make the dressing or, more likely, use as a seasoning blend for chicken in the crock pot or in any recipe that calls for dry Italian dressing mix.  Works great!

5)  Homemade Deoderizing Disks

This is a super easy way to make little cubes of baking soda that you can use in your drains, diaper pails, or any other place you need odor control.  You basically just make a paste of water and baking soda, as thick as possible, and then put it in ice cube trays or molds and leave it until it's completely dried out.  Then you put the cubes in a jar or bag and use them as needed.  They're awesome!

6)  Bib Storage

The original pin said to put a 3M hook on the back of the high chair to store bibs, but that only held a few, so we tied a piece of cord across the back and it holds all of them!  Very convenient!

7)  Plate Holders for Picture Albums

This is one of my favorite Pinterest ideas ever.  I love my Shutterfly albums, and this is a way I can display them where people can see them instead of on a shelf somewhere out of sight!  I even found a couple of multi-level ones at a flea market recently for just a few dollars!

8)  DIY Car Organizer

9)  Plastic Hanger Chip Clips

This is one of those "duh" ideas that I'm sad I didn't think of.  We never had enough clips for bags of chips, pretzels, or whatever else, but I refused to go pay actual money for something so simple.  Now, I just get Brian to cut up a couple of cheap Walmart skirt hangers and we have all the chip clips we need!

10) Orange Candle

This idea does not save me money or help me organize in any way, but it is super cool.  It took a couple of tries to get it right, but if you peel a clementine orange with enough of the white part sticking up in the middle and add just a little bit of olive oil, it really will burn like a candle for quite a while.  Very neat.

Anyway, this was just a random list of things I've been wanting to talk about but haven't found a great place to put them yet.  Pinterest is a never ending wealth of ideas, so I'm sure there will be more soon!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Hiking and Camping: Part 1

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  I receive a small percentage of any sales made from the links, but I am not otherwise compensated for my opinions.

I have been wanting to do a series about camping and backpacking, but it's such a huge subject I had trouble figuring out how to start.  But fall is in the air, and that makes me think of all the things I love about camping, so I've decided to just break it down into very small steps and tackle it a little at a time.  That's how we learned, so that's how I tell it.

First, I'll give you a little background.  Brian and I have been backpacking seriously, either together or separately, for about ten years.

We'd each done a little before then, but we really started to get serious about it when we got married.  Our first couple of trips were disasters.  We packed way too much stuff, brought all the wrong gear, froze at nights, and came home early and exhausted.

But for some reason, we kept at it.  We bought book after book, read magazines, joined online forums, and gradually, we got better at it.  We went on practice hikes to test our packing techniques.  We planned for weeks before each overnight trip to make sure we did it better than the last time.  We talked about it day and night for months.  We went alone.  We brought friends.  We learned.

We're now at a place where we are pretty confident in our abilities, although we are always learning and trying out new things.  Personally, I have come from being completely useless to being confident that if you put me in the woods alone with a pack, I could survive just fine for days.  That's a huge improvement!

That's me being totally hardcore right there.

Of course, we don't get to go as much as we used to because we have Cricket. Now we are learning a completely different kind of camping, which I'm sure I'll get to later.  For the moment, though, I am going to cover some of the basics of backpacking with just adults.

Packing is probably the most important part of backpacking, because it determines how well you will do everything else.  You have to get all the gear you need, make sure it doesn't break your back, and pack it in such a way that it is comfortable to hike with.  Our packs typically weight between 15 to 25 pounds before water.  (As a contrast, our packs on our first trip weighed over 50 pounds--each!)

You need to make a master list of what you are going to take in your pack.  Forgetting something is not an option when you're a day's hike or more from the nearest road.  This is not something you can just throw together on a whim.  As you think through your list, try to stick mostly with items that have multiple purposes, or that can be shared when possible.  No sense doubling up on weight.

I'm going to talk you through our master list, one section at a time.

       Walking Sticks
       Rain gear
       Camel Back Water Carrier

Most of these are pretty basic.  One important one is the walking stick or hiking pole.

Walking sticks are great for hiking rough terrain, but they're also good for setting up emergency shelters, making a tripod for hanging bags at the camp site, and about a dozen other uses.

Using hiking sticks to set up a tarp for a rain cover.

We have telescoping poles with carbon tips, and they're fantastic.  You don't need a super expensive one.  You're going to be stabbing it in the dirt repeatedly.

Rain gear is important, even if you're sure it's not going to rain.  Often, it rains even when it's not "supposed to," and even if it doesn't, it's nice to have something water proof if you're fording a river.  I use a rain jacket and Brian uses a poncho.  Ponchos also make great emergency shelters.

Camel Backs and other similar water carriers are the greatest.  

They let you drink while you hike, which keeps you from getting dehydrated, because you drink a lot more than if you had to stop and get out your canteen every time you felt thirsty.  We've also used ours as a makeshift refrigeration unit by putting ice in it and then packing lunch meat between the bladder and the outer casing, which kept it cold until our first meal.  They also spread out the water weight nicely which is an added bonus.

1st Aid
       1st aid kit
       ACE bandage
       Meds (check levels)

We have that note about the meds because it has definitely happened before that we've gotten out into the middle of no where and needed something from the first aid kit only to find out that we used all the Advil the last time we had the flu or whatever.  Always check.  Also, always have moleskin for blisters.  Always. 

Tent Gear
       Mosquito Net

Depending on the weather and where we are going, we really prefer to sleep in hammocks instead of a tent. 

 It's much more comfortable, lighter to pack, and faster to set up.  Plus, hammocks are just awesome.  

Me in my awesome hammock-burrito.

Only if it's really cold or if we have the baby with us do we use a tent anymore.  I'm kind of a sissy, though, so I prefer to hang a mosquito net above my hammock so that I don't wake up with a bug on my face.

Me sleeping in my hammock-burrito covered in mosquito net.

Brian is hardcore and doesn't seem to mind bugs on his face.  

       Tooth Paste (travel size)
       Garbage bags
       Wet wipes
       Camp towels
       Hand sanitizer
       Wash cloth

Of course, your hygiene kit will probably be different from ours, but make sure you have the basics.  I keep floss on the list because, in addition to its obvious use, it is great as an emergency string since it's pretty strong.  Camp towels also have amazing uses, because they are super absorbent, which came in really handy that time it rained for three days straight and we found out the hard way that our tent was not as water proof as we might have hoped.

Garbage bags are great because they don't weigh anything, pack very small, and can be used for emergency rain protection for your stuff if necessary.

Small bottles of hand sanitizer are awesome for staying healthy in the woods.  We keep one in a Ziploc with our toilet paper, so it's always there when you need it.

       Water purifier
       Water carriers

Light My Fire sells awesome sporknives that have everything you need for cooking and eating all in one utensil.  

We always carry a water purification method and a back up: usually a Nalgene water purification bottle and our back up is boiling water.  We also always have at least three ways of starting a fire, in case the others don't work.  

That means typically carrying matches, a lighter, and a fire steel kit.  Water carriers include my Nalgene and Brian's army canteen.  I always bring a few extra Ziplocks, too, for packing out trash or as an emergency water carrier.

Our stove is just a tiny little contraption that screws onto a canister of fuel so you can set a pot on it.  

Very basic, but it does everything we need.  I can make muffins, and even pizza on that bad boy!  (More on camp food later.)

       Duct tape
       Bug Spray
       Pocket knives
       Sewing Kit
       Safety pins

Our rule is that everyone carries a pocket knife and a whistle on their person at all times. (We use a combination whistle/compass/magnifying glass.)  Whistles are great because you can blow a whistle a lot longer than you can scream, so in an emergency, they are handy to have.  We carry them on our person because you don't usually take your backpack with you when you go to the bathroom, and that's when you're most likely to get lost or get into trouble by yourself.  

A pair of heat-proof gloves are amazing to have for cooking, keeping hands warm, and protecting them from injury.  

Pictured:  Brian's gloves, doing all of the above.
A book is not necessary, but we usually bring our paperback copy of Robin Hood because it's awesome to read around the campfire.

We use headlamps for flashlights because they free up your hands.  You can get them cheap at Walmart.  Oh, and wrap some duct tape around your hiking stick, whistle, pencil, and bug spray container so you don't have to take the whole roll with you.

       2 shirts each
       2 pants each
       Camp shoes
       Hair Bands
       Long sleeve shirts

Obviously the clothes you pack are going to depend on the weather and conditions of the place you are going, but actually, this tends to be a pretty good list.  Even when it's chilly during the day, short sleeves are good for hiking, and even when it's hot during the day, a long sleeve shirt is usually good for evenings and sleeping.  I like the off-brand Under Armor long sleeve shirt that I can wear under my camp shirt at night.

We usually take one pair of hiking clothes and one pair of camp clothes.  That way, your hiking clothes are dirty and covered with bug spray, and you can hang out at camp in clothes that are cleaner and more comfortable.  We also change into camp shoes because it gives your feet a break from your hiking boots, it's easier on the campsite, and they are easier to slip on and off.  Also, zip-off pants/shorts are a great space and weight saver.

We also typically each take a pair of shoe covers from Brian's work.  That way we can cover our boots before we put them in the tent and they don't get so dirty.  When we're hiking, we put the covers on our camp shoes, protecting our packs.

Bandannas are another very multi-purpose handy thing to keep around.  You can cover your head with them, use them as pot holders, cleaning rags, washcloths, etc.  The list goes on and on.

10 Pc. Kit
       Folding saw
       Fire steel
       Cook set

The ten piece kit is Brian's thing.  It's supposed to contain everything he needs for survival.  (My idea of survival and his are very different, obviously.)  If you're interested in it, check out his videos on his YouTube channel.  He has a whole survivalist-type deal going on over there with lots of cool stuff.

Trail Bag

A trail bag isn't really a separate packing list.  It's an alternate method of carrying what you need to get to easily while hiking.  Your pack is big and strategically packed, and it can take a while to get in and out of it.  We use army ammo bags like the one in the picture up there about clothing.  It weighs almost nothing, and it's the perfect size for carrying trail mix, a knife, a compass, a bandanna, a headlamp, and a few other things you always want to be able to get to quickly.

Of course, we also pack food and water, but that's a post for a later time.  This is our general list, and we modify it depending on the weather, time of year, if we're using hammocks or tents, and where we're going.  Also, remember this is our list for two people, and we divide it up.  If you're going solo, it's going to be completely different.

What kind of things do you pack when you go hiking?  Anything different than what's on this list?

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Sensory Play: Mashed Potato Paint

As Cricket has become more comfortable with different textures and sensory experiences, I've been trying some new things.  Last week I talked about how much she loved playing with the dry mashed potato flakes.  I saved them when she was finished, and that night, I tried making mashed potato paint!

All you do is add water to the potato flakes until they are whatever consistency you want.  If you want them to be able to paint with a brush, you would use more water than I did.  I wanted these to be more like finger paints.  Since we did this on July 5th, I was still in a patriotic mood, so I decided to dye them red, white, and blue.  Just a few drops of food coloring for the red and blue was all I needed.  

Of course, we did this in the tub since it was messy.  She did not dive in as quickly as she did with the dry flakes.

As a matter of fact, she was pretty skeptical of the whole thing.  Brian and I thought it was fun though.  It's a fun texture.

She did finally discover that she liked putting her feet into it.

She didn't mind when we put some on her, but she didn't do it voluntarily. 

You see that face?  That is the face of strained tolerance.

I think she was entertained watching us play with it more than anything.

Clean up was a breeze.  We just put as much of it as we could back in the bowls and then rinsed the rest off.  I think she will enjoy this one more when she is older, but it was at least another exposure to different sensory textures, smells, and colors, so I call it a win!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Awesome Things to Bring to Someone in the Hospital

Recently, I was in the hospital for four nights, quite unexpectedly.  I'm fine now, thank you, but it was quite an ordeal at the time, especially because we were trying to get everything together for us and for Cricket, who stayed with wonderful family members while I was away.

We had several friends and family who helped us during those days, and they brought us wonderful supplies that really truly helped us get through that time.  Just having someone bring a bag of goodies to open is itself a big mood-lifter when your life becomes so routine and predictable on a hospital schedule.

This post is a collaboration between me and all the people who brought me awesome stuff.  I especially got tons of ideas from my friend Michelle Glenn, who literally came up with most of the stuff in this list.  She's awesome.

Fresh Fruit

Hospital food is gross.  Everyone knows this.  It's like the food from your middle school cafeteria, if it were put on a tray and driven around a building full of people with contagious diseases for an hour.  It's gross.

One of the things I noticed most was the lack of fresh food available.  A fruit basket or even just a container of fresh cut fruit from Publix is a welcome change from the cube steak and gravy that they serve at every other meal.  Of course, if someone is in the hospital, they might be on dietary restrictions, so check that out first, but it would at least be a welcome gift for family members staying with them.


Small things like ChapStick and lotion can mean a world of difference when you have tubes in your arm and a nurse waking you up every two hours to check your blood pressure.  Facial cleansing cloths would also be awesome for a girl.  Guys probably wouldn't care.  Also check to see if they need baby wipes and dry shampoo if they can't take a shower,  or toothbrushes, etc.

Comfort Items

Try adding earplugs, an eye mask, and warm fuzzy socks to make sleeping in a hospital much more bearable.  House shoes are great too, because no one ever wants to walk barefoot in a room where someone probably died.  Snuggies are a great way to stay comfy and warm while still having access to IV's.  If they're allowed to wear real clothes and not just the half-yard of fabric and twine that they call a "gown," an extra large t-shirt is comfortable and makes you feel more like a human being.


If you know what kind of books they like, you can't go wrong.  One important thing to remember about bringing people things in the hospital is that usually the recovery doesn't end when they go home.  They will probably not be back to 100% for a while, so a book will come in handy, if not at the hospital, then down the road.  It's not like they go bad.


Entertainment is hard to come by in hospitals.  Usually, once you feel good enough to be aware of your surroundings, you start to realize how crappy it is to be cooped up in a tiny room with nothing but basic cable to entertain you.  Magazines and crossword/sudoku/puzzle books are awesome.  Cards, Bananagrams, or other simple games work, too.  Make sure to bring pencils, if needed!

Coloring Books and Crayons

Again, probably most guys, and maybe most girls, wouldn't like this, but I think that coloring books are a great anti-stress activity.  It's mindless enough that you don't really have to concentrate to do it, but you get to use pretty colors and you have something you can show off when you finish.  I colored like, five pages in one day when I was there.

Food for Significant Others

This is a huge one.  Hospitals have to provide food for the patient, but not for anyone else.  That means spouses, parents, or whoever is staying with them has to fend for themselves, either by leaving the hospital, which they probably don't want to do for fear of leaving their loved one, or by eating at the hospital cafeteria which is, as I mentioned above, gross and also ridiculously expensive.  Home-cooked meals are of course awesome, but even just getting fast food or takeout is a blessing for someone who needs to keep their focus on the patient.  Also, things like muffins, drinks, trail mix, and other snacks that can be eaten any time of day are a great idea.

Snacks for the Patient

Again, you have to check what kind of dietary restrictions they are on, but if they are on a regular diet, bring on the snacks!  Cupcakes make everyone happy, and salty snacks like crackers or pretzels are a good balance to that.  Peanut butter crackers and granola bars are great because they can substitute for a meal in a pinch or a snack when you need it.  (Check about allergies.)  Also, the only drinks they serve, at least at my hospital, are Coke, Sprite, and Diet Coke, so Gatorade, Dr. Pepper, Lemonade or whatever else you think they like would probably be welcome.


I know cut flowers are everyone's first thought, and they are awesome, especially to brighten up a dreary day, but one of my friends brought me a small potted plant with some cool purple flowers, and I loved it.  I didn't have to clean it up when it died, or figure out how to transport a vase full of water home.  My potted plant sat in the floorboard, and now it has a lovely home in my kitchen.

Gift Cards

I had several friends give us gift cards, and it was so awesome.  For one, being in the hospital is expensive, and since the spouse has to eat out at every meal, gift cards are a welcome relief.  Plus, remember that even after they go home, they will still probably not feel like cooking right away.  I even had one friend email a gift card for pizza from across the country!  How sweet is that?!  Another friend asked if I wanted a gift card for my Kindle or iTunes, which I thought was a great idea.   A new book or some new music is guaranteed to cheer anyone up!

Portable Electronics

One of my saving graces in the hospital was having my e-reader that could access the Internet, so I could still feel connected to my friends and family.  After a day or so, I borrowed an iPad, and that was even better, because I could also Skype with Cricket, whom I was missing so dearly, and watch Netflix when I gave up yet again trying to find something to watch on television.  If you know your friend doesn't have a laptop or iPad, that would be an awesome thing to let them borrow while they're there.  An iPod with music is cool, too.  Even just a portable DVD player and some DVD's would be much appreciated.

I hope that you never need this list and that all of your loved ones stay happy and healthy, but if you do need to make a goody bag for someone, I hope this helps you think of some unusual and helpful things to give them.