Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tips on Fun Hiking with Kids

Really, you ask yourself, is hiking with kids even possible to be fun?  You picture your child whining and complaining for miles, or having to drag/carry 40 pounds of deadweight kid all the way back to the car, and realize that you would rather see every sight from your car for the next 10 years or even go without coffee for two weeks rather than attempt a hike with children.

It doesn't have to be this way.  You can tackle real trails and even some distances with your family - you just have to know how to go about it.  Hiking together can be the highlight of your next family vacation.

Do I have any credentials for writing a post like this?  Yes.  I recently completed a 12.5 mile day hike up a mountain in bear country with my 9-year-old, and it was a joy.  She never complained and was tougher than I was.  My 4-year-old hikes 3 miles with ease and 4-5 miles with encouragement and games, most recently finishing 4.5 miles in the rain.  This is not because I carry her.  I confess I am weak and lazy, so my children have been hoofing it on their own since they could walk.  You, too, can train your children to do this.

First, the basics: Put your children in proper shoes.  I hate passing children in flip-flops on trails.  Make sure they are dressed right for the weather and have sunscreen and mosquito spray as needed.   Pack snacks and water, and don't plan a hike during naptime. 

Next, the distractions: Talk about everything you see as you trudge along.  Is a bird making a funny noise?  Are there deer tracks in the mud?  Is the sun reflecting off the lake in a beautiful way? 

Add in theoretical distractions when these run out: Does your child think there will be a bear over the next hill?  How many streams will cross the path in the next mile?  What would we do if a chipmunk followed us back to the tent?  Discussions like these can take you a quarter-mile without even realizing it.

Pass out some snacks.  Trail mix or granola bars lend a quick burst of energy.  Sucking on fruit snacks makes them last longer.  My children take forever to eat an apple that has not been cut up for them, and are so distracted by it that they forget they are still hiking.

Take turns being the leader.  A new family member setting the pace and breaking the trail adds variety, and children usually get an extra burst of energy when it is their turn.

When your child begins to flag, break out one or more of these strategies:
  • Fly like an airplane as you walk.  Seriously.  Toddlers love it.  So do any hikers you pass going the other way. 
  • Play hide-and-go-seek (on safe trails only).  If you can see ahead of you on the path, allow your child to run ahead of you and hide.  Of course, it doesn't matter if your child simply sits on the side and covers her eyes.  The fun of the game is you walking along behind, wondering where your child could have gone and hoping aloud that they are up ahead somewhere. 
  • Compete with each other.  On the way back, send the slowest hiker ahead with an adult while the others keep exploring the destination.  Set incremental goals to reach before the others catch up: Can we make it to the big rock?  The berry bushes?  The waterfall?  My youngest and I recently beat the others 1.5 miles back to the car using this strategy, and we had fun the whole way. 
  • Try a story hike.  Walk in a single file line.  Whoever is in front must begin telling a story.  After a sentence or two, they fade to the end of the line, and the new leader must continue the story.  When this gets boring, stop taking turns.  Let whoever wants race to the front to be the next storyteller.  
  • Sing songs.  "The Ants Go Marching One by One" takes forever and sets a nice pace.  (Singing is also helpful when you need to make constant noise to scare away wild animals.) 
  • Pretend you are someone else.  My family and I recently pretended we were Legolas and the dwarves chasing down orcs in the Lord of the Rings.  It might have been nerdy, but it entertained us for a mile and a half.  If your child is into superheroes, this should be easy for you. 
  • Play tag.  Walk in pairs.  The leading pair gets to decide when to run ahead and hide on the side of the trail.  When the next pair walks by, they get to yell, "Tag!  You're It!"  After playing this for half a mile or so, we started playing Silly Tag and adding in animal sounds, songs, etc.  Switch partners and keep playing.  This game got old for the adults, but the kids lasted over two miles in the rain! 
Finally, have fun and enjoy yourself!  Hiking now sets a lifelong example for your children of exploring nature, enjoying physical activity, building toughness and endurance, and treasuring time with family.  Where will your hikes take you next?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Back to Work!

Our family is making some big changes this fall: Amelie is going to all-day preschool and I'm going back to work full-time!  We are all very excited about this.  For those of you who are interested, I will share all the details and the many ways we have seen God working in this change - that was by far the most exciting part.  If you're not interested, that's the main idea. :)  You can stop reading if you want!

I have stayed at home since Elizabeth was born 8 years ago.  I went back to work part-time to open a preschool and teach for a year and half when Elizabeth was old enough for preschool, then quit again when Amelie was born.  For the past almost 2 years, I have cared for a little boy in our home during the week. 

As fall neared, I started feeling led by God to look for a preschool teaching position.  Because of His provision, I was able to be picky and only accept a perfect spot.  What a privilege to look for a job when you don't desperately need it!  Isaac and I prayed hard about it, and set some guidelines for what we felt would be worth me returning to work full-time.  The most important of these was that Amelie would be able to come with me.

The first day I looked for jobs, I found that my old job at Children's House Montessori was hiring!  It seemed perfect and familiar, and would be a wonderful experience for Amelie.  I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job.  However, its salary (minus tuition for Amelie) did not meet the guidelines we felt God had given us for the job.  With prayer and
some regret, I declined the position.  I am willing to do whatever God is calling me to, but I do not want to do anything - especially a change as big as this - if He is not leading me.  Although in a practical sense, this position was perfect, I felt peace that turning it down was right. 

Less than two weeks later, I saw a job opening at Elim Preschool, a church preschool in Northeast Minneapolis, that looked like a possibility.  I sent in my resume, and an hour later I got an email from the director describing the position and asking me to come in for an interview.  Her description of the position was amazing - its requirements matched my experience and passions perfectly.  The job would be mostly teaching preschool, but included daily time to prep for my classes and help prepare the preschool for a voluntary NAEYC accreditation that is more stringent and demanding than the regular licensing rules.  Details and planning like that are right up my alley!

I researched the preschool, church, and NAEYC standards that evening, and became even more excited.  The next morning, I went in for an interview.  I got there early enough to sit in the car and pray and worship before going in.  I felt peace and confidence and God's presence.  (Later, in the director's office, a song that I had sung in the car was playing quietly in the background.)

Meeting the director and touring the facilities felt like coming home.  The building and resources are amazing!  I have one of the three classrooms.  My classes will be small enough that I don't need an aide.  There are also a lunchroom, a kitchen for cooking activities, an indoor space for riding trikes, a separate nap room, a huge indoor playground with large motor activities, and a gorgeous park and playground right across the street. 

Elim is truly a community preschool, drawing diverse students from the neighborhood.  Many of its families speak Spanish or other languages, and many of them do not have churches of their own.  This is the preschool I tried to open through our church but didn't have the infrastructure or the size to support.  This is my preschool dream.  It is not just a job, but a ministry and a calling. 

I was offered the job on the spot, and accepted it only hours later after praying more and talking with Isaac.  It was 24 hours from seeing the job opening to hiring.  I won't share all the details of the short negotiation, but please know that we saw God work in every detail - even to the point of Isaac and I sending an email asking for something, and receiving an email that volunteered even more - crossed in the mail!  I received everything from our God-given guidelines and more.  The director even knew I would want Amelie in my class without asking.

This preschool follows a school-year schedule instead of a childcare schedule, meaning that I have 15 more weeks of vacation during the year than I would have at CHM.  I will get to spend summers with Elizabeth, and will be home by 5:00.  Isaac and my mom will take care of Elizabeth after school until I get home, and will cover care for the girls when the school calendars don't match up.  I start preparing my classroom and training the day after Labor Day, and the children start classes a week later.

I am clearly excited about the job, but even more exciting was that God really did speak and lead us.  We really did hear His voice, and His plan was better than anything we could come up with.  I am so thrilled and encouraged to follow a God who cares about my life and leads me to what is best.  What a burden relieved, to not have to do it all myself!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

No Small Ambitions

When Elizabeth grows up, she plans to be a teacher, a President, a writer, an Olympian, and a reader.  She wants to teach first grade, but she doesn't know if she will go to the Olympics as a runner, swimmer, or tennis player.

Amelie will "be a grown-up and have kids and be a teacher and a draw-er and teach a Sunday School."

I'm going to have some busy daughters, but I think I'll be proud no matter what!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Adult Fiction Book Recommendations

I'm embarrassed by how long it has been since my last post.  However, no use bemoaning my fickleness - might as well move on and pretend I wasn't so unfaithful in my blogging.  

So.  Moving right along.

I have been asked for more book recommendations, and have prepared a list of my favorite adult fiction reads over the past half-year or so.  I gave all of these a 5/5.
  • Bohjalian, Chris. The Law of Similars. A prosecutor finds himself tangled in a relationship with a homeopath he is supposed to prosecute. I love the characters and ethical situations in Bohjalian's novels.
  • Castillo, Linda. Sworn to Silence. An Amish police chief investigates a serial killer that intersects with a crime in her past. A little gruesome, if you like that sort of thing, but interesting insights into Amish culture. The next book featuring this protagonist is also very good.
  • Child, Lee. The Affair. Jack Reacher's final case before leaving the army. Everyone should read the Reacher books – everyone.
  • de Rosnay, Tatiana. Sarah's Key. A young girl's experience with the French Vel' d'Hiv' Jewish round-up is interwoven with the journalistic investigation of an American woman living in France. Sad.
  • Groff, Lauren. Arcadia. A sensitive boy is raised in a hippie commune. Lyrical and sparse, told from the boy's point of view as he ages.
  • Gruen, Sara. Water for Elephants. Romance at a circus in the 1920s. I put off reading this popular book because it didn't sound interesting, but it was wonderful.
  • Haigh, Jennifer. Faith. A novel in which the family of a priest accused of child abuse reacts to and investigates the charges. Authentic characters and fair treatment of all sides.
  • Halverson, Sere Prince. The Underside of Joy. A stepmother is suddenly widowed and fights the birthmother for custody of her children. Beautiful writing with good characterization. Portrays both sides of the story well.
  • Harrington, Laura. Alice Bliss. A young girl and her family continue life after her father is deployed to Iraq.
  • Jordan, Hillary. When She Woke. A re-telling of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter set in the future, when criminals are turned red and shamed. (You don't have to know or love classic literature to like this book.)
  • Kent, Kathleen. The Heretic's Daughter. In this novel set near Salem during the Puritan witch trials and smallpox plague, a family lives under increasing suspicion and must make difficult choices. Based on a true story and written by a direct descendant of the character Martha Carrier.
  • Kraus, Nicola and Emma McLoughlin. Dedication. The high school girlfriend of a now-famous recording artist plots her revenge and has the opportunity to get back together with him. Satisfying ending.
  • Lupton, Rosamund. Sister. An American woman returns to England to investigate her sister's murder. Told in police interviews with a surprise ending.  I do love a good surprise ending.
  • MacDonald, Patricia. Missing Child. A 6-year-old boy is kidnapped after his stepmother drops him off at school, and the family is suspected.
  • Maynard, Joyce. The Good Daughters. Two “birthday sisters” grow up and experience life, discovering how their families are connected.
  • McGhee, Alison. Shadow Baby. A precocious child attaches herself to an older immigrant as she seeks her family's history. It was fun to read this adult novel from a beloved children's author.
  • Min, Anchee. Pearl of China. Willow, a Chinese girl, grows up with missionary child Pearl (later Pearl S. Buck) and defends her through adulthood to communist China (a novel based on a true story).
  • Parkhurst, Carolyn. The Nobodies Album. An author reunites with her estranged rockstar son after he is accused of murder. Fascinating connections between author's life and text.
  • Patchett, Ann. State of Wonder. A medical researcher travels to the Amazon to find her missing co-worker and discovers his work and love for the natives.
  • Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. A rural priest looks for his son in Johannesburg; a hopeful book about apartheid in South Africa.
  • Picoult, Jodi. Lone Wolf. A wolf researcher is in a coma as his family decides how to proceed. Every Picoult novel is well-researched with real, heartbreaking characters.
  • Preston, Douglas and Lincoln Child. Gideon's Corpse. Gideon Crewe works against the government to solve a nuclear terrorist threat. I believe one other book precedes this new series.
  • Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie Nolan comes of age in Brooklyn – a classic with powerful characters. This is a classic for a good reason.
  • Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. A laborer in 1930's California protects his gentle giant friend. An old, thin book, but a goodie.
  • Watson, S.J. Before I Go to Sleep. A woman with amnesia keeps a journal of what little she remembers and discovers things are not what she has been told. Excellent psychological suspense. I will definitely look for this author's next book.
  • Wilhelm, Kate. The Good Children. Four siblings cover up the death of their mother and must risk exposure to for the mental health of the youngest. Nice mystery until the end.
  • Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. A short study on a diverse, working-class family. Classic for a reason.
  • Verghese, Abraham. Cutting for Stone. Twin Indian boys come of age in Ethiopia, having been adopted into a medical family. Beautiful writing about relationships and Ethiopian culture.
  Happy reading!  Feel free to leave me comments about what I should add to my book list.  I love new ideas.
Soon to come: my recommendations for adult nonfiction and young adult fiction.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sometimes You Like Being Little

As I cuddled with Amelie after she woke up from nap, I said, "You're my bunny rabbit."

She giggled. "No!"

"You're my baby duck."


Switching into embarrassing, high-pitched baby talk, I said, "You're my boo-boo-doo-boo-baby."

Amelie's face lit up with joy. "Yes! That's what I am!"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

In Desperate Need of Adult Conversation

This morning, I ran to the Como Zoo with Amelie and Grant in the double stroller. It's a nice, short run - only about 3.5 miles roundtrip - and very hilly. For your reading pleasure, I have copied down an actual excerpt of my conversation during that run. If it's late at night, you may want to save it until morning; it's pretty scintillating.

Me: "Ooh, look at the fire truck... Yes, school bus... Mm-hmm, a black puppy... Honey, I have to slow down, it's a really big hill... I'll wipe your nose as soon as we get there... An excavator!... I don't know why... About one more mile... See the big truck?..."

Yep, that's my life. Add some panting, sweating, and a few runny noses, and you can feel like you're right there.

No wonder I've been going through the Bible and my to-read list so quickly. I am in desperate need of words with more than two syllables.

P.S. Don't take this post to mean that I don't enjoy kid conversation. In fact, the highlight of my morning was when I asked Grant what the tiger says. Without missing a beat, he said, "Hi!"

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Fears

Amelie is working through a host of new fears. Usually pretty fearless (except when it comes to separating from Mommy at church), this is unusual for her even though it's a common stage at her age.

It started a few nights ago when she and Elizabeth and my mom were playing "Rain," one of Elizabeth's favorite games from years ago. In it, Elizabeth and my mom act out a real storm they got caught in while on a walk. Elizabeth was having a fantastic time replaying it, but Amelie (who at age 3 1/2 probably doesn't even remember a real storm) was too scared to enjoy it. Discussing it later, Mom and I remembered that Elizabeth originally begged to act it out over and over again to work through her own fears of that night.

Then today, we ran into new fear after new fear. At the library today, the loudspeaker announced that the library would close in half an hour. Amelie freaked out, sobbing wildly, petrified that we would be stuck in the library.

While reading about the Easter story this afternoon, we had talked about the earthquake that rocked Jerusalem when Jesus died. Amelie remembered that at bedtime, and I had to reassure her that there are no earthquakes in Minnesota.

Then (while she was supposed to be sleeping) she looked out the window and saw a bug and got all upset. I went in to kill the bug, and found it was on the other side of the glass.

And yet, this fearful child is my fearless girl who shoots down twisty slides at the park, balances precariously on walls and furniture, runs headlong down hills, and laughs when hit in the face with a ball.

It's an interesting age.

I wonder how many things I waste time and energy worrying about when the whole time, God knows that they won't hurt me and will never happen. May I be as patient with Amelie's fears as He is with mine.