Please Stop Teaching Your Kids to Kill Bugs

This post is gonna be one of the more preachy ones out there, and I promise you, I come from the exact same squeamish place you do when it comes to insects. Ladybugs are adorable, cock roaches come straight from hell. Ticks cause disease, fleas are annoying… you get the picture.

So I’m no entomologist and I’m not about to go letting a bunch of icky looking bugs crawl around on my hand for fun, but there’s a major lesson here: STOP IT WITH THE BUG MURDER!

Yes, it’s all fun and games when people share Facebook memes screaming “kill it with fire” whenever you see a spider, but the reality is, those bugs (yes, even the ugly ones) are a vital part of our ecosystem. Spiders catch and kill nasty bugs. Don’t like mosquitoes? Stop killing bugs (and birds, by depleting their food supply and spraying insecticides). It’s that simple.

Again, I’m not letting roaches take up residence in my kitchen cabinets, but when we’re outside, we just invaded their space. And there’s nothing sadder than watching a person–especially a child who’s been taught to be aggressive towards these food web contributors instead of curious about them–use his exponentially more powerful physical might to destroy a tiny creature who has no idea what it did wrong.

So what should you teach your kids about bugs? Something along the lines of, “Hey! Look at those little hairs on his legs! Wow, I’ve never seen one up close before, you can actually see all his eyes! Here, use this app on my phone to figure out what kind it is!” Then explain why we shouldn’t grab it if we don’t know what it is, but that we certainly can’t kill it because it’s an important part of the food chain.

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When Disaster Strikes

I’ve posted before about being prepared for emergencies. Sometimes, those emergencies involve having to get out of town. Whether it’s an emergency like “oh my gosh my friend just called and can’t use her concert tickets in the next state, let’s go!” or “oh god, my mom just called and my dad had a heart attack,” you need to be prepared to get a move on and be able to live comfortably, for no matter how long you’ll be gone.

I’m not gonna lie: I woke up to the news that something very scary had happened in politics. I’m literally afraid of what the next few weeks and months are going to bring. I’m not an idiot, I’m not afraid of the actual office of the President because there are checks and balances and a Constitution to abide by (no matter how much many politicians want to pretend that’s not true). But I am very afraid of what’s going to happen among the more rabid followers who see the election as license to act on the hatred that fueled them throughout these past months–on both sides of the aisle, mind you.

So I’m writing this from the safety of the woods! My kids and I took a mental health day and we’re enjoying nature, while there’s still any left (sorry, couldn’t resist taking a stab at one party’s views on the environment!). We’re avoiding social media, we’re staying away from the people who are boasting, we’re avoiding the people who are only going to get louder in their outcries and arguments. We’re resting peacefully in wilderness while the rest of the world burns, all because we keep our gear ready to go at all times.

Before you start to wonder just how unstable I might be–and I’ve had to swear before that I’m not a deranged prepper!–the real lesson here is being ready for any possible scenario. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world, it just means being able to get your act together and do something that you need to do. Again, it could be that once-in-a-lifetime trip to see something amazing, or it could be a family crisis that requires you to drop everything and go far from home. Preparedness is the thing that makes those situations possible.

 

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Fall Is Here! Don’t Pack that Gear Just Yet!

If you’ve been following this blog, you probably get the impression that camping and outdoors activities are summertime events. And yes, they are certainly a lot easier to pull off when you don’t have to work around school schedules, football practice, dance class, etc. But I urge you not to overlook the super cool fun there is to be had at this time of year, especially now that the weather is cooling off a little and the bugs are starting to get lethargic.

Fun fact: Did you know mosquitoes supposedly can’t flap their wings if the temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit? Wrap up in your sleeping bag and enjoy a bug-free evening!

But one of the things that kills camping and other activities for parents right now is the packing and the driving and the setting up…only to tear it all down just two days later and race home to get ready for school. And that’s assuming you even had a completely free weekend to do something.

So one of the best things to do at this time of year is the day excursion. Whether it’s hiking, going mountain biking, star gazing, geocaching, canoeing or kayaking if you live somewhere still warm to enough to risk a dunk in the river…whatever you do, a day trip is perfect.

But don’t give up on the opportunities for a day trip that happens to take place at night! Here’s a really fun option that will take your outdoors fun to a limited level, but after sunset.

  1. Pick up the kids from school and hit the road (nothing wrong with dropping the backpacks and lunchboxes at the house first, or even waiting for other family members to get off work).
  2. Pack a portable grill and a cooler filled with dinner ingredients. Check out this easy to make fire pot for hot dogs and marshmallows if you don’t have a grill, or invest in a small charcoal or propane grill, which should run a price spectrum of between $15 and $100.
  3. Find a safe and legal spot to set up lawn chairs, spread out the blanket, cook some dinner, and even roast some marshmallows.
  4. Enjoy the evening! Use an app like Google Starwalk to help you guys pick out different stars and planets, bring along some games or a frisbee, whatever. Just get your kids out there and enjoy!

And if it’s not all that chilly where you live, don’t forget your Bug Off Jar and some peppermint oil to keep those noseeums at bay.

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DIY Gear: Portable Fire Pot

The great thing about the outdoors is that you can have a lot of fun on a strict budget. We often rely on camping and other outdoors activities when the money just isn’t there for a trip to Disneyworld, but we still want to do something fun.

Unfortunately, you can break the bank on outdoors gear, much of it stuff that you will never, ever need. I’m sorry, but no one short of an Everest expedition guide needs a $500 sleeping bag or a $1000 tent. Even better, for most of your family’s adventures, you don’t even need a $100 sleeping bag (yet!).

There are some really great life hacks that I like to file under DIY Gear, and this Fire Pot is no exception. It’s nothing more than a terra cotta pot, some tinfoil, and some charcoal or wood pieces, but it’s the perfect size for a small fire to roast a few hotdogs or marshmallows. It’s also a nice little personal fire pit, so you can enjoy the night sky with a flickering glow.

WARNING: I know this might sound like common sense, but it’s really not. Why? Because of websites where items like this are photographed badly. I happen to know someone who blogged about this very fire pot, and how it burned a hole straight through her deck. She’d seen the picture on Pinterest, and in the photo, there were people holding these little pots while they burned. She knew it would get warm, but not warm enough to char wood. Eventually, this woman’s story was actually featured on Pinterest Fail. Check it out.

Once you’re done with your fire pot, it will still be hot! You can pour water or sand over the burning coals to put them out, but make sure you’re exercising all fire safety precautions for putting it out. Don’t just dump your coals on the ground, or you’ll be reading about the forest fire you caused in the following day’s newspaper. You also need a sturdy box to transport it back home in, and some kind of pot holder or glove to pick it up with.

NOTE: If you took your fire pot to a nice little picnic spot, DO NOT CARRY IT HOME INSIDE YOUR CAR WITH THE COALS IN IT. You run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning! Plan your excursion to leave you plenty of time to put out the coals safely and let the pot cool off before returning it to your vehicle in its sturdy cardboard box.

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There Are Always Chores, Even in the Woods

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Ah, the great outdoors. It’s wonderful. Spending time with your family in the bounty of nature is truly one of the best things in life. Too bad it sucks so awfully to pack up the car, set up your campsite, take down your campsite, reload the car, then put all the crap away when you get home.

There are ways to make all of that packing and unpacking less painful, but those are for another blog post. This post about is an often-overlooked aspect of spending time in the outdoors: basic, regular, everyday chores.

Chores actually can happen at any type of outdoor activity, but for this post, I’m focusing on camping. The kids and I have been on three multi-day camping trips since school let out in May, and only one of them was actually just for the purpose of going and having fun. The other two were functional; we had somewhere we had to be, and camping was the cheapest, most fun option.

My oldest recently attended a super-cool dance intensive at a university a few hours away. It was pretty pricey, but absolutely worth it. The only thing is, it didn’t include room and board. That meant she had to stay somewhere, so we camped. Yup, my kid was the one who had to camp every night, then get up at the crack of dawn to go dance for ten hours, then do it all again the next day. That’s because a campsite at the state park costs $34 a night, and a hotel in that town is over $100 a night.

So, camping it is! But that also meant six days’ worth of meals, showers, and (ugh) laundry. Kiddo had to wear several different dance outfits each day for the different types of classes she would be taking, andĀ  I had to have a way to wash the sweaty dance clothes.

Well…THIS is how you wash clothes in the woods! There are several different methods, all based on how long you’ll be gone and how often you plan to stay in the woods for an extended period of time. You also have to consider your gear, and how much room you’ll have to bring a washing system.

One of the most popular and most effective washing methods involves a five-gallon bucket with a snap-on lid, a toilet plunger (new, please!), and a hole drilled in the lid for the plunger to fit through. This method will remind you a lot of churning butter. However, this method also means carrying a five-gallon bucket with you; if you can use that bucket for some kind of storage or as a stool or a table when it’s not a washing machine, that might be okay. But we already had to bring gear and food to camp for six days, so an extra bucket wasn’t really in our space allotment.

This method is for a much smaller stash of laundry, like leotards and dance tights. If you’re not dragging a future Broadway dancer with you on your camping trip, this method would also be perfect for making sure you have two clothing essentials: clean socks and clean panties. You can actually wear a t-shirt until the smell frightens away woodland creatures, but socks and panties really need to be clean for optimal health. You can wash your socks and undies with this method.

NOTE: I know some readers will ask why I didn’t just go into town and use a laundromat, and I want to say that on our first long-stay trip this summer, that’s exactly what I did; we spent eight days camping, so I went over to the state park’s wash room and popped in some quarters one morning. But on this trip, those dance clothes had to be washed every night. Besides, washing one pair of tights, two leotards, some socks, and a pair of shorts in a washing machine is very wasteful of water and quarters.

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HOW TO WASH CLOTHES IN THE WOODS:

  1. Get a large wide-mouthed jug with a screw on lid. Wash it thoroughly several times before you try to use it.
  2. Get some kind of “agitator” to go in your jug. I used a nylon sock filled with rocks that I’d washed. The sock is just to keep my rocks together so when I’m rinsing and draining, I’m not dropping the rocks everywhere and getting them dirty again.
  3. You can use powdered or liquid soap, but I would recommend powder in case it spills in your gear. It’ll be far easier to clean up than liquid.
  4. Place the dirty clothes, the agitator, and the soap in the jug. Fill with just enough water to cover the clothes. Shake the jug for about three minutes. You can do this by just holding it while you cook dinner, by having your kids play with it back and forth, by putting it on the roof of the car and driving back up the bumpy road to the camp store, whatever. Just get it moving!
  5. After you’re sure it’s been agitated, drain the water and refill the jug with fresh water. Agitate it again for about a minute, then let it soak for a little while to make sure the soap comes out of the clothes.
  6. Final rinse: drain the rinse water, then take each piece of clothing out of the jug one by one and rinse it under running water. Then hang it up to dry! That’s it!

Again, washing your clothes while camping isn’t something you need to do on a weekend getaway, but if you will be staying for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea, especially for personal items, any cooking cloths you’ve used that might attract animals to your campsite, or basic spills.

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There’s Danger in the Woods

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DISCLAIMER: I review great (and not so great gear) on this blog with the purpose of helping people who don’t already have a lot of experience in nature realize that they can have a lot of fun out there with a minimal investment. This product I’m posting today is one that I actually sell myself, and therefore make a profit off of.

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The whole purpose for this blog is because I was tired of hearing the same thing every time I set off on a mini-adventure with my kids: “Aren’t you afraid to be out there?” I couldn’t stomach the thought that people were ignoring the beauty of nature and denying their kids a great childhood in the outdoors because they were afraid of something.

So let’s talk about shark attacks:

*93% of shark attacks from 1580 to 2010 worldwide were on males.
*Most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the shore.
*On average, only 5 people die from shark attacks yearly.
*In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year. Sharks injured 13.
*You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark.

So why all the shark info? To illustrate a point. We tend to fear the wrong thing. What’s so scary about the beach? NOT. SHARKS.

Picking a random beach town (because it has BEACH in its name!), here’s some info:

*Long Beach, CA, saw a nearly 20 percent rise in violent crime and a 15.4 percent spike in property crime last year.
*Long Beach PD reported an 18.8% increase in violent crime
*The city had a 15.9% increase in murder, non-negligent homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft and arson.

Since the headlines and the crime dramas seem to focus on rape (ignoring all of the other violent crimes, for some reason), here’s some info from RAINN:

*There are about 293,000 REPORTED sexual assaults per year.
*68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police (meaning the number above is actually about half the actual occurrence).
*Four out of five assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, NOT a stranger.

But we still fear sharks? We fear strangers in alleyways? We fear the outdoors because we all watched those bad horror movies in the ’80s with half-naked blondes running through the woods, being chased by axe murderers?

There are definitely things to be cautious of when you’re heading outdoors, just as there are things to be cautious of every single day. If people spent more time watching the road and less time watching their cell phone screens while they drive, for example, we’d all be a lot safer. Trust me, it isn’t a bear that’s gonna get ya, it’s a 16-year-old reading a breakup text from her boyfriend. But I digress.

Now for what you can do to protect yourself: besides arming yourself with lots and lots of knowledge and understanding what the ACTUAL, genuine dangers to you and your kids may be, you can carry protective gear. NO, I did not say you should arm yourself like a militia member, although if you’re comfortable AND TRAINED with a licensed gun, fine. I signed up as a sales rep for a company that sells self-defense gear (stun guns, pepper spray, auto kits, and more). The reason I went with stun guns instead of an actual gun? A) My kids, and b) a lot of the places we camp are state parks and national parks, and many of them have a ban on firearms. In order to protect myself, I’d have to break the law. But with some pepper spray within reach and a stun gun nearby, we’re safe from many common threats, both human and animal. If you’re interested in learning more about the stun guns, click HERE.

But again, the most important weapon any person can carry is information. Know what the actual threats are and stop wasting your time and energy on the things that are not statistically dangerous. Stop avoiding the ocean because of sharks while making yourself a target to the criminals standing on the beach behind you.

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It’s ALMOST HERE!

13007359_1306570972691899_386487812551665199_nIt’s almost here, the first trip of the season (not counting popping down to my parents’ placeĀ  back in March and going on a minicampout while we there). The kayaking, the hiking, the camping… I can’t wait!

While you’re passing the time until your first outdoor adventure of the year, check out a website that I’ve become ADDICTED to: Roadtrippers.com. It lets you plan your entire trip, including filters for camping, outdoors activities, and more, all along the route. It’s better than online shopping when the boss thinks you’re working!

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I Wouldn’t Exactly Say We’re “Preppers”…

But if the homemade silent-trek stalk boots fit… just kidding.

Being outdoorsy is great. We have a lot of fun, we can vacation for pretty cheap, and we’ve got enough gear to see us through just about any kind of crisis. But when people throw out the word “prepper” as though you have to stockpile ammunition and adjust your tinfoil hat to be part of that crowd, I admit I cringe a little.

There’s nothing wrong with “prepping,” since it really just means being prepared. Yes, if your prepping hobby starts to interfere with your grasp on reality, you probably need help. But if your interest in preparedness doesn’t extend beyond making sure you keep a few rechargeable lanterns, a well-stocked first aid kit, and knowing how to purify water in the event of a disaster, you’re probably still sitting on this side of normal.

Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with studying up on a few survival techniques. If it makes you feel safer to carry a hook, some fishing line, and a homemade bobber when you go out on the water, then go for it. If you can’t leave shore without a system to harvest liquid water from the air, you might need to read some statistics and understand just how safe you are.

I will admit this much: learning some of the same methods that “preppers” and “homesteaders” use is actually really interesting. Reading a few homesteading survival guides will give you not only a keen sense of what it took to survive in the olden days, but also arm you with a little bit of back-of-your-mind knowledge for those unexpected situations. Do YOU know how to make a natural deodorant out of oil, corn starch, and flower petals? See, I didn’t think so. But homesteaders do!

The most important thing any outdoors family can do is to understand what the viable threats are, and know how to prepare for them. Knowing how to build your own life raft is cool…if you’re actually in danger of being stranded on an island. Those of us in landlocked states are still trying to figure out the deodorant, thanks.

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When Adventure Becomes Emergency

My original goal with this blog and the upcoming book was very simple: get more people out there. I meet so many people who are astounded–yes, actually in amazement–that my kids and I do so many things in the great outdoors, and that yes, we typically do them without my husband leading the way. That’s not a judgment call against him or a rallying cry of “we don’t need no men!” It’s simply a fact. My husband doesn’t enjoy many of the things the kids and I like to do, so we don’t let his absence stop us.

But I had another purpose for sharing our stories. When I see people who are blown away by our recent hike or kayaking trip or camping excursion, I feel sad that they’re not getting to take advantage of a great experience, but I’m also afraid for them. If you’ll let your fears stop you from going on a camp out at a secure, well-lit, well-populated state run campground, what are you going to do when disaster strikes and you really have to take care of yourself?

If you’re prepared for outdoors fun, you’re more likely to be prepared for outdoors emergencies. But what about those emergencies that bring the outdoors to you?

Around Christmas time, our state experienced some bizarre sever weather threats. Our particular region went through fairly intense flooding, or at least it was intense for us since flooding isn’t usually at the top of our threats. We all sat huddled in front of televisions or social media, watching the news updates and hearing what towns had closed all of their roads. At one point, we were watching a video someone had uploaded to Facebook of the severe flooding near where my husband works and where I do our heavy-duty grocery shopping. We were literally trying to piece together the location of the roaring waters by squinting at the business signs in the background.

At our house, the water from the drainage gully that runs between our yard and the road had risen to the point that our fence was getting wet. My husband and I kept a close watch on it, taking turns heading out on the porch and seeing how close it was coming.

When it was time for bed, our oldest was more than a little frightened. “What do we do if the water comes up to the house?” she asked almost tearfully.

I looked at her and smiled. I pointed to the window. “See the trailer with the kayaks on it? If the water comes in the house, we’ll go out the window and get on the kayaks.”

I took a few minutes to remind her of some of the very real dangers associated with flooding: rapid currents, unexpected surges in the water, sharp and dangerous debris that has been carried along with the water, and sewage backup that carries waste in the water. So we formed the plan. She was to put on her boots to protect her feet, hold onto the rope we attached to a pool noodle from the garage, and make her way to the kayak while keeping the water out of her nose and mouth. We packed several of our dry bags (the waterproof bags we take kayaking) with hand gel, food and bottled water, emergency mylar blankets, and a first aid kit, and placed those next to the window with the rope. Then she went to sleep and (knowing her) never thought of the danger again.

Did the water come up to the house? Of course not. Our land is built in such a way as to feed the runoff away from the property. Did I try to erase her fear by telling her that? Of course not. She’s fifteen. She doesn’t know what a flood plain is or that landscape architects and city planners factor in water flow when they design a town. And trying to convince her that she wasn’t in danger from a flood was a bad idea because a) the water was right in front of her face and b) there were better ways to help her get over her fear, namely by reminding her what she was prepared for.

My daughter is a really capable kayaker, and the kayaks were right outside the window in the back yard. By reminding her that she had the skills to save herself and then assembling the tools she’d need, she went to bed happy and confident.

And that’s what I want parents to get out of this blog. I want them to get out there with their kids and equip their children for unexpected obstacles by teaching them to be calm, capable, and confident. There’s no time for hand-wringing when a crisis occurs, but there’s also no need to scare people into becoming rabid preppers who live in fear of the next catastrophe. Just use some common sense and develop the skills to protect yourself, while also having a great time developing those skills.

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Winterizing, or the End of the Season

We managed to sneak in one more camping trip to the beach a few weeks ago, complete with our favorite activity, taking a boat out for the day. We saw an eel… it was really cool.

We also had a more recent trip involving our outdoors skills and gear, but with a different purpose. This trip was last week, and we spent the night in the woods in the middle of nowhere… no electricity, no heat, no lights, just what we could bring with us. It was to provide the support for an aide station for a 100-mile run, and this particular aide station requires someone who’s comfortable in the dark, alone in the woods, with nothing but the coyotes to keep you company (hopefully nothing but coyotes!). It was actually really cool, and something we’re physically and mentally prepared for.

But now the sadness sets in… it’s time to put up our gear for another season, and that means winterizing your stuff.

When you winterize your home, you protect it from the elements, and the same is basically true for your camping and outdoors gear:

Kayaks – while they’re designed to get wet, they’re not designed to have water get inside of them, freeze, expand, and cause your seams to crack. Your other accessories (like paddles and life jackets) have to be protected from the cold extremes and from mold, too.

Tents – It’s a good idea to grab one more seasonable day to put up your tent, wash away any dirt or mud, check your poles for any signs of weakness, and give the whole thing a thorough cleaning. Once you’re certain it’s dry, then a really good, focused fold up is in order, as opposed to the foldup where you stow it quickly at your camp site since you’re trying to get out of there.

Sleeping bags – I know, there are people who’d think I’m taking the easy way out, but remember the purpose of this blog: it’s to help anyone do this. I take our sleeping bags for a once-a-year washing at the laundromat. I even splurge on the drop-off service. Basically, sleeping bags are one of those items that you probably COULD wash in your household machine, but a) you risk tearing them by putting them through the agitator, and b) your dryer will never get them dry enough. Even from the laundromat, I take the sleeping bags home and open them up to dry fora few days in the garage before I stow them for the season. Be sure to pack a couple of dryer sheets inside each one before you fold to keep down on pests and mold.

Cooking essentials – No one wants to get their gear out in the spring and find out they have a mold problem in their camp kitchen from a few leftover crumbs. I take apart our entire kit and wash everything in the dishwasher, then let it all air dry for a day on the racks before putting it all away.

Here’s the important thing about your gear: don’t put it out of reach. Sure, the attic is fine, or a shelf in the garage. But remember that your gear can still serve purposes all during the winter. It’s a good idea to keep one of your sleeping bags in the car in case you get stranded in bad weather, and throwing a small cook stove in there can’t hurt if you’ve got the space for it. If you invested in a tent heater, keep that thing within household reach in case a storm takes out the power; ditto for your propane stove if you have one. Keeping a couple small propane cylinders is a good idea, too, if you can store them safely.

Of course, the item we love to keep out of the gear is the marshmallow sticks! They’re perfect for roasting marshmallows in the fireplace.

The best thing you can do this winter is sit down and plan out the next round of fun you’re going to have with your family when the weather warms up. It makes the cold days go by a little faster, and it gives you an organized plan for your next outdoors adventure!

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