John Muir was the founder of the Sierra Club. He died on Christmas Eve in 1914. He’d lobbied the government for what became Yosemite National Park. Thus, many call him the “father of the national parks.” When they made those statehood quarters awhile back, California’s featured John Muir. As such, and having been entertained lately by one of his books, I will present a short quote as often as I can to get his writing out to the very people he’d most like to reach, at least in my imagination of him.

muir stamp“I like to watch the squirrels. There are two species here, the large California gray, and the Douglas. The latter is the brightest of all the squirrels I have ever seen, a hot spark of life, making every tree tingle with his prickly toes, a condensed nugget of fresh mountain vigor and valor… He seems to think the mountains belong to him, and at first tried to drive away the whole flock of sheep, as well as the shepherd and dogs. How he scolds, and what faces he makes, all eyes, teeth, and whiskers! If not so comically small, he would indeed be a dreadful fellow. I should like to know more about his bringing up, his life in the home knot-hole.”

p. 68–69, My First Summer In The Sierra, John Muir.


I will admit, the relentless rain has turned our plans for outdoor fun into so much mud. That’s not to say we haven’t gotten outside on the chance dryish afternoon. A couple of days ago we had a dry hour. While the kids played in the yard, I did some work in the garage. Then got together to play a game of “What do you notice?” Okay, it’s not reallya game. We happened to have the camera out, and while Grace was pointing out all sorts of thingsthe little green flowers on our flaming bush, the reddish beginnings of pine cones high on the pine tree, the waves of dandelions gone to seed (ugh.)I took some pictures.

So here it is: a little gallery of the stuff we noticed outside.

Much of our kids’ time spent playing outside is spent in the backyard. We don’t have a landscaping “budget,” so to speak. I’ve tidied up the flower beds around the deck, moved some bushes since we moved into the house, and several years back I bought some perennials (so I wouldn’t have to keep buying them year after year). So, what I am saying is, the kids don’t spend a lot of time exploring nature in its natural habitat, but neither do they get to see nature cultivated and landscaped in a way that fully expresses its potential as an art form. For the former, we head out to a state park for camping or hiking. For the latter, we turn to botanic gardens, arboretums, and designed parks (like those of the legendary Olmstead).

This weekend we had the opportunity to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. On a Sunday morning, to our surprise, cars were flowing into the garden like ants into an anthill. We soon saw why. The place is simply stunning, and not just for adults.

We came with the expectation that there would be some selling involved. Tater, all of 19 months, is cool as a cucumber. He’s happy to look at whatever you show him. But Grace’s four-and-a-half-year-old mind wants, nay “needs,” stimulation. We often have to keep activities lively with an ongoing discussion of what she’s looking at and why it’s worth looking at. Not so much, however, at the Botanic Gardens.

Our visit wasn’t terribly planned. In fact, our first thought was that this would be like an arboretumwe’d drive through then park for a bit and maybe stroll around for a half hour. Instead we found a heartier garden than we imagined. We picked up a map in the Visitor Center, saw a sign about a bonsai show, and headed in to see what we could see. Through sheer luck we walked straight to the Model Railroad Garden. There a small admission price for this area, but the look on the kids faces as they wandered through 1,600 feet of model railroad landscape was worth it. The displays represent landmarks from across the United States, from the White House to the Corn Palace of South Dakota to Seattle’s Space Needle. Of course, Thomas and Percy and James have a corner of the garden, but much more interesting to the adults are the more than a dozen other trains.

After the model railroad, we strolled over to the Regenstein Center where we wandered through the small court of bonsai trees. Grace has a thing for small trees, and this kept her attention for a little while. Then we were off for a longer walk, out over to Evening Island and its impressive Carillon, then back to find our way out to the Japanese gardens on the next island.

Families were everywhere, and our kids had a lot of fun making friends. There wasn’t time for the kids to take a class or really dig into the children’s activities, and when we go again, we will bring better shoes for the kids (the flip-flops did not serve us well), perhaps a snack and some water, and we will carve out more time. You could really spend an entire day here and not regret a moment of it.

(The garden brochures proudly state that there is never an admission charged at the gate. But if you bring your car, be aware that it will cost you $20 to park.)

It’s been raining here off an on for over a week now. That and the 50-degree weather, it’s a real hypothermia-fest out there. So what’s a family to do? Instead of spending a lot of time outside, I’ve been talking to Grace and Tater about the spring rain and all the green we’re seeing everywhere. Gracie turns four and a half this month. It’s a milestone she’s been keeping careful track of. She was asking about it every day. Several times a day, actually. And, in all honesty, it was getting downright annoying. My wife, in a stroke of genius, told her that she would be four and a half when the trees showed their buds. For well over a month, Grace has been inspecting every tree we pass, searching for the buds. And then all of a sudden, last week, the trees just exploded with leaves. Very spectacular!

Since then, we’ve watched the flowering bushes and ornamental trees blossom and then lose their flowers in the rain. Smaller flowers has started to bloom around the edges of our landscaping, such as it is.

Then there are the birds and animals. The pregnant robins and mourning doves, goldfinches and cardinals. The turkeys (the photo above is from Grace ‘n’ Tater’s grandparents’ yard), squirrels, and rabbits. All skittering and flitting around the yard. In the morning, I crack a window in the kids’ rooms and let in the cacophony of chirping from outside.

Spring has sprung, finally. And even the rain can’t douse our enthusiasm!

Earlier this year, I made an executive decision. The kids would not go to bed at their appointed bedtimes. Rather, we would pile everyone in the car in their pajamas and drive two miles west, away from the city lights toward the receding edge of Colorado’s prairie. We would park the car, douse the lights, and give our kids the opportunity of a lifetimethe chance to see one honking-big moon.

What a dud. Clouds to the west blocked most of our view. Not enough to make us head for home, but just enough to hint at what that glowing blur might look like if the sky were clear. We waited an hour, then the clouds parted and an ordinary, sort-of-yellowish moon gave us a peek.

Disappointing, for sure. But the experience got me thinking even more about introducing these kids to nature at night. A lot of that thinking orbits around spending the night outside in a tent, or building a shelter and sleeping in it, or just taking a late night walk. Never far from my mental meanderings, however, is the night sky. Astronomy tells us so much about the world we live in. In fact, contemplation of the heavens has led scientists tantalizingly close to answering some of humanity’s deepest questions. (Admittedly, the answers often just bring up better questions, but that too shines a light on the human predicament.)

This Saturday, May 7, is Astronomy Day. The event comes around twice a yearthis year on May 7 and October 1. In celebration, local planetariums and universities offer events to introduce the public, kids especially, to astronomy. I think this is a great way to kick off a summer of “looking up” with your kids.

For today’s post I asked my friend Rob Kristoff to share a bit about his family’s experience outdoors. Rob is a freelance writer who lives on Boston’s North Shore with his charming wife and precocious daughter. He’s written a guide to local mountain biking trails, a must-have for anyone searching out the best trails around Boston.

It’s hard to summarize how important it has been to our daughter to get outside. And I really do think that some of the reason she loves being outside comes from how we treated nature with her when she was a baby.

I know when she was very small her mother had to spend some time in the hospital, and I took her around the (extremely large) building and closely showed her the trees they had growing in the atrium: letting her feel them and putting her face close to the leaves. Did that have an effect? Who knows.

And even before this, because I had a job plowing skating trails on local lakes (yeah, it was as cool a job as it sounds), her mom would bring her out to see what I was doing (within reason and only for very short periods of time). She would’ve been just weeks old then.

Another moment came when she was barely walking and I tried to get her to sit quietly in her stroller as we walked through the state forest, where there was a paved road closed to cars. She cried and cried until I (almost randomly) thought to let her get out and try to walk by pushing the stroller. She did that for about three seconds, while continually glancing to the forest at the side of the road. “Do you want to get off the paved road? Go ahead,” I said, jokingly. Her face lit up a little bit and she let go of the stroller and headed straight for the woodsup a rather tough incline for a two year old, I thought. I’m pretty sure if I’d have let her continue she’d have pressed on straight into the woods.

Or I think of taking her for walks in her baby-backpack. We’d walk trails and sing songs. OccasionallyI won’t lie to youI’d accidentally smack her in the face with low-hanging leaves. Just the tips of branches, nothing serious. But I’d feel bad and say “Oops!” She thought it was hilarious. We’d walk for hours that way, taking our little dad and daughter adventures.

With all these moments in mind, were we crazy? Did I not know she was a small baby and that there was some danger or risk involved? That it was cold out by those lakes? No, we were not bad parents, and yes, we knew there was some risk involved. I kept it to a bare minimum, was very careful when need demanded it. But for the greater goal it felt worth it, and I think we’ve been proved right.

I can’t, and wouldn’t want to, tell you what to do with your baby, but in our family, even my wife (who was a nature lover, but not so much of an adventurer before this) would say that it has been nothing but good for our daughter to go outdoors on adventures, especially including when she was very small. “Raise up a child in the way she should go, and when she is old she will not depart from it”…

The weather outside is getting better every weekend, and every May my wife and I start monitoring nighttime temperatures to see when it’s warm enough to take the kids camping.

We love to camp, though we don’t seem to get enough time to do it as we like. We first took our daughter camping when she was about 18 months old. Now that our youngest is rounding 18 months, it’s time to get out there again.

Admittedly, there are some challenges camping with kids. First off, there’s the issue of bedtime. In the summer, the sun sets here between 9:30 and 10 at night. The kids usually have an 8 o’clock bedtime. This means we’re either putting them down while other campers are still out playing Frisbee, or we’re keeping them up late enough to guarantee crying, whining, and general crankiness. Also, they’re too young to toss in the tent for the night while we stay up. So if we send them to bed at 9, we’re going to bed at 9.

Second, sleeping arrangements are a bear. Our youngest has a routine that works like magic at home. Anywhere other than home, however, this kid will simply not stay down. He will keep popping up, walking and crawling over everyone, giggling like a fool for hours. And when he’s up, he wants a bottle. I don’t like sleeping with a cooler in the tent, so that means a trip to the car and all that.

These are just the logistics of bedtime. There’s also the job of changing diapers, and how do you dispose of all those stinky diapers? I am certainly not storing them in the car!

There’s not a lot I can do about the bedtime routine. We muddle through, but a couple things have helped us on other aspects of wholesale nfl jerseys camping trips.

One involves reducing the prep time. We picked up a couple bins that we keep stored with the stuff with need for food (stove, Dutch oven, cheap nfl jerseys pots and pans, utensils, dish soap… all the kitchen stuff), shelter (tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, sheets and blankets, camp pillows, etc.), and miscellaneous (first aid kit, rope, flashlights, Leatherman tool… that kind of thing). These bins are always packed (no perishables in there). When the hankering to Sinai camp overtakes us, we don’t waste the entire afternoon packing up everything. We throw clothes in a bag, the bins in the car, and stop at a grocery Garden store on the way?we’re good to go. The key is making sure you have enough Gallery to keep everyone comfortable. Wet and cold Balance or hot and sweaty make it harder for everyone to get along.

Another thing has made camping even more enjoyable:? We work hard to set expectations with the kids. We talk the trip up in advance, detailing whatever plans we have?whether it wholesale jerseys be s’mores by the campfire or hiking in the Stuff woods. And we ask them to give us their ideas too. This helps in two ways. It helps Toronto kids build up some excitement for the cheap nba jerseys weekend. And it keeps Mom and Dad from bailing on the plan for something easier when we’re actually camping, ’cause you got to know that first thing in the morning,? cereal always seems more attractive than pancakes and bacon (and the inevitable clean up from that mess).

And for folks new to camping, take note: I always have a back-up plan. One of my favorite trips as a kid was staying at a motel, watching BJ and the Bear on TV, after three days of tenting it in the rain. The camping wasn’t bad, but Dad knew when enough was enough.

Garden planning with kids

Garden planning with kidsIn college I read The Good Life by cheap nfl jerseys Scott and Helen Nearing. This began a love affair with books on farming and subsistence living. My shelves are full of them. The great irony is that I’ve never even had my own garden. When I was a kid we had a half acre we planted every summer. We grew raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins. I even planted my own rows of popping higher corn one year, but ever since high school it’s been a nonstarter.

This summer I am determined to change that. Armed with only a blade of understanding of the square-foot method of gardening, we’re going to try a four-by-four-foot raised garden. And by “we” I mean, me and the kids. Of course, Tater’s too small to be much help, but this afternoon Grace and I set out to plan our garden.

Planning at this level is really basic. First Grace listed all the vegetables she could think Fly! of, and then drew pictures of them. We followed that with faulty attempts at explaining why a fruit is different from a vegetable (no thanks to my know-it-all asides that a tomato is a fruit), why we can’t grow bananas Milano in our backyard, and why it would take a couple years for an apple tree to actually produce an apple.

Once we had our highly edited, though still questionable, list of things we want to About grow, we drew our four-by-four-foot divvied plot Night and cheap mlb jerseys decided what we wanted to plant where. The wall against the back is perfect for a small lattice for the string beans, tomatoes go in the back so they don’t wholesale mlb jerseys block the sun for the carrots and herbs (aka “spices”), and peppers can go in front of the beans cause we don’t know where else to put them.

Now all you gardeners out there, be kind. I will be getting wholesale nfl jerseys a book from the library before we begin in earnest to sort out what plants should share soil. Right now I am just trying to get the kids excited about a garden?a task that turned out to be much easier than I thought. In fact, Grace wants to plant carrots today so we can have some in time to feed the Easter bunny (which she “knows isn’t real, except in Easter world, which is the whole cheap mlb jerseys world every Easter”).

Now I just need to buy some wood, dirt, and seeds, and start thinking about whether I should plant starter beds… I will keep you posted as we go. Watercolours Should be a fun summer!

Being outside you always find different ways to engage with Loan the natural world. This week the wind is just blowing, and it got us talking about the wind and birds and airplanes. Grace loves to point out long All contrails when we are on road trips, and she can spend hours making and tossing airplanes around the house with her grand-dad.

There are a ton of ways to have fun outside trying to “ride the wind,” so to speak, and most are pretty cheap. Even the price of a little R/C helicopter has come down! But we’re looking at hand powered toys today. Here are a couple of ways et we like to explore the wind.

Kite-flying is really all it promises to be. You can spend hundreds (even thousands?) on professional kites and string rigs, but as Mr. Banks rightly sings at the end ‘The of Mary Poppins, “With tuppence for paper and strings, you can have your own set of wings.” In fact, when it comes to kites, I always say cheaper is better.

In college, a former tenant of a house we lived in left a really nice nylon kite. It was missing supports and was really too big for a regular spool of string. For a few bucks at a kite shop I was all set for a day a of fun. Once in flight, however, this kite was like trying to land a marlin! I had bottled over Miami Dolphins Jerseys 200 feet of line out, and it took me an hour to wind it back in. And quite frankly, it was boring.

Kids bring back the fun. They don’t mind standing out there watching the kite just float. They’re ecstatic just to hold the string, and if it crashes eventually all the better. So with kids I think the best kite is one Katrina that costs less than a Happy Meal. (I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.)

Balsa Wood Airplanes
Powered by winding up a long rubber band, the old balsa-wood airplanes from your youth are still available. They’re a bit pricier now a-days, but not prohibitively so. You can find them online, but shipping just makes the expense ridiculous. Instead we find ours at Hobby Lobby or Michaels for less than $3 (usually much less).

We have a nice high deck off the back of the house. It’s about six feet wholesale NFL jerseys above grade, which is just enough altitude to add some lift when tossing a plane, but not so much that you need an escalator to make the endless runs up and down retrieving spent aircraft.

My kids are still young yet to really exploit the learning moment. We spend most the time chasing airplanes and screaming with giggly delight every time they crash. But with a few simple tweaks?moving wings forward or back, angling the tail fins, etc.?we can get the plane to start acting in unusual but predictable ways. That’s where they start picking up on the nature of aerodynamics.

Paper Airplanes
Paper airplanes can be just as fun as their balsa-wood peers and don’t require endless winding of rubber-band propellers. On the down side, they don’t stay aloft as long either (though with a balsa-wood plane I’ve never even gotten close to the paper-airplane world-record flight of 27.6 seconds. On the up side, you get to make (and decorate) them all by yourself.

There are a ton of sites out there with paper airplane designs. Some designs are really overly complex, and if your kids are really young, you’ll be doing all the folding work yourself. While not the prettiest page on the Web, I have found this paper-airplane site to have a lot of great designs. You can even find videos on here wholesale NBA jerseys in addition to the illustrated instructions.

For our kids, a favorite part of flying is the crash, so any design that cheap NBA jerseys promises a gentle glide then sudden nose-dive is an instant hit. The other favorite part is trying to fill every inch of the paper with some crayon decoration. This adds to the weight and messes with the dynamics of flight, so I usually just make regular old planes, nothing fancy.

Parachute Guys
Any decent toy shop will have parachute guys for a song. Easy as anything, you simply remove the rubber band holding the plastic chute and toss. These work best if you have someplace high you can climb to. Really good if there’s a three-story playground fort nearby. We used to toss them from the third-floor gallery of our town courthouse (but part of that fun was seeing how long you could watch them before the security guard looked up and came after you).

Maple Tree Helicopters
Nature also gives us plenty to play with. For watching thing fly you could do worse than sticking with maple seeds. In the summer these seeds whirl and wind from the tree in our back yard. When they are still bright green, we collect them by the handfuls and toss them from the deck. You can keep doing this all summer as they dry out and yellow, until the blades start to wear too thin. This year we are planning on collecting a bucketful and using markers (the kind that clean up with water) to color the blades. It might be fun to watch a hundred of these twirl away, like it’s raining Skittles.