Mom to the Left

I'm a mom who tends to live just to the "left" of most of the people around me here in Indiana.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What I've read

My good friend Yogamum has a habit of finding fun little diversions on the internet. I think she and I are a lot alike, because she knows exactly which websites will suck up my time online. A couple of weeks ago she told me about the site called Library Thing on which you can catalog all of your books. Big J asked me last night, "Why would you want to catalog your books?" He is clearly NOT like Yogamum and myself when it comes to reading. If he were, he wouldn't need to ask that question.

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks I have been setting up my own personal catalog here. You can browse it if you want. I haven't limited it to those books I actually own. I've tried to list as many of the books as I could remember reading since the late 1990's. I have 129 books cataloged so far. I included all adult and young adult books, but I skipped all the children's books I've read because that would put me way over my freebie limit of 200 books.

I've also added a widget to the sidebar of my blog (scroll way down to see it). It shows a random sampling of books from my catalog. My interests can sometimes be a little eclectic. But I have always been a reader. It's a big part of who I am so I am sharing it with you.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007


Memorial Day weekend is the first weekend we've had so far this spring where we were free to do some actual yardwork. We've neglected almost everything since late last fall, so there was plenty to do. Big J worked in the garage most of yesterday cleaning it out. I did weeding in all of my flower beds, pots, patio area, and my herb/veggie garden plot. I put Little J to work cultivating the soil in the existing bed. I also had him dig a new bed for the strawberry plants we'd bought. And he had to dig a couple of holes for the raspberry bushes we put in. We've ordered two blueberry bushes so we set aside an area for them. Then we put up a small fence around the two beds and berry bushes. It doesn't sound like all that much, but all five of us spent several hours doing hard work yesterday afternoon. I still need to buy some annual bedding plants for my pots and flower beds and we need a new umbrella to replace the one that was broken in the storm last summer. Then our backyard will be set for the summer. Once things grow some more I'll post pictures.

Also (Yay!) it's raining! This has been the driest May in recent history and our grass was already turning brown. A little early in the summer for that. Anyway, the rain is turning everything green. But it is starting to storm so I better get off the computer.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A girl on my mind

Today I can't stop thinking about one of the girls I've come to know through my substitute teaching experience.

Last spring I worked as a special substitute teacher who would go to one of the elementary schools every Tuesday and Thursday and fill in for the regular teacher who would do a pull-out enrichment program for the gifted/talented kids. I would take their regular classes for them. One of the classes was a fourth grade class and this particular girl (S) was a student in the class. I was in that classroom once a week every week for the last two months of school. Also, the teacher had something come up out of town at one point and I had to fill in for her for an entire week. So these kids were *very* familiar with me. S is one girl, in particular, who used to come back and talk to me all the time and tell me about this or that going on or she'd ask me about different things, just to chit chat during extra time. She's one of the sweetest girls I've met. She had some learning issues and worked with one of the resource teachers and was a little behind grade-level, but not terribly so. She was in student council and played softball and was popular with the other girls.

I haven't been at that school a lot this year, but I'd heard through the grapevine that S had suddenly started having seizures. A lot. They couldn't figure out what was causing them. I think they eventually diagnosed her with epilepsy and she is on medication, but she still has frequent seizures. She is in fifth grade now. She has changed so much and I am especially shocked by her personality changes. She now has a full-time aide who never leaves her side except during lunch when the lunch duty teacher stands right by S in the cafeteria in case she has a seizure. A couple of weeks ago I was in her class again and she looked at me funny like I was vaguely familiar. She asked me what my name was. I think I kept a neutral face when I told her my name, but inside I couldn't believe she didn't remember. We'd had hundreds of conversations last year! In the last couple of weeks I've been around her again. She remembers my name now, but I'm noticing how much she's changed. She is timid and seems to always have a look on her face like she's confused. She doesn't interact as much with the other kids. Her aide says there are many times when she doesn't seem to know where she is. She's always been skinny, but now she's lost so much weight she looks terribly unhealthy to me. She has scabs on her elbows and forehead from falls she's taken during seizures. I haven't actually seen her have a seizure, but I understand the class and teachers are used to it by now.

I can't believe this is the same girl that I knew last year. It breaks my heart just seeing her and today I wondered what her parents must be going through watching their daughter change like this. It must be so scary and heartbreaking.

This is what happens when you get attached to kids you work with. I'll be praying for her and her family.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why are these blog Memes fun?

I've been tagged again by Yogamum to do a meme. She knows I can't resist these sorts of things. This one might be hard, though. I'm supposed to list 8 Random Things About Me... (tapping head...think, think, think)

Okay, here goes...

Eight Random Things About Me

1. I was married on the playground in 2nd grade to a boy who was Darin to my Samantha (we played Bewitched every day at recess). Half the second grade class was in attendance.

2. When I eat M&M's I have to have an even number of M&M's in my hand with an even number of each color. I eat them in pairs by color - one on the left side of my mouth, one on the right. Does this mean I'm anal retentive?

3. My dad (a teacher) brought home a panel of a chalkboard and put it in our garage. I used to play school with my sister, cousin, and several stuffed animals. I was always the teacher.

4. My first musical concert was Neil Diamond when I was a freshman in high school with my boyfriend and his parents.

5. I have always had a large birthmark on the back of my left leg.

6. I directed my high school band when I was a drum major as a senior in high school in (among other places) Battery Park in New York City.

7. I can still remember the first page of the first book I ever read when I was four years old. The book was Big Max and the first page went: "Big Max was a detective. He was the greatest detective in the whole world." I must have read it 100 times every night before bed that year. I told my parents I had to have a table lamp beside my bed so I could read before bed. I started young. ;-)

8. My favorite place in my entire life has been my grandparents lakeside cabin when I was growing up. It was sold after my grandmother died when I was 17, but it is where I learned to love nature and how to spend quality time with family. It is the place I think of whenever I need to go to my "happy place".

Okay, now my turn to tag (sorry to tag some of the same people this time; I don't know that many bloggers):

Lizard Eater
Chalice Chick
Jess's Journal
Ms. Kitty


Sunday, May 20, 2007

UU Christian small group

Today was the monthly meeting of our UU Christian circle. I love this group more and more each month. It is so spiritually and emotionally fulfilling. It is so important to each of us that except for the death of the father of one member, none of us has ever missed a meeting. We move heaven and earth to be together each month.

The meeting today came after a 2 1/2 hour semi-annual congregational meeting wherein we had to approve the upcoming year's annual budget and make some big amendments. It was very long and tension-filled but the budget passed in the way that we wanted it to and that made us happy. But we couldn't deny that the politics left a bad taste in our mouths. It feels disappointing when fellow church members can't agree on issues that some of us feel ought to be givens.

I mention all that only to frame our states of mind before today's Christian circle. We had a new person join us today and she and another member of the circle aren't members of our church so we had to fill them in on what we'd just left. In a way it was good because we all affirmed that we really needed each other. Sometimes you need to reach out to that small circle of friends who you trust with your spirituality and we needed to reach out to each other.

Two ladies told us about Healing Touch which is basically a spiritual experience, an act of prayer, if you will, in which one or two people pray and move their hands over your body to help release the bad energy that may be trapped there. It could sound either like a fundamentalist laying on of hands (as in casting out demons). Or it could sound like some new age hippie dippie kind of thing. I really don't think it was like either of those. It was about people loving and caring for each other, sending positive thoughts out into the universe on that person's behalf, helping them relax, and spending 20 minutes focusing totally on them. It is such a loving and giving thing. Two of us each had a treatment and I have to say that afterward I felt closer to these women who are already my friends. It is a very intimate experience. There is so much isolation in our daily lives, that this act of connecting with people we care about and who care about us was so extremely spiritually moving. I feel like I've had my spiritual battery charged and I'm ready to head into the new week recharged.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

My spiritual cold shower

I feel that I've been remiss in my duties as a UU Blogger. I haven't had much to say lately that one could consider spiritual. (I know that some UU's consider things like hiking in the woods and getting back to nature "spiritual", but that hasn't been my own experience...yet anyway.)

I have to admit there is a reason for this. About a month ago we received the movie Jesus Camp as part of our Blockbuster Total Access membership. It had a deep and profound effect on me in a way that I don't think was at all positive. It kind of served as a cold shower to cool the flames of my newfound passion for Christianity.

I was disturbed by the way the beautiful message of love that Jesus taught has been twisted so severely into a hateful "us vs. them" mentality. I was also really upset by the way they are indoctrinating the young who are still in their formative stage with a message so based on intolerance. I really have trouble understanding how they can believe that Jesus, were he here today, would advocate this movement. I look at the woman who leads this "Jesus Camp" and shake my head at some of the things she says. But then I see the young children being so emotionally stirred while those emotions are tied very closely with their philosophy. It is no wonder that some people grow up to be like the camp leader when they are taught these things and make an emotional investment at such a young and impressionable age. It literally made my chest ache to watch the young girl who so desperately wanted to convert people because she'd been told it was the right way to be and couldn't seem to understand the reaction of the people on the street who resisted her. Yikes.

That movie jarred me. I noticed that after watching that movie, there were subtle differences in my life. For a long time now I've listened to contemporary Christian radio in the van when I'm running errands. Most of the music really moves me. I'm not terribly connected to the ones that focus on life after death, but the ones that celebrate God's presence in life speak to me. But the talk between the songs really puts me off. I've noticed when they do their "news", they always give three stories. The first two are what I would consider real news items about something going on in the world. The third is always Christian in nature and has a tone of "look how good we are" to them. Lots of reports of missionaries in other countries "spreading The Word" and bringing people to Christ. Or it's about some Christian group overcoming political obstacles like abortion laws, etc. It is so obviously propaganda that it always bothered me. Now I cannot even listen to the station. It feels like part of the Jesus Camp machine. I've gone back to listening to Radio Disney.

I think what upsets me about this movie the most is the fear that the average Joe American may watch this and think that the people in this movie represent what it means to be a Christian. While there are many people who fall into this category, I am finding more and more people who consider themselves Christian but are appalled at this kind of behavior. Jesus came to tell us that the very most important thing is to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. If you let that be the guiding principle of your life, how can you belong to a group that says the majority of humans on earth are doomed for eternity? How can you believe in a God who would do that to his creation? I just can't get my mind around it.

Anyway, I was so bothered by this that I had to take a figurative step back for a little while to take a breather.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

The countdown is on...

8 more school days: 5 days next week and 3 the following week and then we're done. You can feel things winding down as important projects are finished up. Today was the last possible day for field trips for the year. Finals are coming up at the high school. Lots of faculty parties are going on (although I have not been invited to any personally since I'm "just" a sub).

For now I'm just thankful it's Friday. I'm tired and need some time off. I hate feeling tired all the time. The rest of the world never seems to act as tired as I feel. That being said, I'm off for my 5:00 coffee to help me through the rest of the day. I remember 20 years ago (ACK!) when I was 20 years old and at 5:00 on a Friday I'd just be getting started. That ship has long since sailed!


Thursday, May 17, 2007

10 More Days

Just 10 more school days, including today, until summer vacation begins. I am actually looking forward to it. This spring has been really busy for me between working nearly full-time, driving kids back and forth to various meetings, family outings, etc. I'd love a day to just hang out and do nothing. Of course I also have tons of projects around the house that I've been putting off until school was out so I definitely have plenty to do. But I'm ready for a change of pace.

This also means I'll be able to blog more regularly once I have more access to the computer.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pictures from Shades State Park

Here are some pictures my son took on our hike yesterday.

Here is Big J, myself, and our two younger sons at the bottom of a flight of steps leading down into a canyon at a place called Devil's Punchbowl.

This is me trying to identify one of the few wildflowers I found.

Here are my youngest two sons (ages 10 and 5) in the bottom of the gorge at Devil's Punchbowl. This gives you an idea of the scale showing the size of this place.

The payoff for all those stairs: a beautiful waterfall view.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Where to camp and hike?

Ms. Kitty pointed out that I didn't mention where exactly we went on our trip. At first I kept it general because I didn't want any weirdos tracking us down. ;-) But then these parks are big and I don't post until we're home anyway so what does it hurt, huh?

Last weekend we went to McCormick's Creek State Park in southwestern Indiana. We've gone to this particular park for years, and I have to admit we are partial to it. We've been so much that we know all the trails and where they lead. We know which trails we prefer and even which campsites we prefer. However, it occurs to us that maybe we need to branch out a little bit and try some new places. We have purchased an annual entrance pass for all of the state parks so we thought we'd travel around and try out some other spots this summer.

A few weeks ago we drove up to northern Indiana to Prophetstown State Park and nearby Battle Ground, Indiana (site of the Battle of Tippecanoe). Prophetstown State Park has a campground with 110 sites and I'm trying to talk the rest of the family into trying it out. But the day we were there it was really windy and that land up there is flat as a pancake. We're used to southern Indiana where there are lots of rolling hills. But way back in the ice age the glaciers came about as far as Indianapolis and then stopped. So northern Indiana got flattened like a cotton shirt with an iron. (That was just a little bit of geographical info for you non-Hoosiers out there.) Anyway, I think it is cool to see flat land with prairie grass. It's VERY different from what we're used to. The campground there is new, there are only small saplings (if there are any trees at all) and it just feels like it is one big field. Big J and Little J weren't impressed.

Today we went out for a hike. We headed up to Shades State Park in western Indiana. We went there because Little J went there a couple of years ago with his Boy Scout troop and remembered one particular trail that he just loved. We discovered it today. Big J and Little J loved it. I, however, did not. I wouldn't be opposed to going camping there, but I didn't care for the trails. If we do camp there, I will probably stay back at the campsite and read or something. There are lots of very steep ravines where wooden stairs have been built. It is a lot of up and down some very long flights of stairs. And the foliage is so dense that there were very few wildflowers which is my main reason for hiking. All of that glute exercise and no wildflower sitings to show for it.

We did get some nice pictures though. I will post some tomorrow after church.


To help you cope with everyday life

This photo was taken by my oldest son last weekend on our hiking/camping trip. Doesn't it just beg you to go out into the woods? I just love this photo.

Here are a couple more shots from the same trip:

A waterfall as seen from the cliff top above. What a vantage point, huh?

An old abandoned stone quarry in the middle of the woods.

Setting up camp back at the campsite. Car camping with three kids is a big production. I can't wait to have another free weekend and go back.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Camp cuisine

Okay, here's my food recap from our camping trip last weekend.

Friday dinner:

We copped out on dinner on Friday. We didn't get down and get our camp set up until after 6:00, so we knew it would have to be a fast dinner. We really wanted to stay vegetarian as much as possible, but we just couldn't imagine a camping trip without hot dogs over the campfire. We didn't even consider the tofu dogs because we tried those last summer and they were Nasty (with a capital N!). So we just had hot dogs, vegetarian baked beans and potato chips with soft drinks. We followed it up with dessert - what else but smores.

Saturday breakfast:

Saturday morning we were up by 7am and we started the coffee. We've tried different things over the years, but we've found that the best option for camping coffee is Folger's Coffee Singles. We have a huge jug that we fill with water and keep at the campsite for cooking, washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc. We pour some water into a coffee pot and boil it on our propane stove. Pour the boiling water over the coffee singles and brew and we are good to go. For the boys we tried something new this year. We brought several bottles of bottled water and put some in our cooler with ice. I found some of those new "On the Go" packets that are flavorings you can add to bottled water. I bought the orange flavor that has extra vitamin C added. I added packets of that to some bottles of chilled water and the boys had orange drink for breakfast. They loved them and it was sooo easy. It was worth the slightly higher price to have something so easy to use (and it tastes good!).

I made a new concoction for breakfast. This wasn't really even a recipe. I just thought it up myself and threw some things together. In a cast-iron skillet I poured in some canola oil. I'd chopped an onion at home and brought it in a ziploc baggie. I threw the onion into the oil along with about 2/3 bag of frozen hash brown potatoes. It took a really long time, but I fried it up on one burner of the propane stove. (I almost never make fried foods so this was a real "treat" for my family. I wouldn't do it all the time.) Meanwhile, on the other burner I used a non-stick skillet with a little squeezable smart spread (butter-like spread in a bottle) to scramble 5 cage-free organic eggs I'd brought from home. I added a little salt and pepper to both the eggs and the potatoes. Little J used our dutch oven and some aluminum foil to warm up some flour tortillas. To serve, we put a little of the eggs and a little of the potatoes in each tortilla, added some bottled salsa, and rolled them up. We each had one "burrito" and it was delicious and filling.

Saturday lunch:

For lunch we kept it simple with PB&J sandwiches, leftover chips, and some apples I'd brought from home. (The apples weren't a hit though. When I told the kids I had apples, only one was interested. The other two looked at me like I'd sprouted an extra head.) We also had some leftover hot dogs that Big J, Little J, and I had.

Saturday dinner:

We were adventurous again for dinner. We used our dutch oven to make pizza. We lined it with aluminum foil and laid a small boboli bread inside the bottom. (Our dutch oven is so small that we had to get 8" crusts which made small pizzas. We had to make two to feed our crew and probably could have made 4 now that I think about it.) We put bottled pizza sauce on top and spread it around and then added shredded mozzarella cheese. On one of the pizzas I also added fresh mushrooms I'd brought from home. Next time I may try some other toppings as well. Anyway, to use the dutch oven, you put the lid on. You have heated charcoals on a flat base (we used the gravel near the firepit). You set the dutch oven on top of the hot coals and then use tongs to add more hot coals to the lid. You basically create an oven that surrounds the food with heat. You let it sit about 10 minutes or so, checking to see if the pizza is done. Be careful with this step! Our first pizza was perfect, but the second got a little burned on one side from being in a little too long. We finished off with the rest of the smores.

Sunday breakfast:

We made pancakes on our new cast-iron griddle which we used with our propane stove. I'd bought the plastic bottle of bisquick (not very green, I realize) because you add the water directly to the bottle and shake and the batter is ready. Then you just pour the batter from the bottle. We used our squeezable fake butter and a bottle of lite syrup and the same drinks as Saturday. Big J wanted some protein with breakfast so we had some Morning Star Farms sausage links that I cooked on the griddle. They were okay, but I could have done without.

This was a challenging trip because we all worked up to the last minute and had to try to plan around the rest of our lives. Later in the summer when I am not working, I can devote more time to planning our next trip(s). I am still looking for some *good* replacements for hot dogs and chips. Until I find something that works, we'll probably stick with them. :-(

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

The way it's supposed to be

We just spent 3 days and 2 nights camping in the woods and Big J declared that this is the way it is supposed to be. We slowed down and shut out the outside world. No phones ringing, no TV's, no computer, no one coming to the door. Not really paying any attention to the time. Just hanging out with your family, attending to the very basics, and just being. He mentioned how after the first night you can just feel your metabolism slowing down and it is a great feeling. I think he put it very well and he hit on exactly what makes us keep going camping again and again. We long to get back to that feeling.

This weekend was so enjoyable. When we arrived Friday afternoon and started setting up camp, we realized the tent was really musty and probably hadn't been cleaned properly last summer before being stored away. But we didn't let that spoil our mood. We set it up and staked it down and opened all the windows to let it air out. We weren't too surprised that the family of raccoons who'd made their next in an old tree about 100 yards behind the campsite last summer had moved on. I think the kids were actually sorry they weren't there and they kept looking for them. However, we made a new friend. There was a large black crow who kept flying from one tree to another, making a large circle around the various campsites probably looking for dropped bits of food. He entertained us around the campfire that first night and Little J declared, "Nevermore!" From that time on we named him Edgar Allen Crow. Whenever we'd return from a hike, my five year old would ask, "Where's Edgar?"

I already posted about the hikes we took, but I forgot to mention one other fun thing we did on our very first hike. There is a creek that runs through the park. Part of it runs through a canyon of rock that has been worn away from years and years of erosion. There is a beautiful waterfall and hundreds of rocks along the creek edge. We climbed down the stairs to the creekbed and the boys leapt from rock to rock balancing and trying (unsuccessfully) to keep dry. Big J and I were reminded of the old video game Frogger.

We had a good time around the campsite too. We had lots and lots of campfires and burned lots of firewood. I tried to teach the 5yo how to toast marshmallows without burning them, but I don't think 5yo's are able to toast without burning. ;-) We ate way too many smores. We shared a book of campfire poems and made up a few silly stories. When it was still light outside Little J used a sling shot to practice aiming gravel at some of the trees behind our campsite. There was also an area with lots of trees but little undergrowth that made a perfect play area for the other two boys. They started off by saying it was Endor (as in Star Wars) and a couple of sticks were their light sabers. But a little while later they switched to pretending to catch Pokemon and I guess they were in the Pokemon world back there. They spent lots of time back there which really helped me out when I was busy trying to cook a meal.

At night time we slept so peacefully in our tent. It was surprisingly warm enough for us to have the windows unzipped all night both nights. There is nothing like lying there at 6am looking out at the trees which are just starting to become visible as the sun begins to rise. The birds start coming to life all at once. Sleeping on the ground isn't as easy for me as it used to be and I have to use an air mattress. But I am determined that I'm not going to stop doing this until I absolutely have to. I took my medicines to minimize the pain. I woke up stiff and a little sore in the morning, but it was so pleasant otherwise that I didn't let the discomfort bother me. Up and at 'em and some instant coffee got me going pretty quick.

I think I have one more post in me about our eating habits while camping and how we handled the vegetarian thing. But I'll have to wait a little bit before I get to that post. I still need to unpack. Stay tuned to my next post...

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Hiking with kids

We just got home from our annual family spring camping trip. I have several blog posts bumping around in my head now. I thought I'd start out by sharing our hiking adventures with our kids. Maybe this will help some other parents out there who may be planning summer outings with their own kids.

My husband and I have always enjoyed hiking and have taken our kids along since they were small. But I have to admit that kids can get bored with hiking easier than adults do. If you are a parent who has tried to take kids hiking, you may remember getting about halfway into the hike when the whining begins. Are we almost done? Will you carry me? I'm bored. I'm hot. There are too many bugs. My feet hurt.

I have found that the best way to avoid these situations is to plan your hikes with your kids in mind. Rather than just going out hiking and soaking in nature (which is often perfect for adults), go out with a purpose in mind. Set a goal for the trip and get the kids involved. Not only will they not complain, but they'll get just as excited as you (or maybe even more so!).

This weekend we made three small hikes. Saturday morning was our least structured hike. We picked a trail that was about 1 mile long. Having done this before, I know that E (10yo) loves identifying trees. I love to identify wildflowers. Big J, Little J (15yo), and D (5yo) all love just looking around and seeing what they can see. Little J is good at teaching D things that he has learned through Boy Scouts. Anyway, for our first hike, we just took a little time to do our own things all within the same area of the trail. I was thrilled to find several new wildflowers this year and correctly identify them. Meanwhile, E was learning to distinguish different kinds of oaks. D just enjoyed finding sticks or rocks on the trail and throwing them into the undergrowth.

After a lunch break and a trip to the park's nature center, we were ready for our first planned hike. (I can't take full credit for these ideas. They actually came from the Cub Scout How-To book for leaders. I just adapted them for my family.) Anyway, before we left home, I printed out sheets for our ABC Scavenger Hunt. On each sheet I printed out each letter of the alphabet. I made a few copies so we'd have plenty. We split into two teams: Me and E on one team and Big J, Little J, and D on the other team. When we got to the trail head we checked our watches and agreed to meet back at that spot in one hour. Then we took off. On our hike we had to find one sight, sound, or smell for every letter of the alphabet. Everyone had fun with that one - even D, who can't read yet, loved helping his dad and big brother. We only found 20 items while the guys got 26 (although I think they cheated by choosing "zipper" from Little J's shorts for Z and they found an insect they named "Quinton" for Q).

This morning after breakfast we had our second scavenger hunt. Again, I printed up a few copies of a Nature Scavenger Hunt list. The list included items we might find on a hike such as an anthill, a maple leaf, an animal track, a spider web, etc. We split into different teams this time. This time Little J and D came with me while E went with his dad. We went to a different trailhead this time and agreed to meet back there in an hour. This was a lot of fun. D was disappointed that he couldn't find the raccoon that he'd been looking for. But we had lots of fun finding the other items.

A cool side effect of these hikes is that my kids are really learning a lot about nature. My 10yo can correctly identify 2-3 different kinds of trees by looking at their leaves. D, who is only 5, can correctly identify deer tracks and anthills and woodpecker holes, just to name a few. Even Little J (who considers himself an outdoor expert since he camps out with the Boy Scouts so much) learned something new when I showed him wild garlic on the trail today. He'd never seen it before.

What a great way to spend time with your family!

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