Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Outside 365 | May 2016

Summer break is officially here and we are going strong in our efforts to be outside. A friend recently asked if I planned to keep it up through the hot months of the summer, and the answer is: I hope so.

We were outside every day in the month of May. We picked strawberries, introduced Isaac to paddling, saw the end of T-Ball season, went camping, swam at the lake with friends, hiked, and enjoyed plain, old-fashioned fun at the park. 

Jack has made new friends, participated in pick-up baseball games in our neighborhood, helped Daniel wash our cars and do yard work, and had a fun Memorial Day weekend. The possibilities are endless.

At one of my very first jobs, I worked in the marketing department of an office supply vendor for the office supply box stores (Staples, OfficeMax, etc.) and the Vice President of the department was always wanting me to make the products (staplers, stamps, etc.) look "sexy." I would just roll my eyes, because really, office supplies are not inherently sexy. 

I have a point here – spending time outside doesn't have to be about epic activities. Sometimes we just need to embrace where we are at. Sometimes a stapler is just a stapler... Sure I would love to visit National Parks out west and check more high points off my list, but really I am just happy that my family is spending time in nature without a lot of distractions.

I recently read an article saying that people who spent time in nature are nicer than indoorsy people. I believe it. If I get stuck inside for too long, I find myself getting cranky. I need to feel the sunshine and breathe in some fresh air while getting my heart pumping. I also enjoy getting to chat with a friend on the playground while my kid plays. It definitely makes me a nicer person.

A Look Back at Project Outside 365: 
January 2016 ⎮ February 2016 ⎮ March 2016 ⎮ April 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

McCoy Farm Memorial Day Picnic

We had a busy Memorial Day weekend with a day hike in North Carolina on Saturday, a neighborhood BBQ on Sunday, and the second annual McCoy Farm Memorial Day picnic on Monday.

The picnic lasted from 11am-4pm and was free to the public, with the option to buy food from the Lion's Club and participate in a silent auction. 

We parked at the church across the street and were shuttled in a golf cart part of the way – we had our wagon with us, but the driver graciously let Daniel and I ride while pulling the wagon! The boys got a kick out of that.

At the event, we listened to live music, purchased hamburgers and pizza from the local Lion's Club, and let the boys play various games set up on the lawn. 

I think Jack's favorite things included getting his face painted, having his first taste of cotton candy, and checking out all of the fire engines.

The weather wasn't too hot yet and sitting the shade was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Isaac was a little young to really play, but he had a blast with a couple of balloons that someone gave him.

We had a great time and look forward to more of these annual picnics. Next time we will make sure to meet up with friends, but it was fun as a family event too. 

The little green wagon that Isaac received for his first birthday is really coming in handy this summer!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cherohala Skyway: Huckleberry Knob and Bald River Falls

Back in 2007, what feels like a lifetime ago, Daniel and I took a trip to western North Carolina where Daniel convinced me to bike part of the Cherohala Skyway

On that trip, we started on the North Carolina side at Hooper Cove, elevation 3,096 ft., and biked 9 miles straight up to Santeetlah, elevation 5,377 ft., before heading back down to our car. Did I mention it was my first experience road biking? Or that most of this bike ride was on a 9% grade?

Anyways, nine years later we decided to take our kids to hike a trail that is located on this same section of the Cherohala Skyway

As we drove up the hills and through the many turns, I was a bit shocked that we had actually biked up this road. We told Jack about our feat, but I'm not sure that he believed us... I'm not sure that I believe us! Thank goodness for pictures to prove we did it.

For this adventure, we decided to do a hike to the top of Huckleberry Knob. The bald can be accessed from the Huckleberry pull off, with a starting elevation of 5,300 ft. At 5,560 ft., Huckleberry Knob is the highest point in the Cheoah Ranger District.

From the parking lot, we walked over Oak Knob before ascending Huckleberry Knob. At 2.5 miles round trip, this was a very easy hike for our family.

As always, it took a little while to get Jack in the mood for hiking. I think he is like his mama in that hiking in the woods is ok, but running across wide open spaces with endless views provides a thrill that fuels his desire to hike.

Once we reached our destination, we enjoyed the beautiful 360º views. We pointed out Oak Knob that we had walked across and even found a section of the Cherohala Skyway in the distance. Jack was amazed.

On top of Huckleberry Knob is a small cross with a plaque that tells the history of a group of men that died on the mountain and were buried in the 1800s because they were unprepared for the weather – the temperatures can drop up to 20º on the Skyway. When we left Tellico Plains, TN it was 80º, when we reached our trail head it was 65º.

After we explained the meaning of the cross, Jack told us, "I'm always going to be prepared. I don't want to die up here." Good plan, Jack!

We had a snack break before heading back down to our car. Since we had a little time before dinner, we decided to check out the Bald River Falls, located about 6 miles off of the Tennessee end of the Cherohala Skyway.

We were surprised to find so many cars at this destination, but the falls were worth the visit. They are located right off of the road, so many people just took a photo from the bridge in front of the falls. We opted to climb down to the river to get our feet wet.

While splashing around, Jack informed us that it was the most awesome-est day ever. As parents, there is no better compliment.

I felt a little bad dragging Jack away from the water, but we did let him do a little free climbing, with Daniel's help of course. 

It really was an awesome day. The weather was perfect, we were outside spending time with the people we love most in the world. Not too bad for a little impromptu trip.

And who knows, maybe we will come back and bike the entire 36 miles of the skyway one day!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Isaac's First Haircut


We have been taking Jack to Pigtails and Crewcuts since we moved to Chattanooga. His first haircut experience was great, but subsequent ones were more of a challenge. But then we discovered P&C and Jack has loved every haircut since.

He calls it "his hair cutting place that has movies and bubbles."

For the last month or so we have been feeling the need to cut Isaac's hair. It was approaching baby mullet in the back and his bangs were constantly in his little eyes. But I couldn't bring myself to get it cut before his first birthday, so we put it off.

But this week we agreed that it was time. Daniel had a light work week so he was able to meet us at the haircut place.

We let Jack go first so that Isaac could observe and then our littlest guy took his turn.

The kids love that they get to pick a vehicle to ride in. Isaac was totally enamored with getting to drive his own fire engine and ring the bell. He only fussed a couple of times, but I think that had more to do with not being able to find his hands under the cape than it did with the actual haircut.

Pigtails and Crewcuts cost a bit more, but we always have a good experience.

Haircut milestones are bittersweet. Our little guy no longer looks like a baby and Jack is looking more and more like a big kid these days.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Isaac's First Camping Trip

At a little over 13 months old, we finally took Isaac on his first camping trip. We have been wanting to go for awhile (our last camping excursion being when I was still pregnant with Isaac), but Daniel's work schedule just hasn't been conducive to this type of outing.

Lucky for us, this entire month Daniel has had a more laid back schedule so we figured we better squeeze in a camping trip while the weather was still nice.

Our original plans included camping with friends, but when that fell through, we decided we needed to go anyway. Our challenges were that Friday night it was pouring cats and dogs and Saturday morning Jack had his last T Ball game. 

So we compromised and Daniel went to Chester Frost Park on his way home from work on Friday (in the rain) and secured a great camp site for both Friday and Saturday nights (we had to reserve Friday as well because the park operates on a first come, first serve basis).

Chester Frost is a park known to fill up quickly because most of the sites are right on the water – perfect for launching kayaks and some sites even have docks with deep water for bigger boats. 

On this occasion, the rain worked to our advantage. Daniel was able to pay $11/night for a prime primitive site. Since it was raining and we already had Saturday morning plans, we reserved the site but didn't set up camp until Saturday afternoon. An extra $11 seemed worth it.

It was a good thing we did that, because on Saturday and Sunday the place was packed!

In a previous life (pre-kids) Daniel and I rarely car camped. For one thing we don't like being packed in like sardines next to other campers that we don't know. You never know if someone is going to decide to blast music all night.

But since having kids, we are trying to embrace easing them (and us) into the experience... so for now, car camping is how we roll.

In terms of location, our site was pretty perfect. We were on a point right on the water. It was shaded and pretty separate from the other campers. We could launch our kayak fairly easily, and unloading our gear was a cinch. Even though we didn't have water or electricity (not a big deal in our book), there was a bathhouse within walking distance.

There are two negatives that I can think of: the first was that the site was really gravely without grass. This was hard since we have a toddler who loves to put things in his mouth. Which meant we spent our time removing pebbles and dirt from his mouth. The other negative was that our prime spot on the river meant we got to listen to the night fishers out on their boats until the wee hours. But the negatives were really just mild annoyances, not deal breakers.

Overall Isaac did really well on this trip (besides trying to eat pebbles). We set up his pack-n-play and let him fuss a bit until he fell asleep. Thankfully he was out by 8pm. 

Jack, on the other hand, got to stay up with us, roasting marshmallows (marsh-a-bellows as he still calls them) for s'mores and watching the sun set and the moon come up over the river. 

He was a trooper until 10pm when he faked falling asleep and we had to dress a little rag doll of a boy for bed.

Sophie also did really well, especially considering that we were in a campground full of strangers. If you know our dog, this is a big deal!

Another benefit of our spot was that we were able to take the kayak out. After our last experience with Isaac, we decided we would only take Jack out this time around. This would leave one adult on dry land with the baby and our dog.

The wind was really gusting all weekend which meant for choppy water so we didn't want to get out on the river with a baby in tow.

I think Jack had a great time getting to spend one-on-one time with each of us, and Sophie even got a ride with Daniel and Jack (things sure have changed from the time she was terrified of our canoe and the water!).

Daniel and I each took time out on the kayak by ourselves. It was a nice way to spend part of our weekend. 

The weather was really perfect. I'm so glad we took the opportunity to go camping while we could. Hopefully this will become a more regular occurrence and before long we will be able to go back our roots and backpack to more remote sites!

Our best tips (from this experience) of camping with little kids:
  • Bring a wagon (or a toy your kid loves). Isaac adores his wagon and will happily spend hours climbing in and out of it. Once he tires of it, we would take turns pulling him around to squeals of delight. 

  • S'mores and campfires! Let your bigger kid stay up. Jack loved staying up, building the campfire and making S'mores with us. This allowed Isaac to go to sleep without distractions and it made the experience more special for Jack.
  • Keep the food simple. Since we were car camping, I ran into town and grabbed BBQ for us for dinner and then we made fried spam and pancakes on our camp stove for breakfast. 

  • Just relax and enjoy your time together. Enough said.

A Look Back: Jack's First Camping Trip

Family Hike at Fiery Gizzard

On Saturday we had originally planned to go on a group hike on the Fiery Gizzard Trail , but it was cancelled at the last minutes. So...