Five Reasons To Go Hiking With Your Kids

So, really, there are way more than five reasons why you should take a hike with your kids. But these are pretty cool.

1. The Physical Challenge

Whether you choose to stroll down the sidewalk of your tree-lined street, stomp through the grass around your closest pond, or head for the hills, moving your body and getting outside brings countless health benefits. It is great exercise for both you and your little ones. Even more so for parents toting children in some type of carrier.


In our present stage of life, with an eight-month-old baby, and a two-and-a-half year old, my husband and I each carry between twenty and thirty-five pounds of kids and gear on hikes. I feel both physically challenged and wonderfully satisfied carrying my baby girl up the side of a mountain, and my husband – who carries our much heavier toddler – concurs. It’s a great workout, and it’s free. (Or really cheap.)


2. The Opportunities To Learn And Play

The natural world is full of opportunities to enhance a child’s education. Our oldest is two-and-a-half now, and at his two-year checkup we were told he had a mild isolated speech delay. While he has made huge strides in the past six months, and is speaking full, complete sentences now, taking him outside on hikes has given him and us new opportunities to learn. We spend hours reading books and talking to both of our kids at home or in everyday situations like running errands, but we know that there is more than one way to learn. One of those ways involves using the outdoors to look for educational opportunities. We always talk about what we see on hikes. The moss on trees (“is the moss soft or hard?”), counting how many steps there are on a bridge across a trail, birds flitting about, chipmunks scurrying across the trail with a contraband peanut, the sounds of a creek or waterfall (“are we getting closer or farther from the water?”), sea creatures or clamshells washed up on a beach. Etc. Observation and Processing = Learning.


Hiking is good for play, too. No need to bring along any toys on hikes. Sticks, dirt, mud – these are all the oldest toys in the world, and they’re totally free.

Another highlight of hiking with our kids is that we get to share one of our favorite hobbies – foraging for edible plants – with them. While our son may not know all his ABCs or be able to count to one hundred, he can certainly show off when it comes to spotting multiple edible plants from impressive distances up a trail.


Hiking has given us all new learning opportunities, but it has certainly given my son his moments to shine.

3. You Get To Bond In New Ways

Engaging with our kids on hikes is one of the most rewarding things about hiking. It’s really cool to see or hear them get excited about something during a hike, and to show them that there’s a reward – a beautiful view, a lake, waterfall, or something cool – along the way.


We get glimpses into how their imaginations work, and we notice the world differently through their senses. It’s awesome. Plus, I just love the physical bond of carrying my children while they are still little – these days are short and I want to enjoy them while they last.


4. You Know They Are Safe

Our kids are still little enough that we can strap them into carriers and take them along on most of the hikes we would choose even before we had kids. If they are comfortable, fed, get enough breaks to burn off energy, and feel safe, they’re pretty easy and delightful company on hikes.


We do let our toddler walk on trails that are not too rocky or steep for his little legs, for as long as he wants to and is able to. When he gets tired, he either rides on Daddy’s shoulders or for longer hikes in the backpack carrier. We are accountable for teaching our kids how to hike safely, and how to enjoy the outdoors as we do. Sometimes this looks like going at the ever-adorable yet excruciatingly slow toddler speed, or playing the “red light green light” game for way longer than we want to, and standing aside carefully to let upward hikers pass. When they’re with us, we know they’re as safe as we are.

5. Fringe Benefits

Hiking for exercise or entertainment or both has numerous fringe benefits. We don’t have to worry about how much it’s going to cost, and we don’t ever have to ration it or feel guilty about “too much screen time.” Our kids always come home tired. Sure, the regular schedule might be different on a long hiking day, and naps might not happen when or as they should. But, ultimately, tired bodies = better overall sleep. I’ll take that any day.

In my book, this particular fringe benefit is a winner by far – our kids invariably fall asleep on longer hikes, giving my husband and me chances to have peaceful, uninterrupted conversations on the trail (in the middle of the day – gasp)! We savor these moments for all they’re worth knowing these opportunities are rare at home. Gosh, sometimes, if the trail is wide enough we even hold hands!

And there you have it, folks. Five good reasons to go hiking with your littles. If you’ve got more to add to the list – please feel free to share. I’d love to hear your favorites!

On flowers, forgotten shoes, forgiveness and flexibility

We decided to go to the Tulip Festival this weekend. If you’ve ever spent a spring season in the Seattle area, you probably know what this is. Miles and miles of tulips, even some daffodils and irises, all over the fertile soils of the Skagit River valley, against the backdrop of the beautiful Cascade mountains. In five years of living in the Pacific Northwest we have been slowly working through our list of things to do and see here, we just hadn’t gotten to the Tulip Festival yet. Our family isn’t necessarily hardcore about flowers. But, since it’s such big deal around here, we wanted to go. So when a friend called me up a few days before, and invited us to tag along with their family, we said “sure!” We like them, our kids are the same ages, and we could think of nothing more wonderful than hanging out with friends and letting our toddlers run around while we all enjoyed thousands of glorious tulips on a beautiful day. So, this was the year we would go to the famous Tulip Festival.

We hopped on the Interstate Saturday morning, braved the traffic at the crowded exits with the thousands of others who also wanted to see the tulips, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally pulled into the parking area of ‘Tulip Town.’ We decided to walk around a bit and get our bearings since our friends were delayed in traffic. I strapped baby Arya into the Ergo carrier, while Ryan tended to putting on Johann’s socks and shoes. (The kid has kicked off his socks and shoes since birth, so we’ve learned to just leave them off for long car rides and save ourselves the work of putting them on again and again.)

And, then Ryan says “you grabbed Johann’s shoes, right?”

Um. No. You were supposed to put his shoes and socks in the car. You’re joking, right? It was the one thing I had asked for help with as we were heading out the door that morning.

No response.

“Ryan, please be joking.” Crickets again.

And, then, I got that sinking feeling. “Just remember that you love me.”  (We had just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary the day before, and love was in the air.) And, then the facts were revealed. Ryan had put his socks on, but had totally forgotten about his shoes which were safely still tucked away in the closet. No, no, no! This was bad. We were over an hour’s drive from home. What better thing to leave at home than the shoes of a two year old boy with lots of energy, when you’ve planned to spend the entire morning in a place like this!? We didn’t have spare shoes in the car. No stroller, or backup baby carrier. We are minimalists, after all. We don’t even have that much stuff to bring on these day trips, how could we leave behind something as critical as shoes!? I’m usually so prepared!

I am a planner. Ryan is the flexible spontaneous one. I like knowing what’s coming in any given situation. He finds it easy to improvise and make the most of things. No shoes? This didn’t fit into my plans for the morning. At that moment, we had two choices. A: we could stay and try to make the most of it. Or, B: pout and go home. After a few minutes deliberation, (during which time I did pout, but also decided to forgive Ryan) we decided to stay and try to make the most of it. Besides, the nice festival folks had just fleeced us for $12 to be here.

Johann could have run around barefoot, if we were perhaps in another country or we didn’t care much about keeping our toddler’s feet unhurt. But that wasn’t really viable. So, Johann could ride on daddy’s shoulders (which they both love). But I had a feeling it wouldn’t last long. There was at least a mile or two of walking involved, Johann could get restless, Ryan’s shoulders could get sore, and we wouldn’t want to inhibit our friends from seeing everything they wanted to see too. But we would see how it went.

We walked around a little bit, while we waited for our friends to arrive. Johann was content to ride on his dad’s shoulders. He did ask a couple times to “get down” but didn’t fuss when we said he couldn’t because he didn’t have shoes on. When our friends arrived, they didn’t have a spare pair of shoes either. But they had brought a double stroller for their kids. Their toddler was more content to run around so they offered Johann his seat. I wasn’t sure about this at all. For the past several months, it has taken a ton of coaxing to get Johann to sit in a stroller. He prefers to walk or run everywhere and doesn’t enjoy sitting in the stroller anymore. To my surprise, Johann rode the entire way in their stroller. Happy as a clam. Maybe it was the novelty of it, or maybe he was just being extraordinarily good. But everything went fine. The kids were all well-behaved, and everyone had a good time. It turned out to be a lovely morning. The tulips were truly stunning.

We all went out to lunch afterwards. By that time, Johann had stopped asking to “get down.” Maybe he remembered that it wasn’t an option any more. We parted ways with our friends after lunch, and got home later that afternoon where Johann played in the backyard and “helped” his dad with some yard work (with shoes on). He did eventually burn off all the energy that had built up over the course of the day.

Everything had turned out fine. We finally made it to the Tulip Festival. It wasn’t such a big a deal that Johann didn’t have his shoes. What was I so worried about earlier? So we messed up and left something behind. Who doesn’t do that from time to time? My change in attitude was the turning point of the morning. I could have sulked, placed blame, and chosen not to have a good time. This parenting thing is hard. It doesn’t need to be made any harder by beating ourselves up when something doesn’t go well. Little eyes are watching and little ears are hearing how we respond. I am grateful for my husband, the wiser parent in many regards, who balances me out and models what it means to try to make the most of a less than ideal situation.


As we were walking out of the tulip fields back to our parked car, we stopped to admire the kites flying by the entrance. It reminded me that there is freedom in forgiving ourselves and our spouses, and finding the flexibility to blow where the wind takes you. I want my kids to learn that! And, I am learning that too.

The Virtue of Contemplation

There are seasons of exploration. And then there are seasons of contemplation. Opportunities to slow down and soak in change. A chance to grow amidst life’s transitions. This is that season for me. For us.

Last year was a year for exploring. It was soul-enriching. We went new places, did new things, and had a ton of fun. And then, in October, our second child was born. Our new baby girl Arya has added a whole new kind of enrichment to our family life. She has given us the opportunity to slow down and figure out life with two littles. It’s been a couple of months of hard work to maintain peace and find balance in our new life. We have worked hard to simply keep up with the mundane, but still very necessary things. Things like keeping our two dogs walked, making time to exercise or finish an important conversation with the spouse, keeping everyone fed and bathed and in clean clothes, tackling the never-ending piles of dishes and laundry (compounded by the fact that we have two kids in cloth diapers). But we’ve also cut back and slowed down in other areas, to savor and give one hundred percent to the things that truly matter. Things like serving others. Fostering friendships, old and new. And we’re hearing things better. Sounds like leaves falling off trees while taking our toddler to the park, and hearing our toddler give his baby sister kisses (which may be the sweetest thing we’ve experienced yet).

If you’ve been reading for a while you’ll know that I’ve blogged about this before. For years before our kids were born, we said our lives won’t stop when we have kids. When Johann was born it was a hard change, but it seemed like we fell back into an active life soon enough and he just came along for the ride. While life is certainly harder now with two young kids (and it’s only been three months!) in some ways not much has changed. We’re still the same people, we still have the same values, the same priorities, the same purpose and the same drive. We’re just in a season of contemplation. Transition. Figuring out our new normal.

Ryan and I are talking about what backpacking, camping, and travel will look like for us this year. People still ask us if we’re crazy for continuing to do this stuff with two littles aged two and under. We may be! And, we hear a lot of “I don’t know how you do it.” But the things we do: get outside, travel, be still in nature, live with less stuff, live responsibly towards our planet, be more self-sufficient, continue enjoying financial peace and debt-freedom…among other things, these stem from our values, our WHYThese are things we so desperately want to pass on to our children that we are being intentional about them. A little planning, and starting small goes a long way. Arya went out on her first real hike at four weeks old. It was a tame forty-five-minute back-and-forth thing, but it was enough for us to see that she, too, has inherited her parents’ love of the outdoors. We took her to the mountains to play in the snow and went sledding all day at nine weeks. She is already adventurous like her big brother, and every bit as flexible and easy-going.

Life is good, and it’s about to get very, very exciting indeed.

So, I’m still here. And, I’ll be back to post more frequently as we move towards our new normal. Thank you so much for sticking with me, for reading, and for the words of encouragement.

The small daily choices we make

A few months ago we started hiking with a new group of people. Ryan and I believe that life is better when lived in community, and that one main reason humans exist is to be in relationship with others in that community. So we put this group together. We wanted to meet others like us, and provide encouragement and support to other new parents who either like hiking or want to start hiking and bring their little ones along for the ride. Our group goes out on hikes a couple times a month. Our party spans babies and toddlers in carriers, and bigger kids who hike on their own. It’s great.

On a recent hike to an alpine lake, we had enjoyed a lakeside lunch and were hiking back down the trail when we passed an older gentleman. He may have been in his sixties. He smiled and looked directly at my toddler son Johann who was happily lounging in his carrier, then said to him “You’ve got good parents. When I was your age I was sitting on my mother’s lap while she smoked a cigarette.” We all burst out laughing. To date, this is the funniest and most unique thing anyone has ever said to my kid on a trail.

I overanalyze most things, so I couldn’t just leave it at that.

So, I’ve given a lot of thought to this gentleman’s comment. What did he really mean? Was he saying something about our generation somehow being different than the previous? No, that couldn’t be it. After all, today there are still people who smoke cigarettes while bouncing babies on their laps. And, there are people who smoke in their car with an infant in the backseat. And, we’ve all seen moms and dads pushing strollers around while smoking. (You’ll find no judgment here, but…pray tell me, why?) But, I digress.

So, it doesn’t really seem like a comment about generations. No.

Then, was his comment about geography?

With the fresh air of the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound practically blowing through our backyard, our personal choice to get outside is an easy one. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ryan and I would have had different childhoods if we had grown up here in the Pacific Northwest, a place we both haven’t been able to get enough of and have been head-over-heels in love with ever since we moved here. The answer I’ve come up with is…probably not. We’ve met plenty of people here, our age or older, who were locally born and raised but never went hiking until recently.

Replace mountains with cornfields, and you’ll see Ryan and I in our pre-baby era a few years ago enjoying the countryside surrounding our former home in a small town in Wisconsin. We’ve accumulated many happy memories on the rivers, bike trails, and country roads that zigzag through the valleys and rolling hills of those parts.

We chose to pursue those activities. And, it’s true that not everyone enjoys the same activities we do. But, in talking with our new local acquaintances who have recently discovered the joy of hiking, I got the impression that they didn’t grow up doing these things because their parents didn’t either. When I was growing up on the other side of the world, in a crowded metropolitan city in India, to be exact, I played outside a lot. My “outdoor play” usually meant playing with neighbor kids in the parking lot of apartment buildings, or after school on my school grounds. My husband, on the other hand, grew up spending most of his playtime out in the woods surrounding his home in rural Texas, where his closest neighbor was miles away.

So, it’s not about geography either. Is it about taking advantage of good weather?

Sometimes, extreme weather makes getting outside more complicated, and less fun. The dry heat south Texas was often uncomfortable during my husband’s childhood. And, in addition to its severe heat and humidity, the coastal city of my childhood was prone to frequent cyclones and urban flooding. These things often made it impossible or very difficult for us to get outside. When I moved to Wisconsin almost a decade ago, I complained steadily through my first couple of winters there. One of those winters brought a record-breaking one-hundred-plus inches of snow by December. But our two dogs still needed to be walked. So we made the choice to spend twenty minutes suiting up in heavy snowsuits, winter boots and accessories to cover our various exposed parts just so we could get outside and endure the bone-chilling cold and icy, below-zero winds for another twenty minutes. All this, only to come home and spend twenty minutes stripping all the insulation off and promptly crashing in front of our pellet stove, dogs at our feet, trying desperately to feel our toes again. Even though I’m grateful for the mild weather of the Pacific Northwest, ironically, today it takes me about twenty minutes to get myself and my kid ready to go anywhere, even if it’s just for a stroll around the neighborhood.

So, it’s not really about what the weather is like either. To me, this comes down to individual choices.

As children, our parents shaped our choices. Ryan and I don’t remember our parents spending much time outside with us for fun, at least not in the same ways we do now. (Meaning, no hiking and such.) But, we were very lucky that they encouraged us to get outside. Heck, sometimes they even kicked us out the door to do so. They believed that outdoor play time was good for us, and so they encouraged us to use our imaginations, invent games with the neighbor kids (in my case), and to simply be outdoors no matter what our environment looked like. We are eternally grateful to our parents for shaping our choices.

Our personal hope is to take that one step further by not only encouraging our own kids to get outside, but also participating right alongside them.

Don’t lose heart if you are not the getting outside type, even if your kids are. Our parents weren’t. Because, this isn’t really about getting outside either.

Then what is this about? To me, this is about the small, daily choices we make to encourage our kids. Figuring out what the right kind of encouragement looks like will take some work. No one has it all figured out. But it is possible for me to encourage my child to pursue something even if I myself can’t participate or don’t know anything about it. It’s about small daily choices to steer our kids down a life-giving path. Small, daily choices.

Ode to Camping with a Toddler

I’m sitting on a little slice of heaven. A campfire warms my feet. A delicious dinner rests in my belly. The sun dips below the horizon. The calm waters of Sequim Bay grace my eyes. I settle into my camp chair, pen in hand, journal open, page blank. This hour, this evening should be something special. It has all the makings of an extremely relaxing, joyful evening. Comparable to a soul-enriching conversation with friends. Or a margarita on the beach.

But it’s not.

At this same moment, my toddler is fussing and throwing another tantrum. My husband puts him into the Ergo carrier. My husband and I have both decided to spend some time reading and journaling this evening. I’ve already started.  My husband is doing what great dads and husbands do. He is tending to our son and giving me a few moments to breathe, to take in the promised serenity of our weekend of camping.

Camping. With a toddler.

Our son is calm now. My husband is walking around with him still strapped in, entertaining him by narrating various happenings around our campsite. My husband is trying to write in his own journal, but tiny hands keep stealing the pen away. It’s a lost cause. He starts reading aloud, instead. The reading is punctuated by occasional bursts of energy from the toddler. He grabs his dad’s face, mouth, ears, nose. He is learning body parts and wants to show off for us.

They move on to play with the straps securing the kayaks to our vehicle, parked nearby.  The straps are springy and they bounce when pulled, providing some amusement. Any amusement. Because we’re camping with a toddler, and anything goes. But the current entertainment isn’t cutting it. So the boys are going for a short walk around the campground. My husband hopes our son will fall asleep in the carrier.

Because it’s past his normal bedtime. Because, at home, he would be fast asleep in his crib by now. Because it’s still light out, and it’s too early for all of us to go to bed. Because, we’re camping. And, everything is different.

Camping. With a toddler.

It’s pointless to compare now to similar scenes from the years past. Same adults, no toddler, different places. Those relaxing evenings in front of a campfire. Reading, talking, journaling, leisurely sipping wine. Either just the two of us alone, or in the company of friends. Peaceful moments, hours, days that quietly replenished the soul. It’s pointless to long for those evenings. Because this is the season we’re in. This is the season we’ve chosen.

Camping. With a toddler.

He’s got his own sleeping bag now. He’s got his own life vest, and sits in the kayak like a big boy. Now he wants to take in the open waters in front of him, when it was just seconds ago (I swear) he was an immobile infant strapped to my chest, completely oblivious to floating away with us. He’s got his own camp chair, but he won’t sit in it. Now he’d much rather have you chase him through the campground. He’s stubborn, and determined. He is his own person.

It’s pointless to wish time would fly by, and leave these years in the dust. Because it will. No matter what we say or do. Because this season will soon just be a memory. And then, we’ll look back and wonder what the hell our problem was. Because things were so much simpler back then, when they were so little. So full of curiosity. Growing. Learning. Needing us. Needing to be held. Or not needing us. Being their own person.

But this is the season we’re in.

Is there still joy between the tantrums, the mischief, dumping the sippy cup (the only one we brought) straight into the ashes of the firepit, the frustration, and the self-doubt: Why on Earth am I doing this?

Yes, there are moments of joy here. In this season. Yes, even while camping with a toddler. Because it’s just camping with a toddler. Not anything earth-shattering. Not anything devastating. But, everything pure and precious. Like watching my toddler run up and down the beach, picking up driftwood and throwing rocks into ocean. Like watching him curl his mouth into an O, to make the “fishy face” he has made since birth, as if to say he’s just observed the most wondrous thing ever. Like watching him find a stick, throw it away, then retrace five steps to go find it again because that was the best stick. Like watching him dive in to eat the mango, hair first, which makes me decide that mangoes were a terrible idea to bring on a camping trip (what was I thinking).

Yes, these are precious, fleeting moments. And we will find joy in them.