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.

Snapshots from Germany

We just returned from a trip to Germany and India. We had an amazing time! But it feels good to be back in our own familiar space. We enjoyed exploring a new-to-us country (Germany) and had a really special time with my family (India). Of course, we keep learning new things about traveling with a toddler and packing light. I’m working on posts about our travels that I’ll share soon, but I wanted to leave you all with a small taste of what we experienced during our days in Germany. We spent time in Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Würzburg.

Along the Aldstadt (old town) in Frankfurt.
The Kaiserdom in Frankfurt, a Roman Catholic Gothic Church within the city dedicated to St. Bartholomew. We strutted past the sign that said “enter at your own risk” and climbed the 328 steps to the top of the bell tower where we got incredible 360 degree views of the city!
Frankfurt, or Frankfurt Am Main as it is officially called, is unique in its own way. We were amazed at the contrast of old vs. new within the city walls. They call it Mainhattan, as it’s a major financial capital of Europe and also home to the European Central Bank.
The grounds of Heidelberg Castle were the perfect space to do a little morning running.
Beautiful Sundial at Heidelberg Castle.

Tis’ the season. The radishes looked as tempting as the strawberries.


These little candy and nut trolleys dotted the marketplace in Heidelberg. I hear the whole setup goes into overload when the Christmas market opens for the year.

What really captured me about this church in Würzburg were the oil paintings depicting the Stations of the Cross along the side walls.
We really enjoyed walking around Würzburg. Between the cobblestone streets of the old town, the markets, the churches, and all the old buildings, every time we turned a corner, we saw another incredible sight.
We really enjoyed walking around Würzburg. Between the cobblestone streets of the old town, the markets, the churches, and all the old buildings, every time we turned a corner, we saw another incredible sight.
We got pizza for lunch one day. It was good, but not nearly as good as the endless distractions in the Marktplatz.

Lessons from my first Camping trip

In an odd way, it was my upbringing that spurred my interest in hiking, backpacking and camping. Mainly because I never grew up doing anything close to it. Growing up in a city of several million people in southern India, I saw more people and concrete buildings than trees. Fast forward years later, after I hopped a plane to come to the United States, to my first camping trip. Let me tell you about that first time…

The first time I ever went camping was at a state park in Texas, during my senior year of college. I went with my boyfriend at the time, and his best friend who was visiting from their hometown. None of us knew anything about camping, so we picked a nice state park campground close to where we were, and planned to go for only one night. It was a lovely fall weekend and the temperatures were mild. My boyfriend literally went out the night before to buy everything at the local big blue box store that’s not known for selling quality outdoor gear. Sleeping bags, four bundles of firewood, gimmicky contraptions to make popcorn and s’mores over a fire, a 100-pack of styrofoam plates and napkins – all this for one night, mind you. The grand finale of the shopping fit was an eight-person tent with two rooms. The entire tent folded up into a large duffel bag, the same size as one you would carry on a two-week vacation somewhere with no laundry facilities. The question “what were you thinking” came to mind.

We had no idea how to pack and carry all this stuff, so it was all in plastic bags and storage totes. The campsite was a walk-in site about 500-yards away from the parking lot, so all three of us made several trips back and forth to haul everything out to the campsite. Oh, and it was pitch dark when we arrived. (This was only one of several mistakes we made that weekend, as you can imagine.) We spent a few minutes taking the tags off all the (brand new) equipment, and piled them all on the picnic able as a neat reminder of how much we were taken for. After what seemed like hours later, we had a fully set up tent. Happy with the evening’s effort, we started cooking an elaborate three-course dinner featuring New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes, and firepit roasted veggies before breaking out the popcorn and s’more makers. Come morning, we realized that no one had remembered to bring anything for breakfast. So we broke camp, explored a bit of the park, then hit the Dairy Queen on our way home.  By the way, that tent never did fit back into the duffel bag as neatly as it has come, so it just got bundled into the truck.

All in all, it was not an ideal first camping trip and it could have turned me off camping for the rest of my life. Except, I fell in love. I fell in love with this new way of enjoying nature and being outdoors. I fell in love with sleeping under the stars. I fell in love with the idea of experiencing beautiful places at odd times that one normally wouldn’t get to…times when you would be doing ordinary things at home like picking up the living room or brushing your teeth. It was just so different from anything I had ever done before.

That trip was over ten years ago now and, every time I remember it, I cannot help but smile at how much I have learned and changed. I now rest assured in the fact that the most incredible tasting s’mores are toasted directly over the campfire, rather than in some funky contraption – the likes of which (I’m happy to report) I have not laid eyes on since that first time. And, obviously, now I know it’s entirely possible to have a hike-in campsite and only make one trip.

After that, I didn’t have the opportunity to go camping again until after I moved to Wisconsin and met Ryan. Growing up he had never camped either, but he went a few times in his early working years and certainly knew more about this stuff than I did. We started going camping early in our married life, as a way to see new places cheaply. As a couple, we’ve always tried to be minimalist (sometimes to an extreme – but more on that in an upcoming post!), so we never packed a whole lot to begin with. Certainly no gimmicky popcorn and s’more makers. With every trip we try to learn something, to make some small improvement in bringing less stuff, without creating additional discomfort, and while still enjoying ourselves. All of this has been more challenging with our baby, now toddler. But, on a more holistic level, we’re actually finding that having less stuff lets us enjoy what we do have more.

None of these revelations are right or wrong. They just work well for us.

If you have found camping stressful in the past, it might have been because you had too much stuff. It certainly detracted from my first experience. We’ve all seen campsites with picnic tables completely overloaded with stuff. Piles and piles of bulk food items, disposable plates, cheap but huge colorful games and toys, giant water coolers, etc. There’s no room at the table, because of all the stuff, so everything else goes on the ground. The more stuff you bring, the more there is to keep track of, clean up, get stressed out about, and organize. That could get tiresome for anyone. You don’t need to bring your entire house along to go camping. But being minimalist does not mean being uncomfortable, either! With a little planning, you don’t need a lot of gear. Even with a baby or toddler. But you do need the right gear. Bring what you need (not what you think you’ll need) to be comfortable and relaxed. Nothing more. I’ll do a whole post on this soon.

Or maybe you haven’t enjoyed camping because your expectations weren’t aligned with your experience. Nothing will be as comfortable as sleeping in your own bed, or cooking in your own kitchen, or using your own bathroom. But, is that really the point anyway?

Or maybe you go camping to please someone dear to you who does enjoy it?

In any of these situations, it helps to consider your motivation. Your why.

People have different reasons. Us, we backpack, hike and camp for the same reasons we travel – because it’s part of our why. We want to continue challenging ourselves, broadening our horizons, and keep physically active while exploring new places frugally. There are hidden gems waiting to be discovered, and some are not much further than your closest lake, river, forest, mountain, or coast. So, get outside!

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.