Ten Essentials You Won’t Find at an Outdoor Store

I take camping and backpacking pretty seriously. Like, sometimes it’s actually my job! Right now, I’m getting stoked for summer, and if you are, too, take a look.

1. Sketcher’s GO Step Shoes. Lighter than Chacos, pack smaller than Crocs, warmer and more protective than either for firewood-gathering bushwhacks around camp. I have taken them on every backpacking and canoeing trip since I got a pair at a second hand store and my feet always thank me when I get out of my boots after a long day on the trail. I never knew athletes wore Sketcher’s until Meb won the Boston Marathon wearing them.

2. Plastic sheeting painter’s drop cloth. Make sure you get 4 mil or thicker. So much cheaper than a ground cloth. We cut ours bigger than the floor of our tent, stick it inside and bathtub it up the sides. Never be wet again.


3. Cutting board. Go to Wal-mart or a kitchen store and get a thin, flexible cutting board (sometimes sold in sets). Cut to fit inside your pan for ease of packing. Keep it inside the pan while cutting, then pull it out from under your veggies (don’t forget this step!) and your veggies are ready to saute with no risk of dropped food in transit.

4. Paring knife with sheath. This cost $1. Yup. $1. Kitchen Collection stores, found at outlet centers (including in North Conway if you’re hitting the Whites), has them up front by the register in a rainbow of colors for impulse buy. Impulsively buy as many as you can, then you can keep one in your car for emergency snacks, one at your office for the same, one in your car camping kitchen box, and one in your backpacking. Plus grab a few for your friends and maybe they’ll even invite you camping sometime. Not near a Kitchen Collection? Usually kitchen stores have some version of this for less than $10. Easier to clean than a pocket knife, safer than a handmade cardboard sheath.

5. Car camping plates, backpacking bowls- Plastic in rainbow colors strikes again as you hit up the Christmas Tree shops during picnic season! Big Lots or a dollar store are a good bet, too.


Heading to Bear Country?

6. Bear ropes– 3 pieces of 50 foot cord, one metal pulley from the hardware store. Braided rope stretches less than twisted. Here’s a case where you don’t want stretch. Check weight limits and plan appropriately. One piece of ropes goes through the pulley, each of the other two gets thrown over a tree branch and secured.

7. Onion sack. Pack your food in this before you hang it for the night. Why? It dries fast and if a critter does try to chew it, you won’t have sacrificed a spendy stuff sack. Weighs next to nothing.

IMG_37788. Otter box light– Keep your valuables dry with a snap-lid food storage container from the grocery or dollar store. Check that the lid has a rubber seal (showm here in blue) to keep things tight. Buy a pack of sponges and cut to size to pad the inside when traveling with electronics.

9. Folding toothbrush. Game changer. Wal-Mart or Bed Bath and Beyond are good places to look. Never deal with toothpaste smeared ziplocks again.

10. Apple juice, seltzer, Gatorade bottle, etc. Why buy a Nalgene that’ll weigh you down when these lighter alternatives are practically free? Gatorade bottles are some of the most durable of the options listed here, and depending on the size can have a fairly wide mouth which can make filling easier. If it’s easier to pump into a Nalgene, bring one of each and you can fill one from the other!

BONUS- Metal travel mug. Sure, you can find these at a gear store, but the free give-away variety with some logo on it is sure better. In the picture at the top of the post, we had filled the mug with home dehydrated veggies and some water so they could soak while we hiked and make dinner quicker to cook! Strapping it on the pack in an upright position meant it didn’t matter if it was fully water tight.

JUST FOR THOSE OF US WHO MENSTRUATE- Thinx or other brand period underwear and diva cup. If you use disposables- rubber gloves, ziplock and duct tape for the tidiest trash bag ever (see my post here for the deets).


Can We Stop Saying “Good Kids”?

Each year, literally hundreds of thousands of hours are spent in writing classrooms all across the country with a teacher drilling their students on using synonyms of the word “good.” We despise seeing that in student’s writing. We know there are much better ways to describe a positive situation in writing. Why then, do I hear educators referring to their students as “good kids”?

What on earth is that meant to mean? Let’s be real here. The group of kids I was recently assigned to ski with on a weekly basis were described to me as “good kids.” My principal described the students at my school this way when I interviewed. I’ve also even repeated this phrase back to others who’ve inquired how it’s going. It’s a a short, concise way to answer. The real answer about my ski class? They are five year olds. They have lots of energy until they have absolutely none. They chew with their mouth closed- until a joke is so funny they spit their food out laughing, They follow directions most of the time, until they are out of energy. Why do they follow directions? Probably because they were raised in a family, and sent to a school where this is the norm and the expectation. Sure, every teacher expects their students to listen in class but for those facing other hardships- food insecurity, unstable housing, parental conflict, poverty- focusing on the task at hand can be nearly impossible.

How did my kids get to be “good kids”? Part nature, part nurture, part forces of the universe. When I imagined my future, my biggest fear used to be that I would draw the short straw and end up giving birth to a child who, for whatever reason, despite my best parenting efforts, struggled with social norms, got into fights with their peers, couldn’t keep up academically. I didn’t want to be the parent of “that kid.” I had seen the exhausted and exasperated faces of parents raising the kids who don’t fit the “good kid” bill. Now my biggest fear is that I’ll never give birth to a kid period. Perhaps in my struggle to grow my family, I’ve developed a new outlook on just how precious each one of us is, even those who fail to keep up with the so-called “good kids.” I’d happily parent any kid. My kid. I can see how narrow-minded these fears had been. I’d give anything to be that exasperated parent, just to be a parent. My kid would be my world. And to the parent of each kid, they are the world. Who is anyone to say if they are “good” or not?

Fortunately, we seldom hear people referring to students as “bad kids.” But by not explicitly referring to them as good kids, while we use that term for others, we are implying that “bad kids” do exist. There are no bad kids. Simply kids who need a little extra guidance along the way. We as adults are tasked with giving that to all kids.

Will you join me in my effort to stop saying “good kids” so we can eliminate this lens of judging our youth?

That Ibex Vest, Part II

This is a(nother) post about trying not to judge. Remember those women who walked by me as I perused a sale rack, debating the merits of an impulse buy? They were complaining about a friend who spent $65 on some unknown [to me] item that they thought certainly wasn’t worth that much. Their next words out of their mouths made me decide I was for sure purchasing that Ibex vest:

“Well, she doesn’t have kids, of course she can spend money like that.”

Nothing will make a childless-not-by choice woman (or at least this childless-not-by-choice) woman indulge in retail therapy quicker than words like those. I don’t have kids, of course I can buy whatever I want!

These woman, it seemed were envying their childess friend. Or at least her financial situation. My goodness, I thought, I hope that friend is child-free by choice. I hope her friends are not envying her for a situation she is desperate to get out of, desperate to have a child, desperate to NOT be able to afford that $65 item.

The problem with judging? You never know the full story. We have to trust the full story has the best of intentions, we have to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she’d been saving up for a while for that splurge; maybe she’d recently received a gift that made purchasing it possible; maybe she really wanted to support a small business and purchase a higher cost product made locally instead of a lower cost one on Amazon.

The full story is always more complex. Yours, mine, that woman’s, her friends, Maddy Holleran’s [of What Made Maddy Run]. If you took my advice and read What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, you’ll recall that Maddy had a world of wonderfully uplifting social media posts that masked her underlying turmoil. I’ve thought long and hard about weather or not to cater this blog to one particular audience or another. To have one blog be wonderfully uplifting and another blog wonderfully honest. I know there are writers who keep up multiple blogs for this reason. Sure, I’ll loose readers who are only interested in posts about summer camp if I only post about pregnancy loss and visa versa.

But, I’ve decided that just as I had six jobs the year I started this blog (I think I’m down to 4 this year), I can have 6 (or more!) topics that cross my mind and fill this blog. I’m asking you not to judge me for my honesty on any of them. Feel free to skip over the posts that don’t speak to you, and forgive me if my mind seems “wrapped in a negativity I’ve never seen before.”  Trust me, I’m working on it, and this blog and your support are one of the ways I do that. Thanks for reading!

Loved Baby: A Book Review

I hope you’ll never have to read this book. But, given the fact that one in four pregnancies end in some form loss, it is absolutely fantastic that more and more resources like this are out there. Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss by Sarah Philpott, PhD is a comforting combination of medical facts, personal anecdotes, and biblical inspiration.

The book is divided into 31 easily digestible (read: short) sections perfect for those of us with little attention span, which grief can certainly exacerbate. But short in length does not necessarily mean short in content. The sections cover topics ranging from a discussion on the medical terms used to describe pregnancy loss, sexual intimacy after loss, and trusting God’s plan.

Knowing where to turn after a pregnancy loss can be stressful. She offers gentle advice on navigating the wealth of information on the internet, as well as for connecting with others around loss.

Philpott’s honestly while telling her’s and others stories is refreshing. She really “gets” the emotions that come with grief, from sadness to anger and jealousy and offers concrete advice for moving through and past these. The advice she provides is well researched and doesn’t shy away from encouraging the reader to seek outside help from a mental health professional when necessary. Though it may be unspoken, there can certainly be a stigma surrounding seeking support for mental health concerns, and I have found that sometimes this stigma can needlessly feel harsher in religious communities. I applaud Philpott for validating the real need many people, not just those experiencing pregnancy loss, may have for mental health care.

Stories of women today are interwoven with stories of people from the bible. Loved Baby is notably not preachy or pushy and could be helpful even to someone who is not actively seeking to deepen their Christian faith.

Overall, Loved Baby delivers lots of information on a sensitive topic in a very friendly, if not cheesy way.  I found the tone at times to be a bit cheesy, as readers are periodically addressed as “sweet one,” “sweetheart,” and the like. Others, I’m sure would enjoy this tone, as I’m sure the pink flowered cover would also speak to many (don’t judge a book by it’s cover rings true for me here as I’m not typically a pink flowery type of girl).

Regardless of how you feel about pink and flowers, if you ever should find yourself experiencing pregnancy loss, I would recommend this read. It would also make a lovely gift for someone going through this heartache.

**Thank you to Sarah Philpott, Stephanie Alton, and BroadStreet publishing for giving me a copy of Loved Baby and the opportunity to review it.**  


Let’s Talk About the Storm

My friends know my story of being patient zero with scabies. They’ve listened to me rave about using the Diva cup and cloth menstrual pads. They watched me cry over my grandma’s death in science class as we discussed BPA and breast cancer. Taboo subjects, uterine-shedding, grief- I wasn’t phased to acknowledge any of these. I once answered the (strange) interview question of “What body part best represents you?” with an enthusiastic (also strange) shout of “ovaries!”

Why then, did many of my friends first hear that I’d lost a pregnancy 6 months after it happened, only because I shared with them on Facebook a guest blog post I’d had published Are they surprised that I didn’t shout it out quickly and loudly like I did my answer to that interview question? (It was a group interview for a leadership role in college; some of them even witnessed it).

My late grandmother, whom I mentioned earlier, handed down to me the gift of talking freely, or, what my eighth grade teacher once referred to as “diarrhea of the mouth.” Quite frankly, I can’t fully articulate why I didn’t use that gift or curse (depending on your perspective) to clue more people in to why on earth I might have taken a week off from rock climbing during the longest days of the year last June.

My inability to talk openly about miscarriage surprised me. And when I did talk this is what I heard:

“Nobody talks about it.”

My doctor said it, my boss, my midwife, friends, family, NPR….and repeated in personal narratives written on websites scattered across cyber space. (I’m fairly certain no one in this day and age has a miscarriage without googling the word.)

“Nobody talks about it.”

It was was always wrapped in the cuddly sentiment of: it’s so common, you’re not alone, you only feel alone because

Nobody Talks About It. Isn’t it unfortunate that

Nobody talks about it?

But what I heard was, “no body talks about it.” Who am I? I am nobody? Are you nobody, too? (Thank you, Emily Dickenson). Aren’t WE talking about it right now?

I didn’t want to be a no body. I’d already lost the body growing inside mine. I internalized the exact opposite message people were trying to send me. Like a kid who only hears the second half of “don’t run” and speeds on by. (Experts tell me as a lifeagaurd this is the reason why “please walk” is more effective pool deck communication to prevent skinned knees).

As much as I wanted to go with the status quo of not talking about pregnancy loss, I felt a burning desire to tell my story. So I wrote an essay, asking strangers to validate my feelings. It worked- I am honored that my piece resonated with more than 500 people who “shared” it on the first of the three sites it where a version of it appeared. My silver lining of miscarriage would be my first published piece.

I finally had the confidence to turn around and share my experience with those I knew, via social media. I could never have anticipated the flurry of support I received after sharing my piece.  Today marks a year since I opened up and I sometimes wonder where I would be today if I hadn’t. What if I didn’t have a passion for writing and the talent to get published? Would I still be weathering this storm in silence? I am writing today to encourage you to get through your storm, whatever form it may take. And for goodness sake, talk about it.

I am sure that this particular defiance of social norms, like my hairy armpits on my wedding day, was embraced by some, unnoticed by others, and whispered about in distaste by still others. What matters to me is those in the first category. Thank you. I’m going back to my regularly scheduled program of doing (saying) whatever the h*ll I want. and not caring what anyone else thinks

What I Really Teach

While it’s still pitch black outside and my husband is sound asleep, I drag myself out of bed many winter weekend mornings. I struggle in the dark to make out the difference between my black long underwear bottoms and tops. I drive 45 minutes to the mountain, regretting the whole way that the radio stations only play pre-work pump up music 5 days a week.

It’d be easy enough to say that I sacrifice winter days with my husband because I love skiing. There’s some truth to that after all. And sure, I want my students to have a good time skiing. But what I value even more is what I really teach these 3 year olds.

I teach them:

to be patient while they wait for their classmates to use the bathroom

to share when they have the only pink colored pencil at the table

to clean up after themselves

to CONSENT to participating in a snowball fight (it’s OK to not want snowballs thrown at you, and we all must respect that!)

to try a new food at lunch

to wait their turn when we ride the magic carpet

that they won’t always get their way when they beg to use ski poles

to put on their own mittens (well, sometimes I succeed)

to say please and thank you

to hold the door for each other

to ask your classmate if they are OK when you run into them (this happens ALOT) aka empathy

that falling is OK

how to get up when the fall (figuratively and literally)

how wonderful it feels to master a new skill

It’s cheesy as all get-out but it’s true, these are the reasons I get out of bed on those dark cold mornings. These are things that matter.

I’ve got a book from the Library right now entitled “Raising a Team Player.” Sure, I’m only raising a rabbit in my house at this point, but I like to think that this little part I play in “raising” these kids could go farther than any ski skill they master.

But maybe that’s just saying something about my own ski skills 🙂

That Ibex Vest

What if we all were a little less judgmental? I know, suggesting that probably makes it sound like I’m judging YOU for being judgmental. On the contrary, I know that I’ve got some room for improvement. Which is why I’m putting this mission for myself in writing today. And I’d like to challenge you to join me here.

I can recall at least two individuals I’ve known who constantly complained to me about others. No one, it seemed, could live up to the standards that they set. The judged everyone. I joined right in on the judging and felt honored to have been chosen to be on team “judging” instead of team judged.

But when I wasn’t around, what might they have said to others about ME?

Eventually, the anxiety this question brought started to erode my self-esteem. I was constantly judging myself, too. So I decided to stop judging others and hoped maybe I’d judge myself a little less, too. I told some of my friends this goal; perhaps they’d join me. But it was HARD. And sometimes boring. You have no idea how much time is spent in casual conversation judging others until you try to weed out the judging. So slowly, I started to hop back on that bandwagon.

Recently, I was perusing the sale rack outside a store, debating the merits of a $40 Ibex vest. (If you don’t know the Ibex brand, you’re probably thinking “$40!  That absurd- go to Old Navy, you can get a vest for $10.” If you do know the brand you’re probably thinking “$40! That’s a steal! Those vests are usually $200). As I shopped, a couple of women walked by me, complaining about their friend, “I can’t believe she spent $65 on….” Her voice dropped out and and I’m not sure what it was that this friend spent $65 on.

And you better believe it, if I had heard what the $65 item in question was, I would’ve been judging the purchase, too. Either I would’ve thought, dang $65 is a lot for an “xyz” OR dang those women need to lighten up $65 ain’t bad.  

Either way, I would’ve judged. We do it all the time. It’s so natural. I would love to know where this fits in the history of humankind, because it does seem hardwired into our brains to judge. Is it because of the level of competition for survival of our earliest ancestors that they judged one another? Or is it something we as a culture have cultivated an acceptance for? Can’t we leave it to God or karma or (insert your belief here) to judge our actions? Can’t we give each other some peace?

We’ve all got our shortcomings. Why do we need to point out to each other what those are? Unfortunately, I know that sometimes, my shortcoming will be just that, that I continue to point out the shortcomings of others. I know my journey towards non-judgement won’t be without slip ups.

But tonight, I’m putting it out there publicly. I started to type this a few days ago, got sidetracked, then stumbled on a blog by Rachel Lewis with a similar sentiment. It made me realize just how important a mission this may be. Judging is such an easy current to get swept into and I encourage you to join me in swimming upstream, as best we can!

*intentional cliff hanger- you don’t know if I  bought the vest….because that isn’t the point 🙂