Dec 3, 2014

Do the Earth

"I love it more than Christmas."

That's my oldest son's reaction when asked if he likes going on our annual camping trip over Labor Day weekend. I think I agree. It's a tradition in my family that goes back about 30 years. Some of my best memories as a kid come from our Labor Day camping excursions. I'm not even sure why. It was always hot. Or raining. Lot of bugs. Poison ivy. Burnt food. Cold showers. Hard beds. Cramped quarters. More bugs. Despite all the shunning of creature comforts, I looked forward to that trip all year long. I still do.

Apparently it's good for you, though.

Our family needs to do it more often. Lately, we only make it out twice a year. Next year I'd like to double that. It's a lot of work to pack up five kids and take them camping, but they really do love it. The list of benefits (especially for children) from spending time outdoors is growing. In Japan, they even have a concept called Shinrin-yoku, which translates to "forest bathing." It's considered a form of therapy and has been shown to decrease cardiovascular disease, lower heart rate and blood pressure, decrease cortisol and increase white blood cell counts. One study showed that a two night trip to a forest resulted in increased human natural killer (NK) cell activity, increased number of NK cells, and increased intracellular anti-cancer proteins with the effects lasting for more than a week afterwards for both men and women. So if the elements and poison ivy don't get you, spending time outdoors can have a real and significant impact on our health.

My kids won't mention the health benefits when they talk about how much they love our annual camping trip. It's fun for them. There's a certain freedom that comes with our week in the woods every year. I can see it in their eyes the moment they step out of the car. Freedom from schedules. Freedom from staying clean. Freedom from electronic screens. Freedom from boredom.

Here are some of my favorite photos from our 2014 trip.

My cousin organized an "obstacle course" for the kids. It was a blast.

It was competitive to say the least.

Sometimes it takes a few years to get promoted from the kiddie table.

Luckily this fella was behind glass.

Experienced hiker. No biggie.

The rocks were GINORMOUS.

Epic canyon hike. Felt like a lost world.

View from above.

Lots to explore.

It took a sharp eye to discover this little guy.

Just dangerous enough to get the heart pumping.

Highly recommended hike in Indiana.

Campsite clothes dryer.

The grown ups got to pretend we were 20 years younger than we really are.

Nov 3, 2014

Build a Bigger Iceberg

I took some of the kids camping this weekend (mom stayed home with a sick child and a homebody). We go camping around this time most years. It's freezing cold outside and it's my favorite time to camp. It's the kind of camping where a fire isn't just for looks or roasting marshmallows -- it's for keeping your toes from going numb. The campground is mostly empty and there isn't a bug to be found. It feels just a bit more survivalist and that makes it all the more invigorating.

This was a fairly cold one. The low was 26º and the high was 40º. The kids were completely unfazed and hats and coats somehow managed to become optional. (How do such little bodies with so little insulating fat maintain so much heat?) We were well fed with food and drink that warmed from the inside. The peacefulness of it all was amplified by the cool air and nearly bare trees. We had no choice but to unwind. And, the best part, there was no talk of movies, video games and cell phones.

The water couldn't have been more than 35 degrees.

My grandfather built this killer campfire rig in his shop.
My kids never met him, but they're impressed with his work.

While this may look like chopping firewood, in reality it was
getting the splitter caught in a log. Repeatedly.

The cold was for real.

Cold weather camping bonus: No need for ice!

Junior sausage chef.

Biker heaven.

Oct 9, 2014

Some Things Are Big (And Some Things Are Small)

A throwback to my post from five years ago. Not much has changed. In all the best ways.

Originally posted October 9, 2009.

It was on this date in 2004 that you hit the jackpot, Julie.

It's been five years since we tied the knot and since then I think I've continually exceeded your expectations. Surely you didn't expect me to gain so much muscle weight. I'm certain you never anticipated how passionate I could be about fantasy football. And I know you didn't think it was humanly possible to spend so much time in the bathroom. What can I say -- I'm an overachiever.

But today isn't just about me. It's also about all the things I do for you. I've introduced you to so many wonderful things. Like online first person shooter games. And breakfast cereal for dinner. And dutch ovens. I even cultivated your unconditional love of camping and watching ten straight hours of football on Sundays. How empty would your life seem without me?

Just think of all the personal growth you've achieved with my gentle and persistent coaching. I'm sure that when you eventually learn where exactly the toilet paper belongs in the bathroom you'll only have me to thank. (Hint: It's not on the sink or the back of the toilet.) One day, you too may obsess over refrigerator organization all because of my mentoring. And if you commit to it, I think you have the potential to surpass my own hypocrisy and stubbornness -- traits revered in political circles the world over. These are just a few of my many gifts to you. (I'm what the single ladies out there refer to as "a keeper.")

Sure, it hasn't been all wine and roses. I've gotten pretty adept at anticipating your every need, but sometimes even I make a mistake. Luckily those mistakes are few and far between. Married life is full of challenges, but I'm just as committed as ever to help show you the logical way to overcome those challenges. I know logic doesn't come easy for you, but that's what I'm here for. That's why we make such a great pair.

So here we are, five years in on an already crazy journey. (Seriously, what's up with cranking out four kids already?) Most people probably look at our relationship and scratch their heads. How did Hoolie land such a man? How does such an imbalanced marriage thrive? Well, I just smile and wink at those head scratchers. We're in this marriage for the long haul and I know you've got plenty of time to make it up to me.

Happy anniversary, Julie. There's no one else in this world I'd rather drive crazy. I love ya' lots.