Thursday, July 21, 2016


Road trip prep. Kids, you're in charge of  the cookies.

My alarm went off at 4:00am—an abrupt wakeup after finally finishing packing just three hours earlier. I snoozed it once…..ok, twice, and then we shoved the kids (still half asleep) into what little space was left in the loaded car, and headed west. It was a lonnnnnnng drive across Nevada—driving into the wind the entire way, dust blowing onto our roadside break of turkey and cheese. 
Thanks to the Internet and a few pointers from friends, we had a couple “ideas” where we may want to set up camp for the next four nights-we are not usually great at making FIRM plans….we are more “general idea” kind of people. You could say we are almost always winging it.  We headed down a 10 mile dirt road towards what we knew would be THE. MOST. AMAZING. campsite ever—in the trees, right on the lake, perfect. We were tired, hungry, and ready to get settled. Last fall we bought a little pop-up trailer—we figured as often as we camp, it would be nice to get out of the elements occasionally. We have loved it so far—we are always able to find secluded places to park it off the beaten path and keep away from crowds; we had planned on this time being the same.
We could faintly see the clear blue water through the trees, and were relieved and happy to have finally arrived after a full day in the car. But then we pulled up and saw what seemed to be a “local’s only” party….and we were definitely not invited. A few cars and tents scattered around near the water’s edge—no room at the inn—and here’s the kicker, the only place to turn around was occupied by several cars. And we were pulling a trailer. Whoops. 
Robby handles these situations much better than I do—we slowly drove through—every head turned. He laughed and waved like we were in a parade “we’re from out of town. Obviously. We didn’t know this place was so popular”. I sat in the passenger seat sweating and sinking lower and lower in my seat, wondering how we were ever going to get out of this place with nowhere to turn around. We inched our way through the trees—Robby maneuvering our set up  (that all the sudden seemed like a TRAIN in such tight quarters) and finally managed our way out, using a 57 point turn. We peeled out and kicked up dust as we sped away—except totally opposite of that, because the trailer only allows us to go so fast—and laughed all the way back out to the main road. At least we gave the locals a good laugh, right!? We didn’t want to take our chance down anymore unknown roads, so we put our tail between our legs and headed towards a campground.

We got camp set up around ten—it was 45* in Lassen, and we were still in flip flops and shorts and really too exhausted to do anything but crawl into bed and crash. So we chose sleep over dinner and called it a day. 
We took our time waking up the next morning, ate eggs and bacon until we couldn’t eat another bite, and loaded up our packs to head out.. We spent the next three days hiking, paddling, fishing, exploring volcanoes, and completely disconnecting from the outside world. No phone service, no work, no emails to respond to, no worries really—except how stinky our armpits were and how tangled our hair was getting--it was truly the best.

We always manage to find winter in summer.
As we packed up one evening after a day on the lake—fitting kayaks, fishing gear, granola bar wrappers and tired kids into the car, an older gentleman came over—he and his wife were from Los Angeles and driving through the area. He struck up a conversation about our day. “How was the lake? (perfect. empty.) How was the fishing? (more fishing, less catching.)”, and what really struck me, “and your kids LIKE this stuff? How do you make them do all this? How do they cope without their Playstation?” 
“Well…..this is kinda...what we DO. They like to play outside—we actually go camping all the time”. 
“You mean, you just go out into the woods?” 
If we were living in a cartoon world his eyes would have popped out of his head and his jaw would have hit the ground. 
end scene.

we had the lake to ourselves.
This conversation really got me thinking. As I type this, we are driving back after eight days on the road. We are exhausted—both physically and mentally, tired of camp food, and absolutely filthy—our best “shower” was soaping* up in a river, hoping the icy cold current would rinse away some of the grime. I miss my animals and my garden, yet  I’d happily continue on down the road—I am happiest when I’m out exploring somewhere new. It’s who we are, it’s what we do, and it’s PART of the reason my kids can “cope without their Playstation” (which by the way, we didn’t tell the guy we didn’t even have one.) 
But, it’s only part of the reason—I realize that our particular lifestyle is not for everyone, and that’s ok. But there ARE other ways to keep kids from being completely dependent on screens, gadgets, gizmos, and the need for constant stimulation and entertainment. 
Here are a few of my ideas:
(I'm not saying this is the only way to parent, it just seems to work for us:)
  1. Don’t buy them screens/gadgets/gizmos/etc. Hey that’s easy—and cheap! My kids are not this special breed of children who have no desire to glue their faces to something plugged in. But it’s a lot harder to do when they don’t have access to it. They don’t have their own phone or ipad, and we have an old xbox with 4 games that they can earn time for on weekends after all their chores are done--it's GREAT bribery!  (ps. I think Minecraft is a GREAT game! So much creativity to unleash!) Do they ask for all the above mentioned stuff? Do they say “but alllllllllllll my friends have ______” They DO! And guess what I say? “I don't care!" And occasionally I like to throw in things like "because I'm the mom and I say so", and then I feel super legit. I realize that as my kids get older, this one is unavoidable, so we will:
  2. Set limits. Maybe you are a cooler parent than me and your kids have a gadget or two. Great! But they don't need to have it in hand alllllllll the time. I started an Instagram account so my kiddos could post the pictures they take and share them with cousins and grandmas and grandpas (and mostly so we could print more Chatbooks!) I log them in so they can post a few photos, we look (together) at what's going on with our cousins, and then I log them out--no time wasted mindlessly scrolling, and no wondering what garbage they saw on Instagram. But they feel connected to their cousins who live far away--win win! When they want to use the computer they have to ask--I want to know what they'll be doing. 
  3. Have other options. As much as I wish we could--we can't spend 100% of our time outside. We are a movie loving family and movie nights are our favorite, but I hate the tv always being on--it's such an easy "out". We've had a scorcher of a summer, and some afternoons we have to hide out in the house to beat the heat, but we are making sure to do lots of reading, writing, and artwork instead of letting the tv constantly entertain us. 
  4. Don't start them so young! I will probably ruffle so many feathers by saying this, but I honestly can't believe how many babies and toddlers I see with a screen in their hand--the grocery store, church, restaurants--everywhere. I somehow raised my babies without a screen in hand (they weren't even invented yet.) And when I say that, it sounds like I raised my babies in the 1800s and just let them play with tumbleweeds, but really it was just a few years ago, I promise. Was it hard to go to Target with a 4 year old and 2 year old? OH MY GOSH IT WAS THE WORST! But did I somehow manage without attaching them to a glowing screen? I DID! And there were a fair share of public meltdowns, tantrums, whining, complaining--because guess what, they are KIDS, and that's what kids do. But if we stick an iPad in their face (and pretend to be ok with it because it's "educational"), just so we can have a peaceful grocery store experience, how can we expect them to learn to function in real life without that constant stimulation? (I ran out of breath reading that last sentence, did you?) 
I am absolutely not a perfect parent, and I pray every day that I'm not screwing these kiddos up too badly.  But I do work ridiculously hard to make sure my kids get dirty, breathe fresh air, do chores, don't rely on screens for constant stimulation, know how to be creative, have original thoughts, and entertain themselves. I would love to hear YOUR ideas on how to better keep kids connected to the real world, and not rely too much on electronic interaction.
They seem to be coping just fine.

*I mentioned we soaped up in the river--it was the BEST, and I recommend it (but watch out for people coming down the hill--you'll have to run for cover in your skivvies). We use THESE SOAPS  --they are biodegradable and don't mess up the water and vegetation :)
**I also mentioned Chatbooks! Do you get these? It's a subscription that I use through my Instagram (you can also create books without IG, but it's so easy and brainless to do it how I do). Every 60 photos I post it sends me a notification that my book is ready--then I can edit captions, take out photos, or do NOTHING, and it will send my photo book automatically--each book costs $8. We LOVE them, and look through them so often (we've been getting them for the last 2 years)--they are great little scrapbooks. If you aren't yet using Chatbooks, go sign up and use the code SHEENA to get 20% off your order now through the end of the month.



Jackie Norris said...

Oh man, I agree 100%. I have a 5 and 2 year old and I'm pretty strict with the screens. Sometimes I wonder if I should relax, but then I think NO! This is important. It's worth the fight.

There are no games on my phone, so they don't even have the option. Our one TV is in the dark corner of the basement, not in our main living area.

I read somewhere recently that if screens are the most appealing thing in your house, you need a more interesting house! I think there's a lot of truth to that. Fill your house with books, art supplies, cooking supplies, science experiments, etc. etc. etc.!

That said, I DO love that I can look up answers to my son's totally random questions. That can be a fun experience - but we are doing it together and we have a purpose. We try to control the technology, not have it control us.

Can't wait to read the rest of the comments... excited to hear other ideas.

mckenziewinkel said...

I support this all the way! I'm not a parent yet, but this is what I strive for and it's good to know that it's still possible!! But....I have to remember to start with me. I can't expect my kids to not be addicted to screens if I use them all the time! So I think it's a lot more challenging to start out and maintain a lifestyle choice like this but I'm sure it's SO worth it. Thanks for the ideas!

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Jacquie said...

Totally not being creepy but would love to see how you pack for your trips!New campers and adventurers and would love some advice!especially for a quick weekend trip,i am a lost cause,last time every one ended up almost naked and food is a stinker.I am so not a natural at this lol.

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I LOVE how your family loves the outdoors! We do too! Three years ago we moved to Montana from Washington DC. We love Montana and wonder if we can ever go back to civilization. :) i think you're giving your kids the best life ever! they'll be all the better for their unplugged lifestyle. you guys are much more adventurous than us. we have six kids and one of them is severely autistic so he slows us down a bit. the outdoors are the perfect place for him. no crowds, loud noises, etc. your family should be featured in a patagonia magazine. :) i am impressed with your photography..always have. i think you're a very talented writer. i think you have a beautiful family!!! you are inspiring. --nancy xo

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Hey Sheena, Love your blog and this's super inspirational to see how your family "does the outdoors" together. My baby is only a year old right now, but we get outside every day even if it's just for a walk down the road...and I am really looking forward to family road trips and adventures when she is a little older. I'll be digging back into your blog for tips when the time comes.

Totally agree about avoiding screen time. It can be so tempting...but there are healthier ways to distract and entertain. My little girl loves books. We read them together a lot, but she'll also look at them herself, which is adorable and awesome. I keep books in the car, in the diaper bag, in her bedroom, in the living room–everywhere! We rent new ones from the library all the time, because novelty is good. She likes certain ones at bedtime that we read over and over, and she'll sometimes take one to bed with her and page through it until her eyes close. It makes me laugh because that's how I fall asleep at night too. ;)

Last thing I wanted to say is that it's great you guys are using biodegradable soap when you bathe outside, but even so, it's really best if you soap up on land and use buckets to rinse, rather than washing directly in a body of water. Water doesn't break down soap very easily–even the biodegradable kind–so it's really best to run the soap into the ground, which acts as a filter and a barrier between the soap and the ground-water. Thanks!

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