Building Foundations of Wonder

I’m honored to be over at Kindred Mom today, wrapping up their series on Cultivating Family Culture. Our hikes are still slow and filled with meandering and I don’t know if we’ve ever reached our destination. But both girls readily pick hiking on a weekend, so I call that a success. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to Kindred Mom to join the conversation!

IMG_8298My husband and I are both avid hikers. We met on a snowshoe hike; our first anniversary was spent hiking the West Highland Way, a 100-mile trail in Scotland; our pre-kid days were filled with rambles through the mountains of Colorado. So, when we found out we were pregnant, we dreamt about raising outdoorsy kids who loved hiking as we did.

Our first year as parents didn’t look all that different from our days before kids. We’d pop our daughter into the Ergo and then, as she grew, the hiking backpack and kept on trekking. It wasn’t until she became an independent toddler that our expectations of family hikes were put to the test.

It’s not that we thought our 2-year-old would be able to hike more than a mile or so, but we were hoping she’d be content to stay in the pack in between her own sprints along the trail. We didn’t reckon that our hikes would dwindle down to a quarter mile exploration. Our norm became an hour drive into the hills, a half hour or so walk, plenty of snack breaks, and an hour drive back home.

On one of these excursions, my husband’s best friend, Uncle Steve, came along and completely reframed my mentality of hiking with kids. As we drove to the trailhead, I found myself warning Steve that this hike would be short and slow. I apologized for the way kids stopped all the time and tried to create realistic expectations.

Steve responded by asking our daughter what wildlife she was hoping to see on our hike. A Mountain Lion!! was the enthusiastic response.

We piled out of the car and within a couple hundred yards of the trailhead, Steve bent down and exclaimed, Look! I found wildlife! Our daughter ran over and knelt beside him, inspecting the centipede that was inching its way along the trail. After that, every few feet, they would find more wildlife: an ant, a snake’s hole, a bird or a butterfly.

This hike changed my mentality of exploring nature with my girls. Now, we ask what wildlife they hope to see each time we head to a trail. Read the rest over at Kindred Mom and join the conversation!

Do you stop to watch the centipedes? How does noticing the small things change your perspective?

Seasons of Quality Time

To celebrate our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way in Scotland. The nearly 100 mile trail wound through farms and small towns. Some days we saw lots of people; other days it was just us on our section of the trail. I’ve written before about one of my favorite days: When Frank and I hiked separately for the whole day, taking in the scenery and processing our thoughts at our own pace. We met up for lunch and, of course, that evening we walked into town together. We were never out of each other’s sight, but we weren’t together, either.

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Frank exploring on his own

That evening, when we sat on the sunporch at our B&B, we reflected that it was a good day. We connected, we had a shared experience, but we each had time to ourselves.

Frank and I are in a season of squeezing alone time into the margins. We’ve been practicing a rhythm that seems to work well for our family at this moment: Frank gets up super early and is at work by 5:00 but then he’s home before dinner’s on the table. This means that we’re heading to bed by 9:00 every night, which is probably a healthy choice in any case.

The only downside to this arrangement is that our evenings together are shorter. We have to be more intentional about our 45 minutes before bedtime. But what I’ve found is that, because there wasn’t a crazy rush of dinner! Daddy’s home!! Finish! Play a game that winds us down rather than up! Bedtime!! we are able to have more quality connection in those 45 minutes than when we had longer but were more tired.

Often, in these 45 minutes before our 9:00 alarm sounds, we don’t talk much. We’ll read or scroll Facebook. Sometimes we sit and talk and dream. Sometimes we look at the budget. Whatever we do, we do it side by side. We are sure to sit on the couch together; to sit next to each other, even if we’re not talking.

In some ways, this season reminds me of that day of hiking. We’re together in this, we are in each other’s sight, but we aren’t necessarily walking at the same pace. We’re tag teaming bedtime and household duties. And yet, because we’re still in sight; because we aren’t disconnected, it seems to be working.

Of course, we need actual in-person connecting for this all to work. But it’s a good reminder that sometimes you need quantity time to just soak in (like after tax season) and sometimes we need to recognize the importance of quality time, when we simply don’t have a quantity.

In this season when I’m rarely alone and when I simultaneously need to spend my time connecting, I’m thankful for a partner who recognizes the need to stay in view, to do the work together, and to leave space for quiet.

If you have a partner, how do you connect at the end of a day filled with work and kids and life? How do you best unwind?

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This post is Day 5 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Taking the Wrong Path

When I was a novice mountain hiker, my dad and I took the wrong path up one of Colorado’s high peaks. Realizing we were out of our league, we depended on the help of a more experienced stranger to get us to the summit and back to the correct trail.

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At the time, it rattled me and made me contemplate mortality in a way I wasn’t expecting in my mid-twenties. Years later (and many retellings of our brush with death) we found that we were on an actual trail – others purposefully sought out this particular, more challenging way up the mountain.

It just wasn’t the right trail for us. For my ability level, it seemed out of the realm of possibility that anyone would want such a challenge!

Some things have come up lately and I’ve had to think about choices I’m making for our family. Nothing major, just reevaluations of our season and my involvement in certain commitments. The easy way out is two extremes: Keep on going, feeling resentful or just quit, without brainstorming different possibilities. A lot of me leans toward these extremes. It’s so much nicer taking the path of least resistance.

And sometimes, taking that path is absolutely the best choice. It makes sense and it’s the best for all concerned. Other times, it means messiness and hurt. The more difficult trail is sometimes the better trail.

What I’ve learned from our wayward hike is that for us, it was a wrong turn. For others, our wrong turn was the destination. And in life, I guess that’s how it goes, too. Sometimes a wrong turn can actually be the right path.

Have you ever taken a wrong turn that’s turned out to be the path you need to be on?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “path.”

Discover the Forest

Before we had kids, Frank and I took for granted how much we would expose our future children to nature. It was easy for us to get up to the mountains on a regular basis. Nature and being outdoors is an important foundation of our family’s values – after all, we met on a snowshoe hike, went camping in national forests for our first dates, and honeymooned in a national park. When we are stressed, nature is a life-giving way to reconnect with each other and a reminder of what’s important.

Bea’s first hike was when she was 2 weeks old. We took her up to Golden Gate State Canyon, one of our favorite destinations. In fact, our hiking patterns didn’t change much her first year of life. I bought an Ergo jacket that fit around the carrier and we took her snowshoeing in the winter and hiking in the summer.

Hiking with Dad
Hiking with Dad

Things started slowing down as she got into a napping routine and we had one too many meltdowns on the drive home. But, we found closer hikes and continued to bribe her into the pack with snacks. Last year was the first year our hiking drastically changed. Bea no longer was interested in the pack and insisted on walking it all herself. We found beautiful two-mile hikes but it seemed like a lot of effort to drive all the way into the mountains for such a short excursion.

When we were looking to move last year, we never dreamed we would move away from the mountains. The reason we live in Colorado is to enjoy what it’s known for: hiking, nature, exploration. Even though our new home is just six miles east of our old house, it added just enough time to make the mountains feel even farther away.

So it was a pleasant surprise when we first drove over to Cherry Creek State Park, just 10 minutes from our house. We had been before on occasion, but not often. The past six months, it has become our go-to hiking destination. Having a state park so close has made a world of difference! We can go for a hike and be home by lunchtime. Plus, the park is filled with kid friendly trails. Our favorite is Butterfly Hill, a loop that Bea can easily do on her own.

We also found that we are within 2 miles of Jewell Wetlands, 50 acres of paths and overgrown trees. Bea loves exploring the seemingly endless trails, visiting the wildflower and butterfly garden, and feeling as though she is lost in the woods. It’s a good reminder that getting out and exploring doesn’t need a parks pass, a long drive, or a big time commitment. It can be an hour of tramping through the swamp, looking for spiders and bugs, and talking about nature.

We’re happy that we can continue to reinforce our family values of being out in nature, even if that nature is in the middle of the city.

Here’s the thing – getting out in nature isn’t just part of our family’s values. Research has shown that exposure to nature improves kids’ awareness, reasoning and observational skills. It helps build imagination and lowers their stress level.

Tomorrow, September 26, is National Public Lands Day. Families are encouraged to explore forested areas near their cities. Check out Discover the Forest to find a park near you!

Discover the Forest is a public service campaign created by the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council with the primary goal of inspiring kids and their parents to re-connect with nature. The campaign brings to life the joy and excitement kids have when they discover the wonders of nature, helping create lasting memories, interest in their environment and a lifelong relationship with it. The campaign website, www.DiscoverTheForest.org, includes an interactive tool that enables users to search for nearby forests and parks, as well as downloadable activities for them to print and take with them when they visit. The campaign also features online communities on Facebook and Instagram(search Discover the Forest) and Twitter (@cheecker).

You’ll most likely find us at Cherry Creek State Park tomorrow, hiking slowly with our girls. Where is your favorite place to enjoy nature?

Taking a Break

When Frank and I were hiking the West Highland Way, a guidebook mentioned that it was easy to find villages along the route to buy lunch and snacks. Since we were hiking between 8 and 14 miles each day, finding a good spot to eat was key. On our first day of the hike, we did find a cute cafe right around lunchtime. We had packed our own snacks and made it to our B&B that night without any food emergencies. The second day of the hike, we took a detour to climb Conic Hill, which overlooked the loch we would be hiking around in the coming days.

Hiking up Conic Hill
Hiking up Conic Hill

After some snacks and a rest at the top, we descended into the village below. It was a bit after lunchtime and we discovered that no one had a quick lunch to go! I was getting very hungry, which is never good on a long hike. We managed to piece together a cheese, yogurt, and fruit lunch and continued on.

After that, we always ordered a lunch from our hotel or B&B. Every place we stayed offered to make a sack lunch and we took advantage of having food on hand. We also learned to take a break before we were hungry. If we ate about a half an hour before we actually needed to, our energy levels were much higher and we were able to complete the milage faster and in better shape.

I was thinking about taking breaks before they’re needed, especially as we near the end of tax season. As a family, during this busy time of year, taking well-timed breaks are what gives us the endurance to finish this long busy season still feeling slightly refreshed. Whether this is scheduling early dinner dates so we can get home before bedtime or shifting Bea’s screen time for the day to 5:00, the time when both of us need a break from interacting, figuring out how to time our rest and our breaks before they become a necessity has been essential.

How do you factor breaks into your day or into your seasons?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Bagging Peaks

Frank and I spent five days in Ouray, Colorado celebrating our fifth anniversary. Known as the Switzerland of America, it is surrounded by the high peaks of the San Juans and is home to mining, Jeeping, hiking, and ice climbing. Since we left Bea with Grandma and Grandpa, we hiked every day and stayed in a cute B&B so came home to relaxing hot tubs and comfy beds.

Descending into Ouray
Descending into Ouray

Our first morning in town, we set the alarm for 5:00, smeared peanut butter on bananas, filled our Camelbaks with water, threw our boots in the car, and headed into the mountains to hike Mt. Sneffels. It had been three years since I hiked a mountain. We took Bea halfway up Bierstadt last year and Frank hiked a couple in preparation for the Ascent, but we hadn’t truly hiked to summit since Bea was born.

We parked and were on the way to Yankee Boy Basin by 6:15. Not at the beginning of the pack, but with enough time to summit and be off the mountain before noon. Most hikers try to stick to that rule – regular afternoon thunderstorms can be deadly at 14,000 feet.

We set off up the Jeep road to the base of Sneffels. When we got there, the sign said 1.2 miles to the summit. This lends a false sense of distance, as this mile can take more than three hours to accomplish. We started up the path toward the long, challenging scree field of loose rocks.

Scree field
Scree field

I can’t remember how many of the 14ers I’ve summited – somewhere in the low teens. As my dad and I started hiking them, we stuck with Class 1 walk-ups, so my success rate was high. Even though I’ve spent most of my life in this state and do love the outdoors, I’m nowhere near as hardcore as many who embrace the adventurous lifestyle of our state.

“Bagging peaks” is an underlying mentality of most who climb Colorado’s mountains. As beautiful as the views are and as amazing as it is to get away from crowded trails, many don’t count a hike successful unless a summit is reached.

The scree field on Sneffels was long and hard. We stopped partway up for a Nutella snack but didn’t make it to the snowy saddle until 10:45. By this time, clouds were beginning to gather. We had met several hikers who had turned around at the saddle, saying it was too snowy to continue. As we assessed the situation, overlooking amazing alpine valleys, we chatted with hikers who had made it to the summit successfully. They were seasoned and had “bagged” harder peaks than I had attempted.

We were only about 300 feet from the summit but those feet involved scaling a boulder field, skirting the snowy trail, and mustering more confidence in climbing abilities than I had. After some debate, we decided to turn around at the saddle.

Last 300 feet
Last 300 feet

It was a tough hike down. I felt that I had let Frank down – he would have summited had I not been along. I wondered if, had he known my hiking limitations, he would have still married me. (I think that may have been the altitude talking…) We passed novice hikers in Converse sneakers without water and I thought, Surely I can summit if they can! (Who knows if they actually did summit…)

By the time we reached the bottom, I was feeling very inauthentic in my ability to live in Colorado, land of hikers. As we looked back, the dark clouds kept gathering and I knew we had made a wise decision. Thankfully, no one was hurt that day at the summit, but I didn’t want to take my chances. I learned that I’m more of a Class 2 hiker, not the Class 3 of Sneffels, and that is ok. There are still many more beautiful hikes and trails that don’t involve scaling boulders.

At the trailhead, we came across an older man who had fallen and broken his hip. Luckily, a doctor was present, but they needed more help. Frank offered his belt to stabilize the splint and then carefully helped lift the man into a waiting Jeep. As we sat among wildflowers, eating our lunch, and watching the Jeep slowly descend the trail, we reflected that, had we not turned around, we would not have been able to help. Maybe realizing limitations had farther reaching effects than my own insecurities.

The next morning at breakfast, we told our B&B host of our failure. He asked,

“Was the hike beautiful? Did you see amazing views?”

Yes…

“Then it was a success!”

The rest of our trip was filled with river hiking adventures, scrambling up waterfalls, and hiking rolling, wildflower-filled trails. It would be fun to go back and try Sneffels again, maybe later in the season. But, as I settle into my own self and the example I want to set for my family, I’m counting successes among wildflower trails rather than peaks bagged.

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s monthly theme: Authentic.

Empowered

One August, about a year after I had resettled in Colorado after college, my dad, brother, and I hiked Pikes Peak, one of 54 mountains over 14,000 feet high in the state. We set out before sunrise, wearing running shoes, with backpacks full of snacks and water bottles. I had always assumed I was in decent shape until I was about halfway through the 13 mile hike. The altitude started to affect me and my pace slowed. Two miles from the top, I was faced with seemingly unending switchbacks and wondered if I would make it to the summit. Realizing that a difficult two miles was easier than turning around and rehiking 11 miles, I trudged to the top. Since Pikes Peak has a highway allowing vehicles to drive to the summit, I was met with tourists in high heels, eating donuts, not at all sweaty. My first reaction was to never put myself through such physical strain again. I was exhausted!

Summit of Pike's Peak
Summiting with my dad & brother

A year later, my dad asked if I wanted to hike Gray’s and Torrey’s Peaks with him. These two “14-ers” (as we locals call the 14,000 foot peaks) are close enough and easy enough that one can hike them both in a day. Somehow, the memory of Pikes Peak had dimmed, and I agreed to meet him before sunrise, this time with hiking boots rather than sneakers and a hydration backpack rather than water bottles. The hike was beautiful and, since there were no roads to the top, the summit was quiet with amazing views of Colorado’s mountain ranges.

This began a summer of hiking for my dad and I. Almost every week, we would look for “Class 1” mountains to hike. Class 1 meant that it was simply walking up a trail – no boulder fields or scrambling or handholds necessary. I treasured these hikes. Since I had been away for college, it was an amazing time to reconnect with my dad and create some incredible memories. We were fairly strict about our Class 1 rule: We wanted these hikes to be times of discussion and talking. Yes, they were physically challenging, as most things above a 10,000 foot elevation are likely to be. However, they were easy enough that we could just enjoy the scenery and our time together, rather than thinking too much.

One weekend, we decided to hike Mt. Quandary. Described as an easy family hike, we thought it would fit into our requirements perfectly. We followed the signs to the trailhead, parked, and set out on our hike. The trail wasn’t well marked, but we found enough cairns along the way to keep us going. We hiked through a beautiful wildflower meadow before coming to a very steep climb, covered with loose rocks. We scrambled through the scree and soon found ourselves surrounded by high boulders. We lost sight of the cairns but trekked on, thinking we’d find one around the next corner. As we continued along the high ledges, well out of our comfort zones, we realized we were no longer on the trail. At one point, we thought we could see the summit of Quandary, but we also saw several “false summits” between us.

We sat down on a ledge to have lunch and assess our situation. As we were eating, I dropped my energy drink and watched it bounce down the mountain, past what seemed to be a destroyed mining shack. At that moment, I realized we were stuck. Turning around was not an option; We had scrambled up ledges that were beyond our skill set to go down. Without a summit in view, wondering what to do, watching my water bottle roll down the mountain, I had a moment of panic, wondering if my insurance covered Search and Rescue calls.

At this moment of desperation, we ran into two other hikers. One was from Colorado and an avid hiker. His brother was from Texas and looked about as uncertain as we did. The avid hiker took us under his wing and coached us through the rest of our hike. Having someone tell me where to go, what to do with my feet made me realize I probably would not die on the mountain that day. The hike definitely did not get easier; At one point, I felt around a ledge with my toe, reached for an unseen handhold, and swung around the side of a rock to a narrow ledge. At another point, with the encouragement of our new friend, I leapt across a small crevice, forcing myself to look at him and not down to the boulders below. I’m sure this hiker and his brother would have made it to the summit faster without us, but they stayed by, coaching, helping, and encouraging us.

Alive at the summit of Quandary
Alive at the summit of Quandary

We eventually made it to the summit, but because of our delayed ascent, we didn’t enjoy it much. We stayed for a brief snack and photo before heading back down the mountain (the easy, family friendly way this time) before the afternoon thunderclouds rolled in. Our adventure wasn’t quite over: When we reached the bottom, we realized we were in the wrong parking lot – the official one that we had somehow missed on the way in. As we trudged up the road to our car, I looked up at the mountain, amazed that we had made it up and back alive.

On the drive home, exhausted, I wondered if I would hike anymore mountains or if this would be it for my adventures. After a hot shower and a good night’s sleep, I woke up sore but ready to continue. I have never hiked the really tough peaks, but after my Quandary experience, I branched out to Class 2 and even a couple Class 3 mountains. I haven’t hiked as many as I did that year, but I’ve completed 14 of the 54 high mountains.

Hiking Quandary empowered me not only in my hiking skills but in my ability to seek out and accept help from others. I would probably still be sitting on that ledge had it not been for the patience and kindness of those brothers.

Linked with SheLove’s Magazine’s month of Empowered.