Children’s Literature: Chapter 6: Memories

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As they sat down at the outdoor cafe to eat lunch, Sophia pulled out a notebook and began writing. “Mamma,” she said, “I’m writing down things I remember. My scrapbooks helped, and even my dreams last night helped me remember places I’ve been. It was so fun looking at the scrapbooks with you yesterday!”

“I remember eating outdoors at a cafe like this when we lived out West. Daddy did a painting of me outside the little ice cream shop there. And we went to a children’s store nearby where we got little purple and yellow boots for me. You even wrote something in the scrapbook about those shoes being from France. And I remember that little French girl wearing a beret. She had to have been the owner of my old shoes– she must have brought them to the consignment store. After all, they were French shoes. I remember playing with her and looking at musical instruments at one of the stores. And eating ice cream outside with her. Her mom was looking at Daddy’s art work.”

“Hmm… all those memories are from when Daddy worked in Pullman, Washington. I think you remember more than I do,” Mamma said. “Or you are just imagining it. But I was three when my parents took me to France on a business trip, and I remember a lot too.” Mamma said

“You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Sophia said. “I want to write a story about the little French girl, so I need to know more about France!”

“What about Italy?” Mamma asked?

“It’s just like you said, Mamma. I need to start with something familiar. You were in France, and I got to meet a girl from France. There’s a story here and I am going to write it!”

Thermal Cooker: Energy Efficient Slow Cooking– At Home, Traveling, or Camping!

Wow! I keep seeing all the face book pictures of children going back to school (I actually get teary eyed looking at other people’s kids starting a new year of school!) Here in Illinois, the weather went from hot and sticky, to cold and rainy overnight. First, you wish summer would last forever, then you get the urge to go apple picking, and next you’re craving heartier meals and thinking about your favorite fall recipes. At least that’s how I am. Our bodies do need a little more sustenance as the weather changes, and most people spend  more time in the kitchen– which adds to the electric bill. My husband and I discovered thermal cookers (non-electric slow cookers) about eight years ago, and it’s a great way to save energy, and perfect for taking on the road, or even just to visit friends for dinner! Here’s an example of one: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

Primitive societies discovered how to get a pot of food boiling over a fire, then place a lid on it and bury it underground, where the temperature is retained and it continued to cook. Go into an Asian store and you can usually find a modern thermal cooking system. It’s an inner pot that fits into an outer thermos with a handle. Essentially, a slow cooker that doesn’t need electricity!

We’ve brought our “Cook and Carry” with us to friend’s houses, pot lucks, concerts in the park, and of course, camping! People always ask me, “how long does it keep things warm?” I always smile because that’s not the right question to ask! “No,” I say, ” We actually cook our food in this. Then we bring it with us. It is not just staying warm, it’s cooking. When it’s ready, we eat it!”

Yes, you can take a small chicken, throw some onions, carrots and rosemary or tarragon (love it!) on top, fill it with water up over the food, bring it to a soft boil, put the lid on. Take it off the stove after it has reached the soft boil, and put it into the outer container, flip the lid, and voila! Six hours later, you have a finished meal! If you’re skeptical, bring a thermometer and check the meat temperature! Be sure to bring a stainless steel ladle too– I’ve ended up somewhere with plastic silverware and paper plates, but nothing to serve the food with. Be sure to bring bowls too; we usually take stainless steel bowls for camping and other activities. You will want to enjoy the broth from the food along with it, and paper plates just don’t work for that!

If you’re at a campground, you can use the thermal cooker over a propane stove. You can start oatmeal the night before and have it ready the next morning! You can start lunch before you leave for the day’s activities and leave it in your tent (it’s sealed) to come back to. Or you can bring it with in the car.

Or you can start it on your stove at home– it makes preparation easy if you’re invited for dinner. (I can actually get the kids ready, clean the house, or get myself ready without having to keep an eye on the stove.) I don’t have to worry about transferring it into another dish to bring, because it just stays in the pot. By the time we drive to our destination, socialize for a while, and sit down to eat, it’s ready! You can make side dishes or main courses– I will include some recipe ideas next time!

Here are some new thermal slow cookers I would like to purchase, although our old one still works fine, I like the innovations of these newer ones!

I like this one, not just for the color, but the size of it, and the great reviews it got (five stars), and the cost. It’s made by Thermos, the same brand as my first one: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=ss_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wwwlittleshoe-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B00EI643D2&asins=B00EI643D2&linkId=37OGTT4KQF4HC6IU&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true“>Thermos Shuttle Chef

It comes in a smaller size too, and is very economical compared to some of the other brands listed on Amazon. Here is a link to some other brands available: non-electric slow cookers

Stay tuned for those fall recipes!!!

Camping with Little Ones: What to Bring for Bugs

Camping always brings a sigh of relief for me. Living outdoors is refreshing. We’ve taken both our children camping when they were just four months old. I think that the biggest challenge is figuring out what to bring and getting into the car. Children always seem to sleep soundly outdoors, as I mentioned before– which was a big plus for me! And they are just fascinated with natural things; especially textures like rocks, sand, pine cones, feathers. They seem happier than ever to be outdoors, and that gives parents what they most need too– a carefree feeling!

Since the biggest hassle is what to bring and what to leave behind, I’ll have some recommendations for cooking, bug repellent, sleeping arrangements, and baby gear.

Bugs!

We’ve only had one tick in on a family member in all our years of outdoor activities: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees. Ticks are gross and a little freaky, but you’re far more likely to find them on a nature trail or in your back yard. The internet seems to say that ticks do not jump down from trees, but every doctor I’ve spoken to says they do. They can also jump up from tall grass–  but a campsite offers tick protection: frequent camp fires, shorter grass, usually away from trees. Just be informed, and you’ll be O.K. See below for more suggestions.

  • If you’re worried about bugs, don’t go camping during the hot, humid season. Why add complications? May/ June, or September/ October are better times to go camping in my opinion. Days are a more comfortable temperature, and cool nights can be good for sleeping. Most campgrounds open in April and stay open through October. Here is a good website to help plan for trips: http://www.allcampgrounds.com/articles.
  • Inspect your tent for small holes or places that don’t zip. Be sure to repair these areas.
  • Don’t put your tent near standing water, trees or light poles, as these things attract bugs.
  • Keep lanterns and flashlights away from the entrance to the tent, so as not to attract bugs. If possible get into and out of your tent before turning on the flashlight, or have a tiny pen-light for this purpose if you need it. We always hang a lantern inside the center of the tent if we plan on staying awake, but make sure everyone is in first.
  • Don’t eat or drink inside the tent or near it, so as not to attract bugs. You can store sealed food inside your tent.
  • A campfire or citronella candles don’t completely keep bugs away, but they do help.
  • You are no more likely to get ticks at a campground than anywhere else. The grass at a campsite is short so its more likely to get them on a nature trail or just playing outdoors. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to check around in your tent and on yourselves before going to bed, especially if you’ve been hiking that day.
  • We’ve had success removing a tick with a tick key. Here is a link to Amazon’s tick removal section: tick remover We’ve only had one tick in our family in our lives: this summer, after our seven year old daughter spent the day learning to climb trees.
  • Carry activated charcoal with you for tick or bug bites. You will want to put it on dry and not diluted. It is helpful to remove toxins through the skin. It relieves itching from mosquito bites by pulling the toxins out. It is a good first aid for tick bites, once the tick has been carefully removed (you will want to read up on tick removal). Drawing any toxins out immediately removes a lot of fear and concern. Of course, first aid is first aid. You will probably want to follow up with doctor after a tick bite, especially if you see a rash. Be informed.
  • Bug repellents have various levels of effectiveness. We prefer natural ones, but have not found any type that works perfectly. Feel free to comment if you know of a good one!
  • If you still want to take some extra steps, here are some good baby bug products: Natural Repellent bracelet for babies All natural mosquito repellent bracelets (10 pack) for kids, Z Show pop up mosquito net tent for baby

As you can imagine, we were not quite this obsessive; ) and everything turned out fine : )

Fall Camping: Places to Go

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Take a deep breath and get ready to welcome fall! Less bugs, cooler evenings, changing colors– the perfect time for a camping trip! If your little ones are not in school yet, what a great time for a family trip. If they have started school, then take advantage of a long weekend, like Columbus Day, for family bonding.

Where to Go:

If you’ve had a busy summer, it might be nice to pick somewhere within three hours of home. Depending on whether you have children in school, this might make a difference too. It’s nice to slow down a little during the fall season, and pick peaceful places in which to enjoy the changing seasons. You may want to have some warmer clothes, rain gear, and hardier food choices, but I’ll go over what to bring in my next post.

Places to See:

Here is a list of the best places we’ve been camping in autumn:

  • Traverse City, Michigan: Beautiful colors, lakes, fishing, boats, vineyards, rolling hills, rustic scenery. Jim and I got up at dawn to photograph the sunrise over the lake filled with fishing boats.
  • Door County, Wisconsin: scenic lighthouses, and lots of activities to do here!
  • Galena, Illinois: a river town with historic sites such as Ulysses S. Grant’s home, and ghost tours of the city in late October
  • Cheekwood near Nashville, Tennessee: Leaves turn color later in October to November, so take advantage of the warmer weather! Cheekwood has a scarecrow contest, outdoor sculptures, historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Although you can’t camp at Cheekwood itself, there are many state parks and outdoor activities nearby.
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: cascading waterfalls, October still has the feel of summer, except that the salmon are running! (fascinating to watch these fish wrestle their way North into the hatcheries!) Scenic harbors, lots of hiking.
  • Leavenworth, Washington: Bavarian style renovated village in the mountains. We stayed in Wenatchee State Park and hiked in that area, then ejoyed the boutiques and restaurants, on authentic Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Amana Colonies, Iowa: historic German village built by settlers. Has art galleries, boating, cave tours, shops and authentic German food; really comes to life for Oktoberfest weekend!
  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: beautiful all year and still warm in October, we camped nearby, hiked up above Multnomah Falls (shown in picture) and got to see the salmon running (when they return North to spawn in the fall.) Scenic waterways, hiking, good restaurants, and only two hours inland from the Oregon Coast.

Another thing we like to do in fall is to find Pioneer festivals and reenactments, to show the kids how people used to live. Some festivals can be quite elaborate and make a great learning experience. These tend to be hosted in or near state parks, and usually have camping and fishing opportunities nearby.

Catching Up, On the Road; Denver

Wow! Summer is flying by! I apologize for my “blog lag,” as I have just returned from a trip to Denver for my brother’s wedding reception! I am still catching up, and this short post is just meant to share what we’ve been doing as I catch up from our trip. Though I did some writing, it was nearly impossible to post anything on this trip due to the late hours we kept and the technical issues I continually had with my laptop. I was forced to slow down, but it was worth it for spending quality time with relatives… I will be sharing some pictures soon since they are so much more exciting.

We had a great time and got to do some sightseeing: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo– built into a mountainside, is a beautiful hilly walk, with great experiences for the kids with animals in very natural habitats. The views over the city of Colorado Springs alone are worth the hike. I’ve never seen so many giraffes in one place, and we were there at the right time to see three new baby lion cubs! Coming from the Chicago area, we’ve had many zoo experiences, but I’d have to say this is the best one. I recommend bringing water, as this is all outdoors and they charge a steep price for water bottles.

The Denver Aquarium too, is amazing. I really marvel at the design of the exhibits, and the interactive kid friendly atmosphere. Not being a very urban type of person, I felt more comfortable in the more laid back Denver than in Chicago. The way the sea creatures are displayed is a work of art in itself. Everywhere, there is something to look, even above your head! Everything had a natural feel, and drew us in.

The Denver Art Museum was very exciting. Every floor had projects that gave kids a chance to create. At the entrance, kids could get one backpack per family and the backpacks contained projects and scavenger hunt activities corresponding a a floor of the museum. Each floor had a little reading room/ play area decorated with different types of art corresponding to the theme of that floor. It gave us a chance to relax and read the art books, and let the children play. I really admired the variety of exhibits in the museum, the interior design meant to feel homey, and the activities to keep children busy and let them learn.

Restaurants: We had dinner at the Irish Snug on Colfax Street and heard Irish singer Brian Clancy, who is there almost every Saturday. Luckily we had a baby sitter that night, as a we celebrated with my bro and his wife, to the tune of good old Irish drinking, fighting and love songs amidst the chorus of audience participants. Brian Clancy is a great singer, and a lively local legend.

Another fun, eclectic place we tried was Buenos Aires Pizzeria on 1319 22nd St, Denver 80205. Surprisingly great pizza and Italian food, sandwiches and Argentinian food with many choices. The bread and pesto sauce were amazing! And real, freshly made gelato ice cream for desert!

Camping with Baby, Under Tree Tops…

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Sophia 2 years old

Baby sleeps soundly, loving rain drops…

I mentioned in earlier in my blog how we took our daughter camping for the first time when she was four months old.  (I have a picture from this adventure– will post it when I find it!) Why do you think they like the song “Rock-a-bye Baby in a Treetop”? There’s nothing like going to sleep to the sound of rustling trees! Labor Day weekend held a steady downpour that year. But our baby fell asleep early, and slept through the night (such a thing was not heard of at home!) Mommy awoke well-rested, and that made for a peaceful, enjoyable weekend with friends.

There is nothing out of the ordinary being out in nature with a little one. Trees and rain are more comforting than night lights,  electrical things running, parents downstairs washing dishes and talking.

I grew up camping, (although not starting till we were older). So it was not new for me. But it was a fun challenge taking a baby, and made me look at life and duties as a mom differently. It was so peaceful.

Is camping only for “outdoorsy” people?

No, it doesn’t have to be. Our family likes hiking and canoeing, but that is not a complete picture of who we are. We like cultural events, festivals, quaint towns, and new places– as long as there is something worth seeing. We camp nearby to save money, and to have a connection with nature.

KOA campgrounds are nice for children because of their community feel, breakfast, mini-golf, swimming pools, and nice bathrooms. They are a good starting point if you’ve never camped, and its easy to find them. But there is nothing wrong with state parks and other campgrounds.

Why go camping?

If the above mentioned reasons are not enough, here are some more to think about.

  • It’s a good bonding experience for the family. When a baby is born, both parents are usually very exhausted. Home routines become rushed and perfunctory. Mommy and Daddy both have very different roles for those first few months, and Daddies even tend to feel excluded.
  • Since camping traditionally is more of a man’s role, it gives Daddy not only some relaxation, but a place of honor. He’d probably rather start a campfire and set up a tent than cook meals and make the beds at home. Its a great way for family to come together and put aside all the distractions.
  • Camping saves money, and if you don’t care for outdoorsy activity, you can camp near a festival, near a town where you’d like to do sightseeing.
  • You can make it a social event. It’s a lot less work than hosting a dinner party, and you can spend time telling stories and experiencing nature. It makes you feel freer!

Children’s Literature, Picture Book Chapter 3: Scrapbook of Travel Adventures

Sophia and her Momma spent the next morning looking at their scrapbooks while Sophia’s little brother is slept.

“So this was my baby shower!” Sophia exclaimed. I thought you had baby showers before the baby came out?”

“All through my pregnancy, we were trying to sell our home,” said Momma. “It was very important, and very stressful on me. So we waited till you came into the world. That way all our friends and family would get to meet you!”

“How old was I then?” Sophia asked.

“You were only a month old in those pictures,” Momma said.

“What was my favorite present?” Sophia asked.”Did I get any shoes?”

“Well, yes. As a matter of fact, our friend gave you the little pair of white bunny slippers.”

“I remember those,” Sophia said. “I wore them in Idaho.”

“Yes,” Momma said. “You cried every time you lost the ‘girl bunny’ or the ‘boy bunny! I’m not sure how you told them apart,” Momma smiled, “but when you asked where they were, I always told you ‘they went down the rabbit hole’ and then you’d find them under your sheets. But one time, you dropped the ‘girl bunny’ outside in the snow after preschool, and cried for three days till we found it! It was good that the snow in Idaho doesn’t stay all winter like it does here in Chicago!”

Sophia laughed. “I sure loved those bunny slippers. We still have them, right?”

(Painting of Momma and Sophia sitting together holding the scrapbook. Next to them are the tattered pair of bunny slippers.)

Did I get any other shoes?” asked Sophia.

Momma said, ” you did get a bag of shoes from Karla, the airline stewardess. They were her daughter’s old shoes.”

“Really,” Sophia said excitedly. “That means that those shoes came from someone who traveled! Karla traveled to different countries, right?”

“Yes,” Momma said, “She worked for an international company and went all over the world.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Sophia. “Are there any pictures of me in those shoes?”

“Those were the first shoes you wore outside. Here’s a picture of you in them at grandma and grandpa’s house.”

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“That must have been fun. But what about travel pictures, Mom?”

“Well, here is your first big trip. We went to Costa Rica with our friends.

(Art: next two pages show scrapbook up close with pictures of Costa Rica and captions of what was happening, ending with a little notation about how Sophia lost her sandal there at a church and cried.)

Have Books, Will Travel!

150312_002When I was young, I couldn’t travel anywhere without books! My parents used to tease me when we left for a trip– “are you really going to read all those books?” Well, now my husband does the same thing since I bring books for my two children, ages 7 and 4, as well as for myself. And I usually like to have a wide selection: some fiction, some history, some practical reading, such as health, or survival skills. I never know what might come in handy or what I might feel like reading.

Transporting a library can be challenging, though. Fortunately, my husband Jim has tapped into some great sites for free audio downloads. www.librivox.org is  one of our favorites. They have many classics, read by volunteers, all free, because they are in the public domain. On our recent trips, we have enjoyed listening to Paula the Waldensian, Master NoBook, the original Pinochio, The Outdoor Girls of Deep Dale, by Laura Lee Hope (author of the Bobsey Twins.) We enjoyed them as much as the children. If you’re not sure if your little ones are really listening, don’t worry. They do pick up on things more than we know. Are they learning to read? Sure they are! The logic and love of language comes from hearing things spoken, as well as reading them with your eyes. If you prefer, you can find the classics at the library, with pictures and then download the free audio so that they can be following along. This method is great for little ones that are just starting to read!

I love to bring Geography Songs from Sonlight along on almost any trip. We can listen to the song about the United States and look at the map. I have some additional map coloring/activity books to add to this exercise. Because so many books from Sonlight cover geography and different peoples all over the world, I can also tie these into the terrain we are visiting. My children were learning a little bit about the Middle East from the book Window on the World, when we took our trip to Arizona in the February/ March (the perfect time to go, as far as I’m concerned!) Since we visited the Sonora Desert, I was able to talk about other desert climates in the world and how they were similar or different. (The Sonora Desert actually gets a good deal of rainfall, it just happens to evaporate quickly because there are no roots or soil to hold it. This results in different and more plentiful vegetation than other types of desert.)

When we left for the trip, I brought some books we were finishing up. Naturally, it’s good to teach the children to finish what they start. One of them was Box Car Children, a book we have from Sonlight. My six year old and I were taking turns reading parts of it. In this beautiful story, the orphaned children live for a few months in a stationary, abandoned boxcar. We discussed the different parts of the country and what part of the country this story was likely to have taken place. As we had driven South from Illinois to Tennessee, across Arkansas and Texas, through New Mexico and over to Azrizona, then North to the Grand Canyon, then to Denver, and finally back to Illinois, we were able to observe first hand the contrasts in climate and wildlife, in a way that you cannot do during mid- summer, when life is vibrant (and hot) everywhere.

Additionally, we brought books that my husband and I had from previous trips West– some about desert life and some about the Grand Canyon. Never worry about bringing too many books! Encourage learning and it will happen readily! And you can always follow up at home, by going to the library and checking out books that have to do with where you’ve just been…

Sonlight Blog Party

Children’s Literature: Picture Book– Chapter 2 (To Travel to the Places Our Ancestors Came From)

When Sophia thought of her birthday then, it  still seemed far away– in summer. She pictured Giovina taking off the boots and the rain shrinking them down to her size. She pictured Giovina having fun in Italy with Jack, and buying new boots, so she could give Sophia the old pair. She tried to picture herself as a more grown up girl, going to Italy for her birthday.

As Sophia glanced out the window, she could see green grass. It was nearing the end of April, but still chilly out. Jack and Giovina had already returned from Italy, Sophia was sure of it. “When will we see Jack and Giovina?” Sophia asked. “I miss them and I want to see their pictures. Will they be back before my birthday comes?”

“They should be back soon.” said Momma. “And you may invite them. So you want to start planning your birthday?”

“Boots!” answered Sophia.

“So you want boots like Giovina’s?” Momma asked. “I don’t remember her wearing fancy boots.”

“Oh yes, she does. They wear everything fancy in Italy. She told me that. Let me draw you a picture,” Sophia said, determined.

Momma smiled, “You’re a little artist, just like Daddy!” she said.

Daddy looked at the picture. “Those look fancy, Sophia. You know we don’t have money for new things, especially if they are meant just to look fancy.” Daddy chuckled, “I wear post office boots, Momma wears hiking boots, but our little Sophia wants boots all the way from Italy!”

“Boots are not just to look fancy,” she said, repeating her idea: “Shoes take you places.”

“Sophia, shoes don’t take you places. Giovina does wear nice clothes, but she’s probably had them a long time and kept them nice. She can go to Italy because she saves money to go, plus she has family there to stay with– and besides she and Jack are only two people traveling together, not a family of four like us.”

“Yes, but she invited us to go next time, and we are from Italy, and we should go!” Sophia exclaimed eagerly.

“We’re not from Italy sweetie…” Daddy started to say.

“I know, not us—our ancestors are from Italy, that is, Grandma Barb’s dad, right? And his last name was Scalzitti, which means shoe-maker. And Grandma Barb’s mom was German, and your dad was from Puerto Rico, and mom’s family was from England and Germany. I know all that. But I want to go to all the places that our families are from. Why can’t we go?”

“I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, too” Daddy said. “But it will take time to save up money.”

“I know– Daddy, if you start painting more and selling your paintings, maybe then we can go to Italy!” Sophia said.

“Well,” Daddy said, “I have to keep my day job. But why don’t I do a painting for you, for your birthday. Find me a picture of someplace you have been– like our trip to Costa Rica, for instance. I’ll do a painting of you in a place you’ve already been.”

“O.K.” Sophia said. “As long as I can paint with you, Daddy!”

“That’s a great idea,” Momma said. “That will help you to be thankful for the places you have been. We have traveled a lot you know. Let’s look in our scrapbook tomorrow, and you can find a good picture for Daddy to paint from.”