"Mom, the sky is so blue! It's magical out here mom. Can you see the berries yet?" she said excitedly as we drove out to the strawberry field. I have definitely passed down my love of gathering and picking nature's best off of various trees or from the ground.
We call it "picking season" at my house, which is just as important as football season to some around here. Everyone anticipates it, we talk about it, deciding what and where we are going to pick throughout the season. Each person seems to have their favorite. I love strawberries, Jack loves cherries, Lucy loves blueberries, Josiah loves apples, and the baby is happy to eat all of it from her backpack carrier.
Here are some tips we have collected over many a dreamy picking day.
1. Find the best place. Most farms and orchards allow children to pick but some do not. Pick Your Own is the best website to find out what is close to you and gather all the farm information you might need to know.
2. Go early or late. I have discovered going right when the farm opens or right before closing is the best time to go. It is usually cooler and not as crowded. It is also a nice time to chat with the farmers and learn more about the place you are picking. Most importantly, if you go in the morning you can get the best pickins'.
3. Don't stay too long. Now is not the time to pick 10lbs. of blueberries for your yearly jam making. Go back by yourself for that goodness. You will all have a better time if you don't have a big agenda and are in the moment together.
4. Bring the little extras. Freeze a water bottle to leave in the car which will melt to be nice and cold by the time you get back from the hard work of picking.
Don't forget sunscreen, bug spray and bandaids as someone always seems to trip or get a tiny cut.
5. Include kids in your after picking plans. Decide together what you might want to do with your bounty. Look for recipes and cook together. My kids made some crazy good shortcake a week ago that turned into many a learning lesson about science, math and baking. Kids will be more invested if they have a plan going in.
6. Be the fruit fairy. We often pack some extra ziplock bags or fold some paper boxes to put fruit in and deliver to friends after we are done. Sometimes we leave them on the doorstep and ding dong ditch or take a minute to give them to neighbors and chat. It's always fun for the kids and is a lovely way to teach kids about sharing while building community.
Do you like to go picking with your family? What tips do you have for picking adventures? We'd love to know.
I don't even know what kind of flower it is, but she calls them her Ruby flowers. They grow on a tree in our back yard and every day she goes out back to pick whatever she can reach on her tiptoes. She carries them around and sings princess songs with a warbled voice, she "plants" them to grow new beautiful trees all over the yard, she takes them apart to string for a necklace. It is her very own utopia, created for and by her in her four-year-old world.
When she is done playing with them, she brings them inside and ties a bouquet. I find tiny bunches all over the house in all kinds of made up vases. Their deep red matches this fiery little girl who is just delightful. If you had told me there would be such a level of loveliness a year ago while in the thick of age three, I would have laughed but secretly believed you. Her light has always been there but it seems so bright these days.
When we walk the dog she can barely wait for the lawn with all the "candy lions" (dandelions). She picks every last one and somehow by magic there are more everyday. While we walk home she places one on each walk of every neighbor as an act of anonymous kindness. I smile and remember days when even weeds were special.
There is no shortage of joy and living completely in the moment. She tells me each morning when I try to wake her up that she can not possibly go to school because she is too tired. Only minutes later when she is fully awake that she totally changes her mind and insists we must leave that same minute. I find a contraband tiny stuffed animal in her school bag almost every day. I ask her about it and every day she insists that it is her show-and-tell day even though it isn't. We haggle and she finally relents in order to not miss all of the awesome of her pre-school.
She pulls old cereal and juice boxes out the recycling to make presents for her friends. I find dress up shoes in an old Capri-Sun box tied up with rainbow colored yarn, they are for Maris. I know this because she has a card sitting on top with a picture of two stick figure friends holding hands while a smiley face sun shines down on them.
I try to soak in the magic of four, the delightful time of independence mixed with the innocence of the imaginative mind. I mark this in my mind as one of my most favorite ages. I sit and chat with my most delightful daughter.
What is your favorite age(s)? What does the delightfulness look like to you? Share with us in the comments.
Weeks ago a tiny bird flew into our screened porch and built a nest in the pot given to me by a dear friend years ago when I moved into her neighborhood. It said "Welcome to the Fan." I couldn't get past the part that the bird was building in a place that actually welcomed her. Little things like this make me happy. She spent all day working hard, we left the back door open for her as good friends do for each other. The next week she left and we didn't see her again.
We didn't really think too much of it until one night when Jorge and the kids were helping to set the table outside for dinner on the porch. Everything causes a commotion in our house so in all the hustle of getting ready, we missed this:
Jorge saw and heard it first. "Everyone off the porch!" The mother bird was going nuts. We all quickly grapped the entire dinner off the table and headed inside. We had been banished from the porch as it was now a nursery. Everyday for the next week Jorge and the kids would check on the babies and make sure the mom hadn't left them over our looming presence the first day. Jorge called every night we were away on vacation to give us a baby bird update. Is wasn't long before they left and everyone was in shock how fast it had all gone.
"They sure grow up fast." Jackie boy said.
"Yeah, I hope they will be alright." Josiah said.
These are the conversations of mothers.
Any old bird stories at your house? I think every kid at one point or another has this experience. Do you remember?
We've been soaking up lots of nature goodness lately. We found this little guy on a trip to the beach. Josiah quickly sketched a picture in the sand.
Yesterday we spent a good part of the day at the river, hopping rocks and swimming. The end of the week calls for picking blueberries, raspberries if we are lucky. Some of our best memories are filled with nature.
What nature are you lovin' this summer?
We had our tent exactly ten years before it ever made its way out of the box onto a real campground. The first time we camped, Carter spent the entire time looking like this:
While the rest of us responded like this while he complained and cried ALL DAY long:
It was no fun, let me tell you.
Two years later, I'm happy to report, we recently had a very positive camping experience that I'd love to share, but before I do, I'd love to know how camping works with your family. Did you grow up in a camping family? Do all your kids like to camp, or do you, like me, have a wild card on your hands who's been known to fall apart when encountering anything new and potentially overwhelming?
Jack has a fear of certain bugs, like high pitched screams are reserved for such encounters. I asked him to crawl under the bed when I was cleaning the other day only to place him right in the path of a spider cricket. He was completely undone. I have to admit those little suckers are quite jumpy and unpredictable.
The experience made me think of my friend Jess. Science lover, friend to bugs, photographer extraordinaire, and she is a mom to three amazing boys. Jess and her crew actually hunt for bugs, all together, for fun. So I wrote this fellow supersister and asked if she would guest post to tell us how she cultivated this love of bugs, wee beasties and all living things. Welcome Jess!
Facebook status update, Sunday, June 7, 9:19am: "discovered the source of the backyard stench. An impromptu lesson on the life cycle of blowflies followed."
Gross, right? I'm beginning to think that perhaps we're not normal over here. My six-year-old and I got enthusiastic yesterday over frass. What is frass? Caterpillar poop. On the other side of the yard, my patio is torn up, partly because maple roots pushed the slate all around, but partly because we just plain couldn't control ourselves when we figured out that there were bugs underneath every piece - ant tunnels! Termites! Crickets! Bigger ants! And not too long ago, my 4-year-old kissed a cockroach. Not normal.
How did we end up this way? My best guess: a mix of ADD and the scientific method. We are constantly distracted by tiny turtles, tinier mushrooms, pill bugs, and caterpillars - then drawn in to investigate them and find out what they are and how they work. Of all the bits of nature we enjoy, bugs get center stage, perhaps because they let us get closer than larger animals, and do more (or at least do it faster) than plants, but also because, well, they are just so cool. Did you know that ladybugs develop from these freaky looking things? Or what a click beetle is? Have you ever seen a giant American millipede? Or an assassin bug? I love what we find and how it teaches us to notice more and ask better questions.
What if you're just not a fan of all creatures great and small, especially not some of the smallest and leggiest ones? No worries. Everybody is entitled to their own personal phobias and creepy-crawlies, and there's a whole world of vertebrates out there, not to mention plants and fungi. Or rocks! (But can I confess something? I hate touching bugs and have been known to shriek when surprised by a spider. So maybe see if you can push our own boundaries just a little, and see if your kids will follow suit.)
Are you ready to explore? Where to start?
1. Go wild. We're hearing a lot these days about how fundamental outdoor experience is to childhood. Don't fret if a camping trip isn't in the cards - the wilderness can be as close as the edge of the playground, or your own unweeded veggie garden.
2. Follow your bliss. Be willing to get sidetracked and go wherever your wandering attention leads you. You don't need a lesson plan. You don't even need to look for any particular thing. Just see what finds you, and share your discoveries with each other. Enthusiasm is catching.
3. Everybody starts somewhere. I only learned the word frass last year. You may not be a walking field guide - hey, I'm not a walking field guide. I share the knowledge I already have and to the rest, say "let's find out."
4. Details, baby, details. Take note of what you see and use your resources. What stands out about the critters you saw today? What were they doing? Where were they? You might want to keep a journal and a field guide; I use my camera and my skills as High Priestess of Google. Hmmm, black, yellow, and green caterpillar on parsley? Could it be a black swallowtail? And what was that orange stinky thing coming out of its head when I poked it? An osmeterium, you say?
5. Keep asking questions! What hypotheses can each member of your family come up with? How can you test them? What will you discover tomorrow?
What are you noticing, and where is it leading you?
Jess Lucia is a relentless idealist, perpetual dabbler, and slightly-crazed mother of three boys. She doesn't believe there's any such thing as "overthinking," loves learning new things, and sporadically shares parts of her journey on her blog, Spark. She's pretty sure nobody in her family has kissed a cockroach in at least a week.
all photos by Jess Lucia
I sort of have a black thumb, there might be one tiny shade of dark green but barely. It seems every plant I touch dies. I water too much or not enough, maybe it is just there are too many humans to take care of and other living things get the shaft. The funny part is, I love anything that is in the process of growing. My kids have been asking for quite some time if we could have a garden but since getting the lawn cut is a major challenge, we decided to start small.
I surprised them this weekend with gardening tools and eight hearty petunias.
They decided on the pattern and plan in which they would plant. Let's just say I've grown as a parent because it wasn't even, nor did the patterns match.
Lessons learned so far:
1. Let the kids pick. Kid decisions always invite investment in all forms.
From hauling those plants to the car all the way to clean up, every one will have more interest in the project.
2. Take advantage of teachable moments. (or not) There are about a gazillion science and life lessons associated with growing anything. You can use these opportunities to educate. If you are prone to squeezing lessons out of anything all the time, skip it and just get your hands dirty together and have fun.
3. Have a sprinkler party. This is the perfect time to end with something silly. Keep your regular clothes on and play in the sprinkler with your kids. I promise they will remember it forever.
Have you done any planting with your kids yet? Tell us your gardening tips for kids in the comments. Look for more gardening goodness on Friday when my kids and I set out to explore other families' gardens around town.
Check out our own PBS gardening expert Jamie Durie and all his great advice for gardening together. A very cute expert, I might add. Don't you think?
Now none of us are afraid of climbing that stepladder that will help you gingerly climb onto the table that will let you peek over the edge of this incredible nest. Everyday we take turns visiting our very own newborn nursery to see the latest arrivals.
Look, Mom, they don't even have very many feathers yet! They look so helpless and tiny!
I tell them that all brand new things--birds and babies especially--need so much care when they're new.
That's why we never wanted to put you down when you were first born. You seemed so fragile and frail.
We nod to each other as the next child waits for a turn to climb the ladder, then stand on the table. At this rate, we could probably charge admission, once the neighborhood kids find out.
I watch the whole scene and note how silently both kids take turns watching. No one touches, no one speaks, except to murmur praise and compassion. We are getting a chance to admire the beginning, when the simplest things take so much effort, when every day carries with it so many little changes and so much hope.