TogetherFarm – Everything is Awesome!

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My kids are obsessed with LEGO (the plural of LEGO doesn’t have an ‘s’) and we have them all over our living room. All. Over. And LEGO games. LEGO Marvel is played for a couple of hours a week, as is LEGO DC. We already played LEGO Harry Potter, Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I love them all. As they say in the LEGO Movie, everything (LEGO) is awesome!

So, when I saw TogetherFarm on Kickstarter last year I jumped on board. TogetherFarm has made LEGO-like bricks, made from food-grade recycled plastic,  for enclosing raised bed gardens  – you can buy them now on Amazon. The sets are pretty small but our plan is to combine our set of blocks with our Nourishmat system, also something we funded on Kickstarter, or the “Salad-a-Day” seed pack that came with our 4’X4′ set of blocks.

The boys are already interested in gardening but I feel like they need their own garden space, not just mine. They can use these tools to help them learn and get started, with guidance from me. Not exactly permaculture for kids but I like how many fun tools there are to involve children in the garden.

Winter Adventures

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I’ve been envious lately of the green grass and gardens I see in the Facebook postings of friends. I spent a little time looking through my own photos from this winter to see the outdoor (and indoor) adventures that are available during our extended winter season.

Indoor jumping

Indoor jumping

sledding at a nearby elementary school sledding hill

sledding at a nearby elementary school sledding hill

"I love to be cold, Mom!"

“I love to be cold, Mom!”

watching the Iditarod start from an urban ski and bike trail

watching the Iditarod start from an urban ski and bike trail

a newspaper lets us yell out the names of mushers as they go by

a newspaper lets us yell out the names of mushers as they go by

mush on, doggies!

mush on, doggies!

ice skating at the local school's rink

ice skating at the local school’s rink

indoor rock gym

indoor rock gym

family walk in the wooded dog park

family walk in the wooded dog park

family dog - she was born last year while I was at the Earthship with friends

family dog – she was born last year while I was at the Earthship with friends

snow sculptures during the winter festival, Fur Rendesvous

snow sculptures during the winter festival, Fur Rendesvous

snow sculptures are better with friends

snow sculptures are better with friends

an afternoon of snow tubing

an afternoon of snow tubing

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Green Florida – Loxahatchee

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Loxahatchee is a National Wildlife Refuge located in south Florida, with 221 square miles of Everglades habitat. Small roads take you to different area of the refuge though you’ll want to begin your visit at the small visitors center, boasting several interactive exhibits, including  a simulated airboat.

My dad and Cormac headed out there at around 6 A.M. one morning during our vacation, planning to birdwatch and ride bicycles along the paths to look for alligators. Apparently this is something my dad often does when they’ve gone down there to visit because Loxahatchee, in any given year, has as many as 257 species of birds using the refuge’s diverse wetland habitats, made up of canals and “swamp” areas. My parents have been avid bird watchers for as long as I can remember (and I remember being terrified as we crossed three lanes of Garden State Parkway traffic to sit by the side of the highway watching hawks) and I’ve been to Loxahatchee with them and my grandparents in the past.

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Cormac and Grandpa at the end of their morning wildlife bike ride.

It was too cold to see many alligators early in the morning, but Cormac got in a great ride and visit with his grandfather while testing out his new camera (see slightly blurry photos below) until the rest of us woke up and drove down. It was still a little cool but we had fun walking on the extensive boardwalk system through the cypress swamp and saw one large alligator off to the side of a small access road. On the way out we stopped at a large farmer’s market on the corner, enjoying boiled peanuts, fruit, organic cookies, and hot dogs.

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Big ol’ gator (he was a ways away – I zoomed in)

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Wetland grasses (photo courtesy of Cormac)

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Grasses and bird (photo courtesy of Cormac)

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photo bombed!

A Green Holiday in Florida

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Relaxing by the pool in Lantana

The day after Christmas, I flew 5,000 miles from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale with our two little boys, ages 3 and 7. Rather than hit the theme parks, we stayed with my grandfather at his condominium complex in Lantana and were joined there by my parents, who flew down from NYC. The trip was the main gift this year from the Santas in our house and the grandparent Santas. Although Florida isn’t high on my list of most attractive states to visit I can’t say a single disparaging thing about the weather, our company on the trip, or the wild refuges we got to visit.
After so much time in Alaska it is a shock to my system to see how developed communities are other places. As Florida is reclaiming its wetlands and attempting to rid itself of invasive plants and animals, more money is being spent on educating people on the special history of their land.
I will write a few posts on Loxahatchee, Green Cay,

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Gift of Experience

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Christmas 2012 has come and gone. We spent the month of December hiking, playing, reading books by firelight, skiing, and creating new family rituals that we will hopefully continue for many years to come. One of my favorite traditions is giving the gift of experience.

"Campfire in a Bag"

“Campfire in a Bag”

A few years ago we found ourselves at a loss as to what to get our nieces and nephews for Christmas. Do they really need another piece of molded plastic or some small trinket that will quickly end up at the bottom of a toy bin? Since they had never been camping we decided to give them the gift of a family camping trip. We made reservations at a state park and then made invites, a “campfire in a bag,” and treasure maps to unwrap on Christmas day. Our trips have turned into such a success that this summer will be our 4th annual camping trip. Any gift we would have given them would by now be long forgotten. However, I am certain they’ll never forget playing in the woods with their cousins or watching Uncle Brian cook breakfast over the campfire on the “big daddy” frying pan.

Brian cooking breakfast on the "Big Daddy" frying pan.

Brian cooking breakfast on the “Big Daddy” frying pan.

This year we expanded our gifts of experience. My oldest son has been asking to try backpacking, so this year we splurged and bought the kids backpacks. To go with I decoupaged a shoe box with pictures from Backpacker Magazine and filled it with maps and hiking books for places we intend to travel to in 2013: Porcupine Mountains in Michigan, the Desert Southwest, and various state parks around Wisconsin. I also threw in a few other books for places on our bucket list, such as the John Muir trail and returning to Alaska.

Wrapping adventure-based gifts.

Wrapping adventure-based gifts.

For my parents, who happen to both be celebrating a significant birthday this year, we made reservations for 4 nights at two different backcountry cabins up in the Porcupine Mountains for a giant family adventure. As for my siblings, we decided to forget gifts to each other and instead got a babysitter and went out for a relaxed dinner together at a favorite restaurant. The same goes for my husband’s family–we have plans to meet up at one of the museums in Chicago (or the planetarium or the aquarium… so hard to decide). Overall it made for a much more enjoyable holiday–we have fun gatherings to look forward to in the future and we didn’t have to stress out as much about holiday shopping.

When is our first adventure?!

When is our first adventure?!

Adventure box full of maps, books, and brochures.

Adventure box full of maps, books, and brochures.

The tradition of giving experiences is one that we plan to continue for now on. By doing so we are putting more emphasis on the importance of spending time together as a family (instead of accumulating stuff), and creating memories that will last well beyond any toy or trinket.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

MUD IS GOOD! Ten Easy Ways to Connect Your Family to the Joy of Nature

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MUD IS GOOD! Ten Easy Ways to Connect Your Family to the Joy of Nature : The New Nature Movement.

Looking for ideas to help get your kids out in nature? This is a great blog full of fun, easy ideas to connect your children with nature. There are many great books out there as well–check out my resources page for my favorites!

Kids love finding natural forts in nature!

via MUD IS GOOD! Ten Easy Ways to Connect Your Family to the Joy of Nature : The New Nature Movement.