Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Home Spa Night

Written by Jonah Lisa

home spa 1

I usually shower more than once a week. I just want everyone to know that. But sometimes as a busy, work-at-home mom I find myself in the uncomfortable position of not knowing exactly when that last shower was. Was it Monday? Saturday? Yikes, was it last Thursday? Never mind shaving my legs, or trimming my toenails. Did my hair get washed?

One of the wonderful byproducts of Unplugged Sunday for me has been that I always seem to find the time on Sunday evening to care for my personal needs. During the week I can settle for less: a few quick, unmemorable Navy showers with a child’s face pressed against the glass. But Sunday is nice, uncluttered day for us that just sets the mood for an evening of self care.

Somehow it just takes the removal of internet, movies and to do lists to feel the freedom and space to prioritize myself. It’s always worth doing. I have never once found myself wishing I had skipped the long soak and read The Huffington Post instead. 

When I can take a full hour after the kids are asleep, at the end of our Unplugged Sunday, it’s really lovely, but It’s not always the full spa routine, and that’s fine. Even an extra 15 or 20 minutes to relax, spend some time alone, and be nice to my body can be rejuvenating.

Home Spa Night Routine:
  • A relaxing drink. Pour a cup or glass of whatever helps you unwind. 
  • Light a candle or two if that makes it feel special and more relaxing to you.
  • Self-massage with an aromatherapy oil. Yes, oil before you get wet, not after. Trust me on this one. I learned it during an Ayurvedic cleanse and it makes a huge difference if you have dry skin. I like to use Sesame Oil with sweet orange essential oil added. Don’t use Toasted Sesame Oil unless you want to smell like an Asian noodle salad. 
  • A long bath or shower. There’s nothing to pull you out. No one needs you. Take as much time as you want. 
  • Wash your hair and give yourself a vigorous scalp rub. You can do an easy intense conditioning by just leaving your regular conditioner on for an extra long time. 
  • Shave any bits you shave. Maybe even use your husband’s shaving cream instead of whatever soap is handy. 
  • Exfoliate from top to bottom. Even scrub between those toes.
  • Linger. Drink your drink. Read a book. Breathe. Remember the week and let go of anything you don’t want to carry with you into the next week.
  • Give yourself a Facial. Wash, scrub, peel, poke, moisturize. Go the full cucumber or put chamomile teabags on your eyes. 
  • Take care of all that Other Self-Maintenance that you usually don’t have time for: Clean your ears, pluck your eyebrows, cut your nails. 
  • Add-on whatever “Extra Treatments” make you feel pampered. Paint your toenails, have some dark chocolate, make sure you have clean sheets on the bed. My mother always says, “Nothing feels better than clean sheets and shaved legs.”
  • Repeat relaxing drink. 
home spa 2

Can I do these things for myself any night of the week?  Absolutely.  
Do I?  Never.  
Besides the fact that these things all feel wonderful and your skin & hair will thank you by looking that much better, it’s really about something bigger... 

Having time alone to end one week and start the next with intention.

As I slough off the dead skin it’s like sloughing off the past week with all its ups and downs and challenges and even joys. I’m done with all that and I’m moving on. It’s as if I’m saying, here is the demarcation line. When I step out of this shower, clean, I’m stepping into a new week, a new start, and a whole new set of possibilities.

If you had one hour to yourself, how would you relax and unwind?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hiking the AT... sort of.

Written by Adam

On Father's Day we decided to travel a bit and hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail located in the northwest corner of Connecticut. The highway system in Connecticut allows fairly quick access throughout the state if you manage to  avoid rush hour traffic, but reaching this particular area means traveling on more rural expanses of road and takes some time. To further delay our arrival, our method for long distance driving requires that we poke along, stop for snacks, do some sightseeing, etc. What can I say? We prefer to see any sights of interest the moment we see them.

Our first stop was in the town of Cornwall along the Housatonic River and the Appalachian Trail (hereinafter the "AT"). I will not go into the finer details of the AT, but suffice it to say that the AT runs over two thousand miles from Georgia to Maine (and, obviously, vice versa). Those hardy humans known as Thru Hikers start at one end and do not stop until they reach the other - if they can make it. Section hikers do just that - hike various sections of the trail whenever and wherever they can over time. For now, we are Section Hikers, having hiked sections in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

We parked alongside the Housatonic and broke out the food cooler because two hours of touring really works up an appetite. After conversation and a last minute gear check (as if we were Thru Hikers), we headed out on the flat, easy trail as it followed the banks of the Housatonic River. With heavy rain the week prior, the river was running fast and was quite turbid, perhaps just muddy from the rain?

I was concerned about the look of the water - standing on the bank with my fly rod ready to cast, and Emily eager to jump in for a swim, so I made the decision to Google it on my phone. Something that is not the norm on this day, but you should have seen how this water looked. 

It turns out that sadly, the Housatonic is known for great trout fishing and for high levels of PCBs caused by decades of dumping by GE upstream in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. This means you can catch the fish, but be sure not to eat the fish (that's a good general rule of thumb in Connecticut). I took it a step further - no contact whatsoever, swimming was out. I know, I know, we are exposed to dangerous toxins everyday, but I say, "why knowingly up the dose?" 

Somehow, the trail and area just didn't flow for us. We just couldn't get into the hike, so we decided to find our hill/tiny mountain climb instead. The northwest corner of the state is known for its wealth and its disdain for developers. Therefore the scenic roads are some of the best in New England. Classic homesteads, lakes and wildlife abound. This area is spectacular.

Located in the town of Salisbury (check out the picture on their website), we took on another section of the AT that ended at a great look-out known as Lion's Head. So we get to the trail head and it's very nice: fields, birds, sunshine, easy access, good parking, lovely lovely lovely. And a motorcycle battery. Honestly, does the Battery Bandit know I'm coming? At least this one was at the parking area and did not require hauling it out of the woods. Thankfully, it was the only litter we saw all day. 

Remember the post about slowing down, being quiet, and dropping into the hike? 

Me neither, and Emily and I attacked the straight up slope with a vengeance. I like to climb with a competitive purpose, and Emily digs the challenge of a difficult pitch. Heather is more reflective and takes in everything, feeling her own pace up the hill. This works well, because we allow for each other's hiking style - a must for family outing. I tend to float in the middle to be sure we are in constant contact. Emily and I even developed a call system of "Where-are-you, here-I-am, wait-for-me" whistles that worked surprisingly well. We climb hard, stop for a drink, snack, and conversation until we can see Heather, then head off again.

At a split in the trail we waited again. This time we heard hiking poles and heavy footsteps that did not belong to my significant other. Then two Thru Hikers came into view. It was like seeing a wild animal for the first time. Heather later commented that she knew they were Thru Hikers because of their, shall we say, aromatic bouquet. I guess fifteen hundred miles on the trail will do that to you. I have read Long Distance Hiking by Roland Muesar and Bill Bryson's A Walk in The Woods, so I felt comfortable asking a few questions outside of the usual "Is it hard? Are you tired? What's that smell?" banter, which I think they appreciated. One did have the look of person spending far too much time in his own head, which he alluded to being true, so we let them go ahead of us.

It was a quick hike of maybe thirty minutes, with a good slope, and the last bit of the trail was all rock and a scrambling incline. We crested the top and what a view! 

It was so incredible, I could not believe we were in Connecticut. Remember what I said about the locals disdain for developers? I could not find a single cell tower! Not a one, it was remarkable. Also, very little road noise. Just forest, fields, and homes. Where the jello was I? Ravens congregated below us, sunshine above, and Nature as far as the eye could see. We soaked it all in up there for a good long time.

As we made our way down, we met a dapper elderly couple. They were spry and coherent, properly outfitted and living the dream. They knew the area well and identified the elusive Eastern Towhee for us and provided some comments about the wondrous Mountain Laurel in full bloom around us. The gentleman had a medium sized fanny pack with water, and carried a handsome, carved walking stick. His simple accoutrements made me realize how ridiculous I looked with my gear conglomeration (have I mentioned this before?). True I am working on the proper preparation balance for larger hikes to come, but I sure am quite a sight .

The nice thing about a great day out in the world is that it seems to last forever. On the way home we were true to form, meandering along to back roads and summiting another peak (albeit in the car) for another great view. When we finally rolled into our driveway it was well past 10:00 PM, but we really didn't care. We saw and did so much, in one day time nearly stood still.

  • For great info about the AT, click here.
  • If you are in southern New England or eastern New York, Berkshire Hiking is a great resource.

Friday, June 24, 2011

5 Things to Consider When Hiking With Children

Written by Heather

A relic from Emily's early days on the trail.

Let's be honest, it's usually us parents that feel the need to slow down and breathe fresh air. You know, take a break from it all. It's true that kids need this too, but their ability to intellectualize the need does not always exist for them.

Adam and I love to pack up the car and drive away from the noise and concrete of our busy town. Back in March, when we first began talking about this crazy idea of once a week unplugging, we were sensitive to the possibility that our daughter would find it a less stellar idea than we did. 

Because we wanted this so much, we were careful how the idea was pitched to her. Rather than making the focus about the things we desired to take a break from, we placed the emphasis on the exciting things we wanted to add! Hiking! Picnics! Swimming! Dessert with friends! Bring a friend! Bring the dog!

She quickly felt the peace of our slow and easy day. She is easily on board now.

Things to Consider When Hiking With Kids:

1. Comfort

Quality gear/clothing is a pleasure to have when hiking, and the more you hike, it can also be an important safety consideration. But  when you are starting out, children will get along just fine without anything fancy for most family day hikes

Our daughter is still the most comfortable wearing her favorite Chuck Taylors.

My own ascent of Mt. Washington was at age 17 - I wore a pair of Reebok high tops (complete with velcro ankle straps!), jeans, and a hooded sweatshirt. The very things they tell you not to bring nowadays, and all I remember was having the time of my life. Young people are for more resilient than us older folks.

Listen to kids when they communicate what feels good and what doesn't.

2. Snacks

A mile or two into the woods on foot is not the time to test out new food. A good rule of thumb is to keep trail food simple and healthy on the tummy, but also something to look forward to. Handing out dark chocolate covered almonds one at a time to a weary young hiker just may be the thing that keeps the whole group moving along down the trail.

Snack ideas:
  • Fruit - hard fruit such as apples or pears works best (Fruit is my favorite thing on the trail so I'll put in the effort to carry delicate things such as berries and chunks of melon, I really look forward to it!)
  • Honey Sesame Brittle
  • Gorp
  • Hard Cheese - slices of cheddar are great with apples
  • Whole Grain Crackers with Nut Butter - fillable tubes are useful (though plastic)
  • Fruit Leather
  • Dried Fruit & Nuts
  • Homemade Granola Bars
  • Good Chocolate - if it's not too hot
  • Pita & Hummus
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly - made on toast for a little durability
  • Good Quality Jerky - you can make homemade to be sure of ingredients

3. Water

Emily thinks a hike with a water source is a winner. 

Along with this must come parents who don't mind her getting wet. We learned a long time ago to always say yes if she wants to go for a dunk. During warmer months she hikes with a bathing suit under her clothes. We also keep extra clothing and shoes in the car, or in our packs on a longer hike. Our hikes are planned around waterways and/or vistas - preferably both. 

Some children don't like to go in the water, but most  love to be near it. Skipping stones, floating sticks, making boats out of leaves and bark (found on the ground), looking for frogs or fish... water is highly entertaining!

Remember water shoes, they are great for safe exploring. A pair of goggles is fun too!

4. Bugs

Insects can sometimes break the experience for people of all ages. Understandably a nuisance, there are things you can do to lesson the disturbance.

  • Head Nets for Everyone - small, lightweight, inexpensive. Wearing a hat with a brim underneath keeps the net away from your face. Want to be completely protected or have allergy considerations? How about a full bug suit! (wow)
  • Long Sleeves and Pants - socks over pants in high grass where ticks are concerned.
  • LOTS of Bug Spray - we use homemade natural spray (similar to this recipe), and find it works best to use more liberally than you might think. 
  • Bug Season is Bug Season - while it's hard to avoid them entirely, early morning and late day hikes tend to be buggier than midday. 

A note about bug spray - Emily doesn't like the feel of bug spray on her skin. She wanted you to know about her method of dousing hats, socks, sleeves, and most importantly, a bandanna or two and tying them around her neck, head, wrists... wherever!

5. Bring a Friend or a Pet!

Some of you asked how to get older kids on board. Teenagers can be tentative when mom and dad come up with new ideas for forced family fun (weren't we the same way). Make it awesome! Invite a friend or bring the dog for companionship. Several kids? Let them take turns each week inviting a friend. Emily loves to bring our dog. 

We could discuss this forever, couldn't we? Sounds great to me...

What do you find is essential for fun hiking with children?
What is you favorite trail snack? (We're all looking for ideas!)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Outdoors? Why All Day?

Written by Renee

A few years ago our family made the conscious decision (ie: it doesn’t just “happen”) to spend one whole day each week outdoors together as a family. We call it one day a week.

We’re passionate about encouraging people to spend one day a week together in nature. And we’d love for other families to experience the incredible benefits we have realized from this practice.

And so when Heather and Adam started this blog - this idea of Unplugged Sunday - we wanted to be a part of it.

Unplugged Sunday is not just about the outdoors of course. The vision is broader than that and includes connecting spiritually, cooking and hospitality, creating and resting. A feast of possibilities for a day of family togetherness.

I love the idea of Unplugged Sunday. I love the practice of Unplugged Sunday.

Our family chooses to spend our “unplugged day” in the outdoors.

It’s a foundation piece to our weekly schedule. We plan other things around it and will only sacrifice that day we spend together in nature for emergencies or rare events. Even when life is in an upheaval, especially when life is like that, we spend a day in nature as a family.

Why Outdoors?

There’s a lot of things a family could do together for a day unplugged. They could go visit family (hopefully the tv isn’t blaring the whole time), attend church or some other spiritual gathering, do service in their community, spend the day preparing a gourmet meal to share with friends.

We do all of those things on a regular basis, just not on our outdoor day.

We choose the outdoors for our unplugged day because it integrates many of our family values and goals into one activity that we can all do together.

Learning to understand nature is part of our kids’ home education. The great cathedral of the outdoors is a spiritual experience. And spending a whole day in nature - talking, laughing, sometimes crying - connects us to each other in ways we have not experienced elsewhere.

Our family focuses on hiking specifically because it’s one of my husband’s passions and an activity he keenly wants to share with his family. Hiking is active and health promoting.

Perhaps most important of all, hiking is something we can all do together regardless of age or leg length.

How many other activities, in our modern society with age and sex segregated sports teams, can a family of five do together? Not many.

Why All Day?

That’s a good question. Why not just sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, pack a lunch and go out for the afternoon?

Well, sometimes we do that. But not often.

Because we work, play and learn at home there are many distractions (even worthwhile ones) from just relaxing, unplugged at home together.

Some people are able to unplug at home. They are book readers, brunch eaters, and quite honestly, probably don’t have children who want to do something and not just sit around watching their parents read.

If our family doesn’t make a point to get out of the house we are either working in the kitchen (that’s my nearly full time day job and I like a break from it one day a week), taking care of home and yard, or on the computer in some capacity (my husband’s full time day job).

Unless the power goes out, we aren’t able to pull off truly unplugged days at home. So we avoid the temptation all together and pack up and leave.

Don’t get me wrong. We are able to relax at home and do so often. But most of our relaxing involves computers, the internet, and electronic devices of some sort. To get away from it all we truly need to get away from it all.

So now that I’ve answered Why Outdoors and Why All Day, I have a few questions for you.
  • What is your favorite outdoor activity to do with your family?
  • Is being outdoors together something you’d like to do more?
  • What are some of the obstacles you face in doing that?

We’d like to help. In the coming months my husband Damien and I will be sharing here about how and why we do this with our three school aged children. We look forward to encouraging your family to get outdoors together.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Welcome to Unplugged Sunday

Written by Heather

About four months ago our family felt pulled to make a change. 

Perhaps a little antsy from a long and hard winter, more likely just tired from the ins and outs of daily living. Adam and I were definitely entering the not so pretty territory of "Is this it? Is this our life?"


Our desire to create change of the slowed down, unplugged variety was born from a couple of things:

  1. We love the natural world yet live in an urban location. Our location can be trying at times for those with a country spirit. We needed a lot more time outdoors than we were getting, and felt a weekly devotion (trail side) was in desperate order for peace, balance, and overall wellness.
  2. Our family of three uses computers throughout everyday. We noticed that although we love technology in the form of high speed internet for work, homeschool, and fun - we also felt its artificial nature permeate our lives and our home.
We needed a healthier balance between the two.

Surely, one day a week we could do without computers, TV, and other devices. And without question we needed more time spent in nature, or at home engaging in thoughtful quiet activities, together.


Unplugged Sunday was born.

It became an instant tradition for our family and we all look forward to it as each week comes to a close. Now, no matter what meetings, deadlines or lessons need tending to in our day to day, we have a time that is set apart to look forward to each week.

To understand a bit more behind our motivation and intention, please visit the About Us page. In addition to Adam and I writing here weekly, we will be joined by a talented group of writers who we feel very proud to be associated with. 

Aside from that, we hope some time spent looking around this site will continue to paint the picture for you.


There will be new posts here each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and we will be over on Twitter and Facebook too, we'd love for you to please join us there! It would also mean so much to us if you would follow this blog... we promise to do our best to keep a diverse collection of unplugged stories coming. 


The five general themes our posts will follow are:

We will also maintain a page to organize helpful Getting Started posts for those of you interested in adding more unplugged days or afternoons to your households.


And as always, with any blog, sharing your voice in the comments is the perfect way to let our writers know you are enjoying their words. Feel free to ask questions too! 

Enjoy looking around, and please tell us what you think! 

Our first Contributing Writer will be here tomorrow, so be sure to stop in for a visit. 

A word about comments - we are using Disqus for our comment system to allow threaded comments (which I love) on blogger. To leave your full information (link back to your blog, etc) it looks like you need to do a quick and free sign up with Disqus. You can do that right in the comments - if you skip that step, you can comment just the same, but without active links to your blog. The jury is still out on whether or not this is the perfect system for us.