Friday, August 26, 2011

Chai Tea & Hot Cocoa

Is it wrong to be talking about these things in August?

Here on the east coast, we are gearing up for quite a weekend. Please be gentle with us Hurricane Irene!
I've got some things planned for the stormy days ahead - a few art projects, recipe card filling out (I really do enjoy that sort of thing), cinnamon roll making... and of course the usual preparations in the likely event we lose power.
It gets me into camping mode as far as food is concerned.
Things need to be simple, require very little fuel to prepare, and be the sort of foods that we look forward to. 
Instantly prepared mixes are not always as nutritious as the at home counterparts. Chai Tea and Hot Cocoa are both made differently for us at home. Honey in place of sugar, real milk and whole tea leaves instead of powdered, you get the idea. But on the trail (or when preparing for a hurricane), a little convenience goes a long way. 
Today I'll share two recipes from our camping kitchen. Whether you are heading off with your backpack, preparing for a power outage, or simply thinking of the cooler months ahead - you just might like to make a little hot beverage mix.

Chai Mix
  • 2 1/2 cups evaporated cane juice crystals(sucanat can be used, but it has a stronger flavor)
  • 3 cups powdered milk
  • 1 1/2 cups instant tea-unsweetened (some natural food stores are carrying a variety of this now)
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. clove
  • 1 1/4 tsp cardamom
Combine the mix. I run it in batches through the blender to get it really good and powdery, dissolves nicer. Add 2 rounded TBS. mix to 8 oz. hot (not boiling) H2O. Put your feet up and sip away.

Hot Cocoa Mix
  • 16 cups powdered milk (if you can find non-dairy creamer without hydrogenated oils in it, use 1/2 creamer-1/2 milk, much creamier)
  • 2 cups cocoa powder
  • 5 cups evaporated cane juice crystals
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt-not course
Mix in a large bowl well. I also run this through the blender in batches to make it very fine and powdery. Not an essential step, but nice to do. Use 1/3 cup mix with 8 oz. of hot H2O.

Feeling up for a little outdoor inspiration? Check out National Geographic's film about the Appalachian Trail. You can stream it instantly on Netflix. 

"For more than half of the US population, the Appalachian Trail is less than a day's drive away. But precious few know it's splendor, or understand it's power."

Enjoy yourself this weekend, and stay safe my fellow east coasters!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Sunday at a Time

Written by Stephen

It’s not a lifetime commitment. You don’t have to go on the wagon, or take the pledge, or go to treatment. I’m simply asking you to, once a week, turn it off. The endless email, texting, tweeting, jabbering white noise that beckons 24/7. Whatever your drug of choice--smart phone, TV, laptop, ipad, gameboy, PS3--just take a day off and see what happens. 

It’s not particularly hard. There’s a little switch that turns them off. It’s usually on the side, or on the back. So take a deep breath, have a little cry if you need to, and turn it off. Then walk away. 

You don’t have to go far. Across the room will work. Stay where you can see it, but resist the temptation to go back and check on it. Keep breathing. It will all be okay. 

Now some strange things are gonna happen. First, it will probably talk to you. “Come back,” it will say. “Somebody might be trying to reach you. You might miss out on something!” It is VERY important that you not listen to this voice. It will lose its power if you just sit quietly. 

Next, you may wonder what to do. And the answer is…anything you wish. Take a walk. Take a nap. Read a book. Read a book to your kid. Play chess. Walk outside and drink in some sunshine. Pet your dog.   

Don’t be surprised if you feel antsy, jittery, or confused. Keep breathing. Tell yourself it’s just for a day, just twenty-four short hours. You can do anything for one day. Right? 

Now I won’t lie to you. It won’t be easy. You might have a slip. You may be outside gardening happily when an overwhelming urge comes over you to run inside, turn your phone back on and check your email. That’s okay. Just turn it off again and return to what you were doing. It will get easier. 

You may even find, as I do, that I look forward to it. I now tell friends, colleagues and family that I “unplug” for a day. That I will return to the regularly scheduled programming Monday morning. They don’t mind. Really. And honestly, it feels pretty nice to take a day off a week. 

It feels a little like cheating, but in a good way. For one whole day I am blissfully ignorant and free to have my own thoughts, in my own time, and not react or respond to anything beyond the very small and intimate circle that is me. 

And, as my iphone does talk to me, I have taken to putting it in a drawer, in the basement, in a dark room with the light turned off and the door closed. Sure, I know it’s there, but I also know it’s okay, and it will still be there tomorrow. I turn it off, give it a little pat pat, and close the drawer. It’s like putting my kid to bed. 

So if you think you might have a small technology problem, a habit that’s getting in the way of a rich, fulfilling life, give it a whirl. You don’t even have to do it for a whole day at first. Try it for an hour. Two hours. See how it feels. I dare you. I double-dare you. 

Just remember, it’s only one Sunday at a time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Field and Trail Guides

Written by Adam

Did you know you can estimate the age of an eastern white pine by counting the whorls (places where the branches grow out)? One whorl of branches approximately equals one year of growth. I learned this during the hike we enjoyed in the Fenton-Ruby Wildlife Preserve in Joshua's Trust. 

One great thing about the hike was the natural diversity. Though the flora and fauna offered up was typical New England fare, the abundance took me by surprise. It seemed as if everything you could find in the region was represented in these few hundred acres. 

It was made even better by the simple guide found inside a wooden box at one of the trail heads. It coincided with numbered markers on the trail to assist with identifying the specifics.

The hike became a sort of treasure hunt as we checked the ages of white pine trees, ate some wild black raspberries, and marveled at three giant pines sprouted from the massive stump of a single tree cut down over a century ago. 

Having that little trail guide pulled the trees from the forest, so to speak, and made me realize that sometimes you need the details to appreciate the big picture.

Furthermore, we went beyond the obvious everyday identification exercises of "that's a robin, that's a cardinal, that's a dandelion..." It's exciting to be reminded that there is always plenty to learn regardless of all my time outdoors. 

This made me think of ways we try to get the most knowledge out of a simple hike. Here's what I came up with:

Do Some Scouting Beforehand

Tourism is important to our economy, so local organizations (many non-profit) do plenty of work to make the trails enjoyable and to draw people outdoors. State Departments of Environmental Protection are a good place to start looking for places to explore in your area. 

Retail stores such as EMS and REI are staffed with outdoor enthusiasts who love to talk shop. Don't feel like you have to be a hard core hiker to talk with them. They're passionate about what they do and are eager to help families as well as beginners get outdoors. They'll know the best places to explore in your area. Sometimes these stores offer various clinics and workshops, too. You may even have a local shop that can guide you on your way.

By doing some research ahead of time, we can go out with some idea of what to look for and where it may be located on our hike. A fine example is our Joshua's Tract Walk Book (Heather and I talk about this book a lot, for good reason)It not only leads us to the trail, but points out key features to look for while there.  

Of course, the Internet is a top pre-hike resource. For our region, Berkshire HikingGreen Mountain Club, and  Appalachian Mountain Club are great resources. We make note of particular highlights mentioned in trail descriptions, and are able to plan a hike that includes our favorite features - vistas, ridgelines, and rivers. 

Get Some Useful Field and Trail Guides 

We are fortunate to have pretty good trail guides for our area from the same organizations mentioned above. We also have quite a stack of field guides for everything from birds and rocks to wildflowers and medicinal plants. These are great references to have, but for a relative novice like me, they almost have too much information. 

Even worse, there was a time when I would bring the bulk of them with me on the hike. It would look like a library exploded on the side of the trail as I tried to find out what kind of tree some random leaf belonged to. And nothing ruins a walk in the woods like twenty pounds worth of books on your back.

That is why we picked up some local guide books that are specific to our area. My favorites include the Snakes in Connecticut pamphlet from the local Department of Environmental Protection office and Amphibians & Reptiles in Connecticut by Michael W. Klemens

Very easy to use and carry, with excellent full color glossy pictures, these are my top choices to have on hand. Beautiful pictures are a must for a visual learner like me. Because salamanders  and snakes tend to be elusive, they garner more excitement than other creatures, and I am always ready to ID them.

When in Vermont a few weeks ago, we grabbed Nature Guide to the Long Trail  by Lexi Shear.  Organized as a specific guide for the Long Trail, I am finding that many of the natural wonders can also be found in Connecticut. Detailed pictures and descriptions abound.

We also picked up Naturally Curious by Mary Holland. It is a field guide organized month-to-month for New England. I am very impressed with its layout and details, and we reference it before and after our trips. It's a big book though, so it stays at home.

Carry A Notepad Or Journal

Even if I leave all of the guides at home, I still carry a small all-weather pocket journal and a pencil (or a Space Pen, if you have one). Then I can jot down questions I have without missing a step. For example, right now mushrooms seem to be in full bloom despite the lack of meaningful rainfall, why is that? 

I used to try and sketch things, but that was a ridiculous mess. Better to have Heather take a picture (instead of taking the object itself) and then look it up later on. 

Maintaining a journal also forces me to slow down. I tend to be so destination bound that I ignore the journey. Taking some time to scribble what I see, hear or smell increases my awareness of the surrounding wilderness. 

As I note one thing, others come into focus.

I maintain a nice balance between hiking and research on the trail. Some days I just go and take it all in, wondering at the natural world with little consequence. Other times, I turn it into an expedition, complete with field guides and GPS coordinates. It all depends on the mood and the environment.

Do you have a favorite field guide or resource for learning on the trail?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Was There Ever a More Perfect Day?

Written by Heather

We were soaked by the end. We came home to  warm showers and hot tea. In August. 

Come late summer, a damp and chilled to the bone feeling is a welcome blessing. Over a big breakfast of blueberry pancakes, listening to the rain pour down outside the window, we told Emily we'd head out for an early hike due to the threat of late day thunder and lightening. 

Her jaw dropped a little closer to her breakfast plate. "What? We're still going hiking? It's raining." My thirteen year old looked as though she was certain her parents had lost it. "Of course, we're going! If we get storms it won't be until later, we'll throw on our rain shells and go... it'll be great!"

I'm a big believer in parents keeping their cool and having a fun attitude (a clever approach helps too) when it comes to trying to get the kids on board with something we want to do, especially teenagers. This isn't to say I'm always Miss Graceful about it, but that morning I played my cards right and she quickly seemed fine going with the flow.  

I should mention the type of hiking Emily is used to. 

We live in New England so we have all kinds of weather. We hike in the winter, soaking up the January sun through leafless trees. We hike in the cool bug-less spring, coming alive as we leave behind the darkest months. We hike in the summer, though we (Emily and I) do not enjoy the bugs or the sweat, but floating in a river is so sweet we can't resist. And we hike in autumn, because there is no finer place on earth than autumn in New England. She is used to all that.

But we don't usually hike in the rain. Well, steady rain, to clarify.

This is for two reasons:

1. In our area, rain in the warmer months usually means a threat of thunder/lightening storms.
2. Trails are more vulnerable to damage during heavy rain so we try to give them a break and keep our human selves at  a distance. 

On this day however, we were just coming off a long dry spell (the trails would be in strong shape) and though rain was predicted all day, the thunderstorm threat was forecasted for later on in the day. We'd be off the trail by then.

When we went to bed on Saturday night I told Adam, "Let's make sure we  get out early tomorrow. I could really use a day in the rain."

So, with blueberry pancake filled bellies, and a daughter who didn't seem to think her parents were too crazy, we packed up early and headed out. 

Destination? Fenton Ruby Park and Wildlife Preserve in Willington, CT. (Locals, trail descriptions can be found in the Joshua's Tract Walk Book.)

I'm not sure if we've ever been on a more beautiful hike in eastern Connecticut. 

Maybe it was the cleansing rain, the cooler than expected August temps, the incredible diversity of flora, or simply the true beauty of this off the beaten path sanctuary. It must have been a combination of them all.  We felt like we were in a storybook. 

The terrain wasn't difficult, this would be great for families with little ones. There are four or five trails throughout the preserve so we were able to loop together a hike that covered a bit if distance which was nice, none of us wanted it to end. (Including the previously skeptical teen.)

We crossed wooden bridges, walked under tall white pines and through berry patches. There was gorgeous old growth forest and plenty of new growth too... and stone walls. Oh, how I love stone walls. There are so many of them here. We passed a beaver pond and played in a small river. The placement of a Sherpa style trail in one potentially steep area surprised us. Not something you see too much of around here. There were simple shelters made of fallen limbs and huge quartz rocks. 

And through it all, there was rain. Gentle but steady, the whole way through. 

It was so good. There's a part of me that would like to rush back there (tonight would be nice) to do it all over again and again - and another part that thinks we should never return. 

The moment was perfect and couldn't possibly be duplicated. 

My words are unable to spin the tale of how we felt that day. To make up for it, I'd normally have a dozen photos to show you from a hike like this, but it rained you know. The camera stayed in the car. 

We will of course return there, perhaps even tonight. Today is so hot and humid. I imagine there will be bugs. Maybe the small river won't be flowing as clearly with the rain gone. 

It was magical, that rainy day. But I do wonder how much of it was truly the place, and how much of it was a Sunday state of mind. Maybe tonight I'll find out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When the Honeymoon’s Over

Written by Renee

Several years ago my husband and I made the decision to do a family activity outdoors every week. Something more substantial than an evening walk and something we could all do together. We settled on a weekend hike as our activity, much like some families choose soccer or baseball.

Back then we had never heard of Unplugged Sunday and it wasn’t about being unplugged as much as it was about just being outdoors, together. Of course, because we were in the woods and weren’t big cell phone users to begin with (oh, how times have changed!) we were, by default, unplugged for that time.

Unplugging wasn’t difficult. And at first hiking wasn’t all that difficult either. 

The kids were young (3, 5 & 7) and so we stayed fairly close to home exploring easy urban and near-urban trails. That first summer our outings were a couple hours long and when it rained, we stayed home. In spite of hiking experience as young adults we were new to the outdoors with children and weren’t what I would call a hard core outdoors family. 

I liked our times together outdoors. I loved them in fact. I have always loved nature and as a gardener I especially appreciated discovering and identifying new plants, adding to my herbal knowledge whenever possible.

Our time spent outdoors was refreshing and revitalizing. It felt like we were doing something good for our kids, good for our relationships, and good for the environment. It was just a good feeling all around.

The kids grew (funny how they do that) and our legs and spirits sought longer hikes. A couple hours was not so satisfying and what started as a family outdoor activity every week evolved into one whole day a week outdoors. 

We made this change to account for our growing children and our collective need for more time and more exercise. And to account for the reality that finding longer hikes in interesting terrain required longer drives from home. 

We needed a whole day just to ensure we could get to the destination, have several hours to hike and then time to drive back before bed. 

At first this was good. 

The hikes were longer and the kids needed more encouragement but they hit their stride and loved that time outdoors. I loved the new scenery and regularly being in the mountains - the air, the sky, the trees, the water, the views - my spirit soared. 

Then summer hit in earnest and the hikes made me sweaty. Our drive to the mountains would take me past farmhouses with folks working in their gardens (I love gardening). We started to miss out on certain gatherings and other events because we had made this commitment to our health and to our family.

And that’s when the honeymoon was over. 

What started largely as a walk in the park had become a commitment, a discipline, a practice. One with great rewards to be sure (just like a good marriage) but one that required work nonetheless. 

I hit a wall that summer. I’m pretty sure it was that hike in the torrential downpour that pushed me over the edge. The hike that soaked me through and through and left me feeling discouraged, forlorn and full of self-pity.

I didn’t want to be spending one day each week (that’s almost 15% of my week, oh yes, I did the math) hiking. I wanted to write. I wanted to garden. I wanted to sit at home on my duff and drink tea all day. 

Or so I thought.

Thankfully, that summer I not only hit the wall but I turned the corner. Through the course of the summer, through good hikes and bad ones, with lots of time on the trail for thinking, I evaluated this commitment we had made. 

In the end, I came out the other side more determined and passionate about continuing this practice as a family. This wasn’t a forgone conclusion by the way, it’s just where I ended up after evaluating all my options and thinking creatively about how we spend our time. 

How did I find the “romance” again in our one day a week practice? How did I turn the corner from reluctant hiker to the happy hiker I once was? 

I think it was a combination of the following four things:

1. Taking a Break

Back when Damien was working a regular 9-5 job the weekends were reserved for together activities - hiking, hospitality, working on the house. 

That fateful summer, on a sunny Saturday in August, I took a break from all this togetherness and spent a day to myself in my garden while the family hiked. It was one of their most memorable hikes to date (not sure what that says) and I felt restored and revived in a way I hadn’t experienced on the trail for a while.

We had discussed and were prepared for me to take more regular breaks like this but it turns out I only needed that one. I loved being in my garden but I also missed the trail. Weekend hiking had become a part of who I was and I really did enjoy it. 

Taking a break showed me that. 

It also gave me time to consider the next point.

2. Evaluate your Practice

When I hit this point of discouragement and wondering if our weekly time hiking together was really worth it Damien and I had to ask and answer some hard questions. One of the questions we asked was does this practice serve us or do we serve it? 

In other words, are we doing this because we really believe in the benefits, it fits who we are and it’s something we value? Or are we doing it because we think we should, even though it no longer benefits us? 

Another part of this questioning period was comparing side by side the pros and cons. 

Most of this, to be honest, was done in my head. I was the one after all who hit the wall. In the end, the pros of continuing with our one day a week practice outweighed the cons. And I realized that this regular routine served our purposes and helped us meet our goals.

Coming to these conclusions though depended on some creative thinking. 

3. Be Creative

When I first hit the wall I thought it was physical. I just couldn’t hike that far. But when my six year old didn’t have the same problem (I’m a “normal”, healthy, thirties something woman) I realized it wasn’t my body that was sabotaging me. It was my mind.

It was my resentment about not gardening on those beautiful days, my doubts about the point of all this hiking, the feeling that my needs were not being met that slowed me down. It was mental, not physical.

Taking a break helped, so did honest evaluation of our goals but equally important was being creative with our time management during the week to make this weekend activity a priority. 

I scaled back my expectations for our backyard garden, scheduled my gardening for the weekdays, and discovered as much joy in our farm share and farmers markets as I did harvesting the small amount of produce from our tiny backyard garden. I still dream of large scale gardening but decided this was not that season in my life. 

We’re a homeschooling family and I realized that we could have a Monday recovery day - sleeping in, time for mama to read and drink tea, the whole works. We had that freedom I just needed to re-orient my thinking a bit. 

4. Surrender

I took a break. I asked hard questions. I creatively re-worked my commitments and my schedule and in the end I also surrendered. 

We don’t always like this word in our culture. To some people, it sounds like defeat. 

In my case it wasn’t defeat, it was letting go of some my expectations (for what weekends “should” look like) and embracing the joy and opportunity that was right in front of my face. 

It meant waking up to how good I had it. Learning to accept I have a husband who wants to be outdoors with his family every week for a whole day and he’s willing to do most of the work to make that happen. Not only that, but this was an activity my children loved doing with their father and it was healthy for us and brought us together as a family. Why exactly was I complaining about this? 

I can’t say it was the summer of my discontent but it was definitely a turning point for me. 

I realized it was ok to take breaks and ask honest questions about why we were doing what we were doing. I learned how to re-structure our weeks and adapt my previous habits to accommodate our family goals. 

And in the end I surrendered to the beauty of it all. To the beauty of our family outdoors together. The beauty of a regular time in nature, unplugged. And the beauty of sharing with my husband this activity he loves. 

I honestly haven’t looked back since. 

Now my husband’s talking about family thru hiking a long trail (yikes!). I’m thinking I may need to re-visit these lessons. 

Have you gone through a similar experience with either a family or individual practice? 
How did you turn the corner after hitting the wall?

Monday, August 15, 2011

The best part of waking up...

Written by Adam

I enjoy waking up by 6:00 AM. The days somehow seem extended when you add a couple of early hours onto the morning.

During the week, this allows ample time to fire up the old Internet connection and get a good dose of daily news, sports scores, blog updates, and other online tidbits to start the day.

Sunday mornings we have a better way to make the most of this extra time - a great cup of coffee and some easy conversation for an hour or so as the world slowly joins us.  Eventually we get in motion, but this really sets the tone for a wonderful day.

Depending on the season, this meeting of the minds usually takes place out on the porch or in the living room (in front of a fire is nice). The one constant is the hot coffee... and us, of course.

Over the years I've enjoyed a fresh cup of campfire coffee on a chilly mountain morning, but I was never a regular coffee drinker. That was until about five or six years ago when I went on a backwoods camping/fly fishing trip in northern Maine.

It was late May and the ice and snow had just barely released its grip on the roads and waterways. It was perfect timing - no black flies or mosquitoes and the native trout were voracious, striking at anything that hit the water.

As could be expected, the weather was less accommodating. The nights were in the low thirties, followed by rainy and raw days. A good campfire, plenty of eats, and hot black coffee were necessary to maintain functional body temperatures.  

Needless to say, I enjoyed the hot morning beverage and the grown up feeling it gave me. I was hooked, so to speak. Now, coffee is an almost daily occurrence in our lives, for better or worse.

We have a fancy French Press, which is quaint. But my preferred method is a stove-top percolator - the same one from our camping kitchen. I like the percolator because it is durable and simple to use, even during a power outage.  

Our "brand" is Mind, Body and Soul. It's fair trade and all of that eco-friendly hooha we strive for, with a robust yet smooth flavor. We freshly grind the whole coffee beans at the Co-op, and keep it in a peanut butter jar on the pantry shelf. We alternate on the grind settings - Heather likes it chunkier, I go for the finer auto-drip setting.

Our standard ratio is one tablespoon of grounds per two cups of water, but it is not an exact science. Bring the water to a boil, then let it perc on low heat until it smells just right.  Pour into your favorite cup, add what you like (black for me), and find your place to start the day.

How your day begins can make a big difference in how your day goes. A nice hot beverage, pleasant company, and maybe a hint of woodsmoke in the air hits the spot for me.

How do you start the best day of your week? 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Packing Food for a Day Away From Home

Written by Heather

We are a family that loves to eat. Usually, taking a day off from it all means leaving the house, and we will certainly get hungry throughout the day.

On a good day, we are well-prepared and have loosely planned our agenda. When I say planned, I'm not talking about a schedule. More so, I mean a departure time, a direction (go west, my friend...), dirty dishes are washed (because nobody likes to come home to those), and food is prepared and packed for the day.

Sure, it's easy to grab the back pack, a water bottle, car keys and go. We could easily stop while we're out and enjoy a sit down meal at a restaurant, or what have you. And sometimes, having someone else do the 'cooking' is exactly what this mama needs,  but usually our food comes with us. 

If our day is to include a hike, we'll retrieve a few things from the cooler for the trail - but generally save our bigger meal for after the hike.

Why Do We Pack Our Own Food?

It's a matter of economy.

  • Now that it's become routine for our family to get out one day a week, I factor this into my grocery budget and meal planning. I do budget a little money for our outing day (a little ice cream, a good beer at micro-brew, latte, that sort of thing), but seeing as we are often away from home for two mealtimes, we could spend quite a bit on eating out each Sunday.

The food is better.

  • Restaurant food is not home cooking. Thankfully, my family agrees and we are all happier not to play a game of chance once a week with our tummies. We need to have good quality, nourishing food to fuel our activity levels for the day. Sometimes restaurant food leaves us feeling a little worse for the wear (I should add that our area is not known for decent dining out options). 

Produces less waste.

  • Have you ever stopped off at a to-go type sandwich shop and noticed that once lunch is finished, your car or picnic table is covered in empty kombucha bottles, potato chip bags, paper napkins and more...? It's so hard to avoid! When you pack your own food, it's easier to control packaging and can use no waste items.

It encourages us to slow down.

  • Preparing food and sharing a meal outdoors is a very grounding experience. Time seems to stand still, flavors become more vibrant and everyone seems find contentment in the simple, timeless activity of a picnic. 

What is Our Essential "Food Away From Home" Gear?

You knew there had to be gear involved, right?

Earlier this spring, my thrifting self was a mission to score a very specific size cooler. We seem to have plenty of lunch-box size coolers, plus an assortment of huge coolers with wheels and such. I just wanted a simple, straight up medium size cooler with two handles on the side. Weeks and then a couple months went by and I wasn't finding the right one. 

Then, one Sunday on a dirt road in Eastern Connecticut, where we had just come off the most bug filled trail of our lives, there she was - with a big FREE sign on top! A little dusty from storage, but nothing that a good bath couldn't fix. The size and condition were perfect.

On the Gear List:

  • cooler - kept on the side porch next to the kitchen (along with the dog food and recycling...)
  • large basket - to hold dry good type snacks and other items
  • table cloth - always have one on hand, public picnic tables tend to be messy, a vintage sheet works
  • small cutting board - to slice fruit, cheese, etc
  • utensils - a variety of flatware, paring knife, perhaps bread knife
  • cloth napkins and a dish towel or two
  • damp cloth - stored in a ziploc
  • enamelware plates and cups - the kind used for camping
  • bottle opener - you never know

To the list we add the day's food, plenty of water bottles, lots of ice packs, and whatever each of us is currently reading. Because what is better than reading a few pages after a good meal, in the quiet of summer afternoon?  

What is your take on this? Are you a pack it up kind of family too? 
Please share your own tips and essentials!

  • I try to make our "out of the house" food interesting and not everyday feeling. This helps to feel like we are lucky to have our own food and not deprived because we've brown bagged it, I find this to be so important (and yes, a bit of a mind game). I'll usually bake something special, include a favorite cheese, or dark chocolate bar. Perhaps there will be some homemade soda, or fancy popcorn. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't slave over the day's selection. Sometimes a simple indulgence like a few fresh figs feels extravagent.