Thursday, September 4, 2014

True Confessions of a Nature Mom

Back in January, a friend asked me where we had camped during our annual New Year’s stay in Oxnard.

My response: “Campground?! Ha! We stayed at the Embassy Suites. We don’t camp unless it’s summer.”

She laughed hysterically. I started wondering what other assumptions people might have about me, based largely on my having this blog. And as I meet more and more outdoor bloggers, I realize I don’t quite fit the profile. Yet I’m not your typical mommy blogger either.

True Confessions of a Nature Mom

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you and I might be more alike than you realize. And I want you to know that you can do this, too. Be a nature parent just like me. Even in this fast-paced, computer driven, over-stimulating world we find ourselves living in.

So here goes. I am a nature mom. And here’s what that means to me:
  • I do not have a green thumb.
  • I don’t participate in any outdoor adventure sports (such as rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking or the like).
  • At most, our family camps a few nights each summer, usually as part of a family vacation.
  • We eat plenty of non-organic foods.
  • I’ve never been backpacking and don’t really have the urge to try it.
  • I love spending time indoors. Preferably with a good TV show or movie on tap.
  • The Explorers watch TV shows and movies, too. They also use computers and iPads.
  • Both kids attend our neighborhood public school and are involved in extracurricular activities.
  • During the school year, most of our grander nature adventures are limited to weekends and holidays. 
  • I don’t let my kids (who are 6 and 9 ½) walk to or from school alone, play in the park solo or ride the bus alone.
  • I absolutely detest cold weather. And by cold, I mean anything under 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
This same mom (that’s me, remember?) is fine with my kids getting dirty – in fact, I encourage it. I don’t mind messes (as long as they’re eventually cleaned up) and I have no problem going more than a day without a shower.

I love crawly critters, road trips, a nice warm spot to sit while I dip my feet in a cold river, mountains, fresh air and watching my kids discover the wonder of this great huge planet we call home.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because I want you to see that it doesn’t take any special skills or training to be an outdoor parent. You don’t have to been physically fit, like cold weather or know the names of every bug your kid discovers.

All you need is a willingness to get outdoors, go exploring and to take your kids with you.

If I can do it, anyone can do it. Even you. Especially you.

Kid's Shoe Review: The KEEN Austin II

This blog certainly comes with its perks, though sometimes more so for the kids than for mom. Case in point: The new pair of KEEN shoes The Little Explorer has been testing out in the name of “blog research.”

Last year we shared with you our thoughts on the KEEN Jamison; this year we’re trying the KEEN Austin II. Where the Jamison was bright and flashy, the Austin II is a bit more subdued and soft spoken. 

Kid's Shoe Review: The KEEN Austin II

Which matches The Little Explorer’s reply when I asked him what he thought of them: “They’re good. They’d be even better if they were light up shoes, too.” I swear I don’t make this stuff up.

I think it falls to me to let you know the details, so you can decide if the KEEN Austin II might be a good option for your little explorer. Light up power or no.

KEEN Austin II features
The KEEN Austin II is a leather oxford that can easily go from the playground to the trail. A few specifics from the manufacturer:

  • Leather upper with a moisture wicking insert designed to keep feet cool 
  • Smaller sizes feature a kid-friendly hook and loop strap closure
  • Designed to handle light rain, but not puddle jumping
  • Non-marking rubber outsole
  • Available in dark earth/burnt orange (shown here) & black, in children’s size 8-13 and youth size 1-6
  • Retails for $55
Our field test findings
  • Easy for The Little Explorer (at 6 years old) to get on & off without help from a parent 
  • Great for hiking, bouldering, walking to school and playing with friends
  • No complaints about sore feet, even after a full day of use
  • Dust, dirt & scuffs give a worn-in look rather than looking destroyed
  • Even after plenty of use, the tread still looks brand new
  • Classic look that can easily be worn with dressy outfits or on special occasions
  • Works as an everyday shoe that does equally well on our nature adventures
Shoe Review: KEEN Austin II

To buy or not to buy

For our family, spending $55 on a pair of shoes for one of the boys is tough to swallow. After all, their feet are constantly growing, so shoes rarely last more than a few months. I love KEEN for its quality, though, so we
keep an eye out for sales.

That said, the KEEN Austin II is versatile and will certainly wear better than less expensive “light up” shoes. If you spend a lot of time on outdoor activities, this shoe will serve you well. And if you have a younger sibling to pass the outgrown shoes on to, you will get even more value for your money.

Note: We received a pair of KEEN Austin II shoes to field test in exchange for providing my honest review with you. Read my full disclosure policy
for more information.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Family Camping Gear: Getting to Know the ENO Hammock

I’ve never owned a hammock. I may have tried getting into one of those huge canvas numbers in a friend’s backyard as a kid. But after failing miserably at it (as in, unable to get in or get comfortable), I never gave them a second thought.

Hammocks have come a long way since then, especially for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. These days, for some car campers a hammock is one of those little extras they won’t leave home without.

If you’re like me – a hammock novice, that is – you might be wondering what all the hype is about. I was, too. Until the family and I received a hammock from the lovely people at Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) and took it out for a test run.

Family Camping Gear: The ENO Hammock

Our camping adventures having ended for the season, and our backyard in remodeling disarray, we took to our cabin in Yosemite to hang up our hammock. Here were my initial big concerns, and our findings for each.
What exactly are we testing?

We tested out ENO’s DoubleNest Hammock, which can easily support two or more people (up to 400 pounds). It’s fairly lightweight at 19 ounces and comes complete with an attached compression stuff sack the size of a grapefruit. The fabric is a comfortable, breathable, fast-drying nylon. Along with the DoubleNest, we tested the Atlas Suspension Straps (which are actually sold separately).

The manufacturer suggests that both the DoubleNest and the Atlas Suspension Straps can be used for car camping and backpacking, not to mention the backyard or park.

How difficult will it be to hang this thing up and take it down?
Unless it’s furniture from IKEA, I’m not always the best at product assembly. So I was a little wary of setting up our hammock. Lucky for me, the hubby and The Big Explorer (whose 9 ½) were game. It took less than five minutes, which included reading the instructions while setting the hammock up.

If you’re interested, here’s a peek at how set up works:

Taking the hammock and straps down was even quicker. I’m also happy to report that the hammock does fit back into the stuff sack without too much struggle. Putting the straps back into their sack takes a little more effort, but nothing insurmountable.

How comfortable is it, really?
Remember my past failures at getting into a hammock (or staying in one, for that matter)? ENO has erased those fears. I followed the simple instructions to sit down, then swivel and all went perfectly. Each of us got out in the reverse order and was successful without a single mishap.

We quickly realized that if we wanted to keep the hammock clean, we shouldn’t wear shoes – or if we do, we need to dangle our feet out over the edge of the hammock. There were moments when I felt a little too much swinging was happening for my stomach’s sake, but those were mostly caused by the kiddos.

Once we were successfully in the hammock and settled (not swinging or fidgeting, that is), it was blissfully comfortable. As in, we-didn’t-want-to-get-up-ever-again comfortable. I’d have to give it a “two thumbs up” for comfort.

What will actually use the hammock for?
When I think hammocks, I think relaxation. But there’s plenty else you can do in a hammock. Like read a good book under the trees. Or act silly, giggle or hide out from siblings. And don’t forget stargazing!

Is it worth the cost?
Now on to the most important consideration (at least for us): Cost. The DoubleNest Hammock retails for $69.99, the Atlas Suspension Straps for $29.99 a pair, for a total of about $100.

If you’re a family that camps regularly, you probably already have all the basic equipment you need. Which makes the $100 for this hammock a nice treat for your future camping adventures – one you will undoubtedly make good use of.

But what if you’re like us and only go camping a few times a year? Honestly, we’d consider buying an EMO hammock a splurge. That said, this hammock doesn’t have to wait for a camping trip to be put to use. It can also be used in the backyard. It also makes a perfect addition to your holiday wish list!

Family Camping: ENO Hammock Review

You can check out more about the DoubleNest Hammock and all the other products ENO offers here.

Note: We received a ENO DoubleNest Hammock and Atlas Suspension Straps to field test in exchange for providing my honest review with you. Read my full disclosure policy for more information.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Picnic Bag Review: PackIt Social Cooler

Enjoying a picnic is one of the simplest ways to spend time outside with your family. Which is why we usually bring along a picnic on play dates and local nature adventures. I’ve shared our picnic packing secrets before, and today I’m following up with a review of a picnic bag: the PackIt Social Cooler.

Picnic Bag Review: PackIt Social Cooler

About the PackIt Cooler:
The PackIt Cooler isn’t your ordinary picnic bag. For starters, it must be frozen before use. Yep, that’s right – you place the entire bag (which folds flat) into the freezer to cool for at least 12 hours (say, overnight) before packing it with food and/or drinks. No ice packs needed, because the bag comes with its own gel-lined walls that do the trick.

Here are a few more specifics from the manufacturer:
  • Made from food-safe, nontoxic poly canvas and waterproof EVA
  • PVC-, BPA-, phthalate- and lead-free
  • Gel-lined walls chill food and drinks for up to 10 hours 
  • Folds flat for freezing & storage
  • Zip-top closure keeps cold air in
  • Shoulder strap makes it easy to carry
  • Interior wipes clean; spot clean exterior
  • Dimensions: 12” x 13” x 5” (12” x 5” x 2.5” folded) – room enough for food & drinks for four or a six-pack
  • Retails for $29.99
In addition to the Social Cooler, PackIt also makes lunch bags, snack bags, wine bags, even baby bottles – all using the same technology and available in a variety of patterns.

What we like:
  • It keeps food & drinks cold. The manufacturer says it keeps things cool for up to 10 hours depending on exterior temps. No argument here – our stuff definitely stays cold.
  • It’s easy to carry & looks good. Even packed with food and drinks for the kids and I, the bag was comfortable. I’m usually also wearing a backpack purse (or just a backpack) and the PackIt Social Cooler can easily be carried, too. I also like that there are a lot of fun patterns to choose from.
What we dont like:
  • It only works if you remember to cool it ahead of time – and have the room in your freezer to do so. Which means it works best for pre-planned events, not the spur-of-the-moment kind. Also, best for folks with at least a little extra room in the freezer.
  • We noticed some sweating from the gel packs, meaning we wound up with some wet stuff in the bag.
Where to buy:

Note: We received a PackIt Social Cooler to field test in exchange for providing my honest review with you. Read my full disclosure policy for more information.

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