Camping cure-all. Photo: Katie Arnold
Happy new year! The exclamation point feels a little forced this morning as I saddle up to my computer with a mix of dread and anticipation. Something tells me I’m not the only one. For 10 days, the whole country has been in the space between: real life, suspended. No school, work, deadlines, meetings, professional obligations. My husband, two daughters, and I spent Christmas in Connecticut with my parents and siblings and their eight kids. I left my computer in Santa Fe and, with all the free time I wasn’t wasting on Facebook, we walked to the beach with the kids, set up my niece and nephew’s new slackline, played paddle tennis, and shucked and ate eight dozen Bluepoint oysters. I even managed to read a whole book.
I craved the uninterrupted family time, but by the end, I was antsy. I missed my writing, our family’s normal routine. Structure. This is the conundrum of 21st-century family life, played out on a national level during the holidays: How to strike the balance between too much to do and too little? Me-time and we-time? If you don’t plan, things don’t happen, but if you plan too much, you run yourselves ragged. We wrestle with this all the time in our house, but it’s especially pronounced this week as I look back on all the fun we had in the last 12 months—river running, camping, a month in bare feet, Thanksgiving in the canyons, etc.—and start scheming a new year of adventure resolutions. Here's our bucket list. What's on yours?
1. CAMP EVERY MONTH
As Florence Williams reported in Outside last month, scientists in Japan are busy proving that being in nature makes us happier and healthier. I’ll take that one step further: Sleeping, not just being, outside is the Rx for almost every problem I can think of. It puts an end to whining, weans babies naturally, and eliminates dependence on screens. (A week on the river even cured my postpartum blues, but that’s a different story.) Whenever we’re feeling too stressed or busy as a family, it’s a sure sign we need to go camping.
Last year we managed to sleep outside in every month but three. How hard could it be to go 12 for 12, a perfect score? I’m not a stickler for details. Tents are the best, but when winter weather is a factor, yurts or backcountry huts count. So does an Airstream (but not parked in the driveway). There’s no reason to suffer. My only rule is that we get out, away from home and hotels, in nature. So where to go? Backcountry skiing in January, Joshua Tree in March. Will southern New Mexico be too frigid in February? We won’t know until we try.
Campers count, too. Photo: Katie Arnold
2. PLAN BACKCOUNTRY HUT TRUP; GO ON A RIVER TRIP
This is a corollary to #1. Last year, our family skied into a yurt at the Enchanted Forest XC Ski Area in northern New Mexico. It was the perfect starter yurt trip, and this winter, we hope to take it up a notch: the Point Breeze Cabin in the Tenth Mountain Division Huts system in Colorado, a one-mile ski in along mostly rolling terrain in the high country north of Leadville. The log cabin has a wood stove, two bedrooms, even a couple Pack 'n' Plays—no wonder the few remaining dates are booking up fast. In a pinch, we’ll try for a couple of nights at the Southwest Nordic Center’s Neff Yurt, near Wolf Creek. Bull of the Woods, outside Taos, is the closest backcountry hut to us, but it also requires a 1,500-vertical-foot ski in—that’s a lot of lugging when you’ve got two girls and lots of gear. If all else fails, we’ll happily spend another night at the Enchanted Forest.
Home sweet yurt. Photo: Katie Arnold
Winter is lottery season on the West's best rivers. We'll be putting in for self-guided rafting permits on the Class I-II San Juan and the Rio Chama, and there are plenty of prime rivers for boaters of all ages and a raft of outfitters that lead guided family trips on choice whitewater around the country. Check out the list here.
The same river twice: It never gets old. Photo: Steve Barrett
3. TRAVEL INTERNATIONALLY
Before we had kids, I had the hair-brained notion that we would travel internationally every year as a way to raise savvy little globetrotters and expose them to different cultures—and that this would be reasonable or even possible. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened (sorry, dear Canada, I don’t count our summers with you). But now that traveling with our kids has gotten infinitesimally easier, we’re planning 10 days in Costa Rica in April, at a jungle lodge near Arenal and a quiet beach on the Nicoya Peninsula. I’m not deluding myself that an annual trip will become reality, but I do like to think that we might someday even spend a month or two traveling, even living, abroad. Stay tuned—that's on the list for 2014.
4. DISCONNECT TO CONNECT
Over the past year, I’ve become a little disillusioned with the Internet. That’s like the pot calling the kettle black, I know, but I also know that I spend too much time surfing and checking email when I could be writing, playing, talking, or reading. Being computer-less for five days last week drove it home: When I’m not a slave to my screen, I spend more and better time with my children, read more, and carry on focused, real conversations with people around me. This is certainly part of why camping is so gratifying. The computer stays home.
Then I read an article in the latest issue of Sunset magazine about a San Francisco family that’s gone totally analog at home. No Internet, screens of any kind, digital clocks, or even an automatic ice maker (OK, that last one seems a little extreme). Steve and I both work from home, so going totally analog probably isn’t practical for us, but I do want to wean myself from random Web surfing and be more mindful about how I spend my time onscreen and in front of my kids.
How? For starters, I’m going to try checking my email only three times a day: morning, lunch, and after dinner. Not every eight minutes between pushing my girls on the swing at the playground, or on the chairlift at the mountain. I’m going to try to work on my fiction for five minutes each morning before I start in on Facebook—it’s like taking a vitamin for creativity, or drinking green juice for breakfast. It sets me up for a better day. I’m going to stop pulling out my phone constantly in front of my daughters, and encourage Steve to do the same. I’m going to look at Facebook less, leave my computer at home whenever I can, maybe even unplug entirely one day a week (kind of like the new "technology Shabbat" craze), and buy actual paper books at actual local bookstores. Last night I wrote a few old-fashioned thank you notes on stationery that I mailed with a stamp. It felt great! Remember when these things were normal? Here’s to making it the new (old) normal again.
5. BE WILD
As I wrote here recently, wildness is a state of mind as much as it's a destination. You don't always have to go big or far to go wild. This year, I'm going to try to remember this when I get restless between adventures, when I want to roam but the family needs to stay put. Wildness is all around, in the most unexpected places. We just have to keep our eyes open.
Wild is a state of mind. Photo: Katie Arnold
This isn't a complete list. Some of us also resolve to brush our teeth every morning, learn to read and swim, cross train for core strength, run a 50-mile race, worry less and live more, meditate occasionally, and try to stop having tantrums. What does your family want to do in 2013?