This past year, my husband has been warning me that I was becoming one-dimensional. I pride myself on being somewhat of a complex person, and in fact that is one of the things he loves about me. Our conversations are usually so riveting, but it seemed like this past year I talked about little besides work, work, work. He kept encouraging me to find something that would calm me down, take the edge off. The kids were telling me I was way too uptight, and I could feel it like a hard cold line in my jaw and shoulders. It wasn’t helping that I had signed on to take this certification course this past year that resulted in my obsessively studying for the four exams when I was at home. Even when I wasn’t at work, I was focusing on work-related tasks.
I tried walking, I tried drinking, I might have tried yoga but not nearly enough (seems like I quit going to yoga regularly at the end of last year). I tried going out with my friends on occasion, making plans for outdoor outings, setting up camping reservations, reading NPR articles and trying to absorb and share new (not-work related) information. I was trying, but then it seemed like even my hobbies were stressing me out.
I realized a little late in the year that I had too many vacation hours left, and I needed to use them or lose them. This may also have been contributing to my obsession with work.
I started using these mental health days to go on bird walks with the Houston Audubon groups. I went with them to Fiorenza Park (which I wrote about earlier), to Hermann Park, and most recently to Kleb Woods.
I ended up having to bring the toddler with me to Kleb Woods, which meant I did not really get to hear the lecture on birding in the Katy Prairie and also missed out on some of the bird action and bird talk during our walk. I try to find the best in every situation, so we still had a good time. However, there was this moment out there, as I was leaving, where I decided to find some geocaches and then could not find them. I struck out on three out of three. It got me going down a rabbit hole, contemplating the idea that I might not be any good at the things that interest me. Over the years, various obsession have struck my fancy – horses, dogs, geocaching, birding – and the truth is, maybe I am not really good at any of those things. It was not for lack of trying, but despite some gains, there were also losses. Triumphs, and then great disappointments. Viewing myself from this lens was very demotivating. It didn’t help that this geocaching strike out followed a day of great disappointment at work. I was feeling kind of down about the whole thing, actually.
I took this week off work for a little staycation to use up some more of those hours. I contemplated the idea of finding out who I was separate from work. However, the first couple of days, I wasn’t really able to focus on that, because despite being on vacation, I was dealing with emails and text messages from work that started to cause me anxiety. I did go out on Monday morning to the Houston Arboretum with the Hike It Baby group, giving me and my little son some time to focus on nature. We did some holiday family outings together.
It really wasn’t until today, though, that I had a moment where I felt all of that tension slide away for a bit. I had gone out to Bear Creek Park for another Hike It Baby walk, and after the walk, I took my little guy in his stroller on another little trail off Patterson Road to find some geocaches and solitude in nature. The caches were easy to find, and we were having fun discovering little things in the forest, like mushrooms, lichen, butterflies and such. Then, there was this moment where I stopped on the trail to listen to some bird calls up high in the pines. I looked up and watched the pines swaying in the breeze. I took a few moments to spot the birds through my binoculars. Sebastian was awake when we stopped, but soon fell asleep listening to the melody of the birds and the wind. When I put my binoculars down, I felt so relaxed. It was as if I had just been given a massage. I remembered that this was my antidote, and this is what I needed to make sure I had more of. More than that, I also realized that I don’t have to be good at my hobbies necessarily.  I can just enjoy doing them, with no pressure of performance.  If I enjoy a thing, I can just do it for enjoyment’s sake.

This feeling in the forest is who I am without work, and who I need to focus on being – a woman who feels great joy in embracing the delights of nature, who is most at home in the woods, who loves discovering small little worlds in our great big one.

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Sand Creek Farm

20160514-_DSC2500Over the weekend, we visited Sand Creek Farm with the Hike It Baby Houston group.  This was a fun day trip (that was supposed to be a camping trip, but more on that later) that taught us some things and gave us some neat experiences that I wanted to share with you.

20160514-_DSC2550Sand Creek Farm is a medium sized natural dairy located in Cameron, Texas, west of Hearne off of a dirt road highway that branches off of 979.  The farm was started in 2005 by owners Ben and Alysha Godfrey, and they run it with the help of their five daughters.  They feed their cows on grass only, and produce raw milk, cheese and yogurt that you can buy from their store, as well as home grown meat and other yummy foods.

20160514-_DSC2518On the property, you will also find a companion business, Sustainable Farm Supply, an aquaponics facility that they run as well as teach classes at, so that others can learn how to run a similar business.  Aquaponics is a system of growing crops and fish using water that cycles through both areas, bringing nutrients from one to the other.  The plants are held by styrofoam boards with holes in them for their roots, which dangle in the water.

20160514-_DSC2472During our day here, we took a tour of the farm by riding in the wagon that Ben uses for this purpose, pulled by a team of draft horses.  We heard about their hay growing operation, and then visited the aquaponics nursery area.  It was very fascinating to hear about and see in action.  Kaleb’s favorite part was holding the caterpillars that were found on a dill plant that Ben was using to show an example of protected vs unprotected plants.  Sebastian’s favorite part was trying to pick up any miscellaneous objects from the floor of the nursery and stick them in his mouth.

This pony's name is Spotted Bear
This pony’s name is Spotted Bear

After visiting the nursery, we paid a visit to the dairy and listened to Ben explain the process of making cheese and the virtues of raw milk.  We stepped into the milking parlor and heard an explanation of that process, then walked back into the general store to have samples of the cheese and yogurt, as well as purchase dairy and meat items if one desired.

Most of the time we were on the farm, we spent near the canopy tents that were erected for our group to have a place for the babies to play.  Several blankets were spread out with toys on them, and nearby was a hole with dirt and digging toys for the kids to go to town in.  A bubble machine blew pretty much continuously, and one of the farmers daughters rode her pony about and occasionally got off to allow the babies to take pictures with her pony.  Sebastian really enjoyed his time here.  His favorite parts were the sand pit and chewing on the various bubble wands that were laid out for kids to blow bubbles with.

20160514-_DSC2562Jason had skipped the tour to set up our camping area in one of the pastures, but as the day wore on, it became apparent that it was going to storm.  So, then he spent another hour or so breaking down camp and putting the gear back in the truck.  We had decided during our sandwich lunch that perhaps it would be best to just call it a day trip and spend the night in our own beds, because we didn’t want to be caught out in that storm.  It turned out to be a decision for the best, because along the way home, Sebastian started acting very cranky, and refused food and milk when we got home, and it turned out that he was burning up with another fever (second one this week).

20160514-_DSC2537During the midday break, when the tours had stopped and everyone was either eating lunch, taking a nap, or wandering the farm, I took my own wander.  Initially Kaleb prompted me to do this, but he dropped out soon into it.  Sebastian was eager to get in the stroller, probably because he was tired.  He ended up sleeping for over an hour in there as I pushed the BOB over slightly bumpy pasture trails and roads to check out the pond, the horses, and then wander all the way to the end of the pasture roads.

20160514-_DSC2453It was so peaceful out there by myself, with Sebastian sleeping.  As much as I love my middle son, it was nice in a way that he had excused himself to sit with the other kids instead of walk, because we didn’t have to maintain a conversation and I was free to just enjoy the solitude of nature.  I had borrowed Jason’s camera and tried to capture the joy of tiny details that I found along  the way.  A gentle buzz in the background was the sound of bees stopping in the clover and other flowering plants.  I considered the knowledge that wild bees are disappearing across several states in the US, and was glad to see that were still plenty here in Cameron.  I contemplated a world without bees, and hope that never happens.

20160514-_DSC2437I marveled at all the butterflies that I saw stopping at the wildflowers along the path.  I found little ladybugs and aphids at work.  Little crickets jumped in the plants, and tiny moths fluttered about.  Even a dung beetle doing its job was fascinating to me.  20160514-_DSC2455An ecosystem is made of all these little things, and an imbalance in their little world would tip the scales for our big world.

There was a little section of woods in the back pasture, and I walked along the edges to hear the bird songs and see if I could capture any with the camera.  We need a better lens for that business, which means we need more money.  I suppose that one reason I am so driven at my jo20160514-_DSC2487b is to try to make money to have a better life, one that includes more camera lenses and road trips to explore this great big world.  I could hear wrens and cardinals, and I saw scissortails and brewers blackbirds out on the pasture.  Barn swallows were ubiquitous.  On the way back, a dickcissel sang from his perch at the top of the nearby trees.

20160514-_DSC2515This was a very relaxing hour or more that I spent by myself out there, but I started to feel dehydrated about the time that Jason and Kaleb drove up looking for us.  Thunder could be heard in the distance, and the storm was creeping closer.  We spent another couple of hours playing over by the baby area and taking some more pictures, like this rooster shot below:


We saw the men of the camp preparing for the evening’s fire pit, but we were starting to feel the wind rise and the first drops of rain.  We decided that instead of waiting for dinner, we should just get on the road if it started raining, which ended up happening around four thirty.  It rained hard the whole way home, soaking our bag that held the sleeping bags and pillows.  I am not sure how the rest of the group fared, and how many of them ended up staying through the night.

If you are interested in visiting the farm yourself, they are doing two family type tours coming up next weekend and next month (click imbedded link for more details).

See more pictures that I took below:

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Bastrop State Park: Hike It Baby: Thoughts on Hiking
















Last weekend, we went camping with the Hike It Baby group at Bastrop State Park.  The focused activity of the day was a planned mid-morning hike along the Red Trail (with a later connection to the Purple and Orange Trails, I think).  We didn’t get to the park until just before the hike began, due to timing of a work trip I had to take and then subsequent slowness of getting the car packed up.  Once there, we decided that Jason would go set up camp for us while the boys and I made the hike.

During the hike, the group of about 22 families split up according to speed.  There was a time when we were in the front of the pack, but then I slowed down as I started to pull out the binoculars to look at birds.  My oldest son stayed with the front of the group, but the middle one stayed with me for a bit, until I got annoyed with him for throwing a stick into a pile of brush, making a20151114_104525 crashing sound that chased off the woodpecker I had just asked him if he wanted to look at through the binoculars.  After that, he took off to join his brother at the front.
There was a time when another couple or two and the hike leader Jennifer were walking with me, but then they forged on ahead and I kept stopping to look at birds.  Pretty soon, I found myself alone on the trail (except for the sleeping baby in the BabyBjorn up against my chest).  I knew there were people behind me, but for some reason they didn’t catch up, and I didn’t feel like I needed them to.  It seemed like it was about the last half mile I walked alone, because I remember that Jennifer was still at my side when her odometer chimed off the one mile reading.

In that time, I had some time with myself and my thoughts.  I considered 20151114_103302what it would be like to be backpacking alone on a long distance thru hike, and contemplated if I had what it took to do something like that.  Mentally, I believe that I have what it would take, because I am enthusiastic and persistent. I am always game for physical activity, and I am absolutely thrilled with being outdoors.  The sight of a trail makes my heart pump faster like a person in love.

However, physically, I was feeling the effects of the hike, even though it was fairly short in distance.  My lower back was in a lot of pain, and although that probably had to do with the seventeen pounds of baby dead weight on my chest and a possibly ill-fitted baby backpack (we discovered the next weekend that we had failed to adjust it since his last growth spurt).  One could argue that I would probably not be carrying a baby on a thru-hike, but I would also be carrying my gear20151114_102952 on my back instead.  Depending on the fit of the pack, that may or may not be easier to handle.

Also, my bum ankle was giving me a hard time.  I didn’t really consider when I was laying on my back that fateful day in December 2012 with my bone hanging out and my ankle twisted the wrong way that my hiking aspirations were now toast.  I thought with the miracle of modern medicine that I would be as good as new in a few months.  I was still in denial until the doctor explained to me that the pain I felt in my ankle would probably always be there, and although I would be able to resume normal activity, it would not be at the level I was at before and I would have to adjust.  The cushion between joints at my ankle is gone, and also the strength of my muscles and ligaments has not returned, so after a day of hiking even a short distance, my ankle is swollen under the joint at the inside and I am limping.  How could I possibly hike fifteen miles a day or so for months on end, when I am not even sure I can actually hike fifteen miles ONE day?  
There was a steep incline on the trail before we got to a stopping point, which was about halfway through the hike that the group had planned.  The older boys were up there sitting on a rock waiting for me, complaining that they had enough hiking and could we just call Jason to come get us now?  They were bored of it.

I was not bored of it, and I wanted to continue on with the group, but I wanted to wait with the boys to make sure Jason could find them, and by the time this all happened, the group had already started hiking the rest of the way and I was going to have to play catch up.  So, I only got to do half the hike, but even though my spirit was willing, the flesh was not, and this makes me reconsider future endeavors.

20151114_112853It might be that backpacking and thru-hikes were always just a pipe dream for me. I have had those before and had to let them go, and it always sucks but after a while, you forget about them.  It might be something I can get around to later, after the kids are older and we have more time for our own pursuits.  It is not a bad idea to continue to challenge my bum leg and appeal to my outdoor schemes by taking some hikes, perhaps even overnight ones, and see how I feel afterwards.

Still, for now, we are still enjoying the outdoor activities and sense of community offered by Hike It Baby.  We enjoyed the rest of the camp out, although for some reason we missed out on some group activities and group knowledge (like when the hot dogs were being served).  It might have been because our older kids got bored and we ended up going into town to appease them for a bit (visiting our favorite shop, Bastrop Goldsmith, as well as finding a new favorite shop).
Luckily, another mother in the group offered to make Kaleb a grilled cheese sandwich (since all the hot dogs were gone).  The rest of us were fine eating varieties of salad and chili for dinner.  Sebastian survived his first camping trip, although he did come down with a mysterious fever in the middle of the night (causing Jason to have to leave camp at one in the morning to find a place open to buy fever reducer at).  There is more drama that ensued after (re: car breakdowns and missed work etc), but that is besides the point.
20151114_112907The point is that we did end up having a good time exploring this park with the group, despite physical and logistical challenges.  It was so awesome to camp with a group of people who all had young children, because there were many activities to enjoy together.  One of the best parts was the hangout site, where there was a sand pit and some safe activities for young ones to explore together.  We would camp with this group again, and hopefully I would be able to enjoy an entire hike with them (without complaining older kids, perhaps).

Big Creek Scenic Area

20150926_101826There’s a quiet place along an old dirt road, not far from the cities of Conroe or Cleveland, where a small parking lot off Forest Road 217 provides access to a great big forest.  In this forest, there is a trail that runs for 140 miles, making it the longest continuous hiking trail in Texas (see Lone Star Trail).  There are also other smaller loop trails that this trailhead provides access to, one or two of which we hiked today with a small group (two other couples and their young children) from Hike It Baby.
When we arrived in the morning, it was in that golden moment of morning sun, where all is fresh and exciting.  The birds we20150926_101101re chirping in the forest, and I was hoping to see some of the noted residents of this particular area: the Red Cockaded Woodpecker or some more exotic warbler species.  I heard birds, but I didn’t end up taking the time to try to find them with the binoculars.

This portion of San Jacinto County also is home to over 90 species of dragonflies and damselflies, and seemed to have a high level of plant life as well.  We took a few shots of some interesting flora and fauna that we saw, but did not stop to catalog our bug and brush finds, either.

20150926_104350There is a time and a place for nature discovery, and although we were in the right place, it was not the right time.  I decided we should come out again in the spring, by ourselves, no group hikes or other agendas, to spend some quiet time in nature solitude.  We can bring our identification books, nature journals and favorite music to chill out to.

Today, 20150926_105419though, was for making friends and exposing babies to the wilderness.  Sebastian tolerated his baby carrier for about half the hike, and then lost it.  Jason ended up carrying him in his arms, feeding him a second bottle of our journey, while I carried the now-abandoned Baby Bjorn as well as one bag of
supplies and another bag with Jason’s (heavy) camera in it.  Both of the loads we were carrying seemed heavy towards the end, but I think it was good practice if we ever actually intend to do longer hikes or real backpacking with Sebastian.

I still want to get out there and actually hike the whole Lone Star Trail one day,20150926_101853 and I would like that to be practice for an eventual segment hike of the PCT or AT.  I have high hopes that someday we will have the stamina, time, money, equipment, and desire to stick it out for one of those real trails.  We’ve been saying that for a while, though, without any real progress towards it.  I hope this doesn’t turn out to be another one of our pipe dreams.

I have spent a little bit of time lately reflecting on dreams and intentions for the future.  I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t make their dreams come true.  However, as I age, I am starting to consider if we should hold so tightly to our dreams, or if we should let them evolve over time.  I believe that what you spend your time doing is a reflection of what is truly important to you.  I don’t see us investing time in obtaining the dreams I thought we had: saving our money for a ranch where we could have lots of animals.

20150926_105814We do spend most of our spare time exploring the wilderness around us, and as a result, that has become who we are – explorers of the great outdoors.  Lately, the question has been raised that if that is actually what is important to us, where we invest our time, then maybe we shouldn’t worry over a piece of land and obligate ourselves to hordes of animals.  Jason is suggesting that instead we get a smaller place and manage less, so we can do more.  I am trying to wrap my mind around this.

I want to invest my time in hiking, exploring, learning, geocaching, birding, camping, and finding my joy in the nearby forests each weekend, and what I realized today was that sometimes in order to do some of those other things, I am20150926_103505 going to have to let go of some of the others.  We can’t do everything we want to do at once, so we have to pick what is important at the time and let the others sit. For the short term, though, I still want to invest my time in Hike it Baby, because I am accomplishing my goal of making new friends for myself and Sebastian who have something in common with us – a desire to spend time in the outdoors with the kids.

That is exactly what we did today at the Big Creek Scenic Area.  Although Sebastian slept through about half of it, he did have some more contact time with both the forest and his new friends Max and Miles (who is just one day younger than him).  We got to know the Zubers and the Goods just a little bit better, developing those friendships slowly over time.  We got some exercise and fresh air, and found a new favorite place to come back to some time in the future.