Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lake life

Nik and Uncle Darryl

Every summer, as far back as I can remember, I have gone camping. I have childhood memories of walking on gravel roads and beaches with my cousins, visiting the small camp store to buy 5 cent candy. In later years, it was just my family, down in the States, camping on the edge of a small town near Grand Forks. We would play for hours at the park, and in the nearby outdoor swimming pool. As a teen, I remember sitting around the fire in the dark, talking late into the night, looking at the stars. And then, as a newlywed, our first weekend away at the lake, in the May long weekend drizzly cold, trying to keep warm with my new husband. That was the first year that we camped at Falcon Lake, and we have been back every summer since.

We are no purist campers. We have only camped once without the benefits of electricity, and, to be honest, that was a result of our own reservation error. Neither do we camp with extreme style. We have no air conditioned trailer, or fancy speed boat. Our tent trailer is borrowed, and older than me. I think the same could be said of the humble fishing boat we use. But I have learned that no matter what you stay in, the moon is just as bright. And however humble your boat, the view from the middle of the lake is the same.

There are islands in the lake we visit. Last year, we took our boat farther along the lake than we had before, and discovered a larger island with picnic tables and fire pits, covered in blueberry bushes. Of course, our trip this year had to include a visit. It was Alexa's first time in the boat, and I was so fortunate to have gotten an infant life jacket from a friend just the week before we left.

We packed a lunch, took our fishing stuff and cameras, loaded up the boat and set off to rediscover 'our' island. Being in the boat fills the senses. The smell of the lake, the wind in your hair. The roar of the outboard motor is so loud, you have to shout to be heard, and if you face the wrong way, the wind carries your voice away anyways. You see cottages all along the lakeshore, many of them grander than my own home. There are seagulls in the air, and loons on the water that dart away as you approach. And in very Canadian fashion, lots of rocks and trees and water.

We near an island, and peer closely at it. Nope, this is not the one. Not the next one, either. Finally, we find it. Covered in evergreen trees, the surface of the island is blanketed in needles, keeping the undergrowth sparse and leaving lots of room to walk and explore. We slowly bring the boat up to the rocky shore, and tie it to a tree. It is so quiet here.

We tumble out of the boat, and I free Alexa from her life jacket and tie her onto my back in a carrier. My brother Darryl goes off in one direction with his camera, and Andrew and Nik set off along another path, exploring. The wind off of the water is cool and refreshing as I unpack our picnic onto a nearby table.

The air smells like pine needles. Here and there you hear birds, and the scuffle of little ground squirrels.

We walk around for a while, and then sit for our lunch. Afterwards, Andrew gets Nik up to try fishing for the first time. I sit down nearby, resting my feet in a little rock pool, and am struck by the simple richness of our day.

As a child, my parents brought me to the lake. Now, I bring my children. I hope they can look back on their own happy memories of lake life.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I have long believed that simple toys are the best toys. Toys with little detail, and no batteries, leave the most room for the child to invent, and the play they inspire is open-ended, engaging the mind and expanding the imagination. And what could be simpler than a cardboard box?

In preparation for an upcoming roadtrip, we recently bought our quickly-growing Nik a new car seat, and he fell in love with the box. When he insisting on moving his pillow and blanket into the box that first night, to sleep like a little homeless person, I thought, "Here is the ultimate thrifty summer project." Even though our most recent painting project likely took a year off of my life, I decided to break out the paints again, and Nik and I spent a fantastic morning transforming his box into the perfect portable summer hideaway.

Again, like previous tutorials, this is something you could probably figure out all on your lonesome, but maybe seeing it will inspire your own project, for your own thrifty fun.

Adult prep:
Start with a box. Any large box will do, but white boxes are nice. This was ours.
Drag said box onto some sort of paint safe surface. You could do this project outside, if it weren't too windy or wet. We did ours in the kitchen, on top of flyers, taped to the floor with masking tape.
Next step is to prep the box for decoration. My box had a colour glossy print of the car seat on one side that I peeled off. The other sides were printed with orange and blue ink.

This is gesso. I bought it at Hobby Lobby when I was going through an art journalling/altered book phase, inspired by Kelly Rae Roberts and Sabrina Ward Harrison. It is basically a primer that you can apply to any surface to ready it for paint. Think of it as white wash for your box. It dries quickly.

Voila! A mostly white box.

Take a craft knife and cut some windows into your box, prior to painting. You can do any shape, or even cut so that the windows have shutters that open. I used some bowls and plates to mark circles onto my box with a marker, and then cut them out.

Now, you need to gather some paints and whatever you will be using to apply the paints to your box. We had an assortment of brushes, and a large collection of foam stamps that I have amassed for card making.

You are now ready to unleash your little artist! Mine was playing computer while I was getting everything out, and was surprised and happy to walk into the kitchen and find an inviting art project waiting for him.
Decked out in a painting t-shirt of Daddy's, he went to town on the box.

Painting is very serious work.

Keep painting until the box is covered, or your child gets bored, or your other child gets tired of sitting in the bouncy seat and just wants to get nursed already, darn it. Or all three. We finished off with a couple of handprints on the 'floor' of the box, and then it was into the bath for the three year old, while I cleaned up the kitchen. The box was banished for a few hours until it was completely dry, but since coming back not a day has passed that it has been ignored.

It has been climbed in, filled up, turned over, peeked through and shown off. It has been a house, a hiding spot, a rocket ship. A box + paint + a morning's worth of time = thrifty goodness of childhood.

If you love the idea of boxes as open ended play, you'll love this book, by Antoinette Portis.

This post is participating in ON{the laundry}LINE's thrifty summertime link party. Click on through for more fun!
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