Back to School Shopping: Big vs. Small

I don’t know if you readers know this, but I have six kids, aged 19 years all the way down to 6 years. Five of them are going to be in school this year. Along with the transition from summer to school bedtimes, my wife and I are trying to find creative ways to get our (younger) children ready for school. We even thought of back to school essays, (What I’m looking forward to most this upcoming school year), but we think there may be a small riot.

We are lucky, however, that every grade sends each student’s family a handy-dandy supply list. One thing that stood out was the need for not only single subject notebooks, but also composition notebooks and loose leaf paper. I thought we were going to a paperless society. (Not soon enough, it would seem!)



You’ll probably find exactly what you need in the big box stores, but do you REALLY need it?

Looking at these lists, they don’t say to go directly to Target/Walmart/BigBoxStore. No, they leave where you get these supplies up to you and you have to make decisions based on what your goals are. Do you want to get your list checked off as inexpensively as possible, or do you shop with sustainability in mind?

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Turtle Treks Done For the Summer

Our last Turtle Trek took place last night right here in Pine River. At Forbes Park, six girls and five boys in grades 2-4 were able to experience the great outdoors before school starts next week. The day was filled with outdoor games, swimming, campfire vittles, and even spooky stories. Thanks for all the memories and fun. We’re sure to look at more camping adventures next year.


Nothing but smiles for our little (and big) campers.


Two boys about to get wet.


Be careful for trolls under this bridge!

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Last-Second Summer

With only two (2!) weeks of summer vacation left before school starts there are only so many days left to pack any last-second activities. Let’s go over your checklist:

  • Did you ride the trail like you said you would? With long paved trails and world class well-groomed hill trails in the area, there is no excuse.
  • Did you eat a tomato fresh from the vine like you said you would? It’s the perfect time to grab one from your neighbor’s garden. Or if you want to be more neighborly, go to your local farmer’s market.
  • Did you go to that summer concert like you said you would? This weekend is the Lakes Bluegrass Festival in Pine River. It’s the 12th year that top bluegrass bands converge on our tiny town.
  • Did you venture into the woods and have an outdoor experience like you said you would? If you haven’t pulled the trigger on your camping adventure, there are hundreds of locations across the state. If you’re still unsure of the whole camping thing, we’re offering our last Turtle Trek adventure of the summer THIS MONDAY NIGHT!
  • Did you grill up that unbelievable recipe you saw online like you said you would? I don’t have any awesome grill recipes for you here. I was kind of hoping you would drop one on me so could use it. What’s your secret, go-to recipe?

What other adventures are up for you this week? Labor Day is the weekend after next. It pretty much marks the end of summer. So, make use of your time left. The days only get shorter and the wind blows colder from here on out.

Sustainable School Lunches

With six kids, I understand that it is infinitely easier to let your child eat a hot lunch prepared by the hard-working cafeteria folk. For the most part, the lunch that your school district offers is tasty, well-balanced, and cost-effective. However, if you want to and have the time to make your child their very own lunch, why not make it the sustainable way?

We’ve put together a quick list of how you can make your child’s lunch both delicious AND better for the environment.

Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers


On a related note, there’s no need for single-use plastic sandwich bags. Instead, consider a waxed fabric sandwich bag, or one of the many reusable lunch containers on the market. From bento boxes to tiffins, there are loads of choices, although glass jars may be a bit too breakable for some kids. Here’s a collection of some plastic-free lunch containers (from Treehugger).

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Turtle Treks To Finish the Summer in Pine River

After two successful camping trips to Lake Bemidji and the North Shore,  the Stewardship & Sustainability gals are focusing on one more overnight trip, albeit a lot more close to home.

On Monday, August 28, your 2nd-4th grader will be able to join in the fun at Forbes Park, right here in Pine River. We’ll be organizing games and swimming ventures, showcasing camping skills, and whipping together a real campfire dinner.

We’ll tell campfire stories and sleep under the stars. In the morning we’ll cook a real outdoors breakfast, break down camp, and send the kids home. This is a perfect opportunity for those unsure of camping. Who know’s, they may become campers for life!

Plus, where our last two overnights were for girls only, this Trek is for everyone! You can register online or download the printable registration form.

Here’s a look at some of the fun the last two Treks had this summer:

Lake Bemidji


We played Hide N Seek…poorly.

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Vitamin N(ature)


Neither “Natural Deficit Disorder” or “Vitamin N” are actual medical terms but rather two phrases coined by Richard Louv. The author of “Last Child in the Woods,” “The Nature Principle”, and “Vitamin N,” and co-founder of the “Children and Nature Network,” Louv claims our culture is experiencing a crisis of nature withdrawal. Today’s kids spend over 50 hours a week on an electronic device and 90% of their time indoors. But it’s not just the vilified electronic device to blame for the nature deficit, there is also poor urban design, a culture of fear, and the emphasis on organized sports. Our rural and small town locale mitigate the impact of the “concrete jungle” and the fear of neighborhood violence, but for some families, it still takes an effort to find a safe, natural environment for play. However, the rewards are worth the effort:

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Brainerd Lakes Beaches Review: Part 4

In our last post reviewing the Brainerd Lakes Area beaches, I wanted to go to a beach that I had never been to before. I wanted to experience it like a rookie. Living in the area for most of my life proved it was difficult to find a public beach in the five county region that I haven’t been to before.

After looking online and on maps, I was surprised to find Dower Lake Recreation Area. I was even more surprised to find that it’s a pretty good beach. Minus the drive (around 45 minutes from Brainerd…with a stop for snacks), it’s not too far to enjoy.

Dower Lake Recreation Area


As you can see, the beach isn’t too big but seemed to have enough space for all. The kids were initially concerned with the lily pads encroaching on their swimming area but found that the plants stayed away.

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Brainerd Lakes Beach Review: Part 3

So far, we’ve focused on the beaches in Crow Wing County. It seems a little unfair to focus on the ones closest to Brainerd when there are dozens of beautiful beaches thirty minutes out. So, we grabbed snacks and supplies and drove the construction-riddled journey up Hwy 371 to Pine River to visit not only the Pine River Dam Park but also two (count ’em TWO!) beaches on Pelican Lake near Breezy Point.

Pine River Dam Park


The Pine River Dam has been in use for over a century, and it has been used a place of congregation and celebration for nearly as long. Pig roasts, wedding receptions, and more recently, the world famous duck races have all been held near the dam in Pine River. The curved bench area has been a meeting place for decades, and the location has only been getting better over the years.

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“Freshwater Friends” Eco Camp Sessions a Success.

Three of our four 2017 Freshwater Friends Eco Camps are in the books. Our campers have ventured on field trips, eaten straight from the garden, and learned a bit about our environment.

Here’s a small glimpse of the adventures our Freshwater Friends have had over the last few months:

1st-2nd Grade – Loons (June 12-16)


The trip to Serenity Now Alpaca Farm had mixed feelings.


Dave W. introduced the neat idea of hydroponics.


There was even time for swimming at Sand Lake.


Nora showed off the fish at the Crosslake Dam.

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