The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Category: Daily Life Adventures (page 1 of 4)

Finding Fairy Houses

When daughter Andowen was little, she loved to read books about fairies. She loved the photographs in the wonderful series by Tracy & Barry Kane. When she was six years old, she found her first fairy houses in the woods—on a family vacation to Blackriver Falls in WV.

Tracy and Barry Kane

On that trip, Andowen spent hours wandering the trails, posing her fairy figures in front of (and inside) openings in the roots and branches of trees. Eventually, she decided this area was a special conference center where fairies come to rest and have fun together.

Fairies Rest and Have Fun in the Woods

Eventually, all of us started looking for fairy houses as we traveled the world! Big sister Nettie delighted Andowen by building a special stump house in a campground near Seward Alaska. She even included handcrafted woodland furniture. Andowen spun many tales about the fairy family who moved into such luxury accommodations!

Custom Built by big sister Nettie

As we backpacked along the Appalachian Trail in the past few years, there are a few locations that looked like possible fairy houses but we weren’t certain if they were still occupied. One afternoon in Northern Virginia, Andowen found a Fairy Marina where tree roots met a burbling stream. There were many protected slips for a variety of sizes of boats. She watched for quite a while, but the fairies stayed hidden…

AT discoveries, VA

The breakthrough occurred when we spent a few months in Germany. Apparently the fairies have been there so long that they have developed a good relationship with humans. Andowen was quite excited to discover the Royal Fairy Academy in the old Linden tree in the town of Frauenstein. One of the fairies told her that this tree became a training school for Fairy leaders in the 800s. It has been in continuous use since then. The guide explained that there are only a few training academies around the world. There needs to be plenty of entrances and room inside for hundreds of fairies to live, learn, and play. Plus each location has to have special features that set it apart. In this case, many of the suites at this Royal Academy have mossy balconies for fairies to enjoy the lovely setting!

1000 year old Linden, Frauenstein Germany

When we returned to the USA, Andowen kept an eye out, on a search to discover the secret location of the American Fairy Academy. Unfortunately, too many people here no longer believe in fairies, so the school is kept hidden from prying eyes. Finally, Andowen found the academy, camouflaged by hundreds of fake entrances in the walls of Ash Cave in the Hocking Hills right here in Ohio. One fairy guard realized Andowen was a friend and came out to talk to her. Americans tend to be active and exercise conscious—and our fairies are no different. They chose this location because it has a huge floor for sunrise yoga sessions and midnight dances when the moon is full, all serenaded by the falling water.

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Most recently, Andowen was excited to discover the Royal Canadian Fairy Academy. Although the location is one of the most crowded trails in Banff National Park, this school is found in the walls of Johnston Canyon. Apparently this place was chosen because of the wild white water rafting on moonlit evenings. Plus there are few tourists to interrupt treks to the frozen falls when the entire park turns into a winter wonderland. (see link below for photos)

Fairy Houses in Canada, Banff National Park

Fairies just wanna have fun

We continue to look for new-to-us fairy houses and training academies. If you find any, please post photos and share the locations! Let’s continue to celebrate our fairy-friends!

Read about other ways we have fun in the woods HERE. In case you missed the first installment in our series about the Lego Tiny-Mes who go on adventures with us, you can read about them HERE.

Find Andowen’s favorite Fairy House book HERE

For more information about locations of what we have found so far, check the following links:

Ash Cave, Hocking Hills State Park, OH

Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis WV

Frauenstein, Wiesbaden Germany

Johnston Canyon in the Winter, Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

8 Discoveries in a Children’s Garden

When your kids are bored by the local park and you don’t have energy to take them to wilderness areas, look for a Children’s Garden. We discovered a delightful garden play-area hidden in a corner of our small town. (Don’t know where to find such a place? Check HERE for a list of botanical gardens around the world. Many of them have an area especially designed for children.)

Spending time at a Children’s Garden is not just all about fun. (…although that’s obviously an excellent motive to get out the door with a bunch of kids!) Spending regular time outdoors is also important for our children’s development. There is growing clamor from “experts” who remind us that children need connections with nature to thrive. According to Andy McGeeney, allowing our children to explore outdoor areas in a free, unstructured way “enhances children’s social relationships, confidence in risk taking and exploration, as well as connections to nature.”

“Reports concluded that being in nature was important to childhood, as much as a healthy diet and exercise.” (Gill—London Sustainable Development Commission)

Here are 8 things to look for on your next outing to a local Children’s Garden:

Welcome: Hopefully, the Children’s Garden is a welcoming place that offers a safe space to wander and many beckoning corners and hidden patios to keep the attention of young ones (and caregivers, too!)

(gates and hidden spaces at the Children's Garden)

Walkways: Following a path is intriguing, especially if an interesting destination is visible. Even better are trails that twist and turn, letting children imagine what might be around the next corner.

(oversized adirondack chair is a fun climber)

Wacky: The best gardens have wacky “rooms” that make fun of the real world. Tiny fairy houses or GIANT oversized tools are both fun to explore.

(Oversized tools are wacky at the Children's Garden)

Wander: An excellent Children’s Garden will have space for children to safely wander on their own. Opportunities for free-exploration are important for building self-esteem and a sense of competence in the world.

(Wander the paths and find the Covered Bridge)

Window to Another World: Window-views add an extra layer of enjoyment. Those openings frame Nature’s “art” and offer glimpses of new worlds to explore.

(Tepee play area at the Children's Garden)

Water: I know, I know, water gets messy. But that is part of what makes an outing memorable! Opportunities to play in water are a wonderful addition to any play area. Just bring some towels and keep a close eye on your kids, of course.

(Tepee reflecting in a tiny pond)

Whimsy: Why have boring, “normal” play equipment in a Children’s Garden? Choosing unique climbers, play houses, and benches adds a whimsical touch rather than just feeling like a typical playground with a few extra plants and flowers.

(Whimsical playground climber)

Wonder: Any time we step outside our doorways, there is an opportunity to allow our children to experience the wonder of the world around us. All of us are happier when we “take time to smell the flowers!”

(Little girl closely inspecting flowers in the garden)

We all need to get outside regularly. But let’s not forget the children. Let’s teach the next generation to love Nature as well!

See a list of a few of my favorite books, articles, and websites about the importance of connecting with nature HERE

Find activities and printables for getting kids outside HERE  Participate in monthly outdoor family challenges HERE

Growing into a Forest Therapy Guide

I admit it. I have a zillion interests to pursue and not enough time to chase them all. (Please tell me this happens to you also?!) As I’ve begun to talk about becoming a Forest Therapy Guide, I’ve gotten push-back from some family and friends. Over the years they have often asked if I’ve gotten “it” out of my system yet. They question how long I will stick with THIS interest. They mock me for never finishing things. This has been a challenge all the way back to my growing up years. (To be clear—I have other supportive family and friends who always cheer me on and love to hear about my latest adventures…)

For some reason, this latest round of criticism made me sit back and ponder. Is there truth in what they throw at me? Am I failing at the task of “growing up”? Do I NEED to pick one interest and pursue it single-mindedly? I know that is a common path for many people…but is it the right path for me?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy –

I had an “aha” moment while reading a book by Amos Clifford, the founder of the organization that certifies Forest Therapy Guides.  He writes about different stages in his life being part of the whole of who he is. This helped me realize that the various interests I have explored over the years are all related. They are parts of my unique tree of life. Let me explain:

I am growing up from strong roots and a sturdy trunk into a forest therapy guide

I look back and see that foundational to everything I have pursued is a deep curiosity about the world. This began in young childhood when I wanted to know more about the people I met, the places we went, and the things I saw. (I probably drove my parents crazy by asking so many questions!) I have had a lifelong passion for exploring and learning.

When I was growing up, I became a Story Seeker. (I have written more about this HERE) I want to hear people’s stories. At first this story gathering was a way of feeding my own curiosity about the world. Gradually, I used what I was hearing to support my personal growth. Today, I know that sharing bits of those stories can be of great encouragement to others I meet. This has been a strong “trunk”—supporting everything else I do in life.

From the roots of curiosity and the trunk of gathering stories, I became a teacher. Sometimes this is a formal role (such as teaching cello to young students, becoming an instructor for National Ski Patrol or being a paid tutor in a Native American school). Other times this has been an informal role. Over the years, I continue to have a deep need to share what I learn with others.

As an adult, I have put out many branches. Some were tiny shoots that withered or broke off. Others have become solid parts of who I am. I am creative and express that originality through photography and art and painting and writing. I am a mentor, reaching behind me from whatever season of life I am in, and taking the hands of others to encourage them as they walk a similar path. And I am a peer counselor, listening and asking questions to help folks untie knots, climb over obstacles, and pursue their own wellness and passion.

Counter to the accusations of the nay-sayers, I am not constantly changing directions. I am not a small boat being thrown this way and that as I am buffeted by winds of “new” and “different” interests. I am a unique tree. All of the seemingly unrelated passions I have pursued are actually solid branches growing from strong roots and a sturdy trunk. I am growing up and maturing. And I have discovered that becoming a Forest Therapy Guide is a way to use all these parts of me to help others.

“I am not afraid of my truth anymore. I will not omit pieces of me to make you comfortable.”

This weekend I start the six month training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. I will write more about that process in the next few weeks and months. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about, I have written a FAQ you can read HERE. I have taken out loans for this training, and would greatly appreciate donations to help with costs. You can learn more about supporting me HERE.

 

10 Homeschooling Myths

It is not yet officially fall according to the calendar. But the season is changing. Pumpkin Spice everything is showing up in all the stores. School supplies are purchased and the obligatory back-to-school photos have been posted on social media. I’ve made my lists and done the paperwork. We are starting year 26 of homeschooling for our family. In those decades, we have heard so many homeschooling myths from concerned family and friends:

1—(Public/Private/Home)schooling is the BEST choice: Every family tends to believe that they are making the best decision regarding schooling their kids. Reality is that different children will thrive in different settings. First, don’t make any form of schooling into an “idol.” Second, what’s right for one family really would be wrong for another family. Moms, our job of parenting is hard enough, let’s quit arguing and build each other up!

2—Whatever you decide, you are stuck forever with that type of schooling: There is certainly something to be said for consistency and perseverance. However, it is important to choose what is best for each child (and for your family as a whole) each year. Every one of our kids spent some time in both private and public schools, even though we homeschooled for most grades. (True confessions, sometimes we even switched directions in mid-year!)

(My kids getting on the bus for 1st & 3rd grades. Homeschooling Myth: must only choose 1 type of schooling ever!)

3—“But what about Socialization?” This is one of the most commonly heard homeschooling myths. Many people assume the Public/Private school pattern of segregating children by age is important. However, experience shows that this age stratification often leads to damaging peer pressure and bullying. Research shows that multi-age relationships are healthier for children and better model adult life. In reality, there are actually too many opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time with other children—in classes, co-ops, clubs, and community activities. If we pursued all of these options, we would have no time for academic work! Instead our family chooses to join one or two groups each year. We also love to meet regularly with another homeschooling family for fun and learning.

(homeschooling myth buster--daughter meets regularly with friends to complete academic work...and have FUN!)

4—Homeschooling will fix everything: This is one of the homeschooling myths which masquerades as strong motivation for avid homeschoolers. The corollary from proponents of public/private school is that homeschooling is to blame for every dysfunctional adult who was kept out of school. Yes, an individualized setting can help children thrive, especially when they have life challenges (learning disabilities, mental health issues, social anxiety, etc)…BUT, these issues MUST be directly addressed during school years for students to be able to function in the world as an adult. NO form of schooling alone can “fix” our kids! (Read about how I advocate for my daughter HERE)

5—“I would go crazy if I was stuck at home all day”: Some families do spend most days at home. Others experience life in their local community. And the entire world could have the perfect destination for amazing field-trips to solidify what is being learned! (True confessions: Most of us also enjoy the benefits of off-season travel and vacations…) (Read about our travels to National Parks to collect Junior Ranger Badges HERE. Read about our Little School in the Woods HERE)

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: if we are stuck at home to homeschool then I'm a failure!)

6—Worksheets and homework are necessary for effective learning: If a student understands what is being taught, more time spent doing homework will not improve learning. If a student is lost in that subject, homework can leave them more confused. It is a public/private-schooling myth that worksheets, books reports and tests are the best ways to measure learning—they are fine methods for some students. But more commonly, these paper-assignments are a method of crowd control in the classroom and make grading easier for teachers. With homeschooling there is greater scope for individualized education, active learning and creative final projects.

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: hands on projects and field trips are far more effective than worksheets and tests.)

7—“I could NEVER teach high school…” That’s okay. I can’t teach every subject either! But my six older kids successfully completed high school at home. By teen years, students have (hopefully) developed skills to be self-learners. In addition, families join co-ops for shared teaching, find mentors to pursue student passions, and use community and college classes for more difficult subjects. It is always possible to find others who have the training and experience to provide what our kids need.

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: If mom had to teach robotics, it would never happen!)

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: Good thing grandpa knows how to rebuild cars. Mom certainly couldn't teach this!)

8—Homeschoolers can’t get into college: WRONG! This is another one of the common homeschooling myths. Many top universities actively recruit students with alternative educations who bring diversity to the campus. Homeschooled students often have strong independent study skills and a determination to pursue passions. And yes, many homeschooled students receive academic scholarships. Having solid standardized test scores and providing a (self-written) high school transcript helps with the college application process. (Read about our family’s recent graduates HERE)

9—Values are taught: This is another of the homeschooling myths that cause some families to bring their students home to “make sure” their kids follow family values. No matter how much we explicitly teach values and share interests with our children, deeper values are actually “caught” by seeing what the parents do. (This applies to all families, regardless of which type of schooling they choose.) Most homeschooling parents are “out of the box thinkers” to persist in going against mainstream culture to school their children. These same parents are often shocked when their children grow up to be independent thinkers themselves. In our family, we wandered to follow new opportunities…and now our grown kids are scattered across the country—pursuing their dreams. These particular values were caught not taught!

(Values Caught Not Taught, Kids don't stay home when parents model wandering!)

10—Homeschooling Guarantees Harmony at Home: Oh, if only this were true! Homeschooling builds many shared memories. But siblings will still fight and children will still argue with both their mother and their teacher (made worse when that is the same person.) (True confessions: sometimes our kids fought terribly. But occasionally they could be seen enjoying each other’s company in public…) Like all parents, we hope our family remains close when the nest is someday empty!

(Homeschooling Myth Buster: sometimes siblings fight, sometimes there is harmony)

The new school year has started. Let’s applaud the students … and let’s encourage fellow parents, no matter which method of schooling they choose for their families!

Childhood Fun!

Recently I saw a fascinating video on Facebook. In this ad for Nature Valley, 3 generations in families were asked what they did for Childhood Fun. Consistent with current research, the grandparents talked about unstructured outdoor play, the parents enjoyed playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, and current kids apparently spend most of their time indoors on electronics. The ad finishes by challenging us to provide opportunities and nurture our children’s connections with Nature.

VIDEO: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun? 3 Generations answer. (Nature Valley Ad) 

I have read many articles and books which bemoan this progression. (See list of some of my favorite resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) I know my friends and I often talk about how to get our kids (and ourselves) outside more often. I was curious to try my own (very informal) survey. I asked friends to share lists of childhood fun from their own families. I received 23 responses out of 31 people I asked about. Here is a summary of the results:

Active Play (mostly outside):

54% of all responses, #1 category for all adults

Active outside play used to be a fun part of childhood

It was interesting to notice that the mentioned activities were not organized or run by adults: swimming, playground, playing in barn, making scarecrows with family, wrestling with siblings, riding bike/scooter (often all over town), roller skating, ice skating, informal backyard sports with neighbor kids, sledding, hiking, tag and team games with friends. I also included active indoor hobbies/classes in this category: gymnastics, dance, ballet, Tae-Kwon-do, and rock climbing.

Imagination Play (mostly inside):

25% of all responses, #1 category for children & teens

Playing with little toys and collectibles hones the imagination

This category includes both solo and group activities: dress-ups, Legos, small toys (hot wheels, figurines, Littlest Pet-Shop animals), collections of objects, puzzles, board games, and raising butterflies. A number of respondents wondered what happened to these objects after they grew up. (I have written before about our youngest daughter’s love of imagination play and costumes. You can read about it HERE.)

Other Childhood Fun Activities:

  • Reading: 8%, not mentioned by children or teens
  • Arts & Crafts: 7%, scattered across all ages
  • Screen Time: 6%, up through young 30s

Reading and relaxing used to be significant parts of childhood play

For decades, Childhood fun has included Crayola!

Childhood Fun today raises fears of too many video games, movies and electronics

Obviously this was a very informal survey of a handful of family members and friends. It was interesting to me to notice that the results do NOT match experts’ concerns about rampant growth of uncontrolled screen time as the primary form of Childhood Fun in the past 20 years. (Read a typical article HERE.) This discrepancy could be explained by a number of variables: My personal friends and family tend to be biased toward outdoor, active pursuits. Participants may have self-censored, not reporting screen-time which is considered “bad” today. Wording of the survey question was too broad to elicit accurate responses regarding entertainment. For example, I did not ask how much time was spent on various activities but merely asked what the participants remembered as fun when they were young. In addition, by asking for a list of what the participants did for “fun,” the question filtered for activities that were perceived as enjoyable or special, not just routine everyday activities.

“When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?”

I’m very curious how YOU would respond to this question…and what your own friends and family members would list. Many of us had an enjoyable time sharing stories as we reminisced about childhood days. Join us in discussing this question with others and let me know YOUR answers—either in the comments on this blog or on facebook.

The Tiny-Mes Visit the Big Apple

We recently finished a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes, of course, joined us along with their new travel buddy, Tiny-Dox (TD). Today we tell the story of their adventures in the “Big Apple.” (If you missed their time in upstate NY and Maine, read about it HERE. )

When we got to New York City, we drove straight to our lodging on Far Rockaway. Our plan was to park the car, avoid traffic and use transit to get around the Big Apple. (Tiny-A is a growing teen who is always hungry—she wants to know why NYC has that funny nickname anyways?!) Both Tiny-Mes are a bit nervous about our navigation skills when there are no trails or white blazed trees to follow. They carefully studied the transit map to help decide the best mix of ferries and trains to get us to our chosen sight-seeing destinations.*

Tiny-Mes, Lego tourists, planning

Tiny-Dox (TD) took control of the ferry timetable. Who’s a good-boy?!

Doxie, Planning

We spent our first day following the path taken by floods of immigrants to the USA in the late 1800s. Good thing we had reservations—there are floods of tourists today. Lady Liberty is still the most iconic Welcome symbol in the world!

Big Apple icon

Tiny-Dox was adamant that we had to spend time exploring Ellis Island. After all, his ancestors might well have arrived at this entry point. Dachshunds ARE from Germany, you know! Tiny-A and Tiny-S were sad that THEIR ancestors arrived much earlier from Germany and Sweden and weren’t represented at Ellis Island…

Heritage, Ancestors, Lego, Dachshund

All of us enjoyed the ease of commuting by ferry to get to the Big Apple. The lower deck is enclosed, with plenty of seats, a snack bar, and plugs to recharge electronics. The Tiny-Mes enjoyed sprawling on the wide sill to stare out the huge windows. They were amazed at the container ships that lumbered past, looming above the ferry. They were thrilled by tiny boats with bright colored sails, and excited to go under famous bridges and gawk at the city skyline.

Lego travel buddies, East River, Big Apple

We all stayed dry inside when it poured down rain. But one sunny day, the Tiny-Mes begged to go up to the open top deck. They laughed at the gulls dancing above the ferry. BUT WAIT! Where is Tiny-Dox? Someone grab him, quick! It’s not safe to balance on the railing in the wind! Whew! Let’s go back downstairs…

Doxie, hudson river

After transferring ferries to travel further up the East River, we got off at the 34th Street Terminal. Entering the maze of tall skyscrapers with crowds rushing and taxi-horns blaring was overwhelming!** Tiny pocket-parks of green were a comfort. And the occasional statue or street art was entertaining. TD was quite excited when he saw this quirky Dalmatian statue. He ran around this way and that, trying to find a taxi to balance on HIS nose. Silly Doxie!

Doxie, Dogs rule!

We walked to find famous landmarks in the Big Apple. Grand Central Station is beautiful inside…but far less stressful to just enjoy it from a distance, away from the crowds. We noticed TD’s nose sniffing the air, but didn’t think anything of it. (Oops! Bad idea…)

 NYC transit, Lego travel buddies,

Oh, no! Come back, Tiny-Dox! He led us on a merry chase—dodging this way and that to sniff food truck after food truck and enjoy the wondrous scents coming from restaurants above and below street level. “Woof!” said TD when we finally caught up with him. He was right…that pizza was delicious!

Doxie, Dachshund foodie

Once every crumb of pizza was devoured, we insisted it was time to start moving again. We wanted to see the Empire State Building before rush hour clogged the streets and sidewalks with hordes of commuters. We walked block after block, but the icon never seemed to get any closer. Eventually, Tiny-S and Tiny-A sat on a step and refused to move. They insisted they needed something sweet to give them energy to continue. And Tiny-S claimed she *needed* to refill her coffee mug. Fortunately, we were close to a tiny bakery…

Dessert

Finally, we got to our destination. We loved the ornate, art-deco lobby. The Tiny-Mes preferred marveling over the sheer height of the building. (Daughter Andowen was excited to see the site of modern day Mt Olympus—made famous by Percy Jackson books…but that’s a story for another day!)

Big Apple icon, Lego tourists, Percy Jackson Mt Olympus

As we headed back to the ferry terminal, Andowen joined the Tiny-Mes in demanding yet another snack. (I guess teens and TMs are ALWAYS hungry!) This time we found a Tower of Fries…perhaps a fitting way to celebrate the many square miles of skyscrapers towering over this big city.

 Fancy Snacks, Sidewalk Cafe

Each evening, we enjoyed watching the city skyline pass by as we rode the ferry back to our lodgings. On the last night, we were a little sad to say Farewell to the Big Apple! We will be back again someday…but for now we are happy to be heading home. And Tiny-Dox is excited to get back to his family!

Big Apple skyline, East River, Tiny-Mes

NOTES:

*   Eventually we discovered there is a website to help plan effective travel in NYC once you get to town from the ferry. If you are ever a tourist in the Big Apple, you can find transit options HERE

** Read about how Andowen (and the rest of us) survived the chaos of the Big City HERE

Get to Know Me!

When I discover a new blogger to follow, I dive deeply into their website. I read all the pages, poke into their archives, and fully explore their explanations of who they are and what they value. (What? You don’t do the same? You mean everyone is not the same curious Story Seeker that I am?? Shocking!) I recently realized that many of my readers enjoy the blog posts I write, but have yet to discover the wealth of background information shared on my website. Pull up a comfy chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me. To get to know me and better understand my story, here are some of the highlights:

get to know me, coffee mugs

Let’s share stories and get to know each other!

Foundational to my life are relationships with family and friends—in-person and online. I surround myself with people who are supportive as I reach for my dreams and I love challenging others to do the same. Life is sometimes chaotic and/or painful. That’s when it is important to be part of a community for mutual encouragement and support. When I learn something, I can’t wait to share information and experiences—via homeschooling, classes and seminars, and regular blogging. (My current blog about the adventures of connecting with Nature is, of course, found HERE. You can also get to know me by exploring my archived blogs—about turning 50 HERE and about life in Navajoland HERE.)

grandma, mom, big family

I’m a family gal with treasured friends around the world!

 You can read my own summary of who I am and what I do on the “About” page (found HERE). Wondering how the Blog/Website got its name? My entire life can be seen through the lens of “The Big Epic.” (Read a brief explanation HERE. Links from that page will take you to more in-depth information about Epic Adventures in my life.)

get to know me, poppies,https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/

I’m a Story Seeker who craves the pursuit of Big Epic adventures.

I keep talking about Nature Therapy and Forest Therapy Guiding. What in the world does that mean? (Learn about this practice by reading the answers to Frequently Asked Questions HERE. Read why I was inspired to become a Forest Therapy Guide HERE. And find a collection of my favorite resources about this subject HERE.)

sunset, Thomas Knob, AT hikers

I’m a Nature Girl who needs regular time in the woods for balanced living.

As my regular readers know, in less than one month I will start my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. (Read more about this process and ways you can support me HERE.)

What else would you like to know about me? Ask away in the comments below so you can get to know me better. And, of course, I would love to hear YOUR story! Tell me more about who you are and what dreams you are pursuing.

(Formal Portrait above was taken by the wonderful Jo Blackwell. If you are ever in Britain, look her up! https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/ )

Celebrating an AT Birthday!

Today celebrates the birthday of the Appalachian Trail. When I saw the below post on Facebook, I remembered … the Appalachian Trail is the same age as my mama! No wonder she has always felt drawn to it. She turned 81 exactly 1 month ago. And today we celebrate the same AT Birthday.

“Happy Birthday to the Appalachian Trail! Completed on August 14, 1937, the A.T. is a 2,180-mile long footpath that traverses the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. Conceived in 1921 and built by private citizens over the next 15 years, the entire Appalachian National Scenic Trail has been conquered by over 17,500 thru-hikers. “ – US Dept of the Interior

I love that our country sets aside and protects wild places for future generations to enjoy. Unlike most National Parks which celebrate one specific historic or natural place, the Appalachian Trail is constantly changing. It is a living footpath—with new trail being added every year. Land continues to be acquired to move more miles of official path off of roadways and into the woods. As I have explained in other posts, the trail must be re-routed occasionally because of fallen trees or flooded out walkways. And with better practices for erosion control, volunteer trail workers add switchbacks and run-off ditches.

AT in VA, freeway underpass, white blaze

In my family (as I wrote HERE), my mom has enjoyed spending time backpacking with her children and her grandchildren. She still day-hikes but is no longer able to carry the weight needed for overnight trips on the Appalachian Trail. But I look forward to the day I can pass on her legacy to her great-grandchildren. I will certainly tell them stories of “Grandma Bubblewrap” each year as we celebrate both her birthday and the AT birthday!

Happy AT Birthday!, multi-generations on the AT, Smoky Mountain NP

It’s the AT Birthday today! May we be celebrating (and using) this woodland footpath for centuries to come!

Find more info about the Appalachian Trail HERE on my blog or HERE on the official website.

Find ideas for a Woodland birthday party including the above cake HERE.)

10 Things to Do Before the “Dog-Days of Summer” Are Over

Dog-Days of Summer:

Why is the hottest part of the season called the “Dog-Days of Summer”? Contrary to popular belief, it was not given this name because dogs respond to the heat by stretching out on cool ground, tongues hanging out, panting. July 3 – August 11 was actually called the dog-days by the Ancient Greeks who believed that when the dog-star Sirius rises with the dawn, it gives extra heat to the Sun’s energy.

Rather than joining the dogs and listlessly lazing by the pool or in an air-conditioned room, here are 10 things to get up and go do before the summer is over:

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

  1. Take time for stargazing. Drive somewhere with fewer lights and stare up at the sky. This year the peak of the Perseid Meteor Showers will be on the night of August 12/13, 2018. If they sky is clear, you could see as many as 60-70 “falling stars” streaking across the sky each hour! Adopt this as a new tradition to celebrate the dog-days of summer each year. (Click HERE for more information about the Perseids.)
  2. Spend time near (or in) water. Floating in the river or enjoying the wind and wake of being in a boat are both excellent ways to relax and cool down on a hot summer day. Bonus points for being near a waterfall or a beach with waves! Summer Fun, Dog-Days of Summer, Ohiopyle Park
  3. Go for a walk in the park. Stare at the trees. Feel the breeze on your skin. Notice tiny things around you—insects, wildflowers, textures of rocks or tree trunks. If it is an open area, find creatures and other funny shapes in the moving clouds.
  4. Spend an evening around a campfire. There is something special about relaxing with friends around a crackling fire, watching sparks drift upward. Make s’mores and savor your favorite drink. Share stories or sit in companionable silence as you stare at the flames. Summer Nights

INDOOR ACTIVITIES:

  1. Eliminate unused, worn-out “stuff.” I know, I know, this doesn’t feel like something enjoyable to do. Trust me, letting go of things that no longer serve you well is a great way to usher out the dog-days of summer and get ready for a new season. So dump the piles of paper in the recycling bin, throw bags of worn-out stuff in the trash can, and haul boxes of no-longer-used clothes and kitchen gadgets to the thrift store. Set yourself free!
  2. Put your feet up. Sometimes your pet has the right idea on the sweltering dog-days of summer. Lounge in the hammock, gently rocking in the breeze, while you enjoy your favorite drink. Or go for a leisurely ride on your friend’s pontoon boat, feet propped up, enjoying the wind in your face. Put Your Feet Up, Dog-Days of Summer
  3. Play an old fashioned game. Dig out a well-loved board game from the cupboard. Find the badminton or croquet sets buried in the garage. Make it a cut-throat, competitive tournament if desired. Or spend a few quiet hours introducing the next generation to the non-electronic games you enjoyed as a kid!

BE A LOCAL TOURIST:

  1. Enjoy a sidewalk café. Pretend you are in Europe as you slowly savor every bite of a decadent dessert. Sip your fancy coffee while you listen to snippets of conversations swirl around you from nearby tables. summer treats, dog-days of summer
  2. Explore a local tourist destination. Do an on-line search for “Things to Do” in your area. Finally spend the money to visit the world-class museum in a nearby city. Wander the midway at a local fair. Buy a treasure for your living room at the annual craft show. Enjoy the entertainment at a cultural festival.
  3. See a live show or attend a sports event. Whether amateur or professional, there are certainly opportunities for being entertained outdoors during the dog-days of summer. In our area, we can enjoy Shakespeare in the Park, weekly outdoor concerts and summer theater productions. There are baseball games, golf tournaments, and bicycle and running racers to cheer on as they race. Summer Fun, Knox County Jazz Orchestra

Now is the time to squeeze in a few more activities before the dog-days of summer turn into the crisp, cool days of fall. What other ways do you and your family have fun in the summertime? Please share your best ideas in the comments below!

(Did you miss these posts? Read about some of our local discoveries HERE. Find ideas about finding your town’s history HERE.)

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there?

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