The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Exploring (page 1 of 3)

Let’s Raise Brave Kids (and forget “risky play”)

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part III in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part II.)

“Risky Play” versus “Brave Kids” – who cares which words we use? Is there some reason one of these phrases is better than the other? Isn’t this just a matter of personal opinion? I argue that we should all stop using the currently common phrase “risky play.” Words matter – they often invoke significant positive or negative emotional responses. Parents and “experts” around the world are discussing the importance of outdoor play for children. (See bottom of post for list of countries talking this topic.) Let’s explore how our words and actions can support our adventurous kids to better enjoy being outside.

joy in being outside

Let’s start by defining what we mean by “Brave Kids.” The words “risky play” imply danger and a need to protect our kids. Obviously, we are not eager to support dangerous behavior. On the other hand, we DO want our children to enjoy adventures, using curiosity and experimentation to explore the world around them. Although this type of discovery-based-learning has the potential for physical injury, it is also a natural and necessary part of children’s play which helps develop many significant skills and attributes.

brave kids jump glacier run-off

That’s a fine definition, but let’s go beyond the dictionary. Here are some examples of helpful activities to build adventurous brave kids. Most of us want our children to learn to walk, ride a bicycle, and swim. These are seen as important developmental milestones in our culture even though they involve risks of physical injury. Generally, we accept activities such as climbing, swinging, sliding, balancing, jumping, and hanging, especially if these things are done on a “safe” playground. It’s rarer for parents to encourage making fires, using a knife, or practicing the above behaviors in wild nature places. We need to let our kids roll down hills, climb trees, swing on vines, slide down rocks, balance on logs, jump off boulders and hang upside-down from branches! And we need to teach them how to safely make fires and use a knife.

brave kids climb rocks

But why should we allow “risky play” when it makes us anxious? What are the benefits of raising “Brave Kids”? I discussed this in more detail in Part I of this series (found HERE). In addition to the many physical, emotional, social, and academic benefits of encouraging outside time for our children, raising kids who enjoy adventure helps them appropriately judge risks, learn to try new things, and strengthens their self-confidence. It may be counter-intuitive but allowing our children to engage in exploratory play can even reduce their risk of injury!

That’s nice…but I don’t want my son or daughter to get hurt! How can I raise brave kids but still keep them safe? Like many aspects of parenting, this is a balancing act. We need to determine what is actually “dangerous” versus things that have an acceptable level of manageable risk. Then we need to train our children in how to make these judgements for themselves.

First, we need to look at ourselves. What are our own fears? What activities did we grow up doing? What things were we stopped from doing when we were kids? All of this plays into what we consider to be “dangerous.”

teen skiing at Killington VT

Here’s an example of how our own childhoods affect our beliefs and actions: my family grew up snow skiing in Vermont every year. We loved this special time together (and, of course, did not consider it to be dangerous.) In the summers, we sometimes went canoeing. That, too, was considered safe, but ONLY if we knew how to swim and wore effective life jackets. And then we grew up. My brother-in-law eventually joined us on family ski trips. We were quite surprised to find out that his family considered downhill skiing to be quite dangerous. After all, celebrities had died on the slopes! On the other hand, he and his dad and brothers went fishing in Canada each year—out on the water with no life vests even though they didn’t know how to swim. Now THAT was dangerous (in our opinion!)

brave kids and grandma hiking on the AT

Once we clearly see who we are and how our own upbringing has shaped us, we need to take time to consider the individual personalities of each of our children. This one is a risk taker, that one hates to try anything new. This one seems to always get hurt, that one is very aware of what her body can do. This one loves to be outdoors, that one hates the bugs and the cold or the hot sun. This one thrives on experiential learning, the other one prefers to learn from books or to watch others for awhile before trying things for himself.

What is our role as caregivers? We start by affirming our responsibilities as parents. Our job in all arenas of life is to give our children freedom to pursue their interests and build needed skills for healthy adulthood. This requires our support, encouragement and training/discipline to help them learn new things, make good decisions and manage risks and difficulties. As parents, we, of course, must protect our children from dangerous things which are genuine threats to their health and safety while still teaching them how to manage appropriate risks.

We need to find a balance in raising adventurous brave kids—not being overprotective nor negligent; not limiting necessary exploration nor pushing children into things they aren’t ready for; not making them fearful nor allowing them to be in genuine danger. This is where we need to remember what we learned about our tendencies and about our children’s personalities. Like most other areas of parenting, how we best support our children varies depending on individual strengths, fears, and personal preferences (theirs and ours!)

child wading in a stream

We also need to remember that getting bumps, bruises or scratches is not imminent danger. Nor is getting dirty or wet something to be avoided at all costs. When we head outdoors, we can plan ahead and bring a change of clothes, some towels, and a small first-aid kit. Learning to overcome small difficulties builds resilience to handle bigger challenges later in life!

 

Now that we know ourselves, and we know our kids, we can find the best ways to support each child in trying new adventures!

As stated at the beginning, words matter! Let’s guard our tongues and limit phrases such as “Stop!” “That’s dangerous!” or “Be careful!” These statements might make us feel better, but they are too general to actually teach our children safe practices. In addition, when we express our anxiety, we teach our children that we do not trust them, that they can’t handle challenges, or that we are the only ones capable of making good decisions. Instead, we need to use positive language to help our children consider what might happen next. (This article gives excellent suggestions of specific phrases and questions which help build confident kids.)   

Instead of hovering over our children (which exhausts us and them), we can build their skills and their confidence by offering our help without being pushy. As they demonstrate good decision-making and appropriate actions, we gradually give them more freedom. To support them as adventurous explorers, we can:

  • Model behaviors/attitudes about being outdoors and trying new things
  • Teach skills incrementally with supervision and grant greater freedoms gradually
  • Stay close enough to monitor their behavior but only step in if necessary
  • When we are uncomfortable with what our children are doing, take a 17 second pause to determine if this activity is an immediate danger or has manageable risks
  • Choose skill-building words (as discussed above) to support our kids

teen at a campfire

Let’s close with a step-by-step example: even though I’m terrified of simply lighting a match, my daughter Andowen became an expert campfire-maker while we were on our first long backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Her mentor was a fellow hiker named “Blaze.” Each evening when we met up at a shelter, Blaze took Andowen with him to find appropriate tinder, kindling, and larger fuel in the surrounding woods. He had her sort it into piles near the fire-pit. He showed her how to stack the wood and how to light it without firestarters. Eventually, he had her try it under his supervision. And, of course, he taught her about keeping a safe distance from open flames and how to fully dowse the embers at the end of the evening. After many days of practicing with Blaze, the time came that we were alone at a shelter. Andowen was quite proud when she made us a campfire all by herself. (I quietly kept a close eye on her safety from a few feet away.) We took a photo of that fire, and when we showed it to Blaze later, he dubbed her the “Mistress of the Flame.” I’m still fearful of lighting birthday candles, but my daughter has the skills, confidence, and good judgment to make campfires for everyone to enjoy!

Now it’s your turn! What will you try from this post as you work to raise your own “Brave Kids” who pursue adventures?

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(Read about why I make sure to take my child in the woods…)

(When I did research for this post, I found significant discussion from multiple countries about how to support children while they safely and independently explore the outdoors. Articles were posted from Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, UK, and the USA. Books about similar parenting choices include “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather”  in Sweden, and “Achtung Baby”  in Germany.)

How to Get Your Kids Outside

I want my children to enjoy adventure and be brave enough to try new things and explore new places. How about you?! This post is Part II in a series about raising brave kids and getting our kids outside. Don’t miss Part I and Part III.)

By now, you’ve heard all the reasons you should get your kids outside on a regular basis. (If you need more convincing, read my recent blog post about the many benefits of nature connection for children.) You want to do things that are good for your family, but you might have no clue how to make it fun for your kids. Some of us loved being outdoors in our own childhood, but the complete freedom to wander that we experienced doesn’t feel possible today. Others may never have been comfortable outside. So how in the world can you begin to add enjoyable nature time to the life of your family?

Let’s start with a little humor. Take a moment and read the infographic in this blog post to learn how to Work Hard to Avoid Nature Connection! (Shhh! Don’t let your kids read this one. It might give them ammo for their arguments to just stay inside…) Your first steps to getting kids outside can be simply to do the OPPOSITE of everything listed in that chart! Haha!

yoga poses, balance on rocksLet your children have time to FREE PLAY outside. No worries! This idea doesn’t require skill or (much) planning. Simply find a local park, forest trail, or nature area and let your kids play freely with what they discover. More and more parks are including a “natural playground” area with logs to build with and rocks to climb. Stay near them if you are worried for their safety; but try to resist a constant chorus of “oh be careful!” “Johnny, stop that!” “Suzie, you might get hurt!” Let them climb on rocks, splash in a shallow stream, jump in a mud puddle, pick up sticks, and use their imagination in an outdoor setting. (To allow more freedom, you might want to bring towels and a change of clothes and shoes for when they are finished playing!) 

kids outside, running on dirt pathAll of you might enjoy the opportunity to EXPLORE NEW TRAILS. Ask around and find a local park that has walking trail(s). Bonus points for no pavement! Ask your kids to stay within your eyesight, even when the route is fairly even and flat. Often, they will be more excited about exploring if they can be in the lead. This might be less worrisome for you if you find a simple loop trail with no intersections that might be confusing. (You and your kids might enjoy joining our Lego Tiny-Mes as they explore the woods and go on a bear hunt!)

 

 

girl by tree, in the woodsConsider whether or not you and your kids would find it fun to LEARN about NATURE. For some of us, more information is a good thing. For others, simply being free to experience the outdoor setting is more enticing. There are many resources for identifying trees, wildflowers, and animals/tracks. If you want broader background knowledge of the outdoors, consider one of the many free Jr. Ranger booklets from the National Park Service. (I’ve written about our daughter’s quest to collect Jr. Ranger badges HERE. This post also includes links and resources for this program. It’s fun to visit the parks in person. But many general booklets are available to download online. Plus most parks will mail you a booklet if you request one. Your child can mail the completed book back to the park to receive a shiny badge!)

Would you like to know about the Hidden Life of Trees? Did you know that they communicate, they have a “wood-wide-web” and they take care of their children and their elders? (I know! Crazy…right?! Read more about this HERE.) A brand new book I just discovered (and love) is “Can You Hear the Trees Talking?. The author explains secrets of forests with simple language and beautiful illustrations. In addition, he offers fun activities to try when you have your kids outside in the woods. (Link to book on Amazon HERE. Even better, buy it from your local book seller.)

kids outside, peering into hole in treeFor fun and games outside, challenge your kids to a SCAVENGER HUNT. You can search for fairies or other imaginary creatures. (Read about our long-term quest of “Finding Fairy Houses” on my blog.) Look for a certain color or search for animal tracks if the trail is soft. Take along a favorite small toy. The toy(s) can go on an imaginary adventure (like our lego Tiny-Mes did in this post) or you can hide the toy(s) for your child(ren) to find. (Check out my Instagram account @legotinyadventures to see all the wonderful places our lego Tiny-Mes have wandered!) WARNINGS: If you wander off the edge of the trail, please be aware of poison ivy or bramble bushes. And if your child might be upset when their favorite toy gets dirty, choose a different toy to hide.

girl sitting on a rockFinally, when you get your kids outside, have everyone USE THEIR SENSES to connect more deeply with nature. Find a place where everyone can relax. If possible, close eyes (our usual sense through which we process the world.) What can you hear? How does the air feel against your skin or in your hair? What can you smell? Is there any direction that is “calling” you? Open your eyes again and notice what new things you see. (For more ideas or “invitations” to use your senses outside or from a window, check out my nature Instagram @jecolorfulheart_thebigepic.) Consider returning to the same place every week or two and notice what is different! This can be interesting to do even in your own backyard or from a balcony at home! (Returning to sit quietly in the same place over and over is called “Sit Spot.” I’ve written more about this practice HERE.)

I hope these ideas help you to let go of the dreaded “shoulds” of getting your kids outside and help you actually get out there and have FUN together! I would love to hear about other ways you and your family enjoy nature together. Please share your ideas in the comments…

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A few additional resources you might find useful:

This website has free activity ideas and printables. There is also an active facebook group. https://wilderchild.com

I absolutely love Susan, a friend I discovered online who is passionate about helping families get their kids outside. She offers free monthly challenges on her website https://mountainmomandtots.com And as one of her patreon supporters, I have won some really cool things in her monthly gear giveaways.

Finally, this article gives more ideas on how to get your kids outside: https://childmind.org/article/ideas-for-getting-your-kids-into-nature

Wanna Go On A Bear Hunt?

Have you heard the rumors? Black bears and wildcats wander the woods and swamps of New Jersey! The Tiny-Mes read that New Jersey has the densest population of black bears of any state. “Ooooo!” they said. “Let’s go on a Bear Hunt to meet some wild animals!” (Hmmm… I think they’ve been reading a certain picture book with my grandkids. Link to animated story book at end of post…)

We tried to convince them that we were very unlikely to find large wildlife along the local trails. We tried to argue that meeting bears and wildcats is not safe. But, we always enjoy a good hike so the Tiny-Mes finally convinced us that we *needed* to take them on a Bear Hunt! Join us to see what they found…

lego minifigures walking in green plants, going on a bear hunt

Wanna go on a bear hunt? We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! (We’re not scared…)

Uh oh! MOSS, long wavy moss. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh NO! We’ve gotta go through it! Swishy, swooshy. Swishy, swooshy.

lego minifigures in blooming moss
warrior woman, lego minifigure in blooming moss

Wanna go on a bear hunt? We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! (We’re not scared…)

Uh oh! A RIVER, a deep cold river. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh NO! We’ve gotta go through it! Splash, splosh. Splash, splosh.

https://youtu.be/tcDUmZDiuZ4

Wanna go on a bear hunt? We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! (We’re not scared…)

Uh oh! MUD, thick oozy mud. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh NO! We’ve gotta go through it! Squilch, squelch. Squilch, squelch.

lego minifigures mud hole

Wanna go on a bear hunt? We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! (We’re not scared…)

Uh oh! A FOREST, a big dark forest. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh NO! We’ve gotta go through it! Stumble, trip. Stumble, trip.

lego minifigures, tree trunks

Wanna go on a bear hunt? We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! (We’re not scared…)

Uh oh! A STUMP, a tall scary stump. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh NO! We’ve gotta go up it! Huff, puff. Huff, puff.

lego minifigures, decaying tree stump

lego minifigures, decaying stump

Wanna go on a bear hunt? We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! (We’re not scared…)

Uh oh! A CAVE, a narrow gloomy cave. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh NO! We’ve gotta go through it! Tip toe, tip toe.

lego minifigures, rocks, caves

Oh no! What’s that? One shiny wet nose. Two big furry ears. Two big goggly eyes. It’s a bear! We yelled, “Quick, back through the cave. Let’s run home!”

calico critter bear, cave, stump 

But, Tiny-A had wandered off. She heard a rumbling, purring sound in the woods and wondered what it was. And Tiny-S insisted there was no need to run. After all, she had her trusty tea pot and was certain any wild animals would be happy to gather for a party. So, we sat down in the wild woods and waited to see what would happen.

lego minifigure, calico critter cat, nature

Tiny-S found the bear in the cave and invited him to tea. He put on his best acorn hat and joined us under the trees. Within minutes, here came Tiny-A with a wildcat kit, ready for cookies and tea. Whew! This Bear Hunt turned out to be fun after all!

lego minifigures, calico critters, tea party in a tree

calico critter koala bear, lego minifigure, tea party

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Read about our encounters with bears (real and imagined) on the Appalachian Trail.

Learn more about bears in NJ, including links to games for kids!

Watch an animated reading of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Waoa3iG3bZ4

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

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

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

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)

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

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! (Drop a line in the comments–what is one thing you do for fun outside?)

The Best Things about Car Camping

As you know, Daughter and I spend much of our outdoor adventure time backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. This involves sleeping in the woods—either in a small tent or in a primitive 3-walled shelter. (Read more about it HERE ) But occasionally, when we go on road trips, we are reminded of the glorious benefits of car camping.

“Car Camping”: driving to a place where you camp close to your car so loading and unloading is easy

Here are some of the best things  about driving to a campgrounds to spend a night outside:

COMFORT:

With no need to count every ounce that we must carry on our backs, we can enjoy the comfort of lounging in lawn chairs. To fight the bugs, we can easily bring a mosquito coil or even an entire screen house.

Macedon NY City park, mosquito coil and lawn chairs

Most campgrounds provide each site with a fire ring, wood for purchase, and a picnic table. No balancing on a log with dinner on our knees? Ahhhh…luxury!

Relaxing at Ohio Pyle State Park

A CAR IS HANDY:

When we head to a campsite with our car, we can bring a cooler filled with fresh food and cold drinks. We don’t have to worry about weight, so fruit and salad can be included along with hotdogs and buns, condiments, and, of course, ingredients for s’mores. Backpacking food gives us the fuel we need to hike; Car Camping food fills our bellies and our souls!

yummy, juicy food is possible when car camping

Having a car handy makes it easy to run to a nearby town for food, for entertainment, and for more ice for the cooler. The car becomes a huge locker to store all of the extra “stuff” we might need or want on our adventure. It also means we don’t have to hang a “bear bag” to keep critters away from our goodies. Hallelujah! (Read about the trials and tribulations of hanging a bear bag while backpacking HERE and HERE)

The back of the car is filled with stuff, including hikers who need a ride!

EXTRA FUN:

When we go on a backpacking adventure, the hiking itself is the primary “fun” of the trip. With car camping, we still have walking trails right outside our tent door. We can leisurely wander those paths for a few hours without the stress of pushing to get to the next flat ground to set up camp for the night.

National Parks have many locations for car camping 

With easy access to our car, we can also take advantage of entertainment in the surrounding area. We might take a canoe trip, explore a cave, do some antique shopping, or just go have dinner in a quirky restaurant. Having options is delightful!

Lots of opportunities for fun when car camping

BETTER SLEEP:

It is usually more comfortable to camp near our vehicle. We aren’t exhausted from a day of hiking up and down mountains, but we often sleep better with a few “luxuries.” We can bring our favorite pillows and blankets…

We can bring blankets and pillows from home when we car camp, Acadia NP

Sometimes we choose to bring our large tent which has space for … COTS! Not as comfy as a bed, but surely less hard than sleeping on the ground.

Sleeping on a cot when car camping is much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground

Car Camping Comparison:

We prefer to spend extended time in the mountains and woods. That means we will continue backpacking and sleeping far from our vehicle. But occasional trips to a campground are still enjoyable. Some of our favorite parts of camping are available in both settings. We will never grow tired of waking up to bird-song and watching trees sway in the breeze from our tent “windows.”

We can still see trees from our tent when we are car camping

Sitting around a campfire is a perfect end to a day spent outdoors. When backpacking, we rarely have the energy to start a fire, plus most hikers are asleep by the time the sun sets. But sharing stories and laughing with friends around a crackling fire is a special treat whenever it happens.

Chairs, Tripod, and lots of food are possible at a campfire when car camping.

ALTERNATIVES:

Not sure if you want to “rough it” in a tent? Remember, many places have cozy alternatives. Consider renting a cabin at a state park. Or try more unusual options such as a caboose or a tepee. (Read about our Tepee Dreaming HERE ) On your next vacation, plan to sleep a night or two in NATURE!

Car camping is not only sleeping in tents, it includes alternate lodging as well.

I would love to know how YOU choose to spend time outdoors—whether you take a day-trip or spend a weekend sleeping in the woods. Let me know in the comments…

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. To start at the beginning of our adventures with the Tiny-Mes, click 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

Which is your favorite Big City to visit? I’d love to read your answer in the comments below!

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 idea(s) 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? Drop your suggestion(s) in the comments below!

My 7 Favorite Adventures

What’s your favorite dinosaur? Class in school? Comfort food recipe? Where and when were your favorite adventures? Who’s the best band? Professor? Relative? We grow up being asked to pick favorites in most areas of life. Most often our lists change over time. But there are usually a few items that stay near the top, cherished for a lifetime.

With my love of wandering and my quest for “Big Epics” (read more about Big Epics HERE), it seems appropriate that I share the locations of my 7 favorite adventures with you. These are places I return to over and over—in person or in my dreams. (This list of places I have visited at least twice came together quickly, but it is presented in chronological order of when I first traveled to each location. There would have been days of dithering and second guessing if I had to actually rank my choices!)

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – I love the coolness and the quiet of being deep underground. (I know, I know…many folks HATE being in a cave. Humor me!) As one of the longest cave systems in the world, there are a wide variety of tours at Mammoth Cave. I’ve been on most of them over the years. My favorite was going on the “Wild Cave Tour” when I was 16. “Exploring” the cave by headlamp and crawling through holes and narrow canyons was my first taste of big adventure. Even better was taking my young adult kids to the park for them to go on the same tour decades later. On my bucket list with this site is returning to go on the newly re-opened boat tour at the lower levels of the cave! (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )

Big Epic Adventure, Favorite Adventures, KYHistoric Entrance, Kentucky

Killington Ski Resort VT – I was in middle school when we first went to Killington for Spring Break. It was a drivable distance from Ohio to this large ski area, which allowed my family to vacation here year after year. Trips became sporadic as my sisters and I grew up, went to college, and started our own families. Occasionally, we 3 generations gathered to enjoy the same runs. This place tops the list of favorite adventures for most of our family members. There is a possibility that we might manage to return in 2020 for a week of skiing with FOUR generations! You will certainly read about it if we pull that off. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )  

Snow Skiing, Spring Skiing, Killington VTKillington Ski Resort, VT

Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico – I first spent a summer in the Yucatan when I was in high school. There is amazing scope for imagination here—remnants of a great civilization, daydreams of actually experiencing that culture, and adventure stories of archeologists rediscovering the ruins and eventually deciphering the language carved in stone. We returned as a family in 2002, when our youngest daughter was just a baby. Someday I would love to explore the Mayan ruins found in Guatamala and Belize. (More info about the famous ruins at Chicheen Itza HERE. The less crowded sites are even more magical to visit…)

Mayan Ruins, Yucatan Penninsula

Hadrian’s Wall across N Yorkshire, England – I admit it, I’m a history geek. Which made this site a stunning adventure. Imagine—a wall built millennia ago by the Romans is not just still standing…but you can actually WALK on it! The wall was not particularly effective at keeping the barbarian outsiders of northern England out of the civilized settlements. But it remains an amazing monument to a long-gone civilization’s determination and organization. I have visited small areas of Hadrian’s Wall twice—with a different daughter each time. I dream of walking the length of the wall with youngest daughter someday. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Roman Ruins, N Yorkshire, History Geek

Banff National Parque, Alberta, Canada – I love mountains of any size and shape. But my very favorite mountains (so far) are the Canadian Rockies. Steep mountains with snow caps surrounding brilliant turquoise blue glacial lakes—stunning! We spent time here during our nine months of wandering in an RV. And we returned on our road trip a few months ago when we visited a dear friend who now lives in this beautiful location. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE. The first photo is at iconic Lake Louise. The recent photo is at Lake Minnewanka.) 

Banff National Parque, Canadian RockiesBanff National Parque, Canadian Rockies

Chaco Culture National Historic Site, NM – Scattered across the high desert of New Mexico are ruins of another great civilization. Chaco Canyon receives few visitors because it is in the middle of nowhere and is only accessible by 20 miles of dirt roads. Because of the low volume of guests, people are allowed to wander unaccompanied through the ruins. This is another location with great scope for imagination as we walk through doorways and peek through windows to see the same scenery enjoyed by the Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) 600 years ago. Because we lived nearby for three years, we had the privilege of seeing this site in different seasons, changing light, and varied weather. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Chaco Canyon, Anasazi RuinsChaco Canyon, Anasazi Ruins

The Appalachian Trail (GA to ME) – As I have described elsewhere on this blog, since I was a teen I have dreamed of taking extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. To me, this is the very definition of a “Big Epic.” Youngest Daughter and I have completed over 500 miles of the 2200 mile-long path through the woods and up and down the mountains of the Eastern USA. We plan another trip for later this fall. I don’t know if we will ever complete the entire trail—but we are having fun along the way! (More info about this Favorite Adventure—at the official site HERE and our reasons for heading to the woods HERE.)

first big epic, section hiking, ATWhite blazes, AT, foggy day

BONUS: WHALE WATCHING (There are many places to do this. We enjoyed Kenai Fjords National Park, AK – Walking to (and tasting!) ancient glaciers. Taking a boat tour along the mountainous coast and seeing amazing wildlife, including WHALES. Exploring the history of the region. What’s not to love about visiting this park? Someday I dream of returning to Alaska to revisit my Favorite Adventures in that wild land. And I would be happy to go on Whale Watch Tours in other locations as well. (More info about this National Park HERE )

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, Favorite AdventuresExit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

I would LOVE to hear about YOUR Favorite Adventures. Please leave me a comment below…

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