outdoordeals

Adventuring does not have to be costly. It does not cost much at all to find a trail and walk, but all the gear can add up especially for families. I have looked around and found some deals that I want to share with you. Click on the picture for the link.

286919_5577_41A good day pack can make a big difference in your exploring. I have an older version that has worked very well for me from hiking the Grand Canyon to exploring with my family. This one seems light but still has a pocket for a bladder. It is currently on sale for $89.99. I love LLBean for a few reasons. I have had good luck with their quality, they have a great return policy and its made in the USA. You can’t say that much anymore.

travelblanketI have had my eye on this blanket for awhile but just couldn’t justify the purchase. It is currently on sale for $39.99 and also includes a car emergency safety kit.

hydroflaskAfter our summer road trip I discovered drinking warm water from my water bottle that was left in the car while we were out adventuring was not very refreshing. I would have loved to have something that would have kept our water cold for longer than a typical plastic water bottle. This hydro Flask seems like it would do the job. It is currently on sale at REI, 18 fL. oz. for 20.73. They also have other sizes on sale.

smartwoolLastly, as much as I am enjoying summer, the colder weather is just around the corner. Currently REI has a variety on Smart Wool products on sale for about 30% off. A great way to start getting prepared for winter adventuring. I have learned that there is a lot of fun to have in the winter, but it really makes a difference when you are comfortable with the right gear.

Few More Deals:
From August 20-25 REI is offering a $20 bonus card with a $100 purchase and a $20 membership. It is like getting the membership free and then you get all the deals and rewards of membership.

The National Parks are celebrating their Centennial birthday with free admission into the National Parks from August 25-28.

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Exploring Cuyahoga National Park

Easy family trail suggestions at Cuyahgoa National ParkIt is a beautiful thing to travel when you visit a place without any preconceived expectations and walk away with wonderful memories. This was our experience when we visited Cuyahoga National Park last summer. It is located just south of Cleveland, following the Ohio and Erie canal through the Cuyahoga River valley.

Cuyahoga National Park is not one of the better know national parks. It’s relatively small, fairly new and even free to get into – woo hoo. However I am on a kick to explore as many national parks as possible and since we live in the East there are not many national parks that are easy for us to get to. We had a wedding in Ohio to go to and Cuyahoga National Park was on the way. We decided to extend our trip by a day and explore this park. We had a wonderful time and started planning our return trip even before we left.
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We started out at the Boston Store Visitors Center, where we picked up the Junior Ranger packets and asked for some hiking Ohio-2015-Aug-074suggestions. The visitors center had displays of canal life, with both a replica of canal activity and boat life. Next to the visitors center was an old time gas station. For some odd reason I was fascinated by this and my family was somewhat patient as I took pictures of a gas station.
The best memory we made was the hike we never finished. The ranger at the Visitors center suggested the Ledges trail. We started out on this trail but quickly found an area of sandstone rock formations called Ritchie Ledges that became our own natural rock playground. We had no expectation of what we would find on this hike so it was a surprise for us. My kids are climbers and we all had so much fun exploring, climbing and playing. We lost track of the hiking trail and never bothered to finish the hike due to the amount of time spent exploring the ledges. One note, also in this area is the Ice Box Cave. Apparently it is home to many bats but it is closed off to slow the spread of a disease to the local bat population.

 

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After some lunch we headed to the Beaver Marsh. This was an easy, flat walk to a board walk over this marsh habitat. I was fascinated to learn that this area had been restored from a junk yard to its original state and now home to many local animals.. We did not see any beavers, but birds and turtles still provided some fun entertainment. The trail to the Beaver marsh is part of the Towpath trail of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The sections of this trail we saw appeared well maintained and flat. Perfect for biking. We did not have our bikes with us, but I would love to come back again and explore further on our bikes.
One of the better known highlights of Cuyahoga National Park is Brandywine Falls. This was our last Ohio-2015-Aug-063stop for the day and even though there is a short 1.5 mile hike around the falls area we chose the shorter boardwalk hike to see the falls. This allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the falls but keep everybody sane by understanding our limits. By this time we had tired and hungry kids and we were ready to find some dinner.
This was the first Junior Ranger packet we were able to complete. We attempted the one at Shenandoah, but it was too lengthy for the time we were there. To help us complete the Junior Ranger packet for Cuyahoga National Park I printed some of the packet before we left to have an idea of what needed to be done. The kids worked on it during the day and finished up at dinner that night. We made it a point to return to the Boston Visitors Center the next day before we left to hand them in. My kids didn’t know what to expect and I think they were a little embarrassed by the attention they received when they handed them in. However, they were proud of the badge they received.
I love finding little hidden places to explore with my family. This was officially National Park #3.

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Why my family needs to travel

The benefits of travel for your family.

Now need is a very strong word. There are only a few things that we really need and I must admit, travel is not one of them. But, it does rank up there very high on things I feel are necessary for the growth of my family.

We recently got back from a weekend trip. This is not something we do often. We either take a week or two in the summer to visit somewhere, or we take day trips near home. This time however, we flew several states away just for the weekend to celebrate my grandfathers 100th birthday. It was during this trip that I was reminded why I keep pushing my family to travel. Yes, travel is something I am discovering is rooted deep down inside me but it does so much more for my family.

  • We bond together as a family. I see so many posts about this and it is so true. Usually at home we are a busy family. We all have our activities and commitments that pull us in different directions. We do make some intentional family time, but that is usually a few hours at the end of the day and only one to two times a week. However, when we travel we are all together all the time. And it works for us. It gives us shared experiences to talk about and the kids have to rely on each other for entertainment and company. As my children have gotten older they have learned each others strengths and weaknesses. My oldest especially gets it when her younger sister needs a little silly time to cheer up or provide some comfort when one of her siblings is scared.
  • We all learn some flexibility and what it means to move out of your comfort zone. As human beings we tend to gravitate towards what is familiar and comfortable, but that does not allow for much growth. I want my children to always wonder and question the things they do. I feel travel helps show them that it is OK to be in a new environment or to try something new. The more new experiences we allow ourselves the more trying new thing doesn’t seem all that scary. That new experience can lead to new opportunities. Even as adults, this idea of flexibility helps lead to a more fulfilling life.
  • Problems come up. It does not always go as planned. We get to solve these problems together and work with each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and the more we can understand and embrace those personality traits the stronger we become as a family.

Now I don’t want it to sound like it is always picture perfect. We definitely have our share of tantrums, tears, grumpies and grumbling. There are times we don’t understand someone else’s reaction or just don’t want to compromise. But most times, out of that frustrating space comes fun memories and lessons that bring us closer together as a family.

And that is what bring me joy. Experiencing life together with my family.

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Our visit to Monticello

Learning about Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

Our 2015 road trip continued from Shenandoah National Park to Raleigh NC. While finalizing our plans I realized we would be driving by Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. My husband and I enjoy history and would enjoy visiting, but we were not so sure about the kids. We usually visit parks and have outdoor adventures, this would be a different type of experience. The tickets for the 5 of us were going to be on the pricey side. We were unsure of the value we would get out of the visit. However, when we discussed the possibility with the kids they were excited. We decided to give it a try, and I am so glad we did!

The first thing we did when we arrived was purchase our tickets. The guided tours are only for the first floor of the house and they are scheduled for specific times. You do need a ticket to explore any where on the grounds and it gets you a bus ride from the welcome center to the house and back.

monticello kidsWe were on a tight time schedule and the regular tours were all filled for the next few hours. They do also offer a family tour and that worked with our time frame. The family tour was tailored to young elementary aged children. I thought our tour guide did a wonderful job including the young children. My 2 younger children, ages 8 & 10, enjoyed the house tour, but my 14-year-old was somewhat bored. She did however perk up and enjoyed some greater freedom exploring the grounds and basement. Your ticket allows independent exploration of the grounds and basement of the house. Throughout this area were some interactive displays for children that helped put into perspective what life was like at Monticello.

Since Monticello was just a stop on our drive from Shenandoah to NC, we did not have much time. I wish we had more time to explore. They have walking trails throughout the property that we were unable to enjoy. We also didn’t have time to visit Thomas Jefferson’s grave site, but did see it as the bus drove by back to the visitors center. I learned later that the Griffin Discovery Room at the visitors center is a fun interactive experience for kids, but we also missed that.

It was a hot day and we spent about 2 hours with the house tour and exploring the grounds. This was enough time to get a general overview, but I would recommend allowing more time.

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Monticello has a fun kids website that my youngest daughter has been enjoying since we came home. She has been building a house with different architectural features and learning more about Thomas Jefferson with his grand-daughter,  Cornelia. She even put together a slide show about her visit. I just love that she has initiated all this learning independently.

I also found this blog post from Currently Wandering with more information about visiting Monticello with kids.

Overall, it was a great experience for our family. I just wish we had more time. We will definitely be looking for more historical sites on our future travels. What are some of your favorite historical sites to visit?

Go out, explore and find joy!

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Shenandoah National Park

Family adventure in Shenandoah National Park

I have been on a National Park kick for the past few years. I am an East coast girl and have been dreaming of majestic mountains out west. We tried to get out there this summer but several obstacles got in our way. So, we came up with plan B and still managed to explore Shenandoah and Cuyahoga Valley National Parks. They are both with in driving distances for us and we were able to fit then in with the other commitments we had this summer.

Dicky Ridge Visitors Center
Dicky Ridge Visitors Center

This past July we headed down to North Carolina to visit family and made a stop at Shenandoah National Park. My goal was to get there with enough time to visit the visitors center on our first day of travel. I wanted to get a good plan because we only had one full day in the park. This worked out well but would have been better if I hadn’t forgotten all our hiking info that we had collected at home! Anyway, the ranger was very knowledgeable and gave us some suggestions based on our kids ages and hiking abilities. We also learned that even though there are bears and snakes, we didn’t have to worry too much about them, that was a relief for me. I had three goals: I wanted to see some waterfalls (water always motivates my kids), drive along the Skyline Drive, and hike with some elevation for a good view. We did decide to pass on the elevation hike because of the summer heat. By the time we would get to the trail we would have been been hiking it in the middle of the day. Even though I was looking forward to a hike like that, we felt it was beyond our limitations.

Fox Hollow Trail
Fox Hollow Trail

Our one full day in the park started with the Fox Hollow Trail leaving from the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center. It was an easy 1.2 mile trail that showed us meadows and forest. We saw remains of an old homestead from the Fox family and their cemetery. This family farmed until the 30’s in this area and the forest has developed in the area since then. We had fun talking and imagining what life must have been like for this family almost a century ago.

Shenandoah National ParkI am not a fan of cheep souvenirs but my children know I usually cave when it comes to books. My son was very interested in the wildlife and found a book about animal tracks at the visitors center. This provided some fun learning opportunities during our hike. My younger two children searched for animal tracks and when we found some they were very intent in analyzing them. We even found a bear track! We were slow hiking, but had so much fun exploring.

After a picnic lunch in the air conditioned car we headed down the Skyline Drive to our next destination, Rose River Falls. We had almost 40 miles to drive on the Skyline Drive to our next hiking trail. It was winding and slow driving, but that was OK. We stopped often to enjoy the views and a few photo opportunities.

Rose River Falls
Rose River Falls

We found the Rose River Falls trail between mile post 49 and 50. In our excitement to get hiking we missed the very quick left onto the trail off the fire road that we started on. We probably added another mile to our hike by the time we figured this out and turned around. By this point my youngest was done hiking and let us all know it. The trail starts descending down to the water, so this was the easy part. We were prepared to play in the water and that was what eventually motivated the kids to continue. We started to hear the falls before we saw them which added to our excitement. There were several cascading waterfalls but not all the falls were easily accessible because fallen trees but there was plenty to explore and play. We changed into our water shoes and enjoyed the cold water on our feet. The highlight for me was being able to stand at the top of one of the falls and peer over the edge to watch the water cascade down about 20 feet. I just found it so amazing I was screaming like a child on Christmas morning. My oldest came over and was just as excited as I was, it was a fun moment to share with her.

We could have continued to Dark Hollow Falls and complete a 4 mile loop, however we decide to return back on the same trail. It was getting late and we didn’t want to hike in the dark.  Throughout the hike we had some grumpies from my son who was disappointed that we had not seen a bear. So, thankfully he did see one through the trees as we made our way back. I think the bear was more frightened of us and hid quickly, but it was enough of a look that my son was happy. My youngest, who was complaining as we hiked down at the beginning, was in the lead the whole way back up the trail. At times we had to make her stop because we couldn’t keep up. Once we saw the bear we kept her much closer to us.

Sunset at Big Meadows Lodge
Sunset at Big Meadows Lodge

I had wanted ‘a National Park experience’ for this vacation, so we planned to stay at Big Meadows Lodge that night. This worked out well because the last trail we hiked was right near the lodge. To be honest, it was not the best hotel room but I was not expecting a 5 star hotel. We had two rooms that connected through the bathroom. This fit our family of 5 well. The room had a small bathroom, some holes in the screens and no AC. However, it was all part of the experience and it all worked out well for us. There was a short path from the lodge to an overlook that faced west. After dinner we explored up this path and was rewarded with a beautiful sunset. It felt sacred and even my children were quiet soaking in the moment.

The next morning we splurged and had breakfast at the lodge before leaving for our next destination. To get out of the park we continued further south on the Skyline Drive for about 10 more miles. I found it interesting how different the park looked as we headed further south. Our last stop in the park was at the Harry Bird Visitors center. This visitors center had displays about the history of the park. It had much more to offer than Dicky Ridge. I wish we had more time to look around, but our next stop was Monticello and we had to get moving.

Here are a few resources that I used to help plan this little part of our trip.

I have a National Geographic Guide to the National Parks. I look at this often when I am dreaming of places to go and used it to help get an idea of what the park had to offer.
I also found a few blogs on Shenandoah.

Our next stop was Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. Look for that post coming soon.

Until then, find your joy!

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4 Breakfast Recipes For Your Next Roadtrip

A collection of easy breakfast ideas for road trips.

Update: I tried to get this post out before we left but life got in the way. Read to the end to see how my plan worked.

I am so excited to get out of town this summer. We are headed on a small road trip soon to visit some family. My travel wish list is sooo long I try to maximize our budget while on our adventures. For this trip I plan to bring breakfast to cover each day we will be gone and we will picnic for lunch.

I will be sharing my breakfast plan with you today. Not only will this save us some money but it will also make sure we start each day with good nutritious real food. For each breakfast I plan to bring enough for two days. This will get us through almost one week. I am not sure what I would do if we were going to be gone longer. This is a good start.

All of these breakfast ideas are things I usually make at home, so for a few weeks before we leave I will just double each batch and freeze one to save. Very simple with little extra effort.

Egg cups

This is a super simple recipe and I use the term recipe very loosely.
  • All I do is scramble 6-12 eggs in a quart measuring cup.
  • Pour a little milk in, maybe about 1/4 to 1/3 cup and mix.
  • I then pour the egg mixture into my silicone baking cups (I love these things and find so many different uses for them).
  • I then bake them at 400 for 20 minutes.

This is the basic recipe but feel free to add to it. I sometimes add bacon pieces or cheddar cheese. You could also add vegetables, sausage or pieces of bread. The possibilities are endless.

At home I store the egg cups in the fridge and on early, busy mornings I just warm a few up in the microwave for an easy egg breakfast. While on the road I am trying to freeze them. I am not sure how that is going to work. Stay tuned for an update.

Whole Wheat Biscuits

My biscuit recipe came from this site. When I make these I always double the recipe and freeze them. We always have a stash in the freezer and they go so good with the eggs to make a breakfast sandwich.

Raspberry baked oatmeal

This has been a favorite at my house for the past few months. Even my kids like this one and I usually end up making it once or twice a week. I love the oatmeal taste of this recipe so much that I decreased the fruit to 1 cup. I have tried freezing this recipe and it works well, but in this house it doesn’t last too long. Click here to find the recipe.

Granola Cereal

This is another favorite in our house and with the neighborhood kids. It makes a large batch and most often I can get two weeks with this recipe. If it makes too much for you I have frozen it without difficulty.
6 Cups of old fashioned oats
1 Cup each of almonds, walnuts and pepitis
1-2 Tbs of cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive or coconut oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the oats, nuts and cinnamon together. Then mix together the honey, syrup, oil and vanilla and add it to the oats and nuts. Place on a cookie sheet and cook at 350 for 30-40 min, stirring every 10 min.

I like a lot of cinnamon, so I usually add more. I have just started using coconut oil instead of olive oil and like it better. Watch it cooking carefully, burnt granola is a waste, I learned that one quickly!

On the road we will use the granola as part of a trail mix in addition to cereal in the morning. When we went camping last year I found milk that does not need to be refrigerated. We will be bringing a few boxes of that for our cereal.

Well there you have it. It all looks good on paper and makes sense in my head. We are getting ready to head out. Lets see how it all works.

Happy Travels!

Update:  My plan worked well except for two problems. I took too much food! The kids were a little more picky on the road. We ate breakfast out one day that I had kinda planned on but we also stayed at a few hotels that included breakfast. My breakfast couldn’t compete with the self making pancake machine. Even I admit that thing was awesome! My other problem was how we stored the food. I put all the food in freezer zip lock bags in our cooler. Somehow in all the traveling and moving the bags got holes and most of the food became soggy. I hate to say it but I ended throwing out a lot of the food. Next time we will try double bagging the food or using sturdier containers. We are done with our summer travel and ready to enjoy the Fall season, but for our next adventure I will be ready with a good breakfast plan.

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My Homemaking Food Journey

My homemaking food journey

There are many food philosophies floating around the internet about fads, diets and junk in our food. Since feeding my family healthy and nourishing food is one of the things that brings me joy, it will be one of the focuses of this blog. I want to share my thoughts on the journey I have been on as I have transitioned my family to a more whole food lifestyle.

When I became a mom, more years ago than I want to admit, it made complete sense to me to clean up our cleaning products. It was a swift and quick transition. I never looked back!

Food, however was not on my radar. I did not grow up loving cooking. After we were married I would make daily dinners but I always needed a recipe. Because of my lack of experience and interest, I shopped the boxed and canned isles just as much if not more than the perimeter. I operated by the assumption that if the food was in the grocery store it was safe. I didn’t know any better.

Then a few years ago I stumbled across the blog “100 Days of Real Food”. This was my introduction to becoming purposeful about what I was feeding my family. Our food transition journey started with educating myself. I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of FoodThis started to open my eyes to what was really in the food I was feeding my family and how important that was to our health and well being. I never questioned the whole organic thing. It just didn’t make sense to eat chemicals, but the boxed and canned food that I assumed to be safe. Not so much!

Then came the documentary “Food Inc.” I had found it at our local library and watched it without knowing what I was getting myself into. I highly recommend watching it but only if you are prepared to make some immediate changes. You can not watch it and not be affected to make change in the food you are eating. My relationship with food took a complete 180 turn. I went from not thinking at all about the food I was feeding my family, to being paranoid that every thing they were eating was going to permanently harm them. I would get irritated when the kids would get candy at school, I would get mad at myself if I didn’t have good meals for my family everyday and I would cringe when I would hear what they were eating at friends homes. As much as I wanted to support good health for my family I did realize this attitude was not healthy either. I did eventually learn to back off some and understand that I can’t control everything.

I now try to give myself some grace. I control what I can at home but don’t sweat what happens outside the home. I guess the 80/20 rule has saved my sanity. I want my children to be able to make good decisions and when they are out of the house that is when they are able to practice that. My oldest daughter still remembers the Halloween when she was about 8 and ate most of her candy that night. She did not feel well later and hasn’t done it since.

Here is what I try to keep in mind when attempting to feed my family.

  • If I can make it myself I try to
  • I try to find organic produce but if not I try for local
  • Sugar is saved for sweets. I strive for homemade treats over store bought candy and cookies
  • I stay away from recipes that have canned or boxed ingredients (except canned tomatoes)

Because cooking is not a love of mine I go in waves of motivation. It does take work. Good food is not necessarily convenient, it takes time to grow and it takes time to prepare. I do love my family and want to do all I can to keep them healthy so we can have a thriving life. That’s my motivation! I try the best I can but keep in mind that I am not perfect and if we order pizza one night I have to be OK with that.

Some other of my favorite resources include:

  • Simple bites – This blog encourages seasonal cooking and getting the kids in the kitchen young.
  • My humble kitchen – This blog has a series called “25 Day Grace Filled Journey to Real Food” that is an excellent resource.
  • 100 days of Real Food – This blog has many recipes and suggestions for kids lunches. She also has a cookbook that not only has good recipes but is a good educational resource to help you along on your journey.

This is a process and a journey. I hope to share a few good ideas along the way. Thanks for stopping by. There are many other good resources. Please share some of your favorites.

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What are you thankful for?

What are you thankful for?

The other night, I was dealing with my child’s fragile emotional state. They were just too tired and couldn’t get to bed fast enough. I took a moment to ask God for a little grace, a little peace and patience. I knew if I lost it I would just make things much more difficult for all of us. It was in that moment that I was reminded of this thankful list I made last year. It really helped me put my immediate situation into perspective. I was thankful that my child had lungs that were strong enough to cry, that even though they were upset at that moment they had the coping skills to eventually calm down, that they felt safe enough to express their emotions freely and I could go on.

One way to find joy daily is focus on the things, even if they are little. In the middle of all the junk and mess being able to find the gifts can help you get through that tough moment. Consider it a practice. The more you are able to think of these gifts the greater chance you will have in that bad moment to be able to come up with something that can turn that moment around.

A good reminder to be thankful

 

What are you thankful for?

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